Brazil is truly a gold mine for musical talents. Every year new Brazilian musicians are brought to the attention of the international community. Some of them are here to stay, but others are excessively hyped, overproduced and their names quickly fade away. The music that Vinicius Cantuaria has created over the last decade represents a bridge between classic bossa nova and the hip 21st Century variations on the Tropicalia sound coming out of Rio De Janiero, New York City and Tokyo.
In a career that has spanned more than two decades, Cantuaria has both absorbed tradition and broken all the rules. While living in Rio, he performed alongside Brazilian superstars Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso, for whom he wrote his first million-selling hit, "Lua e Estrella." After moving to New York in 1994 to pursue his solo career, Cantuaria has been relentlessly sought after as a percussionist and guitarist by figures in rock, jazz, world music and performance artists like Arto Lindsay, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Bill Frisell, John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Ryuichi Sakamoto and many others.
Most of these illustrious collaborators have returned his favours by appearing on the albums in which Cantuaria, possessed of a seductively gentle voice, takes centre stage. This year he released a new record titled Horse and Fish , an interesting fusion of bossa nova and cool jazz that's another Cantuaria masterpiece.
All About Jazz: What was some of the first music you heard in Brazil when you were young that had an effect on you?
Vinicius Cantuaria: Definitely the Beatles! I was twelve years old and this music changed my world. I remember that each time after school I went home running so I could listen to them on the radio. That's the first music I paid any attention to. Back then, it was hard to find their records and if you heard that anyone was traveling abroad you had to beg for someone to buy their records for you. After that, I began listening to Sinatra, Jobim, Miles and many others.
AAJ: What about the music when you moved to the United States?
VC: I moved to the US in 1994, but my love was still samba and jazz! During that period I was and still am listening to Miles, Chet Baker, Jobim and Bill Evans. Even when I travel it's the music of these people that I always take on the road with me.
AAJ: You were born in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. How has that place influenced the way you make and perceive music?
VC: It has influenced me a lot. I was born in Manaus, which is the heart of the Amazon rainforest and that has influenced my whole soundworld. It really influenced my concepts of rhythm and atmosphere. It all comes from that. We moved to Rio when I was seven years old and that's a story for itself. Anyway, in near future I plan to make a recording in the heart of the Amazon forest where I would make a recording of a string quartet, Brazilian percussionists and Indian voices. It's a great idea and I plan to make it happen in near future.
AAJ: What about New York City? How has that place influenced your music?
VC: It is interesting when you think about it. The more I'm away from Brazil the more I feel nostalgic about it. You can say that by being away from home makes me compose music that is even more Brazilian. It seems that I have more time to focus on Brazil here in New York then when I was there (laughs). But then again, my music needs changes and it needs to talk to different people and to be free to experiment. In a way, I'm more Brazilian when I'm away from Brazil.
AAJ: In the past you worked with Caetano Veloso, Jorge Cautner, Gilberto Gil, people who were part of the Tropicalia movement. How do you look back at the experience of working with these people?
VC: It was a very rich experience! All these musicians are so great and talented. I had a nice time with them. I met Caetano through Gal Kosta, another star and another "tropicalista." Our working relationship started somewhere in 1977 and I worked with him (Veloso) for eight years. I played different roles within his band I played guitar, percussion, I produced and wrote songs. When I started working with him he was a well-known name in Brazil but not as much as he is today, if you make a comparison.
AAJ: Did you have any idea, in the past, that Brazilian music would today be having such an enormous impact on the international music scene?
VC: Yes! from the bossa nova until today, Brazilian music in general has made a huge impact on the market and especially on many well-known musicians like Beck, Arto Lindsay, David Byrne, Sakamoto.
AAJ: By moving to US you worked with people like Bill Frisell, David Byrne, Arto Lindsay, Laurie Anderson, Sakamoto, Marc Ribot, etc. How have these musicians made an impression on you?
VC: All these musicians fascinate me, and we exchange our music and ideas! Maybe you won't believe me, but I think that Ryuichi Sakamoto is the best Brazilian musician today, as he really knows how to capture those emotions and sensibility typical for Brazilian music. An example are his works Casa and A Day In New York.
I worked together with Bill Frisell in a band called Intercontinentals with whom we performed music influenced by different musics around the world Brazilian, Balkans, Arabic, American. He also plays on some of my records. Marc Ribot is another brilliant musician with whom this year I performed few duets. I dedicated a song to him on the new album, "Cubanos Postizos." I enjoy playing with Marc and Bill as they are so different.
Arto is a great friend and was of great help for my recognition here. I worked with him on several of his albums ( Mundo Civilizado , Salt , Subtle Body , Invoke ) and he played on and produced my records ( Sol Na Cara ). I met him for the first time in 1982 when Caetano and I were recording in NY. I love his unusual approach to sounds as it is far from the traditional.
As I said before, all these musicians fascinate me and there is a constant exchange of ideas among us.
AAJ: Is there a particular musician with whom you would like to collaborate?
VC: Too many of them! I really like to collaborate with other musicians! The reason I can't give you any name is because I have thousands on my mind.
AAJ: You released solo albums, and been a sideman and collaborator. Which aspect of your career has been the best experience?
VC: Every thing I do in music is important to me. It really doesn't matter if it's collaboration or a solo project.
AAJ: Apart from many collaborations and configurations tell me what happens when it's just you and the guitar?
VC: Sexy, hot and lovely! The guitar is an instrument that I spend a lot of time with, as this instrument is part of my philosophy! Very nice things happen when you make the guitar sing. With it I make music that is a reflection of my soul.
AAJ: You have a new record, Horse and Fish . How would you describe the new record? What does the title refer to?
VC: This is my first live album! I brought to it years of experience working with my band! The title reflects the contrast in the world: black - white, jazz - samba and everything living! And it makes a contrast for myself as a musician - I play both samba and jazz.
AAJ: The album features covers by Antonio Jobim and Gilberto Gil. What made you decide to do that?
VC: Gilberto Gil is an old friend of mine and I love his songs. As for Jobim, I have always tried to cover at least one of his songs on my albums. To me he represents everything Brazilian, i.e. his name is a synonym for Brazilian music. One day I hope to do a whole album with his songs and the songs that are present on the new disc are actually songs that I usually perform live.
AAJ: How do you look back at older recordings such as Tucuma or Sol Na Cara ?
VC: I love those records as they had different approach to making things. Tucuma had a different and fresh approach to things like melodies, arrangements, orchestration and I invited a lot of friends with whom I worked with before, people like Frisell, Laurie Anderson, Arto Lindsay, Sean Lennon, Erik Friedlander. These people helped the music to move in another direction. I feel the music is very much like jazz as it has no limits to it and the attitude is similar (no boundaries).
AAJ: What do you think about today's scene in New York and Brazil?
VC: The music scene is the same all over the world unfortunately! Computers, TVs and radios stations, media in general make it this way. It is very cheap to make music these days because of computers. There are lot of bedroom musicians who can make all sort of music. The quality of it is sometimes scary and all of this is supported by mass media, which creates more confusion.
AAJ: What are some of your upcoming projects?
VC: My upcoming projects include music and albums like Tucuma and Sol Na Cara ! I'm also on tour to promote Horse and Fish , and after that I'll start working on something new.
Visit Vinicius Cantuaria on the web at www.vinicius.com .