By Brazzil Magazine
If you’re a Brazilian musician in Los Angeles and have a gig on a night when
there is a party at Bakari’s studio, forget about it. Everyone will be at Bakari’s.
And when there isn’t a party at Bakari’s, chances are good that the action around
town was his inspiration. Like a character from one of Jorge Amado’s novels, visual
artist and music promoter Bakari Santos is known and loved by the entire
(Brazilian, African-American and arts) community. In his unruffled, but tenacious
manner, Bakari has continuously provided Los Angeles with hordes of opportunities
to come together, listen to the finest in Brazilian music, and let the good times
Aside from bringing Olodum to town for two performances and tattooing the curvaceous
bodies of both Sharon Stone and Erykah Badu with the reddish-orange dye of the
henna plant, Bakari has been busy promoting Brazilian Night at Mamagaya in West
Hollywood. The show features the Kléber Jorge Band and supersedes everything
Bakari has accomplished to date. Every Thursday night the place is packed with
Brazilians, West Los Angeles upwardly mobile types, and, of course, musicians who
want a first-hand glimpse of what all the talk is about. By the end of the first
set, Mamagaya is shoulder to shoulder "dancing" room only.
Kléber’s band combines his writing talent, velvet voice, and tasteful guitar
technique with the ferocious drive of one of Bahia’s foremost percussionists, Meia
Noite. Furthermore, the band integrates the two opposing, yet complimentary forces
of the Sérgio Mendes band and explains why Mamagaya is packed with musicians
hungry to learn the inside secrets of this marvelous combination. Bakari, Meia, and
Kléber are a powerful entity.
I met with this triple alliance last month at Bakari’s studio, and I am indebted
to Bakari for hosting the evening that brought us all together. I spoke first with
Bakari while he and I waited for Meia and Kléber to arrive. Meia and I chatted
while Bakari became embroiled in a three-way conference call concerning Olodum’s
arrival and accommodations. Finally, after a never-ending day of rehearsals that
concluded with a choro group, which the Brazilian Consulate put together for
its National Day celebration, Kléber arrived. We took turns speaking about
individual projects and about Brazilian Night at Mamagaya.
BrazzilYou have promoted Brazilian music in Los Angeles for 15 years. How
did you get started?
BakariI used to be married to a singer, and I started by promoting her when
we arrived in Los Angeles from Brazil. Years later, we were divorced, but I kept on
promoting Brazilian music. I never stopped. I felt it was necessary because no one
else was doing it. And today there is still a big information gap. There should be
more Brazilian clubs in this city!
BrazzilHave L.A. club owners been reluctant to open up space in their schedules
for Brazilian music ?
BakariWell, usually there are problems because all they want is money, and
they want a lot of money. They are coming from a different point of view. They are
struggling to stay alive too, so naturally they want to sell a lot of alcohol. They
want people to consume. But things happen naturally. You cannot force people to
drink. Sometimes they come for the music. Sometimes they don’t drink. On a Thursday
night you can’t expect people to drink more than two or three beers. They have to
drive and go to work in the morning. Basically it’s a problem with money, which is
not a big deal. Things can usually be worked out.
BrazzilYou’re not getting rich by promoting all these artists. Why do you
do all this work ?
BakariWhen you help, you help. It’s a passion. Plus it keeps me from getting
bored. I believe that everything is going to be all right because I’m doing a good
job, just for the sake of doing good works. I trust. Besides, I go around a lot to
hear bands, so finding locations that are suitable for them is a natural
progression. I live well and have a comfortable life. I’m not rich, but I’m very
happy with the things that I do, and I feel rich spiritually because of my many
friends and the many things I’m able to do in life.
BrazzilLast year you were involved in promoting a more global project that
involved sending medical personnel and educators to the Amazon. Can you tell me a
little about that work?
BakariThat was a great project that was brought to my attention by the percussionist
who worked on the sound track for the film Emerald Forest. It was an
incredible concept. Really touched my heart. At the time I was doing a lot of
environmental work and felt that I had to do something to help these people and
make others aware of what is going on in these remote regions inside the Amazon.
