Photo credit: Sergio Bondioni
“Some things happen from a need,” says Mônica Vasconcelos when she describes what brought her new São Paulo Tapes – Brazilian Resistance Songs album into existence. The album has two launch gigs: the first is at the Vortex tonight, and the second – also involving a reunion after ten years with former close colleague Ingrid Laubrock – will be on 2 November at Jazz Fest Berlin. Sebastian writes:
Mônica Vasconcelos says she “leads a double life,” Originally from São Paulo, where she returns every year, she says is a “singer who does journalism”. Two decades in the UK and she has learnt our ways of understatement: she is an award-winning producer and presenter with the BBC World Service.
In that role in 2014 she proposed to the BBC World Service a documentary to mark the 50th anniversary of the military coup in Brazil which led to two decades of military dictatorship. There were several interconnected reasons which led to her feeling particularly, personally involved in this story. As a singer the songs of the period are particularly strong. “It was a most creative time, a high point for culture,” she says. “Composers and lyricists had to use code, use strategies to write about what was happening.” The São Paulo tapes have songs by Ivan Lins, Joao Bosco, Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque, which in their different ways – as Vasconcelos has said elsewhere – “address universal themes. Love, freedom, justice. They can be joyful or sad – but they never fail to move you.” The album has detailed explanations of this background from a real specialist, Professor David Treece of Kings College London, the author of Brazilian Jive From Samba to Bossa and Rap. And whether the message sinks in or not, some of the tunes – like the heavily coded Abre Alas – are downright catchy.
The personal resonances for Vasconcelos also go deeper. She was deeply affected by reading the book K by Bernardo Kucinski. Vasconcelos explains: “the book is political fiction. Kucinski’s sister was barbarically kidnapped, tortured and murdered – all in the name of the Brazilian State. Her body was never found. Kucinski is a political scientist with clear thinking. This book sparked so many things,” she says.
Eventually when the documentary came to be made, Vasconcelos intervewed Kucinski. The whole experience also led her to explore her own family history. Her paternal grandfather was arrested, imprisoned and narrowly, miraculously escaped death in the central region of Brazil in the 1930s. He moved to the Minas Gerais region. But he had more than a sense of being jinxed: he was denounced and arrested – again – under the military dictatorship. “He had that feeling that you can never be free ; it was almost like a curse.”
The album also has an interesting genesis. Having performed the material in concert, Vasconcelos took the opportunity while in Brazil to go to Estúdio 185 with Ife Tolentino as guitarist and as backing vocalist on one track to record the songs. She then struggled to rescue the recordings from the hard drive of her computer, which was when long-term associate Steve Lodder came up with the name of the “São Paulo Tapes”. And the producer? That is quite a coup. Vasconcelos had worked with Robert Wyatt on Comicopera , Wire magazine’s best album of 2007, and Wyatt accepted the invitation to produce the São Paulo Tapes.
For the Berlin performance, Vasconcelos will be performing with a six-piece band, plus special guest Ingrid Laubrock. “Ingrid and I go back a long way, says Vasconcelos. “We had two bands: Nois was a celebration, we played for many years, and then there was As Meninas which became Nois 4. It is 10 years since we played. It’s a reunion.” (pp)