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Persistence of Vision

Persistence
        of Vision

The Brazilian Real was hit by speculators who were betting that
Brazil would be the next developing economy to go down the tubes victim of the Asian
malaise. Brazil is no Russia however. Being one of the ten biggest economies in the world,
a debt default in Brazil would bring down all South and Central American economies,
pulling into recession the U.S. economy.
By Brazzil Magazine

Kuarup. I remember the first time I heard the word. It immediately struck me as odd and
mysterious. It was hard to pronounce. A friend explained that for the indigenous people of
Brazil, a Kuarup is a ceremony, a ritual rarely performed, that celebrates life, one that
is reserved only for chiefs and warriors. The Kuarup is the highest tribute the Xingu
Indians will bestow upon a person. But for musicians "in-the-know," Kuarup is a
small record company in Rio de Janeiro that has mapped Brazilian traditional music and
kept it alive and creative. Committed to and demanding excellence, Kuarup continues to set
the standard by which other companies are judged. Since its inception in 1977, Kuarup has
been the musicians’ choice and has signified quality and artistic authenticity. Heitor
Villa-Lobos, Raphael Rabello, Henrique Cazes, Altamiro Carrilho, Paulo Sérgio Santos,
Xangai, Elomar, Joel Nascimento, Sivuca, Dominguinhos, and Paulo Moura are but a few of
the chiefs and warriors celebrated at this Kuarup.

Until recently, only a fortunate few have been able to boast of Kuarup titles in their
private collections because despite twenty-one years of recording and promoting Brazil’s
most important musicians and composers, Kuarup is still relatively unknown outside of
Brazil. Every once in a while I come across a Kuarup title as I’m scouring the bins of my
local record stores, and I buy without hesitation, not only because Kuarup product is rare
but also because I am assured that the recording bespeaks the taste and elegance which is
so much a part of Brazil’s diversified musical landscape.

The Kuarup label was created by journalist Mário de Aratanha, bassoon player Airton
Barbosa (founder of Quinteto Villa-Lobos), painter Janine Houard, and researcher Valdinha
Barbosa (biographer of Radamés Gnattali and a pivotal collaborator in the creation of the
Museu Villa-Lobos). They were spurred by a passion for music, a dream to map the country
musically, and a bureaucratic fiscal necessity. And because they were not pursued by
visions of expansion, increased capacity, or the accumulation of power resulting
therefrom; they have avoided the aesthetic arthritis that many of the "major"
labels have contracted by chasing illusive pop fads.

At last count there were over 150 record companies in Brazil. Standing out among them
in sharp contrast is Kuarup. Staying power for this small company has had to do with
character and culture. Jornal do Brasil has called their efforts "The most
important cultural work on disc in the country." Indeed, Kuarup’s Web page reflects
this. It is a cultural resource center containing extensive information about Pixinguinha,
choro, samba, and Villa-Lobos. Their catalog of choro is enormous, and they
offer the largest collection in the world of the music of Villa-Lobos interpreted by
Brazilians. In addition, you can find detailed technical information, background text,
lyrics, cover art, the complete liner notes for each recording in their catalog. Even to
amass knowledge of this sort, which greatly enhances the common listener’s pleasure, takes
more time and effort than most companies care to invest, affirming once again that at
Kuarup things of the spirit bulk as large in the owners’ minds as the latest market
quotations. The Kuarup label is, and has been since its conception, intertwined with the
cultural and artistic currents of Brazilian music. In the last analysis, all that matters
at Kuarup is the music. Mário de Aratanha of Kuarup has chronicled Brazilian music for
over twenty years, and speaking with him is always an inspiration.

Brazzil—What is the biggest difficulty that faces the Kuarup label
today?

Mário—It’s very difficult for us to have a label that has no label. You know,
it’s an "unlabeled" label. We are not a world music label, or a dance music
label, or a samba, or a bossa nova label, you know? We are just a good music label.
And it’s very hard to get into foreign markets, especially the U.S. when we’re not a
"labeled" label. I’m trying to figure out a way to get into this market. How
will people know that in this country there is a very small "unlabeled" label
that is very good?

