Interview: Niños du Brasil – “Under a Brazilian Rhythmic Spell” (May 2019)

Niños du Brasil are a rare bird in the Italian music environment. Not only do they play a Brazilian-inspired bassy and extremely rhythmic sound, but they also play it with the drive and excitement of the natives, giving life to enthralling composition and enrapturing live shows.

In 2012, the duo, formed by Nicolò Fortuni and Nico Vascellari, started to fertilise the Italian dance floors with samba and Afro-Brazilian rhythmical seeds, jacking them up on techno and punk. Seven years later, Niños du Brasil have disseminated their electro-batucada all over the world. So much so that, their upcoming tour, starting in a few weeks’ time, will also bring them to St Petersburg on the last weekend of July for the Present Perfect festival.

To discover a bit more about the past, “present perfect” and future of the project, we reached Nicolò Fortuni by phone and had a nice chat about the Italian kids from Brazil.

The first thing that jumps out at you when you listen to Niños du Brasil is the unconditional love for rhythms and their patterns. For this reason, it was inevitable to start our interview by analysing the soul of the project and understanding how it came to life.

“Both Nicola and I come from a physical music background. We met in the community centres and squats circuit playing punk. What we liked about that was the impulsiveness and immediacy of those sounds, with tunes lasting one minute or little more, and in a single minute, you can find such a plenitude of feelings and emotions that you can’t find in other styles. That’s what has always attracted us; an inclination for the underground way to make and play music, which I prefer to the alternative one.

However, the concept of Niños du Brasil crossed our minds years before. We initially thought about it like a challenge. It was around 2000. It was an idea that we kept locked in the drawer for a while. As said, our aim was indeed to challenge and unsettle the audience more than attract them, so to skim and make a selection. When you attend a punk gig, you can usually listen to the musicians giving some talks between a song and another; talks about politics, religion, ethical issues or simply quoting books or readings. The more we were playing, the more we were seeing that people attending our shows were constantly less engaged with what we were saying. They were only interested in our music, not the messages we were sending. For this reason, we thought, why don’t we introduce our shows with a duo of kids, who believe they are Brazilian, dressed up like footballers, who play something so heavy that people who are not interested and are there because their friend invited them or because there wasn’t anything better to do, will eventually leave the room. That’s how the Niños du Brasil concept began.

The idea was to play primitive percussive music. We weren’t thinking about synths or guitars, but simply beating drums and singing. We figured it was like a sort of return to the origins, as people imagine the prehistoric cavemen beating sticks to repel animals and defend themselves. It was something related to the instinct of self-defence. It was also related to sexual and innate feelings, which are intrinsic in us, and which we just need to find a way to express.”

That was the spur to link the two musicians with Brazil and its music tradition. Carnivals, rituals and the way Brazilians experience music in those occasions were the main inspirations behind Niños du Brasil.

While we were developing the concept, we realised that everything was already embodied by the Brazilian tradition, with its esoteric rituals and practices, not to mention the carnival parades; how people were performing, reaching a sort of trance state during those parades, and how their bodies were possessed by the rhythm. That was really fascinating for us, and that’s when we decided to put things in order. We definitely realised that corporeality had to be one of the main ingredients of what we were going to propose to the audience, even more so when we thought about our live performances. We wanted to recreate that punk attitude, and we wanted to create a rhythm able to engage the audience on a more visceral level and have a liberating function. That’s also one of the reasons why we are dressed like and act like fools. In that way, those who see our shows can feel authorised to say, ‘if those two, who are on stage, can dress themselves with stupid clothes, cover their faces with white greasepaint and wear those laughable wigs, being among the audience entitles me to do that all the more so.

On another level, we also started getting into Brazilian music. We were listening to every sort of Brazilian music. Then, we mainly focused our attention on live recordings of carnival parades, music and sounds captured on the streets and in courtyards, and we were captivated by those rhythms, the overlapping of instruments and their layers. Then Nico went to Brazil and lived there for more than a month, also travelling around, and we eventually ended up playing there, one and a half years ago.”

