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The French Connection


The French Connection

France-based Brazilian group Jiripoca’s second CD,
Destinos,
was released in 1998, close on the
heels of their 1997 release
of Babilakes &
Muambas. It seemed that they would be
generating a CD every
year. But the group started
lining up appearances in one festival after another.

by:
Phillip Wagner

My introduction to the unique rhythms of Célio Mattos and Jiripoca Band came by way of an email. Jiripoca,
incidentally, is a Brazilian Indian word for ‘exploding mouth.’ Célio wrote to me, after stumbling onto my web site, in early 2001 to tell
about a CD that Jiripoca band had just released in France. I asked for a copy, little realizing that their Afro-centric blend of
North American, Caribbean and European arrangements would merge so seamlessly—and so enchantingly—within a
framework of Brazilian musical structure and influence.

My muted expectations were rocked on hearing the first 15 selections of
Destinos, particularly the playful, upbeat,
"Sossega Risoleta", which employs Célio’s extraordinarily deep and mellow vocal tones to greatest effect. Only the bonus-track,
which I thought unnecessarily and gratuitously included the dreaded "F" word in an otherwise nicely arranged urban-black
rap anthem (the only rap on the CD) disappointed me. But to be fair, perhaps I’m just too old, or too conservative, to
appreciate the harsh realities of urban communication.

I’ve since taken time to experience more of Célio’s music, and we’ve exchanged emails periodically over the past two
years. I’ve even collaborated with Célio, as a contributing lyricist to some selections that we hope will find their way onto one
or more future CDs. As we’ve gotten to know each other I’ve peeled away the layers of Célio’s life to reveal the roots of a
Brazilian expatriate’s artistic expression. Célio’s story and the music that emerged, and evolved, as Célio’s life unfolded, are
inextricably intertwined.

Blood, history and geography conspire in a typically Brazilian personal history to produce an atypically talented musician

The story of Hercélio Mattos de Oliveira Filho, or "Célio", reads like an ancestral and actual roadmap, representing in
many ways the complex social and cultural heritage of Brazil. Célio was born to Hercélio Mattos de Oliveira, Hercélio senior,
and Maria Luiza Mattos de Oliveira shortly before noon on the last day of the last year of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s.

That event occurred in Taubaté, about 200 kilometers northeast of São Paulo, São Vincente and Santos, and about
100 kilometers inland from the coast in São Paulo State (SP). A
Carioca, or native of the city of Rio de Janeiro by birth,
Maria Luíza, 65, retired in 2001 after many years of government service. Now she lives in Iguaba Grande in Rio de Janeiro (RJ)
state, near the coastal community of Cabo Frio, due east of the city of Rio.

Hercélio senior passed away from heart problems in 1983 at the age of 45. Like Maria Luíza, he was born in 1937, but
in Cruzeiro, SP. He worked for the Bank of Brazil until 1971, owned a bar in São Paulo from 1973 until sometime in 1981, and
from that time, until his death in 1983, authored poems, stories and lyrics that inspired young Célio to pursue his own dreams
of personal expression. The two Hercélios sometimes collaborated, and Célio hopes to publish some of his father’s work
and some of their work together.

Two hallmarks of Célio’s life have been an extraordinary number of relocations and a bloodline that reads like a
Russian novel—complex and interwoven.

Owing to his mother’s work with the government, Célio lived in 15 different locations in 12 cities or districts in the
states of São Paulo (SP) and Rio de Janeiro (RJ) by the age of 17. In 1987 he moved to Drancy, Seine Saint Denis, France, but
relocated to Marigot, Saint Martin, French West Indies (FWI) in 1991. In 1992 he returned to France, this time in Grenoble, Isere.
Two years later he relocated again, to Lyon, Rhone, France. Since 1999, Célio has divided his time between Paris, Lyon and Rio.

Célio’s typically Brazilian roots include Portuguese, English, German, African and native Brazilian bloodlines. One of
them was a Portuguese man named Eduardo José da Silva. Another was a woman with Africa blood, Anna Araújo. Fate would
bring them together. "Eduardo came in the end of the 19th century" Célio told me "certainly because there was no work in
Portugal". He can’t say how Eduardo met Anna, but he added "The coupling of a Portuguese man and
mulata brasileira has always been very typical in Rio".

