Student Launches Nonprofit Sonidos Bolivianos with Viral Video

Nicole d'Avis and Mike Keefe-Feldman
August 12, 2015
Luis Gamarra recording music video at the Uyuni salt flats.
Luis Gamarra interviewed at Sonidos Bolivianos launch event
Luis Gamarra, founder of Sonidos Bolivianos, recording a video performance of the Bolivian National Anthem
Gamarra is interviewed by several media outlets at the launch event for Sonidos Bolivianos.
Photo by Esteban Roa

When Luis Gamarra arrived at Berklee in 2013, he saw that his fellow students came from many different countries, but he was surprised to find that he was the only Bolivian at the college. Gamarra came to realize that while Bolivia is home to many great artists across the spectrum of music, theater, dance, and art, most of his fellow Bolivians do not have the opportunity to broadcast their talent. So Gamarra had an idea: what if an organization could help Bolivians by promoting their work in the arts while also fostering new opportunities to help them better share or deepen that work, such as scholarships to attend some of the world’s best arts institutions?

Today, that is the mission of Sonidos Bolivianos, a nonprofit organization founded by the 22-year-old Gamarra, a fifth-semester music business major at Berklee who was among the first group of students to take part in the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE).

“I had a big idea and I worked on it every day for about two years,” says Gamarra, who was a student in the first Berklee course taught by BerkleeICE founding managing director Panos Panay. “Many times I thought I was going to fail and this day was not going to come. But BerkleeICE helped me to organize myself, to know exactly what the point of my organization was, and to give me the confidence that I needed to go to different organizations and companies and make them believe in Sonidos Bolivianos, and make them believe in Luis Gamarra, also—that I was capable of making this project and organization successful.”

Indeed, early indications point to a smashing success. The launch video for Sonidos Bolivianos, which features Bolivia’s National Anthem performed in the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, and was released last week on Bolivia’s Independence Day to much acclaim, has already drawn more than 100,000 views, and has been featured on CNN. The video, which features Gamarra, incorporates folkloric instruments such as the charango (played by Grammy nominee Eddy Navia), zampona, and bombo.

Watch the video of the Bolivian National Anthem from Sonidos Bolivianos here:

Sonidos Bolivianos is one of the first startups to be nurtured by BerkleeICE, and Gamarra has built a broad coalition of sponsors and partners to reach the point of critical mass that has propelled the video into the public eye. For instance, mobile phone company Tigo sent the Sonidos Bolivianos version of the National Anthem to all of its customers free of charge in celebration of Independence Day.

In a sign of more long-term success, Gamarra’s efforts have yielded Berklee live auditions in the Bolivian cities of Santa Cruz, Sucre, La Paz, and Cochabamba—adding Bolivia to the roster of auditions in cities such as Beijing, London, and Tel Aviv, on Berklee’s World Tour.

While Sonidos Bolivianos has achieved its goal of bringing Berklee to Bolivia, now Gamarra says the organization will focus on replicating that success with other arts institutions, as well as raising money to help students who have been accepted to those institutions but who may not be able to afford tuition and the other expenses entailed in attending college abroad.

“We need to show people that dreams and goals can come true,” Gamarra says.

Given this initial success, it appears Sonidos Bolivianos is well on its way to doing so.