Unfortunately, the concept was aborted and I’ve lost touch with the people
involved. I hope that some time in the future we will be able to reconnect.
BrazzilBakari, you work with oil, metal, and natural pigment. But regardless
of the medium, your work always has recurring motives of nature and the patterns
and colors of Bahia.
BakariBiology and the concept of the Global Village are my passions in life.
My connection with Bahia comes from the time I studied in Salvador, Bahia. I was
there for four years. I had been studying biology at the university in Rio, but
went to Salvador for a student conference, and I fell in love. The following year I
transferred to a school in Salvador. I started selling paintings to pay the rent
while I was attending school.
BrazzilRecently you’ve become involved with henna dyes. Henna tattooing
seems like a gentle approach to the tattoo frenzy that has taken off on the West
BakariYou know, the more we get into cyberspace, the more tribal we become.
The more technological we become, the more we look for our roots. The more we
remove ourselves from nature, the more we are compelled to grasp our spirituality.
I’ve been watching this happen gradually. It’s incredible. It’s pretty much part of
an enormous process. Henna tattooing is something that has been going on in Africa
and in India for generations. The dye is made from the leaves of the henna plant.
It’s a temporary tattoo that fades in a couple of weeks, and it’s a lot fun. By becoming
knowledgeable about this process, I feel like I am helping to rescue and record
part of a culture that’s vanishing.
BrazzilYour art work has garnished the CD jackets for Brazilian jazz fusion
groups and artists like Zil, Terra Sul, and Ricardo Silveira. Who’s next?
BakariI’m working now on a design for Kléber.
BrazzilI know many people tune in Sérgio Mielniczenko’s radio shows just
to hear the calendar segment where you announce upcoming events that are of interest
to the Brazilian community in Los Angeles. You and Sérgio have been friends for
many years. How did you first meet?
BakariAfter I graduated from school in Brazil, I knew I wanted to be a painter
and metal sculptor, but when I arrived in Los Angeles in the summer of ’78, it was
impossible. I couldn’t make a living. I didn’t know how to move around this town
without a car. In December of that year, I started working at the Brazilian
consulate. It was the only payroll job I’ve ever had, and it’s also where I met
BrazzilMuch has happened in your private life and your art work since 1978.
What about the future?
BakariI’m learning and having a lot of fun with everything that I’m doing.
My art keeps developing. I create jewelry, I paint, I have a line of T-shirts, I
tattoo. I’m always researching new techniques. The more I do, the more I learn. But
I’d still love to work more with the environment. This is one thing that we all
have to get involved with. Each one of us needs to make a change, for our kids and
in order to survive as a species. My way of building for the future is by bringing
BrazzilRecently, you’ve been promoting Brazilian Night at Mamagaya. Is this
a glimpse of the future for Brazilian music in Los Angeles?
BakariYes. And that’s good. I’ve been getting a lot of calls from club owners
who now want Brazilian music in their clubs. This is quality music that Kléber and
Meia are presenting. The owners see the success of Mamagaya and want the same,
which is good because it promotes the music and generates more work for the
Brazilian bands in town. Still, Brazilian music hasn’t hit its stride. I believe
that around the year 2000, Brazilian music is going to be as common as hamburgers.
Samba never made it in the United States. Bossa nova came out briefly in the
60s, then Jamaican reggae and salsa, but nothing as strong from Brazil. We have incredible
rhythms, especially in the Northeast. Baião, xaxado, samba-reggae, axé
music all the rhythms that we have, they’re still coming. These are rhythms
that people love to dance to. Little by little, by the millennium, we are going to
be in great shape. Also, more and more Brazilian musicians are moving to the United
States, and that helps spread the music.
