‘Why Compose If Nobody Plays Me? I Want My Music Pirated,’ Says Brazil’s Musical Genius Hermeto, 75

Hermeto Pascoal Hermeto Pascoal is one of the most colorful Brazilian musicians in a country of colorful musicians – not to mention colorful music. Born in 1936, in the state of Alagoas, he has been performing in public since before he was ten. He was on the radio as a teenager. He plays numerous instruments, composes and arranges, and sings.

He is called a “multi-instrumentalist,” a shallow label that just barely scrapes the surface of this deeply inventive and innovative musician who has played all over the world with people like Miles Davis, John Lennon and Tom Jobim. Hermeto is a musician’s musician, a creative genius whose music is regional Brazilian and universal at the same time.

Hermeto says he never really gave a lot of thought to the future. Certain that tomorrow would come, he concentrated on living the present to the full. And he did that without rushing things. What he did do was work on his mission: “making music free of adjectives” Hermeto turned 75 last week. Recognized in Brazil and around the world as an icon, he has had a very successful musical mission.

“My desire is to make more music each new day. There will always be a lot that still has to be done, but one thing I will insist on is quality,” he says. “In music, quantity cannot substitute quality. The scales don’t lie. Each note has to be a good one. I do not compose to please the public. I compose what meets my standards and then I play it for the public.”

It should be noted that Hermeto has been known to write pieces that call for live animals – squealing pigs, hens clucking and so forth. He is nothing if not earthy and has also been known to use kitchen utensils and tools to make music. The translation of “music free of adjectives,” seems to be something so original that it cannot be classified.

Subverting Logic

Given his unselfish nature and driving desire to see his music performed, it was only natural for Hermeto to be a part of what is known as the Free Culture Movement, a kind of free source, anti-commercial organization opposed to the market logic of record companies and radio stations.

Way back. even before the end of the last century, around 1995, Hermeto stirred up controversy by declaring that he wanted to be “pirated.” He said it was the best way to be heard everywhere.

In 2009, he began “liberating” the rights to some 614 compositions that had been recorded on records or CDs. A licensing contract permitting free use of his music can be found at his personal site (www.hermetopascoal.com.br ) that mirrors his own free spirit: it is handwritten by Hermeto himself, addressed to “musicians in Brazil and the world,” and ends with a call for everybody to make the best use of his compositions.

“My music belongs to whoever wants it. The idea is to liberate copyrights and let anyone who wants to play my stuff play it,” he explains.

Aline Morena, a 32-year-old musician from Rio Grande do Sul, who has lived and worked with Hermeto for the last ten years, after his first wife of 46 years died, says that some recording companies do not accept Hermeto’s unique licensing contract. “Their business is red tape. Lots of it. They want a separate, specific contract for each composition. We want to cut the red tape, and let artists come directly to us and get free access. When they go to the recording studios or record companies they have to pay,” she explains.

No Fear of Pirates

“If the recording companies do not send my music to radio stations, if my music is not played anywhere, what am I writing music for? I have never had and will never have any financial return on my work. What I have is pleasure, I have joy and that is what I get. Now what I want is for my music to be played.

That is why I want my stuff to be pirated. That way people will play, hear and get to know my work. In my opinion, people who complain about piracy are people who write music only to sell it. The value of my work is not in dollar bills (“notas”), but in musical notes (“notas”),” says Hermeto.

According to Aline, out of the 4,000 or so compositions by Hermeto, the vast majority has not been recorded. Some 700 can be found at the composer’s site. An additional 41 works, never recorded or performed, have been digitally prepared by the pianist and arranger, Jovino Santos Neto, and made available on the Internet as well.

If someone wants to honor Hermeto Pascoal, he or she can pick out something by the composer and just play it, explains Aline. “The idea seems to be a success. We get e-mails from all over the world.”

“And don’t forget, I’m still composing,” adds Hermeto.

Hermeto Pascoal, long known for his unconventional music and opinions, discussed his ideas about musical education. The multi-instrumentalist, who plays at least ten different instruments, declared that he was self-taught and his music is 99.5% intuitive. He adds that he only learned music theory when he was over 40.

Music is more than those seven notes on the scale, declared Hermeto, who is called things like “genius” and “magus” by other musicians. Music is intuition and that is something that is little recognized in music schools, he went on to say. Hermeto thinks that what he calls “excessive emphasis on standard methods” is only good for some teachers to make a lot of money.

The problem with teaching intuition is that the professors never learned through intuition, according to Hermeto. “So how are they supposed to teach it? A lot of teachers have less musical perception than their students. They have experience, but they do not feel the music, which is what really counts. In fact, they feel very little,” declared Hermeto.

“Harmony is the mother of music and sensibility is more important than technique and real talent is having good taste in music. Music schools only make money, they don’t really teach music,” added Hermeto.

According to official numbers  from Central de Apoio às Escolas de Música, there are 6,120 schools of music in Brazil with 294,610 students enrolled.

Hermeto says he has plans to set up his own music school. It will be called Templo do Som (Temple of Sound). It will emphasize the multidisciplinary character of music, something he does in his compositions that vary in style from Brazilian regional (samba, bossa nova, forró, choro, baião, rasta pé, etc) to jazz to pop to classical.

“The world is mathematical. The mathematics of God. Not this premeditated math they have out there, with ‘to know’ in front of ‘to feel.’ The math I’m talking about is the engineering math that ants use to build an anthill, without a blueprint, and birds use when they sing everyday at the same time, without a clock telling them the time.”

Note: Hermeto can be seen and heard on YouTube. Recordings are also available through Google – just type in his name.

Translated by Allen Bennett, translator/editor of The News in English.

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