Tatap debuts at the GAM with one-armed guitarist Andrés Godoy

To see Andrés Godoy play is a remarkable experience, as without the visuals you’d never know he didn’t have the advantages of any other guitarist. A slight, distinguished-looking man now in his 60s, with shoulder-length silver hair held back by a trademark black headband, Godoy still has remarkable stage presence. His body involves itself in the music as he plays, moving and swaying, the guitar an extension of himself, like another limb; the emotion and energy of his performance conveys the depths of this immersion. Whether written for solo or accompanied guitar - as a single strand of melody, or a dense layering and patterning of sound and rhythm - in their clarity, richness and fullness Godoy’s compositions (and his powerful performances) are the work of an extremely dextrous virtuoso.

Andrés Godoy (photo courtesy of EMOL)
Andrés Godoy (photo courtesy of EMOL)

But the Chilean musician – purveyor of a ‘musical cosmovision’ which incorporates popular, classical, ethnic, rock, folk and ‘everything that has been played on the strings of my sensibility’ – is a guitarist with unusual powers. At age 14, he lost his entire right arm in a machinery accident, and out of this adversity developed an idiosyncratic technique which would allow him to play guitar one-handed.

He named this technique Tatap, a method which consists of drumming the guitar strings with the fingertips, using the instrument in a percussive fashion (combined with finger-plucking) in order to produce chords, melody and rhythm simultaneously. It’s a combination of blows, strokes, tugging and strumming which incorporates elements of hammer-on, pull off, legato, tapping and fingerstyle. The uniqueness of Godoy's compositions, designed so ingeniously around his limitation, centres around their sonorousness, their timbre, as in the incredible acoustic of the haunting cancion de cuna ‘Hija-Ho’, and ‘Angeles y Mosquitos’. The latter foregrounds Tatap as ‘form of contact’ – the physicality of the scraping, plucking and beating which Godoy deploys in his performances is enriched by the added textures of voice (including beatboxing), keyboards and synth.

The Tatap guitar book (image courtesy of Andrés Godoy)
The Tatap guitar book (image courtesy of Andrés Godoy)

Godoy has showcased the technique on several international tours (he recently returned from China), and in addition to a career spanning 40 years both as an ensemble and solo guitarist – the former with renowned Chilean rock musicians Ernesto and Alejaica – he’s forged a successful career as a producer, working with Chilean bands such as Sinergia, Los Peores de Chile, Los Bandoleros, Metropoli, 2X, Kekoyoma and Lilits. Godoy has also championed cultural development in Chile, through projects and musical initiatives for young people (including the School of Rock, which he founded).

Now he’s published a book in association with the SCD (Sociedad Chilena del Derecho de Autor) entitled Tatap: Technique for Guitar with One Hand, detailing the lifelong development of this technique. Tatap is presented, to amateur and professional musicians alike, both as an invitation to overcome adversity and as a new way of thinking about, experiencing and creating music. The book outlines the principles, methodology and development of the style from its genesis over the course of three chapters: an introduction, technique and exercises, and 13 scores created especially for the publication.

Onstage (photo courtesy of Andrés Godoy)
Onstage (photo courtesy of Andrés Godoy)

This inspirational book, as Godoy’s peers can attest to, is not merely a technical manual or the presentation of a method; it is also a philosophy, an expression of a way of life and of an attitude of resilience – the cumulation of the triumph of passion and determination in the face of adversity. As Godoy puts it,'I think this book has two levels of innovation: one technical, regarding the use and combination of fingers, and the other, a level of mental structure'.

The musician recalls his guitar teacher telling him three years after the accident that ever being able to teach guitar in his condition was an impossibility. So Godoy developed his own methodology, and a new terminology, in order to carry on playing: for the guitarist, technical virtuosity has always been secondary to the fundamental ‘necessity for expression’ – the prime driving force behind Taptap’s realisation – and the methodology was organically, rather than consciously, developed out of this.

At the recent book launch at the GAM cultural centre, the director of SCD, Alejandro Guarello, guitarists Gonzalo Sanhueza and Mauricio Padilla (Padilla co-authored the book) and bassist Christian Gálvez paid tribute to Godoy’s ‘heart’ and ‘talent’, praising his pioneering of a unique, vital ‘music of energy’ and of the senses – something visceral rather than cerebral, the ‘essence of music’ rather than pure technique or style – that is not just relevant to Chile but a music, and a movement, ‘for everywhere’.

You can find out more about Andrés Godoy, including info about upcoming shows along with songs and news, on his personal website.

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