When I inquired further into Anna’s story Célio replied "I don’t know more than that and my family never talked
about it. It’s always been a kind of a family secret. I’m sure that’s because of racial preconceptions, and because (in the past)
there was pressure to be considered white. But my generation doesn’t think like this anymore". Célio knows only that Anna’s
mother lived in the state of Rio. "I think she was in the mountains, near Petrópolis or Teresópolis," he said. Another of his
ancestors was an English sailor by the name of George Young. Although George’s story is also a mystery, it’s no mystery to me
that, like Eduardo from Portugal, he found Brazilian women to be attractive, and pursued a relationship with one until they
were married. One set of Célio’s great grand parents was among 5,000 Germans who, like Eduardo, immigrated to Brazil to find work.

A melting pot of musical influences with an African flavor

Célio’s mother played piano into the mid-to-late 1960s, primarily classical music and Latin standards. Ironically, Célio
began studying piano at about the same time his mother stopped playing. But after two years he dropped his interest in piano
in favor of the guitar. When he moved to Rio in 1973 he came into contact with black music, which included
choro and music associated with
candomblé in addition to samba.

But Célio is quick to point out that his most memorable single inspiration was going to the cinema to see the Beatles
in Help! at age seven. Help! expanded Célio’s interest to include American and British offerings like Led Zeppelin, Deep
Purple, Yes, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and, later, Barry White.

I once noted to Célio that he seemed to have strong musical ties to many diverse Afro-centric musical communities, and
added that the way he expresses how he feels about the spirit and life of those cultures is exceptional. But I asked him to clarify
for me when his interest in music became so Afro-centric, and why. He responded that "When I first went to Rio I began to
hear a lot of black music, including the work of Martinho da Vila, Paulinho da Viola, Jorge Ben, Cartola, and the various
samba schools. But there was also the bossa nova
of Tom Jobim, the music of Chico Buarque and Edu Lobo, and the black Rio
samba-funk of Tim Maia, Erlon Chaves, Luiz Melodia, and Banda Black Rio.

"I was also inspired by the native Indian influenced
music of Milton Nascimento and Egberto Gismonti, the jazz of Hermeto Pascoal and even music from the Northeast of Brazil
that arrived in Rio and São Paulo from Alceu Valença, Elba Ramalho, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Luiz Gonzaga. Singers
like Elis Regina became very important to me too. They were among the first I knew who sang all kinds of Brazilian music,
from samba to Bahian African-Brazilian".

Célio’s early years included a fateful accident

I once asked Célio if music always provided him with his means of support; or whether he’d performed other kinds of
work. He said he’d been working with music since 1977, but had been an office worker for the Brazilian government between
1983 and 1986. "My daughter was born then" he said "and I needed more money". Then we regressed a bit, to discuss Célio’s
own childhood.

"My life was normal until I was ten years old, except for an accident I had at age seven. I was in a party in the house of
friends of my grandparents and fell off a wall, sustaining injuries to my right arm and hand. I wore a cast for about eight months,
and learned to write with my left hand for school. My right hand never fully recovered and, as a result, I was never convoked
into the army." Célio seems to recall that in 1979, when he would have been almost 19, military service was a requirement for
young men of his age. "But, ironically" he went on "my (now defective) right hand was left in the accurate position to play
classical guitar. So making this position, which is a sacrifice for ‘normal’ classical guitar students, became natural for me.

"As a child I was more solitary than popular, even though I had many friends. The fact that my family moved so
frequently denied me the time to consolidate my relations, so I avoided that. But this was never a problem for me".

When I asked him about his collaborations with his father he responded "We composed together from 1977 until his
death in 1983. When I left Brazil for France I left that material in a box in Rio. I only recently recovered it and now I’m planning
to do something with it".


Célio and Jiripoca meet the Internet

Jiripoca’s second CD, Destinos, was released in 1998, close on the heels of their 1997 release of
Babilakes & Muambas. At that time, it must have seemed that Jiripoca would be generating a CD every year. Célio and key collaborator André
Luiz de Souza appeared to be a fount of creativity. But Jiripoca began an intense road schedule, lining up appearances in one
festival after another.

André produced a film, Agnus Dei _ Street Kids of
Brazil, that was screening at European film festivals. Célio
immersed himself in the Internet and in new technologies. Creation and enhancement of the Jiripoca Band web site, pursuit of MP3
and Internet networking and marketing opportunities, and a pressing need to compile and sort through growing volumes of
old and new material for future releases occupied his time.

