Joachim Cooder is a musician who leads a double life; he's a celebrated percussionist who has worked with a number of respected roots and world music artists, while he also records as a headliner, where his primary instrument is the electric mbira, a variation on the traditional African thumb piano. As a sideman, his adaptable style has found him working with the legendary Cuban ensemble Buena Vista Social Club and inventive Indian instrumentalist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. As a bandleader, his music is an atmospheric blend of folk, blues, and African music that encompasses familiar themes with an otherworldly instrumental texture. Cooder's music is best heard on the 2017 EP Fuchsia Machu Picchu and the 2020 album Over That Road I'm Bound.
Joachim Cooder was born on August 23, 1978, in Santa Monica. His father, Ry Cooder, was a successful and celebrated guitarist and composer, and his father's eclectic taste in music rubbed off on his son at an early age. Inspired by his dad's friend and frequent collaborator Jim Keltner, Joachim started playing drums when he was five years old. By the time he was in his teens, he had been studying world percussion at the California Institute of the Arts, and was accomplished enough that he was contributing to his father's projects.
He made his recording debut playing dumbek on 1993's A Meeting by the River, a collaboration between Ry Cooder and Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. After assisting his father on a handful of film scores, Joachim accompanied Ry on a trip to Cuba, where the guitarist recorded an album with a handful of local musicians who were legends at home but all but unknown elsewhere. The album, 1997's Buena Vista Social Club, became an international hit, and the percussionist would tour with the ensemble as well as recording solo albums with various members, including Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Eliades Ochoa, and Compay Segundo.
In the early 2000s, Joachim Cooder stepped out as a leader with the progressive Latin group Radio Bemba, and he would go on to found the eclectic alternative rock band Hello Stranger. (Lead singer Juliette Commagere would continue to work with Cooder and became his spouse; he produced her 2008 solo effort Queens Die Proudly.) While continuing to accompany a variety of rock, jazz, and world music artists as a percussionist, Cooder also began experimenting with an updated and electric version of the mbira, a traditional instrument from Zimbabwe.
In 2012, Cooder released his first album, Love on a Real Train, an atmospheric effort that included contributions from Jon Hassell, Petra Haden, and Matt Costa. He also moved into scoring films, including the documentaries Spark: A Burning Man Story (2013), Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo (2014), and Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story (2017). In 2017, Cooder released a second solo effort, a seven-song EP called Fuchsia Machu Picchu. Cooder struck a deal with Nonesuch Records, and his first release for the label, 2020's Over That Road I'm Bound, was a collection of fresh interpretations of songs made famous by pioneering Appalachian banjo picker Uncle Dave Macon. ~ Mark Deming