BrazzilWith Kléber and Meia working together it seems like we’re finally
starting to hit the right combination. People are beginning to hear what they’ve
BakariExactly. We formed a good alliance, which was instrumental and set
the tone for other artists like Lula, Ana Gazzola, and Sônia (Santos) to come
together for a lot of shows instead of each one going his separate way. It’s easier
to work together. We are multiplying the power of Brazilian music, and it’s working
well for all of us. More venues are becoming available, and the shows are stronger,
BrazzilHas Meia considered bringing his band, Midnight Drums, to Mamagaya?
BakariOh yes. He wants that venue. He’s working there a lot with Kléber’s
band, but he wants to show his own work. He’s very concerned with quality and with
sound. He won’t play just anywhere, only in the places that he feels good about.
Meia is an artist that is difficult to please. He stopped working at Luna Park
because he was unhappy with the sound. He likes Mamagaya, but we have to talk about
money with the owner.
(The phone rings. Long distance for Bakari)
Brazzil Meia, you are one of the most imitated and sought after percussionists
on the scene. Did you come from a musical family?
MeiaMy father, Baixinho, was a great cuíca player. I started
playing on the street in Bahia at ten years old. Whenever wealthy people parked
their cars, my friends and I were there, ready and waiting with some buckets and
water to wash their cars and watch them so nobody messed with them. We did this
just to make some small change. But Carlinhos (Brown) and I started to play rhythms
on the cars and buckets to earn extra money.
BrazzilI’ve heard that Carlinhos plays buckets in his shows.
MeiaPeople in Bahia don’t have water in their homes, so they have to have
buckets. Everyone learns to play on buckets. It’s a cultural thing. In Carlinhos
Brown’s shows today he plays a big solo on two buckets ( Meia mimics the
sound) and then he turns around and takes a wet T-shirt out of one of the buckets.
It’s very cool.
BrazzilDid you ever play with a particular bloco afro?
MeiaNo. I never went to the blocos afro because they won’t
pay. But I played the trios elétricos.
BrazzilAre you a capoeirista?
MeiaI used to perform capoeira in the Ondina neighborhood in Bahia
at a restaurant called Alto de Ondina. It’s called that because it’s on the top of
a hill. Now I just do capoeira for fun, if a friend calls me into the circle
at a show or a party. To think of myself as a capoeirista, I would have to
train all the time and keep concentrating on it, like anything else.
BrazzilYou came to the United States seven years ago with Oba-Oba. Since
that time you’ve taught many classes on Bahian rhythms, given numerous workshops,
and tutored several professional musicians privately. Did you teach when you
MeiaNo! Never! In Oba-Oba nobody taught. If you were caught teaching, they
would take your money and kick you out. They had the strictest discipline. You’d do
the show and go back to the hotel. If you were my best friend, I couldn’t talk to
you. I’d have to call you some other time.
BrazzilWas the money good?
MeiaFor two weeks work we would make two hundred dollars. Earning that kind
of money in Brazil was one thing, but in the United States? At that time performers
in the United States who worked the schedule we did were making thousands of
dollars. The contrast wasn’t missed, which is why many of the best players left
Oba-Oba and remained in the States.
BrazzilThe liner notes in Tony Mola’s disc Bragadá give special
thanks to Meia Noite. Why?
MeiaWhat did he say? It says my name there? I’m going to have a talk with
him when I get to Bahia (laughs). We played together when I lived there. He’s my
good friend. When he came to the United States with Oba–Oba I told him, "Tony
stay here in New York." He did, and he didn’t go back to Brazil for over six
years. But he eventually left because he said that he wasn’t making any money, that
there was no work. Now he’s released the album, and he’s making a lot of money and
doing shows. But we ( Meia and his wife, Jordana) had a falling out with
MeiaJordana and I were in Salvador during Carnaval, and Tony called and
wanted me to play and go hear other people play, maybe sit in with different
musicians. But he said that no one was bringing their wives. It sounds selfish, but
you have to understand that Salvador is packed at that time of year. People
everywhere, thousands of bodies crowding every tiny street. If Jordana came with me
and we were separated, I wouldn’t have seen her for days. If she stayed by herself,
it would have been the same. She got really mad, so we left.
