Thursday, October 6

‘This has given me the power to be myself’: Brazil’s black jazz artists | Jazz

JOnathan Ferr remembers his youth. “Jazz was giving me freedom, while rap was showing me my place as a black man in a racist society,” recalls the pianist, part of the vibrant contemporary Brazilian jazz scene. “Those were two black musics that have given me the power to be myself.”

Like their American forebears, who used jazz to defend, and simply experience, freedom in their racist country, black Brazilian jazz artists like Ferr are using music to reclaim their heritage in a culture that often lays it. marginalizes. Despite Brazil’s contributions to jazz, from bossa nova standards to avant-garde fusion, its black artists have struggled to succeed (especially when playing frankly Afrocentric tunes) and many of the most successful proponents have been white. or fair skinned. Black talents fired by their own country include Dom Salvador, Tania Maria, and Johnny Alf. María and Salvador left Brazil to earn a living as musicians in the United States and Europe, while Alf, a pioneer of bossa nova, had to sell his belongings to pay for treatment for a cancer that ultimately killed him. “Brazilian music is black music,” says jazz pianist Amaro Freitas. “And what happened to these artists was racism.”

Despite this, it is proud black musicians who are now setting the tone for their country’s jazz, including Freitas, whose latest album Sankofa (praised by Jazzwise magazine as “magnificent”) features piano lines moving in strange rhythms and melody mixes with traditional music. Brazilian rhythm in a striking technique show. “We generally think of the piano as an 88-key instrument, but if you think of it as a drums, there are millions of possibilities,” he says.

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Born in Recife, a coastal city in northeastern Brazil, he joined a small local evangelical church as a drummer at age 11; her father got her settled with the keys. The music he played there had a “European Christian influence, but this church was located in a disadvantaged neighborhood, so there was Brazilian music like covering, corny and the funk that also influenced me. “

He was forced to drop out of his music school (his family couldn’t afford the £ 5 monthly fee), but years of concerts and music production studies made him want to incorporate Brazilian music into his jazz. In Afrocatu, from the Rasif album, Freitas fuses the polyrhythms of folklore maracatu music with improvisation in the style of Ornette Coleman. He maintains that “in Brazilian instrumental music we admire the virtuoso, but he often lacks the aesthetics, the history” of the diverse culture of his country.

This amalgamation of sacred practices rooted in Africa and Europe, urban black culture, and traditional Brazilian music, is also a feature of Jonathan Ferr’s work. Sino da Igrejinha, the opening track of his latest album, Cura, is a Scorea ritual chant accompanied by strong percussion, commonly attributed to Afro-Brazilian religions candomblé and umbanda. The song’s fast-paced descending melody also echoes Asa Branca, a staple in Brazil’s national songbook.

Growing up in Madureira, which he describes as “a place known for its strong black culture,” Ferr had to share his first keyboard – “a cheap toy my father bought us” – with his four siblings. Years later, while studying on a scholarship at one of the conservatories in Rio, he began to attend his first jazz concerts in the bourgeois clubs in the south of the city, having to leave before the closing ceremony to catch the last bus. “I was often the only black person who attended these presentations, and I wondered why that music was only played there and not in Madureira,” he says.

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So, in addition to playing the Blue Note club in Rio and his city’s iteration of the Montreux jazz festival, he hosted a concert in his own neighborhood in 2017, with tickets priced at one Brazilian real (less than 20p). . “It was full of people!” he says. “People don’t listen to jazz because they don’t have access to it, that has marked me.”

Today, Ferr advocates for democratic jazz music in Brazil. “But I don’t want to leave it behind, as many people do when they say they want to bring art to the favelas: I want to do it horizontally.” His 2018 single, Luv is the Way, demonstrates that openness as Ferr’s piano changes from sweet melodies to electrified funk riffs, and like his 2021 album Cura, the track is heavily influenced by Afrofuturism, the art mode that imagines utopian sci-fi futures for blacks. “I’ve been looking, in this aesthetic, for the idea of ​​bringing blacks to the forefront of their stories,” he says.

Embracing Afrofuturism and reaching pop music festivals and underground clubs, the duo Yoùn and producer Carlos do Complexo also rely on the language of jazz in their musical creation.

Carlos of the Complex.
Carlos of the Complex. Photography: Courtesy of the Artist

Yoùn, twentysomethings Allison Jazz and Gian Pedro released the album BXD in Jazz in January. The three-letter abbreviation in the title means Baixada, a region located on the outskirts of Rio. Jazz says that he came to appreciate how the genre of his name was intertwined with other black music, “with North American gospel music, with the blues,” and that “once we realized that all of this belonged to us, we began to understand Hands on it. ”Pedro describes jazz as“ a game that we both play together. ”On tracks like Inebrio, the duo explore breakbeat patterns and Brazilian percussion ensembles with soulful R&B harmonies.

A beatmaker, producer, and DJ, Carlos do Complexo befriended the duo thanks to their musical affinity. “The type of music we listen to, in our neighborhood, is not that common. People say it’s music for ‘crazy people’, ”says Carlos. In November 2020, he released his own version of that strange hybrid sound with Shani, an album spanning centuries-old Egyptian theology and alien stories. “All this jazz music that we have been absorbing will be reshaped [into] something much more connected with the idea of ​​jazz than with the genre itself ”, argues Carlos, adding that electronic music continues to be a more accessible path for this music. “It is much cheaper to become a beatmaker than to buy a traditional instrument in Brazil, but I think that linking these worlds with the idea of ​​jazz will lead to great things.”

Ferr, who will perform before thousands of people at the Rock in Rio festival in 2022, is equally optimistic after years of racial inequality and struggle. “When I go on stage I speak for myself, but I also speak for Madureira, for pianists who could not reach that place, for generations who did not have a black reference like me. We have already lost too many Brazilian musicians. The narrative now is as follows: I am black, I am Brazilian and I will stay in my country telling everyone that making this music is possible. “

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