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.

Horror Lands at Barra Beach

Two bodies found floating in the sea

(My translation of an article in A Tarde and Massa, two papers from Salvador, Brazil 18/9/14. I have written about this beach in a previous post on this blog. Stories of this kind are very common in the press here. I have been reading A Tarde regularly and have often been struck by the dramatic nature of the reports of violence. This story is extraordinary because it juxtaposes the attractive and horrific sides of Salvador. The original article can be viewed at )

Yesterday morning violence landed on Porto da Barra beach, voted the third best beach in the world by the English paper The Guardian. A navy launch towed ashore two bodies which were floating in the sea. A forensics team established that the victims had died from bullet wounds to the head and stab wounds to the neck. Continue reading

Birth, Sudden Death and Religion in Brazilian Politics

Campos crash site in the city of Santos

There was high drama in Brazilian politics last week with Sunday seeing the streets of Recife filled with mourners for Eduardo Campos, a charismatic presidential candidate in the current elections. An executive jet on which he was travelling on his 18 hour per day campaign schedule had crashed last Wednesday killing all on board. I really had not been taking too much notice of the electioneering until this point but this tragedy made me look more closely. I soon realised that Campos had caught my attention once before. When I was here in Brazil at the beginning of the year, a photograph in the paper, of a middle-aged man kissing a new-born baby had caught my eye. Alongside, Campos was quoted as saying; ‘Seja bem-vindo querido Miguel, voce chegou na familia certa’ – Welcome, darling  Miguel, you have arrived in the right family. Also reported was the fact that this, the fifth of Campos’ children, had Down’s syndrome. Continue reading

Tradition and the Camera – Nego Fugido ‘Festival’ at Acupe

Yesterday, the day after my birthday we went to a small town near Santa Amaro to see a kind of festival, although ‘commemoration’ would perhaps be a better term. We got up early, despite birthday party hangover, to catch a bus put on by a tour company. All the excursionists were Brazilian, and local, as far as I could tell, apart from our party which consisted of five foreigners, most of whom live here and another local who is married to one of them.

Acupe, the little town,is on a tidal mangrove river on the Bay Of All The Saints in Bahia, Brazil, and originated as a quilombo, a settlement of escaped slaves. In an annual festival the residents commemorate the period of resistance by slaves and the repression of them. We see children apparently shot at point blank range, we see men and boys begging for mercy on their knees, we see chaos and violence between black people – and we see demons walking the streets.

Despite the many interesting and important aspects of  the Acupe festival, the one which I have found most difficult to interpret is the way it was consumed by us,  as spectators, as tourists, and in particular as photographers. There was a veritable feeding frenzy of picture-taking which was almost more extraordinary than the actions being documented by the cameras. Continue reading

James Bond Syndrome

He was born in the 60s. In the white heat of technology; you’d never had it so good, in the economic miracle. Everything was possible. And he was born first. Everything was for him. He was born a boy. His grandparents had known hunger. There was always enough for him.

As young teenager in the 70s he and his friends went to the matinée films. Especially James Bond. He could do everything: look cool, fence, shoot, ride, dive, fight, smile, gamble, charm. He always won. He always got laid. Continue reading

Cultural Adoption and Existential Anxiety

According to the paper by Thiele I mentioned before, Heidegger saw existential anxiety as a state with the possible positive effect of making us think about fundamental ontological questions such as: why is there anything? What is my reason for being? What should I do with this existence?

When anxiety loses its potency, it gives way to boredom. We are no longer shocked and worried by our existential conundrum, but bored by it. Furthermore, this makes worldly activity seem pointless, too. For Thiele, this state of boredom is hidden in postmodern society, by technological innovation and the resulting culture of novelty. The main purpose of technology then becomes to alleviate boredom. Continue reading