Model & Cellist Patrick Belaga on the Best Music to Play at a Holiday Party

Los Angeles-based model and cellist Patrick Belaga is the kind of guest you pray you’ll run into at a holiday party. And no, it’s not just because he has sparkling green eyes and looks great in a suit. Whether it’s music, art, or how the two overlap, Belaga has a lot to say about a lot of things—and, like any good conversationalist, wants to know your thoughts on everything too. That quality is one of the reasons we cast him in our Express Your Gift campaign this season. That, and the fact that his improvisational style of playing his instrument is totally transporting. Get to know the lovely Belaga through our Q&A with the 26-year-old below. And be sure to check out his music on YouTube while you’re at it. We promise, once you’re through, you’ll be ready to skip over the small talk too.

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Express: What are your personal highlights of 2017?

Patrick Belaga: I did a performance in Switzerland over the summer for Art Basel that was very special and illuminating and has been a continued source of inspiration for me. I did a lot of the original score for the Lady Gaga documentary “Five Foot Two” on Netflix, so that was another high point. Those are probably my two biggest moments.

What cultural moments, artists, or inspiring people moved you this year?

The artist James Turrell. I went to one of his “Perceptual Cells” exhibitions here in Los Angeles. You lay in this dome that he’s created, and the dome is lit up in various ways and there are sounds that go along with the colors. There’s something about the way that he utilizes colors and sounds that speaks to the most primitive, base parts of my brain in a way that’s hard to put to words. I was experiencing overwhelming emotions when I was in the dome, but not tied to any particular event or circumstance of my life. He’s able to utilize the elements that he works with to elicit these crazy, intense reactions that are very cathartic—but you don’t know why necessarily.

What habit are you saying goodbye to in 2018?

I’m saying goodbye to meat and embracing vegetarianism in 2018. It’s a combination of all of the standard reasons; there is a moral thing, where I just can’t get on board with the large-scale raising of animals that are meant to die. I also can’t get on board with the terrible effect it has on the environment. And I can’t really get on board with the detrimental health aspects of eating a lot of meat. So, I’m transitioning away from it this year.

To be honest, what inspired me to really make the commitment was watching that movie “Okja”. It really got to me. I ate meat before that, even though I was always kind of grossed out by it. But then, after I watched that movie, like a month afterwards, I stopped eating red meat and felt so relieved. And then I started phasing out birds. I might stop at Pescatarian, I might still eat fish. We’ll see.

You certainly live in the right city for being vegetarian.

Very true.  

How long have you lived in LA and what else do you like about the city?

I’ve been here for three and a half years. I enjoy, as you said, the quality of the food. The sunshine and the proximity to dramatic nature—forests and deserts and whatnot—are both huge pluses of living here.

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What’s on your agenda this month? Are you celebrating the holidays?

I was raised half Jewish and half Christian so I always celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas growing up. Now I celebrate one or the other depending on who I’m with. This year I’ll spend Christmas with my mom and my brother, we’ll have a tree, and do the whole thing. I don’t make a huge deal out of the holidays but I do love being able to spend time with my loved ones.

Have you done your holiday shopping yet?

I’ve done some of my shopping. My mom is getting a necklace, and my brother is getting a coat. I have some more shopping to do. I have some friend gifts I need to figure out, but buying gifts for friends is hard because, like, do you want to be funny, or youthful, or sentimental? I’m trying to figure it out.  

What would you typically wear to a holiday party?

I have this snowflake sweater that my grandmother gave me that is my go-to. She is not with us anymore so it has sentimental value for me and reminds me of her. It’s also cashmere, which is a nice thing to have on. It’s nice enough to wear to a semi-dressy party with black corduroys and dress shoes, but you can also wear it to a dressed down party with just jeans and boots.

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What holiday-season track will make everyone want to dance?

For me, I tend to put on Nina Simone. Not all of her music is a dance-floor good time but I just find that it has such a human quality and so much soulfulness that it really has an effect on a room. I think people have more meaningful interactions with each other when her music is playing.

What are your staying-in rituals for those cozy nights at home?

I read a lot. I really like to just light incense and sit in my apartment and quietly read. I also have a lot of instruments and sometimes I’ll just sit around and bang on all of my instruments aimlessly. Those are the kinds of things that I do to take my mind off of all of the complexities of the outside world. It’s like a form of meditation.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished “East of Eden” by Steinbeck. I’m not a huge Steinbeck fan or anything, but it’s a wonderful portrait on humanity and family and how family can give you a sense of purpose and being.

My most frequent genre though is Sci-Fi. Octavia Butler is one of my favorites; most of her stuff is from the ‘70s and ‘80s and she is black and a woman, which is rare and unusual in the Sci-Fi world, especially considering how celebrated she is. Her novels have an empathy that is largely absent from a lot of male Sci-Fi writers. Book after book she just continues to blow me away.

What are you thankful for this year?

I am thankful for my mother, I know that’s cliché but she does teach me important things about myself and the world. I am thankful for my two cats, Mom and Baby. They are, in fact, and mother and daughter pair. They are very good at keeping me company.