BrazzilWhat’s that story I keep hearing about smoke pouring out of your
hotel room window when you were on tour in Japan with Sérgio Mendes in 1994?
Meia(Laughs) I had a little electric plug-in stove and had brought three
cases of beans, rice, canned meat, sugar, and coffee. I learned this when I was
with Oba-Oba. Food was so expensive wherever we performed that we cooked in our
hotel rooms. We were very poor. Well, in Japan food is expensive, and we were going
to be there for 6 weeks. Things were really hectic and you know, that kind of
BrazzilIn 1995 you toured China.
MeiaYes. That was the Jacky Cheung World Tour. Jacky is China’s Michael
Jackson. I opened the show every night with a solo in front of 12,000 people.
Brazzil Meia, there is so much power in your playing, so much
spirit, so much syncopation in your soloing. It is a signature of your work. What
influences your music? What do you like to listen to?
MeiaTimbalada, Olodum, Vai Quem Vem, every group in Bahia has a very specific
rhythm; it’s their identity. I listen to all of the music from Bahia, but I like
salsa too. Any kind of music with an African influence appeals to me. If the music
doesn’t have that root, it puts me to sleep.
BrazzilWhat are you working on now in Los Angeles?
MeiaBesides my work with Sérgio and Kléber’s band, I’m performing with
my band, Midnight Drums, and putting together my demo. We’ve recorded some interesting
arrangements like the Door’s tune "Light My Fire" with a levada rhythm.
It’s like a fast samba-reggae. I’ve used different musicians on each track, but all
the arrangements are being done by Bill Brendle, the keyboard player in Sérgio’s
( Bakari opens the front door for Kléber)
KléberSorry I’m late. I had three rehearsals today. The chorinho
group wrapped up after nine o’clock.
BrazzilJump right in!
KléberIt’s a very interesting project celebrating Pixinguinha’s 100th anniversary.
We’re playing música regional. The music is intense, very difficult, but I
like it. Sounds nice. I have to practice this music everyday, a lot, because there
are so many notes. Wow! It never stops. You have to get used to it. You have to
play it over and over so that your fingers get used to it and won’t forget, until
it becomes a reflex. It’s a challenge for me because I’ve never played choro
on the cavaquinho, and now I’m dealing with all those notes. Oh my God!
BrazzilChoros are compositions in perpetual motion, like Bach on
KléberYeah, I’ve always liked chorinhos because my father used to
play that music. He played regional on violão (guitar) and contrabaixo
(double-bass). He used to sing, play bass, play guitar, a little bit of each,
and I grew up listening to that music. But I never really played it. Today I was
thinking a lot about my father playing that stuff when I was a kid.
BrazzilTell me more about your musical background. When did you start playing?
KléberWhen I was in my teens in Brazil, I started playing electric guitar.
First, it was the Beatles and all that stuff. I was 14 and American music was
everywhere. I listened to a lot of that American music. It was on the radio all the
time. But I passed through that electric phase when I was 18 and started getting
into a more acoustic sound. You know, violão and that stuff. I started
listening to a lot of Milton (Nascimento) and (Gilberto) Gil. Djavan came later. I
heard a lot of Djavan. I love Djavan. Yeah, definitely.
Through the years I kept playing acoustic guitar, and when I moved here, I
started studying jazz guitar with Ted Greene. I wanted to improve my playing. I
wanted to solo. I went over to Ted’s house, and he asked me to play something for
him. His first words were, "You sound great! Why did you come here? What do
you want to learn?" I told him that I wanted to improve, to learn more chords.
We started little by little because at the time my English wasn’t good enough
to understand all the terminology. After six months, I had improved a lot, and it
felt good. I stayed with Ted for over three years.
I have all his books, all the chords. I also studied composition, harmony, and
arranging with the Mestre Moacir Santos. And this man completely changed my
approach to music and the way I hear things. He was a tremendous influence on me. I
can tell that I have developed as a musician since my work with Moacir. I knew many
things before, but they never made perfect sense to me until I started going to his
house and talking about them. Everything just all of a sudden opened up in my mind.
