Paulo Almeida (new album ‘Oferenda’)

“Every idea in my album is somehow linked to ancestral history,” says Brazilian drummer and composer Paolo Almeida of ‘Oferenda’, his fifth album, which includes guests such as Lionel Loueke. Feature by Kai Hoffman.

Paulo Almeida. Photo credit: Laura Sanchez

‘Oferenda’ is the product of three years of imagination, emotion and research. The compositions on the album are deeply immersed in “the whole Afro-Brazilian cultural universe,” says Paulo Almeida. Described beautifully in the press release, Almeida’s compositions are “strongly rooted in Afro-Brazilian rhythmic explorations with a European Jazz sensibility.”

There’s something about living long-term in a foreign country that can make you want to pay homage to your roots. After four years in Switzerland, that is exactly what Almeida needed to explore on this latest album, going straight to the inner sanctum of the terreiros – the sacred temple of the Candomble religion in Brazil. You are immediately drawn into the world of the Orixas, Brazilian spirits who link the spiritual world and the world of humans, led gently through each track of the album as though being guided, musically, through the process of making offerings to this spiritual world. “Every idea in my album is somehow linked to this ancestral history,” Almeida says. “For me, there’s something very introspective about ‘Oferenda’. When you listen to it, it brings you inside, a conversation with yourself.”  

When he moved to Switzerland in 2019 to be part of the Focus Year Program at the Musik Academie Basel, Paulo Almeida could not speak a word of English. “Where I come from in Brazil, people don’t speak English, we don’t have the conditions to learn. So after so many health problems, leaving your country without speaking the language was a personal reconstruction for me. This experience has really changed my life.” With a strong sense of representing “many people from back home, people who once wanted to dream of being an artist but didn’t have the opportunity and ended up taking a different path,” Almeida is now a professor at the Jazz Academy Basel, and is both modest and courageous in his use of the musical idiom to revisit the land of his birth. 

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Featuring two vocal offerings with lyrics, the album opens with ‘Okê’, the greeting to Oxossi, the King of the Forests. This track features the vocals of special guest, Beninois guitarist Lionel Loueke, dubbed a ‘musical painter’ by legend Herbie Hancock – who certainly sets the scene for the rest of the album.  The second vocal track is ‘Odoya’, the greeting to Yemanja, the Mother of the Seas, featuring another special guest, Spanish drummer and singer Alberto Garcia on the batas (a traditional drum often used in religious ceremonies). 

Having overcome numerous bouts of ill-health growing up, Paulo Almeida’s music exudes a deep gratitude for life, demonstrated beautifully with the tune ‘‘Walking in Peace’. Intimately performed by Italian pianist Lorenzo Vitolo and Spanish trumpeter Óscar Latorre, “…it was recorded with the trumpet bell directed towards the piano strings, almost touching them, and this brings a different energy when you hear it.”

The tune ‘Lit Candles’ is inspired by the forced merging of religious concepts which happened in Brazil, the colonisation of the indigenous peoples when “many languages, cultural ways of living and lives were exterminated and this continues to this day… The gongs and the big reverb on the horns were with the idea of bringing the atmosphere of a large cathedral with lit candles.” 

Along with Paulo Almeida’s own vocal additions and expert drumming, ‘Oferenda’ features top-line musicians from around the world (all of whom have been brought together as specially selected members of the Focus Year Program). Although deeply rooted in the Brazilian cultural narrative, this is a truly international album, with specific performers in mind for each individual track, including American saxophonist Devin Daniels, Brazilian bassist Thiago Alves, Spanish trumpet player Óscar Latorre, Italian pianist Lorenzo Vitolo and Almeida’s special guests. 

Skillfully recorded, you can choose to listen to this album purely for the mesmerising and energetic vibe, or you can dig deep, immersing yourself in the world of the Orixas. As the listener, it’s your choice. Either way, this music is completely captivating. With playfulness and joy, each track of ‘Oferenda’ presents an opportunity to explore new options, from complex rhythmic structures to highly imaginative, floating solos and flights of fancy. 

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The physical CD is on Bandcamp or on Paulo Almeida’s website . The live concert version of ‘Oferenda’ will be touring next year, starting in Spain and Switzerland from February 2024.

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