Brazzil—Well, your Web Page is incredible.

Mário—You really think so?

Brazzil—I’ve never seen one like it. When I go to the web sites of most
record companies, I see pictures and prices, but not all the recording and technical
information, lyrics, musicians’ profiles, and background information.

Mário—We still don’t have audio or publish music through the Internet, mainly
because of quality problems, you know? Our music is sometimes very delicate, and you don’t
put this kind of music in a low resolution Real-Audio file, you know? Not yet, but we will
eventually. Technology is getting better and better. We’re going to be there. But for the
time being, what we want in our site, besides a way to buy our records, is the foundation
of a small library where you can find good texts and good information about Brazilian
music. What we’re aiming for is a place where people can find good information about
top-rate Brazilian composers, musicians, and instrumentalists. Of course, this purpose is
aimed primarily toward the Brazilian market because we haven’t finished translating all
the text yet. We’ll do this eventually, but we have over one hundred recordings, and it
takes a long time.

Brazzil—So you are planning to translate everything into English?

Mário—Yeah, eventually (laughs), but, you know, this is a light operation
with very few people. It’s just me and my partner, Janine Houard, and the six people who
work with us, plus sales people. We don’t have a lot of staff, and we prefer to be that
way. We prefer being a small, light company, so we can do whatever we want, whenever we
want. We don’t really have the time to make hundreds of highly technical translations just
like that, you know? Some of our recordings have bilingual, even trilingual information,
but it’s not widespread. If we find that Americans are visiting us, and it becomes
profitable, then we will invest in translating all information into English. Right now we
have a gate in English and a gate in French. You can get into the page in English, and you
can buy in English.

Brazzil—A friend was over the other night, and after I played him Segura
Ele by Paulo Sérgio Santos, he said, "Geeez, where do you find these
recordings?" It made me think of some of the Brazilian labels that have made
agreements with U.S. distributors, and I’m wondering if it would be worthwhile for Kuarup
to make an agreement like that?

Mário—Actually, that’s another difficulty we have in being an
"unlabeled" label. The same confusion that we think the small potential public
that could already be buying our product in the United States has, is the same problem
distributors and record companies that could license our titles have. They don’t know how
to label us. We had some contact with the people at Blue Jackel, but they wouldn’t treat
our product as we wanted. We did license some records to Milan Music, and our Villa-Lobos
catalog was successful in Europe, especially in France. But never, never, could we have
managed to license these records or to market them in the States. It’s a pity. We would be
willing to do business with these guys, but it has to be worthwhile. The only experience
we had that was worthwhile was one record with Rounder, a samba record. Rounder does in
the United States, more or less, what we do in Brazil, of course, on a much larger scale.
They go to the roots of American music, and they have a lot of good stuff. Do you know
Gerald Seligman? Gerald was a journalist in New York at that time. He’s a very close
friend of mine who sold this record, this samba compilation, to Rounder many years ago.
Gerald is now in London working for EMI Classics, so he doesn’t have anything more to do
with that. Rounder was the only experience that worked. With the others, I ended up owing
these guys money just to stop the record. And, you know, that’s how it stands.

Brazzil—Last time we spoke you mentioned that the big record companies
in Brazil were starting to import classical music. When you think of Villa-Lobos, it’s
kind of funny. I have this CD of the Bachianas Brasileiras on RCA Red Seal/BMG
Classics. The liner notes are printed in English and Spanish, not Portuguese, and there’s
a picture supposedly of Villa-Lobos, but it’s Ary Barroso.

Mário—Yes, yes. You’ve seen that, haven’t you?

Brazzil—It’s incredible.

Mário—Did I tell you that?

Brazzil—No, no, I have it.

Mário—You have it? Yeah, I saw that record. It’s incredible. It’s stupid.
Kuarup probably has the largest Villa-Lobos catalog in the world, recorded by Brazilian
musicians. And it’s probably the best—period! We have the complete (string) quartet
cycle. Now, only now, are people starting to record the quartets, but we started it.

