Don’t Let Go Of Hope: An Interview with Criolo (Part One)

By 11 February, 2015

When Criolo released his last album, Convoque Seu Buda, on the internet for free download in November, the anticipation of its arrival was clear to see. It had been three years since his break-out success, Nó Na Orelha, and he had spent the intervening years touring that album all over Brazil, with some select dates around the world. In the process he had become Brazil’s most important new musician (I hate to use hyperbole, but in this case, it’s true) and so within weeks of dropping Convoque with just the power of the Internet to spread the news, the album was quickly snapped up by record labels in the US and Europe wanting to get their hands on the latest work from a powerful, charismatic and honest performer whose ability to cross genres, from rap to samba and reggae to pop, while working with an incredibly versatile and fearless group of musicians, has left nobody in doubt that Criolo is someone to keep a very close eye on.

I met Criolo in a Holiday Inn the day after he had played at London’s Village Underground to a sold-out crowd, an audience of Brazilians, Latinos and locals whose interest in Criolo’s music went far beyond curiosity. There was a level of fervour and passion in the crowd that left me in no doubt that Criolo – through the power of his music, but more so, his personality – has the potential to reach people from all walks of life and corners of the globe.

In the end we talked for an hour about all kinds of things: his history, his thoughts on Brazilian society and the impact of the recent protests, his role in São Paulo’s marginal culture, and also we talked lots about the London show and his new album. In the end there was too much material for just one article so here is Part One of my interview with Criolo.

Interview translated by Rachel Hayter

How was last night for you?

It was really special, really powerful, great energy!

Do you find the energy and response surprising when you go abroad?

Our ambition is to have true encounters with people, so we can live something special together. We try to sing our music from the heart, so that when we leave the country, it generates something that you never imagined would happen. It is already a gift to be able to leave your country to be invited to sing abroad, and to have a show like yesterday’s… it’s something incredible!

What about the band?

It’s not the same band because we aren’t able to travel with everyone, we don’t have the resources. We were invited to come and play our new songs with a smaller band formation, and we’re very grateful for those who provided us with the opportunity to come over here and sing! I’d love to return with DanDan, Mauricio Bade, Fernandão who takes care of our PA… the whole team. But we live in a time of global financial difficulties, and to even speak of the structure of a musical concert is a luxury in any part of the world, since there are many more priorities on the planet than a concert. We are extremely grateful to be here in reduced formation, that doesn’t matter.

How do you find singing without DanDan? I have seen you perform many times in the past, and you were always with him – it seems that you both have a strong connection…

I learned many things with him, he taught me a lot. I try to get by on my own, even though of course it is truly something special with him – not just the vocals, but the whole show, the energy. He’s a real brother to me, a soul mate, a brother who gave me music… But I try to get by on my own, and make sure that it is done well so that I can bring him with me in spirit. I have to manage without him.

Let’s talk about the new album. What does the title mean, Convoque Seu Buda?

It is the thought, the gesture, of every person who has something special in their body and heart, a positive energy that should be rationed. The planet is in a really difficult situation, nations are experiencing really difficult times, there is a lot of social inequality, much suffering, there is a lot of oppression in the world, and if you don’t have the willpower, you will just go with the flow and all these horrible things will continue. So it is important to remember that you have a force inside you, and that force is positive and good. Don’t let go of hope, don’t let go of the fact that we can have a more just and better planet, don’t lose your personal equilibrium.

And is this ideology present in all of your songs?

I would say that the thought of wanting something good, this comes from my childhood. With my parents fighting, we had a very difficult life. I wouldn’t say that it was an ideology, I’d call it a real life practice, because ideology is something distant, the ‘ideal’ that we look for, it is in the realm of idea not reality. Positive thinking and wishing good for the world is a daily practice, so it is also real. There are two instances, two moments: the energy that you create with your body and mind is a daily practice which is reality, and to want this to spread to the world is perhaps an ideology because it is not dependent on only you. But we live these two situations, this construction of the ideal alongside the daily practice of wanting something good for other people. Ideologies stop being ideologies when they become palpable and real. I want good for the world, but not everyone wants this, so I’m going to live the romance of trying to reach this. So it is this ideal that gets me going and brings me hope from day to day. Every day I want to be the person who tries to convert this thought into something real and tangible so it is not just the ideal, it is daily practice.