Their first Brazilian gig was quite an extraordinary moment in Niños du Brasil’s history. It was a sort of homecoming for their music, and it was also the first time they played it for Brazilian ears.

To be honest, it was incredible. Even the audience’s reaction was awesome. In the beginning, they weren’t expecting it. It took us a bit to explain to them that what we were doing was to pay homage to their culture and tradition, which is something not entirely clear at first sight during our shows. But then, you could see they had a lot of fun. It was also wonderful to interact and chat with them. I can’t really wait to go back and play there.”

We spoke about Brazil, but as we wrote, both members of Niños du Brasil were born and bred in Italy and are, to some extent, part of a new wave of musicians, DJs and producers, finally bringing Italian music once again beyond the national borders.

I don’t feel we are part of a music scene, but I can’t deny that something is moving in Italy. It’s been a few years that something has been going on, and I’m really pleased by that. There’s a sort of union of musicians, but there’s nothing official or established. So yes, something is happening, but there’s no such thing as a scene with its own name. There are a lot of collaborations between musicians, and labels are facilitating this process.

You can find musicians like Populous, MYSS KETA, Cosmo, Lorenzo Senni, Simone Trabucchi and his project Still, and I can possibly mention hundreds more of them, who fully deserve the attention and interest that is growing around them. Then, you also have national realities like La Tempesta, that are supporting the work of new artists, promoting them, releasing and distributing their albums and helping them to find shows.

What is missing is someone going outside the national borders. Luckily, for our latest two albums, we found a New York-based label (Hospital Production), which has helped us to do that and to spread our sound, also finding shows abroad. For example, this summer, we will play around Europe with a few gigs in Russia too.

Also, considering music listening and influences, Niños du Brasil are focusing their attention outside the Italian borders.

Except for some old Brazilian batucada and samba records from the 1960s and 70s, I hardly listen to music thinking about what can influence Niños du Brasil’s sound. The reason is because, to be possessed by sound or rhythm is not something I can easily find in albums.

While, when it comes to music listening at large, I keep on playing what I was playing when I was a teenager, so hardcore and punk bands; two styles that never went out of fashion and still enjoy plenty of new releases, in particular when you look at the UK scene, which after some slow years, is back livelier than ever.”

Going back to the production of the duo’s latest album, Vida Eterna, which was published in September 2017, as Nicolò explained to us, despite the fact that the momentum of the album is not over yet, the duo is already thinking about its successor and how to integrate it into the live shows.

I still find Vida Eterna relevant and fresh. It seems like, since we released it, time has flown by. At the same time, I also feel the need to look for something new. Obviously, we have already started thinking about and working on new material. We are going to preview it this summer during our tour, and even if it won’t be ready for the end of this year, I hope we will be able to release the new album in 2020.”

We will start touring again in mid-May, and we are going to have a busy summer with shows. We will present original and unreleased tunes live. Obviously, our hits will be an integral part of the setlist, but we will gradually introduce the new album too. So, we will spend the summer playing live, while from September on, we will focus our attention on the new album.”

Live is possibly the chosen dimension for Niños du Brasil. On stage, the musicians fulfil themselves, and their music is finally free to release all its energetic and dancy drive. We asked Nicolò how they build up their performances.

“I would say that we don’t look for or expect anything in particular from our shows. The reason is because, the success of a performance is mainly related to how the audience react to it. You can play in a small venue with a few hundred fans and receive such huge energy, but you can also perform during a festival in front of thousands and thousands of people and feel less engagement and some distance with the audience.

What we always look for is to set people free; to loosen up their instincts through the rhythm. We usually start our shows quietly, and steadily increase the tempo until the final explosion and stage invasion.

That’s also what the Present Perfect audience can expect from Niños du Brasil when they will visit St Petersburg in July.

In Russia, people know how to party and have fun listening to music. It won’t be the first time we have played there, because we have already played in Moscow, and from what little I saw, I know that they don’t need any advice on how to fully enjoy our performances. The times we played there, it had always been a pleasure to see them dancing to our music.”