Brazzil—I remember you mentioning that the Quarteto Amazônia was one of
the greatest achievements of your career.

Mário—No, it’s not the Quarteto Amazônia. It’s the complete Villa-Lobos
string quartet cycle that we started up with the (Quartet) Bessler-Reis, and then
completed with the Amazônia Quartet. The Bessler-Reis, which was composed of three
members of the Bessler family and the cellist Alceu Reis, broke up with five quartets of
the seventeen (quartets) to be recorded yet, so two CD’s were missing from the collection.
Then Alceu Reis formed another quartet (Quarteto Amazônia) with great musicians from São
Paulo, and they recorded the five remaining quartets. This is a story you know. Completing
the cycle, recording the seventeen string quartets in a row, was the biggest project of my
life as a producer. Alceu Reis is the only Brazilian musician ever to record the complete
cycle of Villa-Lobos string quartets.

Brazzil—Are there particular studios that you prefer for recording
different styles or do you…

Mário—(laughs) It depends on the money I have in my pocket. If I have a lot
of money, I go to Nas Nuvens (In the Clouds), which is Gilberto Gil and Liminha’s
recording studio in Rio. That’s just a funny thing because I like those guys. It’s a very
good studio. Normally, I settle for more affordable studios.

Brazzil—It’s funny to say Kuarup’s a non-label because amazing artists
like Paulo Sérgio Santos, Henrique Cazes, Altamiro Carrilho, and Paulo Moura are
attracted to Kuarup. What lures these virtuosi to this non-label?

Mário—(laughs) It’s not because we’re a label. We just produce good music. We
prioritize quality and excellence. We don’t give a damn if it’s commercial or not. We do
some commercial records, of course, but we don’t do them because they’re commercial. We do
them because they’re good, and they become commercial as a consequence. And that’s
probably why. This has been our philosophy from the beginning, you know? Janine and I
were, we are, radicals. We are radicals! And that’s it. If it’s not very, very good we
don’t press it. Of course, we’ve made some mistakes, but we don’t like to remember them.

Brazzil—Tell me about one…

Mário—No, no. I’m not going to tell you (laughs). I want to forget them.
They’re no longer here (laughs). We tend not to press anything unless we are completely
satisfied. We’re not the only ones. Lots of people do this kind of thing. There’s another
thing that’s important. We tend to prefer Brazilian traditional music, not because we
don’t like avant-garde music, but because traditional music is a need. It’s our mission to
record, to register, and to leave to posterity the art of our culture. Mainly because if
we don’t do it, other people will do it from an ethnological point of view, a folkloric
point of view, and I don’t like that.

I don’t want to make a recording of a guy playing a flute in the interior of the Amazon
just because this is an Indian playing in the middle of the Amazon. This is funny, and I
don’t want that. I want to make records that can go into anybody’s home and marvel people.
I want to create works of art. That’s the kind of music that interests me, that I want to
register. I could be a rock `n’ roll producer or a country music producer, you know? I
could be making a lot of money. This is the country, which has… We are probably
together with the United States the two biggest, the most important, the richest countries
musically in the world.

And, I’ll tell you more. If we were rich, as rich financially, you know, money-wise as
the United States, we would be richer musically. It’s incredible. You know Brazil. We have
a lot of music, really a lot of varieties all over this country. And if we had the means
to really explore this, more than we already do, you can imagine the explosion there would
be. It’s incredible. I mean, it doesn’t matter what home you go to in this country, there
is music playing or being played. It’s a mission that is unfinishable. I’m completely
fascinated by this adventure.

Brazzil—What about Brazilian jazz? Is there a market or any interest in
distributing somebody like Hermeto whose music is so hard to find?

Mário—Well, that’s something else. Hermeto is a very close friend of ours. My
partner, Janine, has produced his tours all over the world, and I’ve worked with Egberto
Gismonti for many, many years. We have promoted and produced tours for the most important
jazz musicians in this country, but we don’t record them. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe
it’s because this kind of music is a different world. Maybe it’s because we would have
needed the best, and the best were already taken.