You spoke a lot of English on stage, and very well too! Do you feel it necessary to try and connect with people outside of Brazil using language?

I think that it is a respect to the country to try to speak the language, even if it is just simple things like thanking people… When I am in Italy, I try to speak Italian, when I’m in Spain I try to speak Spanish. It is out of respect for the country and the people. However simple it is I try to connect with the people who are in the space with me, so people know that I am truly there for everybody, not just to a selected few, because we are global beings. I’m supported by my team, they help clarify things, they open my eyes to the importance of making the effort to communicate with people, so it’s an effort on everybody’s part to communicate. I try, at least. I’m glad that you noticed that!

How was the making of this album, the process, different to Nó Na Orelha?

When we decided to make Convoque Seu Buda, I was full of questions. Why did I need to create a new album? Since Nó Na Orelha had already given me more happiness than I had imagined, I did not see the necessity to record another album. I had already done that, and this was totally different. One thing was to record a few songs for myself and my family, but to do a record after Nó Na Orelha? Why was there a need to record an album? After all, living and creating songs goes beyond just making an album… But in the end I did it because I felt so much gratitude for the people who helped me in life, and I really wanted to continue to express myself in a few songs.

So this album is something completely different, I did this CD without any pretensions of continuity, or pressure, without being worried about how it would turn out. I did this album out of gratitude to people, and also because there was a series of things happening in my head at the time. Brazil is experiencing a very difficult time and I wanted to express myself, even though nobody had asked my opinion. That’s another thing, you write your text even though no one asked your opinion! But I wanted to express myself.

So you don’t feel any pressure?

No, there’ s no pressure because Nó Na Orelha already gave me everything, for which I’m extremely grateful. The second important thing I wanted to say is that the making of the album Convoque Seu Buda involved all the musicians who are here with me on tour, so we created a unified sound that has matured over the three years that we’ve been on the road together. The sound aesthetic is shared by everybody, since it was everybody’s creation. I think this is really important because it shows the force of this collective. When we are together we are stronger, more alive, with more energy. There is also more space for all the talented musicians. It’s been a privilege to have the musical directors Marcelo [Cabral] and Daniel [Ganjaman] alongside me, not just for the making of the album but also for their friendship. I learned a lot with them, which is very important for me.

What is your relationship with Tulipa [Who sings on “Cartão de Visita”]? I saw you sing with her in Studio SP…

She is very dear to me, a great artist. I met her at a party that Daniel organized in São Paolo, a very well known event amongst artists. Daniel invites various musicians, MC’s, singers, everyone you can imagine to such events, and it was in one of these where I met Tulipa, since we were both invited. I had already spoken to her before, but we really connected when we met at this event, and formed a strong friendship. It was great to sing that song with her, and afterwards she invited me to participate in her new album. I wrote a song with her called “Vibora”, it came to me when I wrote the chorus to “Cartão de Visita”. Yes, Tulipa is a great friend, a great artist, and a cool person!

I really like Tulipa. But she is very different from you, she is very concise with her lyric, yet you both sing about reality…

When you have a connection with a person, and are brought together in musical encounters, the situation arises that people sing different things. I believe this. If there is a singer who records romantic songs, this does’t mean that he’s in love 24 hours per day, but simply that he likes to sing that music. He still can like politics and think about everything, but this may not be present in his work because it’s not his musical style or his taste. He is still a human being who thinks in what is happening around him. So these musical encounters make you sing different things. For example, I practically have no romantic songs, but this doesn’t mean that one day I can’t record something that talks about love, or about any other matter. These encounters are very good. Recently we did an encounter for a TV channel, a series of about 8 or 9 chapters, and each programme consists of musicians who get together. So I sang a Nat King Cole song with Tulipa and with the other amazing musicians who were also invited, really incredible people.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this interview when Criolo opens up about the social situation in Brazil and his take on the protests in 2013 and 2014.

Convoque Seu Buda is released by Sterns Music and available from iTunes, Amazon UK and Amazon US

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