I crossed a threshold with Moacir. He refined me.
BrazzilLet’s talk a little about the other guys in the Kléber Jorge Band.
I know Zé Bruno from lots of gigs around town. He’s everywhere. Love his playing.
Meia’s brother, Gibi (comic book), and Jerry Watts from Dori’s band. How did you
hook up with Jerry?
KléberI first heard him playing with Dori (Caymmi). He’s been Dori’s bass
player for a long time. He also plays with Kevyn Lettau. We became friends, and he
said that he was available and that he would like to get together and play, so I
invited him the first chance I got. Great bass player.
BrazzilThe band has an interesting repertoire at Mamagaya that varies between
original material, classic samba tunes like "Você Abusou"injected with
a samba-reggae groove, and the latest Brazilian dance tracks like Daúde’s
"Véu Vavá" and Carlinhos Brown’s "O Bode."
KléberWe’ve got a great scene, you know. Mamagaya is a place where people
go to have fun. They want to go dancing. So we’re playing what people want to hear
in a place where people want to dance. We do a lot of stuff from Bahia like the
song that Carlinhos Brown covered on his CD called "Quixabeira." We do a
lot of samba-reggae. We are also doing the title song from Martinho da Vila’s new
CD Tá Delícia, Tá Gostoso. That’s a great title. I like Martinho a lot. I
grew up in the Vila Isabel neighborhood.
BrazzilDo you write all the arrangements or work them out with the band?
KléberFirst of all, I have to say that I respect people who write great
tunes, and I like playing their songs. But yes, usually I mix some of my own
ideas into the original arrangement, and at rehearsals we are always experimenting
and adding things.
BrazzilMamagaya is a promising gig in a great room. Everyone is there. Luizinho,
Cabral As I was leaving, I saw Flávio and his wife. They looked like they
were up for good time. Dressed up, you know?
KléberTrue, very true. I know, all the presidents
(laughs) from the
escolas de samba, all the directors. I like that too. It’s a classy place.
People in L.A. are looking for that. The owner started from nothing and built it.
It’s nice to finally have a first class room for Brazilian music, a room that draws
both crowds. And, of course, the band is tight. Great energy.
BrazzilI’m delighted that you sing in Portuguese, even with this mixed crowd.
When people sing Brazilian music with English lyrics, it seems like someone is
trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Portuguese is such a musical language.
KléberDefinitely. It fits the Brazilian swing. When you put English lyrics
to a Brazilian tune, it’s not the same. That’s one of reasons it’s been taking so
long to finish my CD. The producer had it in mind to have a lot of English lyrics,
so I did that. Six months later I listened to the results and said, "I really
don’t like this." I erased the English lyrics and recorded the vocal tracks
over in Portuguese. Out of thirteen tracks, I only have two songs in English, all
the rest are sung in Portuguese.
BrazzilTell me more about the new CD?
KléberI’ve already recorded all the basic tracks, and now I’m mixing. Most
of the tunes are original compositions, but I covered one Jobim tune and a tune
from the group Boca Livre. Dori Caymmi produced three songs, wrote two
arrangements, and sings a duet with me. I used a lot of different people. Luís
Conte is involved. Justo Almario plays sax and flute. Michael Shapiro produced most
of the project and plays drums. Scott Mayo, the great sax player who also plays
with Dori, is playing on it, nice guy.
BrazzilWhen will it be on the street?
KléberI signed an international deal with Sonic Images, so the disc will
be distributed first in Europe and Asia.
BrazzilHow do you like working with Sérgio Mendes?
KléberIt’s good. He is a really nice man, very cool. He can’t stop saying,
"Kléber, it’s great to have you here. I’m happy. You bring something
different to this band." And I’m always saying, "Man, likewise. It’s the
owner." Sérgio is gold. For me it’s such an honor to work with him. I’ve
learned so much since I joined his band. You know?