You know Hermeto and Egberto are the greatest, but they were already recording for
other labels. And our record company is… Actually we weren’t only a record company from
the beginning. We were a production company, we were agents, we were impresarios, we were
tour managers who organized tours for Brazilian musicians abroad and within the country.
The record label was a pocket in the company that became the company. This started about
fifteen years ago. Then ten years ago we dedicated ourselves completely to the record
company.

We don’t do anything else but recordings now, and the company’s personality is geared
toward traditional and instrumental music. We went toward Northeastern music because of
our friendship with Xangai and Elomar and because I have a great intimacy with the music
from the Northeast. I was born in Rio, but my whole family is from Ceará. We also
invested more in choro music, in classical music, in the choro aesthetic.
Villa-Lobos called choro the Brazilian soul—alma brasileira. This all
happened naturally, little by little because of our personal tastes. We didn’t sit around
the table and say let’s do this, let’s to that.

But Brazilian jazz is something that we don’t really market. It’s mainly because we
don’t think these musicians need us that much. But that’s just probably bullshit. I love
jazz. I like all kinds of music. I like country. I like rock `n’ roll. I like pop. I like
good music. I don’t care if it comes from India, from Japan, from Africa, or from
Tennessee.

Brazzil—Nordeste and caipira are about 60% of sales and
20% of your catalog. I’m wondering if this is an indication of a trend in Brazil right now
or has it always been like this?

Mário—It’s kind of always been like this. It’s like when you compare jazz to
country music in the U.S.. Who are the biggest selling stars you have in the U.S.? They’re
country artists because the medium is song. It’s closer to everybody’s comprehension and
sensitivity and demand. When you hear Willie Nelson singing something that’s very popular,
everybody likes it. I mean, it doesn’t matter if the guy is a saxophone player in a New
York jazz club, or he’s a violinist in the Saint Louis Symphony, or he’s just an everyday
man who likes music. It’s music for everybody.

But then when you go into instrumental and classical and choro music, which is
very, very sophisticated, it’s not for everybody. But it is essential for a very small,
but very strong population in this country. Brazil is a country that adores music, so you
have small pockets that are very deep. And for these people, the music we make here is
essential. Of course, if I make music that pleases them and also pleases everybody else,
it’s great. When I do a caipira record, I don’t just do a caipira record. I
try to get the most truthful music that I can find, in any style that I deal with. I don’t
like the commercial compromises that you see, especially in the most popular styles. You
find a lot of compromises and manufactured artists. I don’t go for manufactured artists.

Brazzil—Claudinho & Buchecha, É o Tchan?

Mário—Yeah, this is crap. Sometimes I have fun listening to them, not
Claudinho & Buchecha, but É o Tchan. From time to time I go to a party and I dance
and I enjoy myself for five minutes (laughs), and that’s it. But, you know, you hear a lot
of crap.

Brazzil—Can you tell me about Kuarup’s early days and about Airton
Barbosa?

Mário—Airton died many years ago, I don’t even know how many, over ten years
ago, more than that, fifteen years ago. He developed a cancer. He died very young. He was
a very important pioneer in this kind of musical approach. He was the first guy to play a
bassoon on a samba record. He played on Memórias Cantando by Paulinho da Viola,
and on one of Cartola’s first albums. You know, (sings the bassoon line)? I don’t remember
the name of the song. These were the first times bassoon was played in Brazilian popular
music. Paulinho’s two records were released at the same time, Memórias Cantando and
Memórias Chorando. One was samba and the other one was choro, the two sides
of Paulinho. You know these two records? They are landmarks. They are on EMI, among the
Abbey Road re-mastered Paulinho da Viola collection. They’re great, probably the two best
records he ever made.

Brazzil—Wasn’t Kuarup created through a grant from Banco do Brasil to
record Os Choros de Câmara by Villa-Lobos?

