By Carolyn Males + Photos by Bobby Thorne
Casanova. The name conjures up the image of a dashing man who makes the ladies swoon. Indeed, when I look up Erik Casanova’s videos online, I discover a handsome Latino in a cowboy hat, romancing a gorgeous brunette with his guitar and smooth vocals. The lyrics he’s penned to his original mariachi and norteño songs are all in Spanish. Yet even though my South-of-the-border language skills are rusty, I find the words and sounds beguiling.
Later when we meet in person, I am not disappointed. The Mexican-born singer-composer whose real name is Erik Jaramillo is every bit as good-looking, talented and charming. Even though he’s only 32, his hair is elegantly streaked with gray. He sports a discreet nose stud, and a rosary tattoo peeks out from the sleeve of his blue denim shirt. Plus he’s accompanied by his real-life love –– wife-business manager-model Vanessa Gomez Jaramillo.
What’s more, they’re both smart and business savvy. This is clearly a power couple poised to move up the steps to Latinx music stardom.
[Q] How did you get started in music?
[Erik] My entire life I’ve been in the music side of the game. Most of my family members on my mom’s side are musicians. In Valle de Bravo where I was born, I won singing contests at a young age. But when I was thirteen we came to America, and I took a turn towards soccer. I played for Beaufort High, and we won two championships. My record is still unbroken.
After graduation I became interested in music again. I began writing and started getting into guitar. At the same time, I realized I needed to do something to produce enough income to allow me to follow my dream. So I built a residential construction company, Nova Builders LLC. I do both contracting and physical work –– that’s what keeps me in shape, especially when my gym time is limited. I really like it. Even when I’m real big with my music, I will still have companies in real estate and development.
Meanwhile, I work full-time on my company and full-time on my music.
[Q] That’s a lot of hours. How do you do it all?
[Erik] Everything I write, I hear the music in my head first. I’ll sing thirty seconds of it, then add to it again and again. I compose music everywhere. I’ll be picking up material for work, get a melody in my head, and by the time I drive back to the site, it’s half-written.
[Vanessa] I’ll be making dinner, and he’ll be trying out a new song on the guitar. Then he’ll be singing it in bed. I’ll say to him, “Write it down before you lose it!” But he doesn’t!
[Erik] I don’t have to because it enters my “hard-drive.” [He points to his brain.] I’ll sing a song a couple of times and then the next morning, I pick up my guitar and start writing down the chords.
[Q] Tell me about the Latin music genres you play in.
[Erik] I’m a mixture of both mariachi and norteño with some corridos and salsa.
Mariachi, which is a culture or symbol of Mexico, is more romantic with songs of love and loss. Most of the instruments are brass with accordion, standard guitar, vihuela [five-string guitar], the guitarrón [a fretless six-string bass guitar], and violins –– all that makes the beauty of it.
[Q] What about corridos? Don’t they have a dark side?
[Erik] They mostly fall in the norteño genre. They are a kind of outlaw songs about people who have done brave things that maybe cost them their lives. But it became a big thing in the 2000s for the narcos to have their own narcocorridos. Then around 2013 narcocorridos were banned from being played in some cities because they sparked violence.
I do have a couple of corridos. One is “Yo Soy Asi” I am that way] but that is about my self-accomplishment and going after my dreams.
[Q] Romance is a big theme in your music.
[Erik] My writing is mostly about love for women, especially my beautiful wife. I watch couples on the street, on social media, wherever, and write songs about them.
“Beber de Tu Miel (Drinking From Your Honey)” is a salsa I wrote about Vanessa. The first time I saw her was at my lawyer’s office. She was so beautiful. I thought, ‘I’ve got to ask her out. I want to marry her.’ When I left, I started a song. We dated awhile and then, life happened. We stopped seeing each other. One and a half years later I had to get some legal papers signed and stopped by her apartment on the way after.
[Vanessa] He never left.
[Erik] And I finished the song.
[Q] About that stage name – Casanova…
[Erik] In high school I was called this because I’d have one or two girls walking around with me. Then playing soccer, I became more popular with the girls and then there were more than two girls. Then everywhere I went they called me “Casanova.” So when I started my music career, I used that name.
[Q] So how did you go about building your music career?
[Erik] My first recording was produced at a studio on Hilton Head by Guillermo Brazon who transposed the songs and hired the musicians. Vanessa uploaded it to digital platforms.
Then one day I was asked to emcee an awards ceremony where Nancy Castro, the great Cuban composer and singer, was being honored. While I was there I asked her, “ Who can I can sell my music to?” She said, “Baby, you’ve got the look. You can sell your own music. Do you have a video?” I didn’t, so she introduced me to a video producer.
Then Nancy said I needed to hire Mexican musicians, and she suggested a recording studio in Sinaloa, Mexico. Now I work with them, sending them my music. They transpose it, record the instrumental tracks, send it back to me, we make adjustments, and I record the vocals here. Then they do mastering.
So now I call Nancy Castro “my godmother.”
[Q] And the future?
[Erik] I’d like to win a Grammy and have my own record label — Jara. And maybe even sign an all-female band. Women have heart and soul, and I’d like to give them the opportunity.
Meanwhile, when I see people singing my music or hear it on the radio or when walking somewhere, it gives me a lot of joy. (He looks over at Vanessa). And when I see a smile on my beautiful wife, we know that we’re doing things the right way.