In Conversation • Mila Maia

Mila Maia is from Santos, the coast of São Paulo, Brazil, and is based in Galway City, since 2018. Flutist and one of the founders of Oran, a traditional Irish music band from São Paulo, Brazil.
Her main project and area of research is traditional Irish music, including instruments such as the Irish Flute and the Tin Whistle. Besides Celtic music, she also works with several other music genres, such as “choro”, Brazilian Popular Music and classical music.

“Music is just another kind of language.”

Mila, since when and how your connection with the Irish music and the flute happened?

I started taking piano and flute lessons when I was around 9 years old. My parents aren’t musicians but they used to listen to different genres and I remember we had a couple of “Celtic and Irish music” albums. As I was learning the flute, that kind of music got my attention. After a few years, my mother came up with the album “The Corrs MTV Unplugged” and I realized some of the tunes they play in the middle were considered Traditional Irish music. I started to learn more and do big researches about Ireland and Traditional Music. At the time we didn’t have references or anything similar in Brazil, so it was a whole new world for me. In 2010 I decided to travel for the first time to Ireland to attend “Blas”, a Summer School of Trad Music and Dance at the University of Limerick and it changed my life completely.

When talking about Galway city, the name itself has a sound, as it is a place filed of music, and perhaps it is a place for the most traditional Celtic music in Ireland? Do you feel that you found the right place to live?

Definitely. Galway is amazing for artists and art lovers. It’s very well known for the Trad scene – amazing musicians come to the city during the year for concerts and sessions and it’s really nice being able to play and talk to them.

But Galway is good for music in general – here you also find ensembles, rock, jazz, bluegrass, folk, instrumental, original artists…and loads of festivals going on during the year.

Has the Brazilian style “choro” any influence or relation with Celtic music?

They sound very different from each other at first. I wouldn’t say it has a direct influence, although both have Polkas and Waltz inside the genre. But they definitely have one thing in common – the “Rodas de Choro” and the “Sessions”! That’s when a bunch of musicians sit around a table to play, learn from each other and have the “craic”, as people say here.

“[when I am in Brazil] I miss the musical atmosphere that Ireland offers and the cold weather that I love.”

Oran means song in Irish (Amhrán) and is based in São Paulo, Brazil. How did you come up with this name and how and where was formed the band?

When I returned from Ireland in 2010, together with the percussionist Gustavo Lobão, we decided to form a band and called 3 more musicians. We were trying to find a name in Irish that would be easy for Portuguese speakers to read and speak…so we took an Irish dictionary and started looking for “easy words” related to music.

The band started playing in local pubs and small concerts in São Paulo. As the years went by, we took part in festivals in Brazil and France, also being the official band for the annual Festival Celta Brasil in Campinas and for the Irish Consulate in São Paulo. The band formation changed over the years but it’s still on!

You play songs inspired in the Celtic nations like Brittany, Scotland and especially Ireland and also play music composed by you, so the inspiration of your songs is on the Celtic culture only, or is there a mix and influences in other cultures and music?

I had wonderful moments and experiences with the Celtic music in general (Ireland, Brittany, Scotland, Galicia) and I always care them with me and my music. But as a Brazilian person, I joke with my friend that the brazilian “Ziriguidum” is stuck in me and it doesn’t matter what I’m playing – you can feel it.

How is the receptivity of Celtic music in Brazil and other countries? 

The Irish music scene in Brazil has been growing a lot from a few years ago. People are having the chance to listen and learn how to play with the sessions around the country. Trad music can sound really happy and most of the musicians are very friendly, all over the world.

You also have a project called Maia Benzoni, which is a duo that brings the essence of traditional Irish music and American folk music mixed with their own particular accent; and also Galway Choro Ensemble, with musicians from different cultures and countries (Brazil, Italy and Spain). Can you tell us more about these projects?

“Maia Benzoni” is a duo I have with my husband César Benzoni. César was also a member of “Oran”, so we used to play trad music together before – we also add a bit of Bluegrass/Americana songs on our setlist, and of course, some Brazilian taste in the middle. We played a few concerts in Italy and currently in well known Galway Pubs.

“Galway Choro Ensemble” is a four-piece instrumental band that began in 2018, a few months after I moved to Galway. In that week, I met those amazing musicians who were interested in playing and trying a few choros (a Spanish and an Italian guy) and we played a few tunes together. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to form the ensemble and work on new Choros, Flamenco tunes and original pieces. We released our first album last summer and are looking forward to the next one!

You speak 4 languages (German, English, Italian and Portuguese). Is there any connection between learning languages and playing music? What is music for you? 

Learning languages is one of my favorite things in the world. I think music is just another kind of language. It takes a whole life to be super fluent; You have many ways to learn it and understand it (listening, reading); and of course, is a way to express yourself. The more you listen or speak/play, the more you learn.

What do you miss most in Brazil when you are in Ireland and what do you miss about Ireland when you are in Brazil?

When I’m in Ireland I miss my family, my friends, and some vegetables and fruits that it’s almost impossible to find here.

In Brazil, I miss the musical atmosphere that Ireland offers and the cold weather that I love.

Are you part of other projects?

I play often with the band “Sin a Deir Si”  – a Galway based trad/folk band that do concerts all over the country and also in Europe. I had the opportunity to play in the “Festival Millo Verde”, in Galicia last year with them.

I also play the flute with a Flamenco group called “Al Andar”. We do intimate concerts and Spanish events in Ireland and Europe.

Follow Mila Maia and her projects:

Mila Maia

Maia Benzoni Music

Galway Choro Ensemble

Oran Irish Music

You might be interested in languages and Irish literature, read our conversation with Luci Collin: