Music Is An Experience We Should Enjoy Live, Not Just On The Internet, Or Our Smartphone: An Interview with Charles Gavin| 24 April, 2018
Charles Gavin transmits tranquility. His voice is discrete. But the words that he says never shy from confrontation. “Here, the people suffer because education has been neglected for a long time. I studied in public school so I know what happened. Without a good, solid base of education we’re all compromised”, says the drummer, who is known for his work with Ira!, RPM, Titãs, Cabine C. and Panamericana. A voracious collector of vinyl, music producer and presenter of Som do Vinil on Canal Brasil, he is currently playing in the band Primavera dos Dentes. With such a history it is fair to say that Gavin has an intimate knowledge of the Brazilian music industry.
Accompanied by the rapper and producer Éliton Nascimento I spoke with Gavin after a discussion on vinyl at DMX (Digital Music Experience). The current state of Brazilian music was the central theme of the discussion, that took place in the Estácio theatre in Rio de Janeiro. Education and culture were two central themes. “Knowledge of Brazilian music should be a consequence of the knowledge of our own history, of the origins of our people”, says Gavin.
What is the future of Brazilian music? Where is it heading?
That’s a difficult question! I’ve gone through all the phases, but what worries me the most today about the future of Brazilian music is that we make sure we continue to make such diverse music. This is one of the key points. What really worries me is the monoculture that has been established in the media… paid radio and TV channels that only play one genre of music… we have to guarantee space for all kinds of music. Everyone has to have a space to express themselves. So the future of Brazilian music depends a little on that, because if the independent musician does not have anywhere to put his music or play his music, he will give up. I know a lot of good people who gave up along the way… over the more than 30 years that I have been involved in music, a lot of good people have given up due to a lack of space.
What type of space do you mean?
The small spaces that are really important for an artist to show their work in, their personal work, when it’s still unknown, if you know what I mean. I think that this is really important for building up a fanbase. Whatever type of music you need to have space… space away from the internet for people to see and hear. Music is an experience for the people to enjoy live, not just on the internet or on a mobile phone.
By the way, I don’t know if you agree, but would you say that it is the “experience of music” that makes music is what it is today.
[The experience] came first. But today it is inverted. People value the experience of music more on headphones, on mobile phones, than going to a show and relating to the musician that they like, with the song while it is being made. I think that this is really ‘dangerous’ because with the lack of education that we have today, this means that people are not willing to go to a show and listen to music that they do not know. They are going to the shows to hear a repetition of what they already know exists. They want to relive an emotion. So people are becoming unaccustomed to going to shows to be surprised. This is very ‘dangerous’, especially in areas that depend on a specific market, which already has an audience, but that need to win another audience. An example is hip hop. You have a captive and faithful audience, but how do you leave that following? How do you get out of that niche that only talks to the guy who identifies with hip hop? You persuade people to listen to an artist they do not know. Most people just want to see who they already know. Who they saw on the internet or on television. We need to reverse this picture.
Does the culpability (or guilt) for this musical pasteurization lie with the mass media?
The artist is never guilty. The artist is always a victim. Now, everyone here is an adult. Each one of us is responsible for their choices. I believe that a lot. Because everything that happens in your life is the result of your choices in the past. And that goes for the artist and the music they make. But in this case, the artist has basic skills for negotiation (to know his rights and how to put his music out there), so it depends on other professionals. I speak from experience. In this way, the artist is the most fragile figure, from this point of view. They are good at creating, but when it comes to business management there will always be something left to be desired. Money is another ‘problem’ in this question, because we live in an era where to earn has become indiscriminately the main objective. This neo-capitalism that we have been living since the 2000s is voracious and reinvents itself. It is able to transform into a product the work of a band that is questioning the values of that culture. Capitalism does this. I am not a communist, but I am fully aware of the damage that this wild capitalism causes in our lives. Everything turns into a product. A business that starts well, automatically gets offers to be bought by a larger company. In a way, the labels have gone through this. Today artists also face this problem despite the ease of recording and releasing on the Internet. But there is still a difficulty appearing on the Internet. Spotify is a space, to some extent, that is democratic. Anyone can put the music there. However, how can you stand out in the middle of it!?
You are in a sea of people. Who’s gonna stick out?
I find it very difficult because you need strategies. It is a world that is still being built, so it is still very difficult. I came from the world of vinyl records. At that time, some rules were bad, but very clear. Jabá (payola) has always existed. And it still exists. So you either accept it or you don’t. When we released our records in the 1980s, radio was an extremely diverse thing. And radio is very important for Brazilian music. At that time, there was a political will on the radio that did not depend so much on profit in that moment. It was profitable, but it did not have to be too profitable. And today, everyone is looking for results. Previously there was a willingness to listen to a song different from the other. And today, I insist, we are moving more and more towards monoculture. I find this extremely dangerous, for a country as culturally rich as ours. Brazil is a unique country, because here we have a combination of indigenous culture, the culture that came from Africa and the culture that came from Europe, which does not exist anywhere else on the planet. Brazilian music is simply the manifestation of our cultural traits. I worry about it and I’m proud of our diversity. I defend it tooth and nail in the programs I have on radio (Globo) and on TV (Canal Brasil).
So we need to know the roots of our music, and most importantly, our history?
Without doubt. You see, I have two daughters, 12 and 15 years old, in school. They study European history. So I ask “why don’t people know the history of Africa or of South America?”
It’s not for the lack of material or interest?
There is no documentary?? There is! The history of our neighbours is not taught in Brazilian schools. No-one knows the history of Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay (in the case of Uruguay and Paraguay this is partly due to the war). They know far less about the history of Africa. Why do the people only know the history of Europe? What’s the reason for this? Knowledge of Brazilian music should be a consequence of the knowledge of our own history, of the origins of our people. We have great thinkers: Roberto Freire, Darcy Ribeiro. I ask myself: “these people, are they studied in schools?” Great thinker, Roberto Freire (pernambucano), he had a vision about Brazil, about slavery, about the killing of indigenous people. Is this discussed or debated in the classroom? Not necessarily no?! I think this is a shame. Therefore, it’s our obligation (as cultural agents with a conscience) to fight against this.
Often, Brazilian music has to break out of the country first before later being appreciated here.
Why does this happen? It’s very strange. First, the artist is known in England, in Japan.
The Japanese they consume a lot of Brazilian music…
I was in Japan studying this. It’s a very complex case to understand… why do the Japanese love Brazilian music so much? And it’s not just bossa nova, they like all of our music. I went there in 2014. The Japanese are extremely polite and curious … they are attentive to everything that happens in the world.
In our case, due to the territorial dimensions of Brazil (we are a giant country, practically continental), this makes us less interested in our neighbors, for example, in Latin American music. Then, we’re also in the service of a lot of American cultural domination and some things that come from Europe. Japan also has these issues. Americans have a lot of control. But there, they have very strong educational bases. Here, the people suffer because education has been neglected for a long time. I studied in public school so I know what happened. Without a good, solid base of education we’re all compromised. For example: much is talked about how to fight traffic, how to fight crime. But the fact is, this situation is here. Brazilian society turned a blind eye to a part of the population that had no way to study, could not educate their children. The political class and civil society, especially in Rio de Janeiro, didn’t give a ‘bananas’ to people who were less able to have a quality education. Now the situation has arrived. And not only the Brazilian music, but the Brazilian culture in general, is going through an education, it has to have an education. This is the fight in question … that hip hop conveys so well. It is the most politicized music in Brazil, without a doubt.
And even so, you will have noticed, you need to be very careful not to pasteurise things. Because with the growth of consumption there has to be a balance. There has to be maturity. And there is also the issue of numbers … especially in digital, where the more numbers the better and so sometimes things get lost.
This is a very complex question. I’m just a musician, you know!? I’m not a sociologist, I’m not an anthropologist …
… but I watched this dismantling of public education. And I already knew it was going to go wrong. And so much did. For example, I met Sabotage (a Brazilian rapper)… and I know why he was murdered. So I say: “how did a guy like Sabotage (who was from the community), with the best head possible, with a song that talked about coexistence, be murdered by bullshit, in a gang fight, and so on?”
Going back to the first question, I would tell you that the future of Brazilian music depends on these spaces for it to happen and be known. But it also depends on our education. Of public education … this is a matter of Brazilian society, not just the political class. The political class does not give a fuck.
But is this the reflex to all of this?
That’s it, everybody gets hit. In a capitalist country, people, perhaps, have one of the highest rates of social inequality. It is a society that induces you to consumption, but it does not allow you to consume. An absurdity. So this creates distortions. Extreme situations.
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