Mário—Yeah, but it wasn’t a grant. There is a custom with big companies here
to give out special records as Christmas gifts. This is sort of a tradition here. Airton
and I came up with this project to record Chamber Choros by Villa-Lobos, and we
sold it to an advertising agency that was looking for somebody to do this record that
Banco do Brasil wanted to distribute free to their clients at Christmas. We were paid to
execute a project, a cultural, a musical project. We didn’t have a company to receive the
money, and it would have been very expensive for us to receive it in our own names because
the income tax would have been too great, so we decided to open a company for this job.

There were a lot of records that we made for big companies as Christmas gifts, and for
a while this was a funding, but not a grant. We would look for people who would hire us to
do projects, and we would keep the rights for the records afterward. We would sell the
project, they would give us the money, we would go to the studio, we would make the
record, then we would give them a quantity that they would give out as Christmas gifts,
and a year later, the rights to the record came back to us. Then we would put the title
into our regular catalog. That’s how we started.

But after some years, the sales of the records we had out already, started to fund the
company. Then we started to do our own productions without the help of any projects, so it
turned into an enterprise. Airton left a couple of years after the Banco do Brasil project
because he wanted to do something else. He was completely into movie sound tracks, more
than records. I went on with the company, and now it has been already twenty-one years.

Brazzil—Tell me about Marcus Pereira. Wasn’t he a model for you?

Mário—Yes, yes, Marcus Pereira was an idealist, a publicist, an advertising
man who thought of music as a cultural product for the first time. He was kind of a
pioneer of what I do now. He was the first one to do it. And what he did was map the
country in records, going around the country recording everybody he thought was good and
putting them onto vinyl. He was a great man. The label (Marcus Pereira) still exists. EMI
bought it. It’s old stuff. Sometimes you find it; sometimes you don’t.

Brazzil—For twenty-one years you’ve been in a market where there is
tremendous competition from big companies like PolyGram and EMI and BMG that spend
millions of dollars all over the world for promotion. And I’m wondering how you survive.

Mário—First, because I don’t fight them (laughs). I don’t fight them. I want
to be best friends with them. But mainly because what we do is something that doesn’t
interest them. If I do a record, and I sell two thousand copies, I’m happy. It comes back
to the beginning of our talk. I want to be light. I want to be small because then I can do
whatever I want. PolyGram has to sell ten to fifteen thousand copies of each record,
otherwise it won’t pay. They would lose money. I don’t give a damn. I’m very light. If I
sell a thousand, two thousand, sometimes three thousand, I’m fine.

Of course, sometimes I prefer to sell ten to fifteen thousand, but this is not common.
Can you imagine a Villa-Lobos quartet selling more than ten thousand copies? If we sold
three, four thousand of each of the quartet CD’s, it would be an extraordinary result.
Since we are small, we can do what they don’t want to do. Some people in these big
companies give a damn, and they are doing a lot of good recordings. But there is a lot of
good stuff they can’t do because it’s not profitable, so there is a lot of good stuff left
for me to do.

Brazzil—What good stuff can look forward to in 1999?

Mário—What we’re going to do for next year is release more choro. Each
day there are more choro artists who come to our catalog. It’s very interesting.
We’re going to release Déo Rian the great bandolim player’s CD Choro em
Família. Déo and his son, Bruno Rian, who is a 16-year-old bandolim genius,
are playing together on this recording. Clarinet player Mário Pereira’s CD Gafieirando
(Dancing Choro) will also be released. And I’m working on a series of
compilations by instrument. We have an expression here "Os Bambas." It means the
great guys, the really good players. How do you say this in English? The really top guys
in each field. What do you call them?

Brazzil—We call them monsters. We say, "He’s a monster!"