He’s an unbelievable band leader. First of all, he knows what he wants. And second,
he has so much experience with the sound and with presenting a show. It’s quite a
combination that he has. It’s something that all great musicians have. And he has
it. His shows always sound great because he never gets lost putting them together,
the set list, everything. He knows…He just knows.
BrazzilDid you perform any tunes from Oceano at the show in
KléberYeah, we did the songs "Trilhos Urbanos." It’s one of
Caetano’s songs. We did "Rio de Janeiro." And I sang "Holográfico
Olodum," which is sung by Gilberto Gil on the Oceano CD.
BrazzilThere is a lot of similarity in your voices. Have you heard Gil’s
KléberYes. It’s magnificent, really special. It’s some of his best material.
Bakari played it for me, and the second I heard all that sound in the studio, it
hooked me. I couldn’t believe it. His vocals, the quality of his vocals, are great,
the best I’ve ever heard from Gil. It’s amazing! And the mixing, wow!
BrazzilYou’d figure at some point Gil would relax his standards or run short
of new ideas. The only complaint I have is that the liner notes credit Alceu Maia
for playing the ukulele, not the cavaquinho, on Cartola’s tune
"Ciência e Arte" (Science and Art).
KléberThey say that? I can’t believe it! Who wrote that?
BrazzilThe cavaquinho must have got lost in the translation. Have
you listened much to Guinga?
KléberOh man, he’s incredible. Great composer, great guitar playing. I
know some of his tunes, not everything. Most of what I’ve heard I like. He’s
not happening in the States right now. His name is not that big here. It is in Rio.
But he’s supposed to be big here in a few years. He’s good friends with Sérgio.
Sérgio has spoken about him many times, saying, "You’ve got to meet Guinga.
You’ve got to know him. He’s such a great guy. Such a regular person." He’s a
dentist. Did you know that? He has an office and everything. He goes to work every
Gracinha, Sergio’s wife, told me that he goes to work at six in the morning. Guinga’s
wife is a dentist too. So they both go to the consultório, the doctors
office, very early. That way he’s able to get home by noon, so he can do his music,
his writing. By one o’clock he’s with his guitar writing something. I said,
"Wow, that’s unbelievable!" Yeah, he wakes up early, and every day. I
can’t believe it.
Brazzil Kléber, has living in the United States significantly
changed your music?
KléberI always hear this question. I don’t know. Of course, my music has
the jazz touches, that’s for sure, more jazz than pop or rock. And I’m always
getting ideas from arrangements that I hear on recordings by people like Quincy
Jones and groups like Earth, Wind, and Fire. But the swing is still Brazilian. I’ve
never heard anyone say, "Oh, your music is too Americanized." I don’t
think it is, because every time Brazilians hear my music, they connect with it
BrazzilI do, and judging from the Thursday night crowd, lots of other people
do to. Thanks, guys. Bakari, thanks for bringing this evening together.
BakariA pleasure. Come on. Let’s have a beer and something to eat.
Bakari’s (cover art)
StorytellerRicardo Silveira, Kokopelli Records, 1995
Kindness of StrangersTerra Sul, Mojazz/Motown, 1993
ZilZil, Verve/Forecast, 1990
AmberMaria Bethânia, EMI, 1996
OceanoSérgio Mendes, Verve/Forecast, 1996
Bahia, Cidade AbertaSaul Barbosa, JHO/WEA, 1995
StorytellerRicardo Silveira, Kokopelli, 1995
BrasileiroSérgio Mendes, Elektra, 1992
AmizadeYasuko Agawa, Invitation, 1992
BerekekêGeraldo Azevedo, Geração, 1991
OceanoSérgio Mendes, Verve/Forecast, 1996
In TempoSadao Watanabe, Sony, 1996
Mistura FinaJohn Patitucci, GRP, 1995
Universal LanguageKevyn Lettau, JVC, 1995
Another SeasonKevyn Lettau, JVC, 1994
Simple LifeKevyn Lettau, JVC, 1993
BrasileiroSérgio Mendes, Elektra, 1992
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: firstname.lastname@example.org