Interview: Ivan Conti, Azymuth – Music for the Present Future (October 2017)

Azymuth are a rare gem in today’s music world. They have been around for almost half a century and they seem not even a bit tired of making music and travelling the world with it. Rising from the fervent Rio music scene of the ‘60s, they enlightened the world with the warmth of their unique music – a beautiful blend of Brazilian tradition and innovation with jazz, funk and rock – and they have never stopped doing so ever since. Even after the passing of visionary keyboardist José Roberto Bertrami, they refused to hang up their microphones and went on to produce their latest work, Fênix – a joyful ode to life and rebirth.

After watching the band’s flawless sound check while sipping a beer, I met the band’s drummer Ivan Conti backstage at Milan’s Santeria Social Club, where Azymuth were going to perform for the Milan preview of Jazz:Re:Found, one of our favourite festivals coming to Turin from November 29th to December 3rd. As I introduced myself and Ivan relaxed in front of me, I was delighted by his humbleness and we quickly jumped into the conversation.

Let’s start from the beginning – it’s been 45 years since your first album. How do you think your music has changed and evolved during this time?

Ivan Conti: “I think it changed a lot with the jazz. The guys enjoyed playing with the band and we always did some mixes and remixes. Then we liked to progress and actualise our sound with every kind of influence and rhythm. This is important, I think“.

In the past 45 years, you’ve produced an incredible amount of work, almost one album per year. Did you ever feel like taking a break?

IC: No, because we like what we do. We had a break of course when José Roberto Bertrami stopped for a while and tried to work on some solo albums. I tried to continue the band with Jota Moraes, who came to compose as a keyboard player in the ‘90s, and then Bertrami came back and we went on to follow up some new ideas and work on new albums“.

How did you transform samba into samba doido (“crazy samba”)?

IC: [Laughs] It is a kind of samba. And it’s maths! Mathematics and music come together and so you have something like: one, two, three, four, and we’d do something like [taps fingers on the table simulating drums] one, two, a pa-papapirapopepeparamte! and we go out [of the straight rhythm] and back. You go out of the compass and then you come back. This is samba loco, or samba doido“.

And how do you relate to Bossa nova?

IC:Bossa nova! It’s fantastic too. I started playing bossa nova with the acoustic guitar. Then bossa nova came to Azymuth like jazz, rock and funk. Altogether, a little bit of each one. Bossa nova is a traditional beat of samba“.

What were your early influences? I read that you heard a lot of Italian music.

IC: In Brazil during the ‘60s when I started, we heard a lot of ballads like Pino Donato’s, a lot of singers and a lot of kind of Italian music, and also classical music too. Classic guitars, classical music orchestras. My father had a lot of LPs of the Bing Crosby Orchestra, and also Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. This was my school. I love it, a lot of orchestra and jazz. I worked in the orchestra in Rio de Janeiro on the television for a long time.

What are you listening to now?

IC: I listen to all the good music. Good music for me is Elis Regina, Miles Davis, and Stevie Wonder. In my country now there is bad music – it’s funk but not the funk of RnB. I don’t like it. The lyrics are crap. There are a lot of bands that are starting now who don’t have merchandising and media coverage yet but they are coming up now. Also, Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque, and Leny Andrade, who’s a fantastic singer too, and Joyce Moreno and so on. This is Brasil!

Let’s talk about your last album. It’s titled Phoenix – is it a metaphor for Azymuth at this point?

IC: I think so, yes. Azymuth never burnt into ashes, but the intention is like the phoenix’s rebirth. Our rebirth after Roberto is gone. Because Bertrami told us: “Ok, go ahead, look good and go on”. Me, Alex and Kiko, who joined the band, brought some renovation and a new feeling. So I like very much this album. And back to the idea of the jazz – of course, we wanted to have some tunes that would come together with these kinds of influences”.

There are very different tracks on this album. Batucada em Marde sounds like it’s made for the dance floor, just like your big hit Jazz Carnival. Why do you think some of your tracks became milestones of DJ culture?

IC: A long time ago, 25 years or more, I remember me and Alex were playing in a big house in Brazil and a guy saw the group and told him [Alex]: “Oh my God, you are 20 years ahead!” It was a shock. I couldn’t understand why. ‘Your music is for the future!’ I think the future is now [laughs] because the DJs have come and held the sound of Azymuth“.

What about O Matagal? It’s very different from the rest of the album.

IC: Exactly, it’s so different from the other tracks. The producer, Daniel Maunick, said: ‘Do something like the forest, wild, very wild’. O Matagal is like you come to the wild world of the animals and the forest with the sounds of birds. I did the recording in my house with the drums, other percussions and a lot of whistles.

Imagine we are in Rio de Janeiro now. Where should we go to find the true Brazilian sound?

IC: Oh, a lot of states and places. In Pernambuco, you can hear a lot of beautiful songs, especially maracatu and samba siranda – a lot of traditional Brazilian rhythms. Other places in Rio are Brasserie Rosario in downtown, Feira do Vinil, Julieta de Serpa – a very beautiful house where they play jazz, MPB [musica popular brasileira]. Also, Beco das Garrafas, it’s an old one. I started playing there in the ‘60s, and the Blue Note“.

How about the future?

IC: Only God knows. I hope we can play together, work on another album next year and have one more tour.