Photo: Manon Anglade

A Rhythmic and Harmonious Evolution: Interview with Ivan Conti

By | 10 April, 2019

A third of the crazy samba trio Azymuth, Ivan Conti learned how to play the drums by observing and understanding different drummers’ techniques. Away from his group, he’s backed some of Brazil’s most acclaimed musicians, such as Marcos Valle, Milton Nascimento and João Donato, for now half a decade. Earlier this year, he also released a new solo album, Poison Fruit, which was marked by strong electronic influences than in his previous work, showing that even in his 70s he is unafraid to experiment.

How did the drums become part of your life? Were there any other instruments you hesitated playing or has the most rhythmical of them all always been the chosen one?

I started with guitar, my older brother taught me. But I was already watching the drums during parties and meetings in the street or in the neighbourhood, and one day I gave it a try as I was able to play the kit of a friend. It was an instrument that fascinated me, I was already playing a truck tire. I just started and I never left. I played guitar for a while but when I started playing in the Youngsters, the rock group, I joined as a drummer. Although I have always played a bit of bass, keyboard, it’s only on the drums and percussion that I take risks!

When you were looking forward to add spice in your aspiring career in the early 60s, how did the infernal rhythm of Copacabana’s jazz and samba night clubs inspire you as a young drummer?

I frequented all the clubs and bars in Copacabana. It was our school in the 60s as we learned from all the musicians. We were going to see the masters, people of my age went there. Seeing the best drummers of the time fascinated me. I saw Dom Um, Edson Machado, Bituca and many others. The great singers had wonderful voices. [It was the] best way to learn. All this was like a school for me.

We know Azymuth debuted under the name Conjunto Azimuth as the backing band for the Valle brothers-composed soundtrack O Fabuloso Fittipaldi. What we don’t know is how you, pianist José Roberto Bertrami and bass player Alex Malheiros met.

We met at a concert hall called Tazao. A huge brewery with several stages and many shows all night long. Each artist played on a stage. I inaugurated the Canecão theater in 1968 with my rock group, The Youngsters. Bertrami played with his band of MPB. Alex played another set. When I stopped playing, in the intervals, we would watch the bands, the other musicians, recognise the people that were playing, that came from other places and so, I and Bertrami met. We liked each other and the way we played. We talked about putting together a group and we kept an eye on the bass player playing on another stage who was Alex. So we met and started to rehearse before we chose a singer called Fabyola and named ourselves Grupo Seleção. We began to perform shows in nightclubs with people standing up and dancing, then we moved to instrumental music. From there, we directly worked in a record company’s studio where we recorded with all the singers of the time in the 70s and 80s. The three of us were the base of the studio’s recordings: Odeon, Philips (we had multi-year contracts with them), CBS, Globo, RGE and several others… When signing with Philips, we made Marcos Valle’s O Fabuloso Fittipaldi LP containing songs from him and his brother Paulo Sergio Valle. At the end of the recording, everyone said that they were going to be there for Azimuth and the song was called the same. Next day, the producers said Azimuth had arrived. So we asked Marcos for the name, he agreed and became our godfather. The name Azimuth changed as soon as we went to the USA as the spelling became nicer: Azymuth!

Azymuth’s music is categorised as “samba doido” (crazy samba). Could you explain how this subgenre appeared?

Simply by being together for many years and playing together for a long time. This set the rhythmic and harmonious evolution in one whole, leaving us quite at ease to reverse our actions. In other words, we can go in any directions whenever. That’s why they called our music the CRAZY SAMBA!

What led you to release your first solo project in 1984? Was it a sudden envy to team up with other musicians or being able to conduct a band playing your own compositions?

Envy? I can’t describe this as envy. I simply had and always have music left over that does not travel with Azymuth. Sometimes we make music but it doesn’t fit into the segment, so it’s another song. No egocentrism but I just wanted to dare and do different things than in Azymuth, with more rhythms, more orchestras, more brass, etc… Or what I do today with DJs, I know what they want and like. I loved the orchestra so much that I played with what I consider to be two monsters: Erlon Chaves and Paul Muriat!! I have a song called “Falha de Saint Andrews”, which is entirely for orchestra, but I need money to pay the whole band to do it… Though it will be done!

How does South America’s nature help you to compose? Can a simple bird flight, the eternal jungle noise or watching the ocean and sky’s color melt in one another help you in this creative process?

Yes, our nature helps us a lot. There’s a song I did on our album Tudo Bem paying homage to Chico Mendes, called “Seringal”, made in Jacarepaguá on a rainy day! I like it a lot, nature is essential for me. My new album is made of rhythms that will include songs with titles of nature.

In Mochilla’s 2002 documentary Brasilintime, we see producers such as Madlib (with whom you made a collaborative album later) still heavily influenced by your music decades after its release. What’s your opinion on this younger generation who are in a certain way, resurrecting your songs?

I wouldn’t say they’re resurrecting us. Our music served as a reference for them to explore their own creativity. I think it’s great, I like this whole new class. I’d say they throw the net to the sea, fish the 70s to the 90s and we are there, because we worked really hard! We are on the road since 68, our first record Azimüth was released in ’75, two years after O Fabuloso Fittipaldi. Every year we toured Europe and the USA until ’95 before coming back in 2008. It’s already been 50 years, that’s a lifetime! Thanks to our discs and tours, we are more than known and this has been passed on from generation to generation. Our music has reached all these people, thank God!! There are days when we walk into a concert hall and it’s stuffed with white haired folks like us, and sometimes with a lot of young people. The old buy CDs while the young buy vinyl, this was automatically passed from father to son. All kids tell us they got to know our music through their parents! And the new DJ generation is also there with us, they respect us a lot and reciprocally. Actually I really like playing with DJs, learning this fusion in Brasilintime and applying it ever since [most recently with Pablo Valentino in Lyon]. Last year, Azymuth played the Dekmantel festival in São Paulo with DJ Nuts. Day after day, this wave delights me more and more!

Poison Fruit is out now on Far Out Recordings

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