774. 5 Lessons from Curaçao Guitarist Julian Coco

Julian Basilico Coco (1924 – 2013)  grew up during Curaçao’s Shell-led migration from the kunuku to Otrobanda. He was part of the rising black middle class who brought along tambú music until then considered taboo by the urban mostly white, waltz and mazurka aficionados.  This is to say Julian grew up with multi-cultural musical influences and he continued to compose, arrange and play Curaçao and Caribbean folklore throughout his life. He has collaborated, inspired, taught and paved the way for many of our famous contemporary cross-over musicians; Randal Corsen, Marlon Titre, Izaline Calister, Tania Kross, etc.

5. Education does set us free.

Educate Yourself_Julian CocoJulian Coco was born in Otrobanda in 1924 to modest, working class parents. He taught himself to play contrabass and then collaborated with most of Curaçao’s great musicians in the 40s and 50s: Benny Priviana, Padu del Caribe, Rufo Wever. By 1953 he was awarded a scholarship to study contrabass (and later, classical guitar) at the Amsterdam Conservatory. He was the very first classical guitarist to graduate in the Netherlands and became a phenomenal musician, performing on many international stages with other great musicians including: Wes Montgomery, Charlie Byrd, and Dizzy Gillespie.


4. Stay humble.

“I never judge players who seem content with playing just a few chords on the guitar. That’s how I started out myself! What really matters is that they’re engaging with the instrument – it’s all about creating music. When I first started playing I would play the same 3 chords over and over again, day in and day out. I really enjoyed it! So I totally understand. The fact that I was able to climb to another level doesn’t make my past less meaningful.”

– Julian Coco

3. Perfect or imperfect, just play!

“It’s our custom to play music in South America and the Caribbean. Not necessarily instruments, but objects. A kitchen pan. A plate. We pound on tables. And it’s not about creating perfect music… it’s about having a great time. Everyone just goes for it! And music is functional…We all have an insatiable need to express ourselves rhythmically.”

– Julian Coco

L-R: Oswin 'Chin' Behilia, Tania Kross, Izaline Calister, Julian Coco.

L-R: Oswin ‘Chin’ Behilia, Tania Kross, Izaline Calister, Julian Coco.

2. Take time to understand cultural nuances; don’t make blind assumptions.

“Flamenco music is quite difficult for non-native Spanish guitar players. It’s not impossible to grasp, but it does require that the guitarist spend some time immersing themselves in Spain, among Spanish people. Otherwise they’ll miss certain small, but crucial nuances.”

– Julian Coco

1. Always be helpful. Always be thankful.

“Everything I was able to accomplish in life, I accomplished with the support of others. We all need each other.” – Julian Coco 

Julian Coco created beautiful music from the heart and lived an inspirational, meaningful life.


About 1000awesomethingsaboutcuracao

I'm Carolina Gomes-Casseres, the creator of 1000 Awesome Things About Curaçao. I live in Manhattan but sometimes miss my first awesome island. Thanks for visiting!


  1. You are on the ball, girl. Great insight on our culture with every post. I nominate you for one of the 1000awesomethingsaboutcuracao.

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