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Musician and Founder/President, Sonidos Bolivianos

Heritage: Bolivian

Age: 23


Past Recognitions:

  • Person of the Year for El Deber Periódico, 2015

  • Participant on La Banda on Univisión

  • Participant on American Idol, 2012

  • Awarded grants from Berklee College of Music to execute social change projects


By: Frank Morris


When Luis Gamarra won a lottery in 2011 that would allow him to gain residency to the United States, the first thing he thought was, “Now I can go and audition for American Idol.” That’s exactly what he did.


The Bolivian native, who was living in Florida at the time, appeared on season 12 of the hit Fox series, and made it to the group round before being cut.


After his Idol adventure, Gamarra, who was working 40 hours a week at three jobs and studying business at a community college, pursued voice lessons from an instructor who told him about Berklee College of Music in Boston. He paid his own way to visit the campus and audition. He was accepted and was awarded a scholarship.


“I think Boston has changed my mind completely. I arrived and I was frightened and really scared because of the fast pace of the city. Coming from Bolivia to the U.S. was a different pace, and then going from Miami to Boston was extremely insane, especially because here you have the best schools and people who are passionate and very competitive. But if you don’t have the opportunity, you won’t be able to do something you want. I consider Boston to be the city of opportunity. I think it has changed my vision a lot,” Gamarra said.


When arriving at Berklee, Gamarra noted he was the only Bolivian on campus. Realizing other Bolivians may not have the same opportunities, he formed the nonprofit Sonidos Bolivianos in 2015 with the goal of creating more opportunities for Bolivians to go to arts schools around the world. His organization gathered more than $50,000 and sent Berklee to Bolivia to host auditions for aspiring music students. Today, there are three Bolivians on campus as opposed to just one.


Gamarra has made noise not just at Berklee but also on La Banda, the Univision show, on which he appeared last year and received praise from singers Alejandro Sanz and Ricky Martin.


“There are so many young people in this world and in Boston that help the community probably way more than I do,” Gamarra said, “but what motivates me the most is I am very aware of the blessing of the opportunity I have. I know that for some reason I was able to have this opportunity while there are thousands of people in Bolivia and other countries who are more talented than me, that always wanted this opportunity but never got it. One day I want to be someone who influences my community and lets people know their dreams can come true.”

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