But Jiripoca remained active, and in 2001 their song "Vida Dura" rose to #1 among Brazilian selections and ranked
well into the top 40 Latin selections at MP3.com. Now the Internet and other distractions are beginning to subside and
Jiripoca recently agreed on a German label to release their third CD, which will be marketed in the United States, Japan and
Europe.

But the Internet has as much liberated as distracted Célio and Jiripoca. "It became an adventure for me" he said. "I
began to correspond with people all over the world, like you. I met people in Rio over the Internet who helped me to book a
concert there in July of 2001. I made two journeys to Brazil in less than 12 months because of this new way of communicating.
Before then, I had let 11 years go by without seeing my country and my family there. And a lot of changes have taken place in
Jiripoca Band in all that time, partly because of these Internet communications. There are new members, and we made a decision
to work only with Brazilians in the percussion section".

The pace of Célio’s activities in recent months has been furious. He has often been simultaneously collaborating
with his good friend André (Luiz de Souza), myself as a lyricist, his father (posthumously of course) and several other people.
He once wrote to tell me he was busy arranging 50 songs on the computer with MIDI while also learning new technologies
like sampling, looping and so on. "Because I would like to test these things in the near future" he had written "I also bought
a new mixer, a new mike and I have plans to buy another, a ‘Rode NT2’ from Australia". "When it starts" he mused "a lot
of recordings are gonna rain". I think storm clouds are on the horizon.

"For awhile" he had said "All of these things made me want to slow down a little and just write songs. I know
musical theory and harmony, and I wanted to put all my knowledge and capacity from that, and from what I have learned about
all of this new technology, to write (really write down) good music, from the earth to the human mind".

Based on Jiripoca’s first two CDs, and on what I already know about what they and Célio will soon be releasing, I’m
certain he’s succeeding. Would you like to find out for yourself? Be prepared for a truly unimagined treat. You can sample and
order the music of Célio Mattos and Jiripoca Band from Jiripoca’s English language web site at
http://jiripoca.free.fr

There you can also learn more about Célio and André, learn about the band’s other regular and guest musicians,
view photos of performances in Paris, Lyon and São Paulo, download music by linking to posted MP3 sites, sign their guest
book, and more.

Jiripoca Discography

Babilakes & Muambas was released in 1997, musical direction by C. Mattos. Recorded & mixed by Alain Guerci at
Plaza Studio, Saint-Priest, from March to April 1997, excepted Beth #1 by Frank Cavet at Espace Sonore, Lyon, February
1995—Digital mastering by Philippe Tchekemian at Avedis, Lyon, May 1997—Cover & book by Georges-Henry Peyrin, Isabel
Frech-Lopez, Agnes Rollet & Guy Gerard—Made in France.

Destinos was released in 1998, musical direction by C. Mattos. Cover by Guy Gerard. Recorded & mixed by Alain
Guerci at Plaza Studio, Saint Priest, May 1998. Drums takes by Daoud Houmed, excepted "Côco de Taubaté," recorded live at
Rail Théâtre, Lyon, February 14th 1998 by Thierry from Megawatt Co., and "Profecia," recorded by Franck Cavet & Philippe
Avril at Espace Sonore, Lyon, 1993—Digital mastering by Philippe Tchekemian at Avedis, Lyon—Made in France.

Jiripoca Band has also contributed to several ‘collections’ CDs.

Special notes: Célio and I collaborated on "I need you today," an English language selection that will be included on
Jiripoca’s upcoming 3rd CD, lyrics by myself and music by Célio Mattos. This will be our first produced collaboration.

André Luis de Souza, along with Célio, has been a driving force behind Jiripoca. And, as previously noted, he
produced the critically acclaimed film, Agnus Dei—Street Kids of Brazil
(music by Edmundo Carneiro). Look for information about
this film at Jiripoca’s web site when you click on the hyperlink for André Luiz de Souza.

Phillip Wagner, at pwagner@iei.net, has been a frequent contributor to
Brazzil magazine, providing readers with
insights into the music, culture and people of Brazil from São Paulo and Santos in the south to Fortaleza in the north. Visit
Phillip’s web site at http://www.iei.net/~pwagner/brazilhome.htm and send us your feedback.

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