Mário—Yeah, yeah, exactly, the monsters, but it doesn’t have the same
connotation. It’s lighter, and it’s very Brazilian. Os Bambas do Bandolim, the bandolim
monsters—Joel Nascimento, Déo Rian, Ronaldo do Bandolim, Pedro Amorim, Rossini
Ferreira, Reco do Bandolim, Hamilton de Holanda. Os Bambas do Violão—Rafael
Rabello, Baden Powell, Henrique, Anes, Nonato Luiz, Canhoto da Paraíba. Os Bambas da
Clarineta e do Sax—Paulo Moura, Abel Ferreira, Paulo Sérgio Santos, Mário
Pereira. Os Bambas do Cavaquinho—Henrique Cazes, Jacaré, Waldir Azevedo. By
instrument, we are starting out doing these guys. These are our immediate plans. The first
ones will be the bandolim and the violão (guitar). Oh, and Nonato Luiz is
someone else I’m putting out next year. He’s my favorite Brazilian guitar player. Not many
people know him in the States. He’s from Ceará. Also, Teca Calazans singing Villa-Lobos
is another sure thing for the first months of the year.

What really interests me is that people know that we exist, and they can get Kuarup
product through the Internet. There is one form on our site where you just punch in your
name, your address, and your credit card number, and request the recording. You just touch
a button, and it sends us an e-mail with the request. So this is something that is
practical. It’s not exactly a shopping basket, but it’s almost like that. It’s a shopping
form where you can buy, and then just sit down, relax and wait for the mail to come.

Brazzil—Mário, it’s been too long since we’ve talked. I’m glad we had
this opportunity. Thank you.

Mário—Thank you for the chance and good luck.

Kuarup. Tell it to the world!

E-mail: kuarup@uninet.com.br
  Web Page: http://www.kuarup.com.br
 

Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received his Masters
degree in music from California Institute of the Arts. He leads the Brazilian jazz
ensemble Axé and plays cuíca for escola de samba MILA. You can reach him
through his e-mail: cuica@interworld.net 

Kuarup Starter Kit:

(The Prêmio Sharp is parallel to the Grammy Award in the United States.)

Sivuca, Enfim Solo (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor Solista Instrumental – 1998)

Xangai, Cantoria de Festa (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor Arranjo (CD) e Melhor Canção:
"Nóis é Jeca mais é Jóia"—1998)

Guedes Barbosa, As 51 Mazurcas de Chopin (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor Disco Clássico
-1996)

Turíbio Santos, Paulo Moura, Noel Devos, Orquestra de Câmara Brasileira, Bernardo
Bessler, Concertos para Solista e Orquesta Villa-Lobos (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor Disco
Clássico—1995)

Monarco, A Voz do Samba (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor Disco de Samba—1994)

Paulo Sérgio Santos, Segura Ele (Prêmio Sharp, Revelação—1994)

Renato Teixeira & Pena Branca e Xavantinho, Ao Vivo em Tatuí (Prêmio
Sharp, Melhor Disco Regional—1992)

Quarteto Bessler-Reis, Quartetos 12,13,14 de Villa-Lobos (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor
Disco Clássico -1992)

Quarteto Bessler-Reis, Quartetos 1,2,3 de Villa-Lobos (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor
Disco Clássico—1991)

Chiquinho do Acordeon, Raphael Rabello, Orquestra de Cordas Brasileiras, Retratos de
Radamés Gnattali (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor Disco Instrumental—1991)

Altamiro Carrilho, Paulinho da Viola, Joel Nascimento, Paulo Sérgio Santos, Henrique
Cazes, Noites Cariocas (Prêmio da Crítica Fonográfica, "Deutsche
Schallplattenpreis" Germany—1991)

Orquestra de Cordas Brasileiras, Orquestra de Cordas Brasileiras (Prêmio Sharp,
Melhor Grupo Instrumental -1990)

Orquestra de Cordas Brasileiras, Orquestra de Cordas Brasileiras (Prêmio Sharp,
Melhor Disco Instrumental—1990)

Quarteto Bessler-Reis, Quartetos 15,16,17 de Villa-Lobos (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor
Disco Clássico—1990)

Quarteto Bessler-Reis, Quartetos 4,5,6 de Villa-Lobos (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor
Disco Clássico -1989)

Turíbio Santos, Villa-Violão (Prêmio Sharp, Melhor Disco
Instrumental—1988)

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