Interview: Nomade Orquestra (October 2016)

There is no doubt that Brazil has not had the best period in recent years. Scandals, corruption, social unrest and a troubled transition to a new (unelected) President have weakened its health. However, there are some events to cheer people up: the Rio Summer Olympic Games, Zika virus no longer considered as an emergency, final recognition of the role of slavery in the country’s history and uninterrupted proliferation of Brazilian bands and their success on a global scale. That’s why we couldn’t avoid celebrating the first European tour of one of the most eclectic and forward-looking new acts coming from the South American country: Nomade Orquestra.

The 10-piece-band from the ABC (suburbs of Sao Paulo) landed in Santiago de Compostela to play at Womex at the end of October. From there, the musicians gave life to a short, but intensive tour, which brought them to the UK, Bulgaria and Germany. Throughout their three week music trip, they spread their vivid and enveloping sound built on the remarkable musicianship of the single interpreters and their cultural influences from all over the world, from the local paulista vibrant scene to Nigeria and even Japan.

Minutes before their London performance at Ronnie’s Scott’s, we met Ruy Rascassi, Guilherme Nakata and Victor Fão and had a stimulating and multilingual chat ranging from Brazilian to Spanish and English, but also touching far away subjects from Nomade Orquestra history and music, to the current situation in Brazil, Sao Paulo music scene and so on…

We started by focussing our attention on our interlocutors. In fact, as Guilherme revealed to us, Ruy and him were part of the first nucleus of Nomade Orquestra, the one which set the project on motion in 2012. “We started in 2012 with only four members. I was playing the drums, then Ruy the bass guitar, Marcus [Mauricio] the keyboard and Beto [Malfatti] the saxophone. We did some sessions and rehearsals and already came out with some of songs that are in our album”.

Ruy specified: “The first songs we played and recorded was ‘Bedun’, the one which start with Bob McFerrin sample. That was out starting point…”

Guilherme continued, “From there we felt the need to play more textures. So we added a guitar, percussion and a brass section too. All the musicians who joined us at that moment were all friends and it was straightforward for us to work and play together. So, after one year that we were playing with this formation, we had already composed a good number of original compositions.

Ruy highlighted the strong relationship that was existing and still exists between the band’s members. “As a matter of fact, we are all friends and we are all bond with each other. When we formed the band, everyone already knew each other because we were already playing together in other bands”.

Victor, one of the newcomers, added to the picture: “In reality, we’re all musicians coming from the ABC, which is the industrial area around Sao Paulo and for this reason, we play in many bands together. For example, I play in another band with Guilherme, so we are like a crew: part of the same music scene”.

We asked the musicians if they can depict a description of their very own crew. Ruy was clear and inspiring in his words. “Nomade Orquestra is a band playing instrumental music. We called ourselves Nomade because we walk through different genres like hip-hop, dub, jazz, funk and soul and we use the explosive creative power of those styles to create landscapes, climates and textures.

Nomade Orquestra is a meeting point between different influxes and musical expressions that chat, talk and communicate between each other. Every musician meets the others in this musical caldron and brings his influences, listening and life experiences to the project. We have musicians who brought reggae, other ska, dub, rock, jazz, samba… Everyone has his own music taste and this characteristic has deeply enriched the project”.

Guilherme underlined another interesting feature of the band “It was from this eclecticism and diversity that the band took its name. Our sound is not coming from a single place, but different ones. We don’t play jazz or afrobeat, we play a blend of this and that. This is also the reason why we decided to play instrumental music. It’s the music that has to do the talking, because music is universal”.

Nomade Orquestra’s chemistry is indeed unequivocal when it comes to their creative process. Guilerme explained to us a bit more about how it happens. “Our composing process is really peculiar. Maybe someone starts off with a riff and from that everyone adds his part. Bass, drums, brass… Other times we just do a jam session. However, at times, it also happens that someone comes with the full idea for a song. Everything is already there, ready and we just have to play it”.

Ruy gave a slightly different perspective over it. “While other times, a song grows live. For example, it happened in 2013 with our first song. It was our first show and we were playing at a party called Fuego Jazz in the ABC. We were playing a short set, mostly improvising tunes. But at a point, when we started performing the fourth or fifth song of the set, the Police came in. Apparently, there was some neighbour complaining about the noise. So the Police came and shut down the party. So we had to stop and decided to call the song that we were playing ‘Fuego Policia’.

When we asked the musicians about the music scene in their area, their answer was collective as their sound. Ruy started saying: “We have a really peculiar thing going on in our area. Because recently there has been many bands, many quality bands coming from Sao Paulo and surroundings and the music scene is really lively. The reason why this happens is because Sao Paulo is a bit like London: it’s a cosmopolitan city, so you have this mix of cultures. You can meet African people, Indian, American, European, Uruguayans, Italian Portuguese and Japanese all together”.

Victor confirmed: “You have a great cultural mix.

Ruy carried on “That’s true. We have this diversity that you can experience in many different things. Like food for example, you can go out an eat Japanese food, then a kebab…it’s like London. The same is happening with music. We have so many different influences in Sao Paolo. From American rock, to British pop, then blues, electronica but also traditional Brazilian music coming from the North”.

Guilherme was keen to pinpoint the importance of the African roots of his country: “We also have the African energy in Brazil, which is something really strong. Something that has helped the development of candomblé too.

While with Ruy, we traced back the origins of the new instrumental wave in Brazilian music. “There are two bands coming from the ABC which are the pillars of the new Brazilian music scene. They are Projectonave and Pedra Branca. They started 15 or 16 years ago, and influenced all the other bands. They practically created the current music scene. After them, there are Otis Trio, Ba Boom, Kubata, Giallos… They are all instrumental bands, because the instrumental music scene in Sao Paulo is really strong and lively”.

So we asked them how they felt to be ambassadors of that sound in Europe and how European audience reacted to their music. Ruy explained, “This is the first time we played outside Brazil and it has already been a meaningful experience for all us, it nurtures all of us. We saw so many movies and documentaries about UK music and we are finally here. We have always been attracted by British culture, so it is really important for us to experience it. We will go back to Brazil enriched, not just professionally, but personally too”.

Victor revealed to us what the tour meant for the band. “We worked a lot to reach this point. We usually play together and rehearse for three, even four days per week. So, to come here and play in front of an audience is an important acknowledgment for our work”.

While Guilherme described the relation and interaction with their new audience: “I think people can understand where our music comes from, they feel the Brazilian spirit. Our shows have different moments and parts. There’s a part which is more reflective and there’re more lively ones. What we also want to transmit is the warmth of Brazil and its aphrodisiac vibe. Then we create something which is not only related to sound, but is also visual”.

Victor concluded the answer noticing: “Actually, there are also moments when we don’t sound Brazilian at all and there were people who asked us where we came from, because they were used to a different Brazilian sound. Maybe, that’s because we create some visual landscapes through sounds and when you listen to them you can imagine different things and travel to different places”.

After the worldwide release of their first album (published by Far Out Recordings in April) and their European tour, Nomade Orquestra are ready to go back to the studio. There’s a second album in progress and a promising music journey started four years ago to move ahead. Ruy disclosed the forthcoming plan of the band, “We are going to record our new album in January and we should be able to publish it in April or May. It will be a continuation of what we are playing. At the same time, it will sound more conceptual because our sound is more consolidated”.

photo ©: Pedro Ladeira