In Conversation • Mario Bakuna

Mario Bakuna is a London-based Brazilian composer, arranger, singer and guitar player, with twenty years of professional experience. A graduate of the Free University of Music in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he studied with musicians such as Olmir Stocker, Roberto Sion and Roberto Bomilcar (pianist who played with Frank Sinatra during his visit to Brazil). In Brasil, Mario Bakuna has played alongside the trombonist Itacir Bocato, guitarist Renato Consorte, and pianist Nelson Aires, just to name a few.

His study focuses on the development of a music repertoire inspired by the greats of Afro-Brazilian Music, Samba, Jazz and Bossa Nova. In addition to developing new arrangements of music by enshrined Brazilian artists as Tom Jobim, Dorival Caymmi, Paulo Moura, and João Donato, in recent years he has been working on reinterpretations of Samba Jazz – musical genre that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s and was led by musicians like Luiz Eça, Tamba Trio, and Edson Machado. Their repertoire was based on Brazilian Standards with more sophisticated harmonies inspired by the Post-Bossa Nova movement.

He travelled to Europe to expand his knowledge and skills and since settling in London has performed alongside musicians such as Jean Toussaint, Liam Noble, Ricardo dos Santos, Edmundo Carneiro, Cacau Queiroz, Alain Jean Marie, Dudu Penz, and Filó Machado.

This year, Mario is launching his new album as a quartet: ‘Brazilian Landscapes’ — we talk about this album in this conversation, also about weather and mountains.

Mario, how’s the weather like in London? Here in Dublin we had a bit of sun but it’s already gone!

Hi, Marluce. Firstly, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work, not only this time but for all the other times you’ve opened up space for me to do so. This spring is too cold for my liking. But a tropical man sees cold in everything. Haha

I’ve passed by Arthur’s bar today, it was dark and closed – very different from when I was last there to see your last two concerts. It seems like an eternity ago!

Arthur’s bar – a space managed with a lot of sweat and dedication by my friend Conall Lee. I love playing there. The evenings are always busy and the audience is very attentive. Irish people have a lot of love for music – and for the arts in general, I believe. Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Rory Gallagher, Samuel Beckett…. a cauldron of geniuses that somehow left imprinted on the social make-up a love for knowledge.

These two years have been very difficult for musicians. Lockdown, gigs cancelled, lack of contact with the audience. A difficult time even if fruitful in some circumstances. What has this period given to you in terms of learning, besides the creation of ‘Brazilian Landscapes’?

Yes, it was and has been pretty hard. I had a health problem which led me to stay nearly 40 days at the hospital. As a result, I spent months without playing. When I left the hospital, I decided to record an album. I think that as a way to avoid a stronger form of depression; I set the album as a project to be finished by the end of Autumn in 2020. I’ve also developed a cultural production course in which I show set-by-set how I build an agenda for international concerts. We live in a time when producers are only interested in those who are already known. In some ways, this forces the less known musician to survive only by teaching lessons, which I find also very important because we also learn from teaching, by understanding the paths of methodologies and keeping the flame always lit. But the final result, and where art is done, is the stage. And it’s there that every single musician is happy. That’s why I’ve created this course.

‘Brazilian Landscapes’ is a form of visiting Brazil? Which are the more pronounced Brazilian characteristics in the album?

Exactly. I always think of music as very connected to anthropology. A way to understand the mindset of peoples. ‘Brazilian Landscapes’ is this cut between the various facets of Brazil: the Ijexá which influences Yorubá, the most modern Brazilian Bossa Nova, galope and baião and forró the more northeastern styles in the language of the hinterland. Even as I write this I’m filled with affection for the memories of my journeys through our Brazil.

Who are your partners in this project?

For this project, I had on my side some irreplaceable people: the English pianist Sam Watts, the Bahian bass player Matheus Nova and the Gaucho drummer Marcinho Pereira. I also had Felippe Baldauf, who recorded, mixed and mastered the album. We recorded at Drumming Institution Studio em Brixton/London. The making-of video and photography was produced by the German photographer Wander Black. Before the lockdown Wander was my partner in Bohemia. I like that when friendship and work mixup; the result is usually good. The artwork was created by Alê Prade, a friend and excellent artist; for whom I had the pleasure of producing the launch show for his album in 2019.

“Music for me is a way to visit places that I no longer have. A way to resolve my conflicts. A way to love a loss.”

The artwork was created by the poet and painter – Alê Prade. What a lightness and fluidity! It seems that the cover has a brise which carries the listeners to the seas and mountains of Brazil! How other forms of art inspire and help you in the process of composing and producing your albums?

The German opera composer Richard Wagner has a concept that he uses as a reference: the greek tragedies, which he calls “Total Art”. He drafts the idea that all forms of art feedback to each other. I think that this corresponds to the aesthetic scheme of each creative model. For me, the aesthetic scheme is the political frame. I can’t dissociate art from politics. As I have said previously, I try to always keep in mind an anthropological scope as I think of an album’s unity. Jobim himself, in his album Matita Perê, made a more than obvious tribute to the book Manuelzão e Miguilim by Guimarães Rosa, in which Jobim also highlights the narrative thread in two parts, just as Guimarães Rosa had done in his book, by separating them into General Field and Love Stories. The myths in the work of these great geniuses are very present in order to give depth to the condition and paradigms of mankind.

From Brazil: mountain or ocean?

Both of them. All of the biomes.

When you were interviewed by The Brazilian Coffee Time, in Dublin, you said that it was when you moved to London that you were able to connect more with Brazilian music, right? It can seem obvious to miss our homeland and look for a form of attachment or connection. Is music a tie for you? Have your last projects been an extension of this tie?

I think so. I’m always motivated by my longing. I started to study [music] when my father left our home, he got divorced from my mother and disappeared into the world. He was also a musician. I started to study guitar when I was 7 years old and I believe that this was an attempt to prevent his image from disappearing inside of me. Music for me is a way to visit places that I no longer have. A way to resolve my conflicts. A way to love a loss.

What do you think would be the biggest difference between your last two projects: Where Rio de Janeiro Meets Bahia and Brazilian landscapes?

I believe that all of the projects of every artist are a continuation of a previous project. The number that follows is usually motivated by a personal taste that gets more sophisticated one work after another. In Brazilian Landscapes I used the same research material that I used in Where Rio Meets Bahia. I always try to extract from rhythmic origins a historical image as a way to tell a foreign audience the reasons for this or that. The biggest difference is that in Where Rio Meets Bahia I explored Mario Bakuna the violinist. In Brazilian Landscapes, I explored Mario Bakuna the singer.

When will we finally have live concerts?

The concerts will start from the 17th of May. For this album, I have an interesting tour starting in England, Spain, France, Denmark, Estonia, Hollanda, Portugal, United States, Canada, and then possibly Japan. I’m at a moment in my life where, despite all of the adversities, I feel very happy. I try to find that motivation in my day-to-day life.

Cover photo: Patricia Castilho