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Everybody Goes Awww!

Everybody Goes Awww!

An old-time resident of Diadema tell his side of the
story.
By Brazzil Magazine

"Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it
from themselves."

Sir James Matthew Barrie

About two years ago, Mocidade Independente Los Angeles (MILA), the premier
escola de samba of North America, was floundering. A rift between
the director of the bateria and the escola’s president, as
well as the cavaquinho player’s move to Miami, had created a vacuum.
The bateria was like a jumbo jet that could still fly, but was having
serious problems taking off and landing. Morale was plummeting. Rehearsals
were sloppy. MILA had become the proverbial rudderless ship in a storm;
and the ship was taking water fast. To top things off, MILA’s president,
Luizinho Ferreira, left for Rio and was gone for a month. When he returned;
however, he brought with him the energy and performance know-how of escola
de samba Salgueiro in the concentrated form of a twenty-six year old
puxador named Luis Cláudio.

I have never met a musician who is funnier on the surface and more serious
underneath than Claudinho. Listening to him between sets at Café
Danssa jamming to songs played over the sound system never fails to conjure
knowing smiles. He not only picks out the right chords, but the right chord
inversions. As a further confirmation of his finely developed ear, Claudinho,
having spoken solely Portuguese for twenty-seven years, today converses
easily in English. Our interview took place in English at his home in Los
Angeles.

Claudinho, how did you become interested in samba?

My father loved to play the cavaquinho and the acoustic bass.
He was an amateur musician, and his friends were always over at our house
playing. I acquired a love for samba listening to them and watching the
fun they had. When I was 10 I started teaching myself how to play his cavaquinho.

What was the first group you played with?

I started playing with the Aprendizes de Lucas. This was before Salgueiro.
Salgueiro was very close to my house. It was my samba school, so later
I started going there.

Did you play choro?

I love chorinhos, but I couldn’t survive in Rio playing choro
when I was growing up. Everyone wanted samba, so that is where I concentrated.
I really love choro, but it is a style that was felt by many to
be the music for old people. Choro is getting more popular again.
But then, it was almost extinct.

Which cavaquinho players have influenced you the most?

Alceu Maia is the best in Brazil. He was my teacher. This is funny because
he was also my idol. One night I had a gig with my old band, Só
Vodka (Only Vodka) playing the Copacabana Palace. And when I walked in
for the gig, I saw him. I told my friends, "Hey look. It’s Alceu."
I went over and said, "Hey mestre (master), will you teach
me?" He said, "I’m not mestre. We can be friends."
We exchanged phone numbers.

Fundo de Quintal was on the same gig, and Arlindo Cruz, who had just
written a tune with my uncle, told me that Alceu had an instrument for
sale. After the gig, Arlindo went over to Alceu and said, "Hey, this
guy goes to every pagode (samba party). Maybe he can take a look
at your instrument."

Alceu started joking, "What, my cavaquinho? I don’t have
it here. It’s back at Rocinha." Alceu’s instrument was my first professional
cavaquinho.

Sounds like a musician’s dream.

Yeah, I was not playing very well before Alceu. My life now, is B.A.
and A.A. (before and after Alceu). He’s a great guy. When I went back to
Brazil last year, I bumped into him at the airport.

When I saw him I said, "Alceu, mother fucker!"

"What happened, my friend?"

"I went to L.A."

"Why did you go to L.A.?"

"I’m playing there right now."

He gave me a hug and said, " What a pity."

He’s thirty-eight or thirty-nine now, a young boy, with gray hair.

You were very active in Rio.

In Rio I played with many groups. I played with Elza Soares, Beth Carvalho,
Leci Brandão, Neguinho da Beija-Flor, Almir Guineto, João
Nogueira, and with my band Só Vodka. I also recorded my first CD
Verdadeiro Cristal with the group Malícia Brasileira for
the Imagem label.

Tell me about Salgueiro?

I was born in Tijuca where Salgueiro is. When I started playing, when
I was conscious that I could play, I wanted to play with Salgueiro. At
first, I was a little intimidated because I thought it would be difficult
to get into Salgueiro. But it finally happened. Salgueiro opened the door
to the world for me. Salgueiro helped me to realize what was possible for
me as a performer and as a musician.

I’ve heard a story that the president of Salgueiro asked you once
to stop playing.

