Category Archives: Music

Notes from the (Brazilian theatre) Underground

I had met Maciej before in Salvador, Brazil, at some Candomblé dance classes I attended at the Escola de Dança. He stood out for being tall, white, male and straight – all at once! I guess we had that in common – and being foreign. His passion for performance was powerfully obvious. He is Polish and did post-doctoral studies in Brazil. His work combines theatre, literature, philosophy dance. Continue reading

Some thoughts on our album Ritmeloxá

The project I completed with Ubiraci Santos in Brazil in September, the album Ritmeloxá with him playing percussion and myself on soprano saxophone, was based on an improvisatory and rhythmic affinity between us and on several conceptual objectives and opportunities. While rhythm with melody is a kind of default state in Afro-Brazilian music, it also offers the possibility of modal extrapolation and freedom of melodic line. I have been exploring modal ways of thinking, composing and playing, influenced to some extent by Arabic and Indian music. I also have a research interest in the modal approach of Ralph Vaughan Williams and experience as a performer of the modal jazz of Miles Davis.

Taking a modal approach means not thinking in terms of a chord progression, or a serial tone row. Instead there are a number of available pitches and a line can develop according to certain criteria, or simply in free improvisation. In Indian and Arabic music pieces often explore the range of pitches gradually, proceeding from a narrow compass around a tonic and exploring upwards as if climbing and celebrating the attainment of various important notes. Indian ragas also have particular figures or phrases which appear in the course of the improvisatory development. In Western modal music as used in mediaeval plain-chant and renaissance polyphony, for instance, there are rules about the direction the melodic line should take at particular points.

There are certain modes which are extremely common in popular and traditional musics around the world. Pentatonics (which make up much Chinese music) and the Dorian mode are the most often heard. The Oxóssi piece on the album for instance uses a minor pentatonic mode. The melody is a traditional Candomblé chant sung to me by Ubiraci which I subsequently transcribed and memorized. In the improvisatory section I keep mainly within the mode, occasionally extending it with ancillary pitches. It has a repeated phrase at the end of the melody which acts as point of rest and a pivot before the whole tune repeats. In my conversations with the Candomblé priestess of Ubiraci’s terreiro (place of worship) she told me that this music calls the Orixá (deity) and energises the people to receive him. After attending a ceremony at which Ubiraci led the drumming he pointed out that he was interacting with the dancers when he played, and particularly to the force of the Orixá in them. In a musical sense his experience and ability to do this informed our interaction as players and improvisers, being sensitive to each others expression and responding to it.

Boredom and Ritual

Today’s reading has taken me in a strange direction. I was thinking about culture stayers and culture seekers; people who spend their lives becoming more profoundly steeped in a culture they were born into, and those who turn away from their ‘native’ culture and explore another, or  others. It seems to me that these are ‘types’ who in one sense are very different to each other, but often find themselves face to face, since it is culture stayers that the culture seekers seek out to learn from. They share a fascination with a particular culture, but, I would argue, from very different viewpoints. Continue reading

Political Soundscapes of Salvador

As you walk towards the heart of the historic centre of Salvador, Polourinho, you see a pass about five music shops. The are attractively presented and inside you will find many instruments strongly associated with Bahia and brazil more generally: samba band drums and hand percussion, atabaques, cavaquinhos, acoustic guitars as well as bossa nova sheet music and CDs of many well established Brazilian musicians. Further on, in the cobbled streets of Polourinho, many tourist shops sell berimbaus, musical bows used in capoeira which are a powerful symbol of Afro-Brazilian culture. Their very particular sound can be heard often around this part of the city, as well as various percussion ensembles, often accompanied by chanting and singing that evokes African traditions. this part of town is the showpiece of the city, known for samba-reggae, capoeira and Afro-Brazilian dance. It has had huge public investment, both in restoring old buildings and for cultural production, particularly of the cultural forms mentioned, as well as museums and special events.

If you happen to wander down the narrower, less welcoming street behind those music shops you saw before you will find amuch greater number of shops dedicated toanother kind musical (re)production. These, much smaller shops sell PA systems, speakers in all shapes and sizes, cables, lights, car sound systems to fit in the car, in the boot on the roof. Continue reading