In recent years, the Concord native has been heard trumpeting with Irish singer-songwriter Sin Silver, sitting in with the rock and soul group the New Frantics and collaborating on some original R&B tunes with RiGht Proper. In 2020, she performed solo at the virtual Concord Jazz Festival, a moment she cherishes.
“You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to be a part of the Concord Jazz Fest,” shares Robles. “I went with a neighbor of mine to the event in 1999, and I’ve been dreaming about it since. I was probably the youngest musician there, the only female trumpeter and the only one that’s blind.”
Robles has experienced nearly her entire life without eyesight. She was born prematurely and lost her vision at just 3 months old due to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). She still perceived some color and light until her late 20s, when she ultimately became completely blind.
Meeting struggles head on
While she acknowledges blindness is endlessly challenging, she meets her struggles head-on with an appreciation for her life – given its rocky start.
“I’m truly blessed to be given life; I mean, I could’ve died. I weighed just 1 pound, 12 ounces. I had multiple issues going on. And I had a hole in my heart. … I’m a living miracle.”
Robles got into music at age 10 at Holbrook Elementary.
“I remember that day very clearly. This lady comes in, Karen Ashford, then Karen Simon. … I remember her voice. She was promoting the band and recruiting students to join. Later that day after hearing that wonderful presentation, I told my Mom: ‘They said I can be in the band; I want to be in the band.’ Mom said: ‘Well, all we have is a flute or a trumpet,’ and I said: ‘I ain’t playing no flute. That’s a girly-girl instrument. I’ll do trumpet.’ ”
Joining the school band was a big deal not just because it introduced Robles to the world of music, but it also offered another opportunity to socialize and make friends – something she says isn’t easy for a blind person of any age.
In 2016, Robles played a fundraiser for the Music Academy for the Blind at Armando’s in Martinez. There, she met some people in both the Martinez and Ozcat Radio music communities. This was the beginning of Robles establishing her local music network and building friendships.
“And just when things started, COVID happened,” laments Robles, who like so many others found herself removed from all social interactions and eventually unemployed.
Prior to the pandemic, Robles worked as a Braille transcriber for a San Jose company. It was a three-hour commute (one-way) on multiple train systems, which she managed without a travel companion. Despite commuting six hours a day to work a six-hour shift, she was grateful for the employment. Robles notes that job opportunities for blind individuals can be limited, and discrimination in the hiring process is not uncommon.
Music with friends
With the pandemic mostly in the past, Robles is working again, testing websites for screen-reader efficiency. She’s also back playing music with friends, performing most recently with Sin Silver at Concord Crawl 2022.
Robles chooses to share the difficulties of her experiences to help establish a better understanding of how a person moves through life without eyesight. She wants readers to know that October is Meet the Blind Month. Information and a schedule of activities can be found on the website for the National Federation of the Blind at NFB.org.
“It’s people and organizations like that who make life easier to live. I’m here – I’m just trucking on. I’m doing what I do, and I love what I do. It makes me happy. I like to give back to the those who have helped me, to give back to the community, while being a part of society.”
Dave Hughes is a local music advocate with an extensive network of independent artists. He produces and hosts a local music program on KVHS called The Beat of Diablo, every Sunday at 7:00 PM on 90.5 FM. Dave also catalogs local music releases at ConcordRockCity.com.