Yes, but this is not what it sounds like. You know mestre Loro?
His real name is Lorival. He’s the mestre of the bateria
in Salgueiro. Lorival, my fucking good friend Fumaça, and I started
playing a kind of pagode under this small structure right on the
street where the members of Salgueiro passed on their way to rehearsal.
Lorival played guitar, I played cavaquinho, Fumaça played
drums. But the people wouldn’t go to rehearsal. They would stop and listen.

Our pagode really caught on, and we were starting to draw large
crowds. People were really getting into it. After we had done this a few
times, Mangano (Paulo César Mangano, president of escola de samba
Salgueiro) came over to us and said, "Hey man, you have got to stop
this! We can’t have a rehearsal. No one is getting inside!"

What projects have you been involved with since your arrival in Los
Angeles a year and a half ago?

I’m gigging every week in Los Angeles with Banda Constelação
and escola de samba MILA. In San Diego I play with Sambrasil. I have recorded
with Lula and Afro-Brasil and with Kátia Moraes, and I’ve played
the Brazilian Carnavals in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, also
some club dates in the Bay Area. A couple of months ago, I went to Canada
to play a Brazilian-style Carnaval with Lula, Reni Flores, and Josias Santos.

Sambrasil is an amazing band. I was really impressed with their performance
at the Hollywood Palladium. How did you get involved with Josias Santos
and Sambrasil?

I arrived in Los Angeles on a Tuesday, and the next Sunday Luizinho
and I went to San Diego so I could meet the guys in Sambrasil. They knew
about my band Malícia Brasileira. It was a group of young players
who played really, really hard, man. Every time we played, people stopped
what they were doing, and just stared at the players. Malícia Brasileira
was a hot group. Josias Santos remembered this and invited me to join Sambrasil.

Do you go to the band rehearsals in San Diego?

I haven’t so far. The guys rehearse all the time; the band is very tight.
Fumaça, Josias, and I are going to rehearse together when I come
back from Brazil. But so far, I just go and play, carefully, step by step
right now. Josias has given me the opportunity. He is a great mind.

Do you have any special method of practicing?

Right now I don’t practice cavaquinho everyday because I am really
interested in learning guitar. I play cavaquinho three days a week,
two hours each day. And three days a week I work out progressions on the
on the guitar.

What about Banda Constelação?

Constelação… I need to talk about this carefully. In
Brazil you no longer see bands like Constellation. Although samba is very
rich in rhythm, some musicians felt that samba needed more harmony. In
the past, it could be played with one drum and 7 strings (7-string guitar).
But today, people play with more technology. Samba groups are playing with
electric bass, keyboards, a drummer, and really making music. The public
needs this now. It’s better for the samba. You need to have keyboards to
make more harmony and better arrangements. I come from this period, this
modern time, the transition between the old school and the new school.

When I came here, I wanted to do my best. I told Luizinho, "We
need to take care of this." But he likes this earlier time, the traditional
samba, and he’s my boss. The band needs more power, real musicians. Fumaça
and I have played a lot with professional musicians in Brazil. We see that
the line is breaking right now. But we still need to talk with other people
like ourselves and agree on some important points and start making better
music. So, I’m working my goals around my job. This hurts me because I
believe you can be better. But Luizinho, I don’t know why… The concept
of samba has changed.

Constelação has been together for many years. Will
the band release a CD?

I think we can do this. We could make a great CD because we can bring
in the bass player from Sambrasil and Marcelo from Lula’s band to play
guitar. But when a band with a CD goes to play live, they have to, at least,
be able to present the same arrangements, musicians, and instruments. When
you play live, you have to sound better than the CD. If you can’t sound
better, at a minimum, you have to sound as good as the CD. Never less.

It is difficult right now with Constelação. In the past,
Luizinho wasn’t thinking about this. He only wanted to survive. But now,
he is thinking about it. He asked me, "Can you write some songs for
a CD?" I told him, "Man, we need to think very seriously about
this and not joke. We’ll spend money, spend time." I don’t know. Sometimes
we disagree about this. He wants to make one, but I don’t think the band
is prepared right now. We need to make the band tighter. When we can say
proudly, "Yeah, this is my band," then we’ll go to the studio
and play with a drummer, a bass player, guitar, back up vocalists. One,
two… One, two, three… Go! In Brazil, we always played this way, me
and Fumaça.

What was the worst gig you’ve had in Los Angeles?

Can I talk, no problem?… The worst was at The Los Andes Dance Club in
Pico Rivera. Neila was releasing her CD, and MILA played with her. The
sound system was horrible. My cavaquinho was cutting in and out.
At times, it lost my singing. I stopped and just let the bateria
play. Then the woman who called us to play the gig came over and screamed,
"What are you doing? I don’t want this!"

