Interview: Gilles Peterson // Sonzeira

With the World Cup over and the atmosphere evaporating off the palm-fringed beaches and rhythm-filled favelas of Brazil, its music remains in the ears of many. With Brazilian-inspired festivals popping up in New York, Tokyo and Berlin, and a recent article in The Guardian entitled Latin America: the music industry’s new frontier, the Samba spirit is still very much alive. Even we couldn’t help catching some of this Latin fever, premiering a vibrant three-track Brazilian hip-hop EP from Brighton-based producer LOOM.

But when it comes to UK platforms knowing a thing or two about Brazilian music, all heads turn to the legendary DJ/musical selector Gilles Peterson, and boy has he been working on something spectacular. Sonzeira: Brasil Bam Bam Bam is the collaborative project for Talkin’ Loud where Peterson brings together UK producers with a legendary selection of Brazilian artists. Teaming up with Alexandre Kassin (one of Brazil’s leading producers of today), Dilip Harris and Rob Gallagher, Gilles focused the album on Brazil’s rich musical history and combined it with a modern UK electronic twist that, in our humble opinion, has made a truly seminal piece of work.

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GILLES:
“Originally I went over to Rio with Floating Points with the initial thought of doing a record with him and Marcos Valle, but it became much more than that, and I actually wanted it to focus on a wider palette of music coming from Brazil. I wanted it to be something that was actually a step forward from where we’re at now with music; to definitely respect the heritage and tradition of Brazilian music, but also to do things that gave it a modern imprint.”

The album consists of new songs and covers with legendary Brazilian artists. Inevitably this bred some magical moments for everyone involved.

KASSIN:
“I think when Elza Soares was recording the vocals for Aquarela Do Brasil it was the moment everyone realised we had something unique, something that will stand for years to come.”

GILLES:
“That song was interesting because it’s like the unofficial song of Brazil, it’s essentially like covering God Save The Queen. The most incredible thing about it though is that Elza was discovered by the man who actually wrote that song, Ary Barroso. Ary hosted a TV show in the 50s and one day Elza came down from her favela with her mother to visit the show and ended up on stage performing his song. She’d never performed in front of an audience before and she just blew everyone away and became a household name from that point. But, and this is the funny thing about it, 50 years later she’s still singing his song and has never put it on record, so it was amazing that we were getting her to record the song that made her! It was a mad set of events and we were saying at the studio at the time, that if the rest of the record doesn’t do anything, it doesn’t matter, because we’ve got a track that in 100 years people will still be listening to. People will go to that version, I know that.”

KASSIN:
“Arlindo was another magical highlight for me. He’s the Cavaquinho player. He’s part of a very important group in Brazil called Grupo Fundo de Quintal and is one of the top artists and songwriters in Brazil today. He was in the studio next door to me and one day he just came in and said “hey what are you doing there?!” and I told him I was recording this thing and he asked “do you have room for any Cavaquinho?”. I said of course! This guy can’t walk on the streets in Brazil, that’s how famous he is.”

GILLES:
“Getting Seu Jorge on the record too, that was amazing. He’s the guy who was acting in City of God and he sings the David Bowie songs in The Life Aquatic. I really wanted to get him on the record but he wasn’t around in Brazil because he was acting in a movie about Pele’s life, which was ironically happening in Hollywood while I was in Brazil. So, on a whim, I just arranged to do a gig in LA in February as the last possible chance to get him on the record, but I hadn’t had a direct conversation with him at all. I just spoke to his wife and his studio guy and then turned up in LA for two days. Lucky enough I caught him and he did two songs for us! Well, he did one song but he did so many versions of it that we turned it into two songs, and that was definitely a great moment. One of the tracks was actually part of the ITV music for the World Cup.”

Augmenting traditional Brazilian music in a completely new way has already positioned Brasil Bam Bam Bam as an iconic record in the UK for 2014, with critical acclaim coming from every direction. On the flipside, Brazil’s rich musical heritage has generated such a strong local following and that it now accounts for 70% of the country’s total music sales. Seeing where Brasil Bam Bam Bam can fit within the Brazilian music scene, was an important consideration in the making of the album.

GILLES:
“I’ve done some interviews for Brazilian publications now and one of the people that interviewed me was really curious about Marcos Valle’s speech at the end of the song America Latina. Obviously there was a military dictatorship in Brazil and a lot of people left the country in the late 60s, early 70s. In a way his speech was a chance for him to speak out about it. I think a lot of Brazilians have had the reaction of “wow, amazing, he’s a radical!”

KASSIN:
“Everybody in Brazil is talking about this. I remember when I was mixing, because I hadn’t heard his vocals yet, and when I heard the end I was instantly like “wow this is great.” 

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Nina Miranda, who supplied vocals for Mystery Of Man and City Of Saints, had stopped by Brownswood the same afternoon and joined the conversation to add her thoughts on the album’s impact.

NINA:
“Gilles & Kassin have done an album that’s really interesting for British people saying “this is what Brazilian music is”. But also, it’s saying to Brazilian people “this is what people out of Brazil love about Brazilian music”, because it’s not just fun, it’s deep as well.” 

Though Gilles has been involved in music for over 35 years, he’s not actually a musician himself. Surrounded by such talented musicians and singers, Gilles’ approach to Brasil Bam Bam Bam as executive producer was less from a music theory perspective and largely informed by his DJ background. 

GILLES:
“I was thrown in at the deep-end to do a record in Cuba a few years ago which was a lot of fun but very different. It gave me the confidence to then go into the studio with Kassin and other real musicians and actually say, “can you play it that way”, but then I’m probably just quite good at finding the right people to ask the right questions!”

KASSIN:
“I must say he was brilliant at having arrangements ideas.”

GILLES:
“It’s the subtlest of things, like on Xibaba (She-ba-ba) where we’ve got this accordionist playing and there’s this break in the track where you’ve just got the accordion going. With that I was like “this is a big break, this is a DJ break”, but I don’t think any musician would’ve seen it necessarily the way I saw it, so I wanted him to play for that extra few seconds, so that when it does kick in, it’s kicking in hardcore. Those are the little subtleties that would’ve made it a DJ record, if you see what I mean? I guess that was my little DJness coming out.”

Looking forward, the reactions from the record have been so strong it shows that there’s real scope for the Sonzeira project to grow, perhaps with live shows now and another release in a few years.

GILLES:
“In retrospect I think this is the most significant record I’ve made or been involved with; to the point that I think we’ve unintentionally created a project that could develop rather than being just a one-off idea with the World Cup and the Olympics in mind to bring Brazilian music to a wider audience. We’ve now created a team and a way of working which could be really interesting if we developed it, so that’s what we really want to be doing. I certainly want to do it. We’ve had quite a lot of interest to do live shows but at this moment I’d rather wait another year really and just let the record sink a little bit. I do think this is a bit of a slow burner, it’s not an instant gratification of Brazilian music, you need to listen to the record and be committed to it to appreciate it. So I’m enjoying the fact that the more serious side of the media has had a lot of good things to say about it, journalists that I respect have said to me “actually, this is a good project, well done”, and that meant a lot to me.”

Now that World Cup fever has passed, and Sonzeira is no longer ‘newsworthy’, Brasil Bam Bam Bam now has the opportunity to reach interested ears more organically. Digested over time, the full extent of its musical and cultural significance will do doubt become clear. It will be interesting to see where this album and the project as a whole is positioned, when the eyes of the world next fall on Brazil in 2016.

Gilles Peterson presents: Sonzeira – Brasil Bam Bam Bam is out now on Talkin’ Loud. You can buy the vinyl boxset or CD at the Brownswood Bandcamp.

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