I told her, "I’m a professional. I am always concerned that the
music is perfect. I love music. But how can I do my job? You don’t have
a decent sound system." After the gig she called me and apologized.

Women who watch you perform are mesmerized by your stage presence,
your playing, the lewd antics, and your high energy. Have you ever encountered
aggressive women after a show?

You know, when I’m playing, I become a different person. I get caught
up. The music just takes me. It’s like a narcotic. I’ve watched videos
of the band, and I say to myself, "Who is that person making those
ugly faces?" I have a lot of passion when I play, but I am devoted
to my girlfriend. She is my real love.

Claudinho, you could be breaking the mold for Brazilian men.

Yes. But in my heart, this is how I feel.

Has living in the United States significantly changed your music?

When I was in Brazil, I cared only about my samba and my religious music.
I am from candomblé. My father is Ogum and my mother is Yansan.*
I played only these two kinds of music. But when I came here, I saw that
a lot of people had other ideas and mixed them in their music. I started
thinking about this and realized that I could do the same thing. Now I’m
listening to rock, jazz, folk, gypsy music. I feel my perspective is expanding
right now in this way.

What is the future of Brazilian music in the United States?

I think there is an excellent future for it because most Brazilian music
hasn’t come yet. American people know only about samba and bossa nova,
but we have many kinds of music in Brazil that haven’t got into the United
States yet. I believe that xaxado, baião, afoxé
will have a great audience here.

Do you think that Brazilian musicians are compromising their work
by singing lyrics that have been translated into English?

I don’t think so. Music is universal. It’s from God. It doesn’t have
doors and is without borders. As long as a translation is carefully done
and preserves the musical sound and true intent of the words, there is
no harm.

Can musicians from the United States play Brazilian music, authentic
Brazilian grooves without a North American accent?

You’re right, this is like language. Once I didn’t think Brazilians
could speak English without an accent. But I do know Americans who can
play Brazilian music. You, Piazza, the guy who directed the bateria
before Flávio. He played very well. There are two American guys
in Sambrasil who play very well. It is possible. It all depends on your
heart, how you feel the music. Music is like a medicine that enters through
your ears and goes to the heart.

Why do people in Brazil seem to be more interested in North American
pop music trends than in samba, choro, forró, and
axé music?

I think we need other kinds of music. It’s not bad, American music.
You need to listen, think, and try. And Brazilian music is something natural.
The Brazilian people are born playing music. You don’t have to go to school.
Brazil is a treasure of music. On every street corner you find guys playing
cavaquinho, guitar, drums. You know Meia Noite? He never studied
music. But he plays very well.**

I don’t see problems with American music in Brazil. Before, you may
have had a point. There was too much. But a huge controversy developed
about this. People went on television and talked a lot about why Brazilian
radio was not playing Brazilian music. And these people made their argument.
Today you can listen to axé music and you can listen to forró
on the FM stations in Rio. Up until that point you only heard American
music. But now there is a balance.

What groups, artists, or styles of music do you like to listen to?

Gypsy Kings, Boyz II Men, Só Pra Contrariar, Molejo, Galo Preto’s
chorinhos, Carlinhos Brown. This guy is really, really good. He
said, "My music is not from Bahia, not from Brazil, not from the world.
My music comes from the universe." Gil, Caetano, Djavan, Leny Andrade…

What are your plans for the future?

I want to study more harmony, composition, arranging. I need to study.
I have my visa, but right now I don’t have the money. M.I. (Musicians’
Institute) is very expensive. And my second choice, U.S.C. (University
of Southern California) is very expensive too. So I study on my own. I
go to Kléber Jorge’s house and ask him about things. ** I
read my books. When I hear other people play, I ask them, "Hey, how
can I do that? How did you do it?" I realize a lot this way. I also
want to build a studio and start producing. My idea is to mix horizons.
I want to be producing one day in my life.

Claudinho’s Discography

1996 – Bahia Legend – Lula & Afro-Brasil – available from Brazil
CD’s

1996 – Ten Feet and The Sun – Kátia Moraes – SugarCane Records

1995 – Verdadeiro Cristal – Malícia Brasileira – Imagem

* Ogum is the candomblé deity associated with iron, courage,
and security. Yansan is the spirit associated with wind, thunder, and storm.

** Meia Noite and Kléber Jorge play with the Sérgio Mendes
band.

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

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