Discussing Brazilian Music with Miguel Atwood-Ferguson

By | 21 December, 2011

Miguel Atwood-Ferguson is a musician and arranger who has worked with a wide variety of musicians including Will.I.Am, Aloe Blacc, Flying Lotus, Mia Doi Todd and Ray Charles. It is very likely that he has worked on some of the albums in your own record collection. Generally providing violin or viola to records, as well as creating lush string arrangements, in the last couple of years he has worked with two of Brazil’s biggest stars – Marisa Monte and Seu Jorge – as well as worked on the Timeless concert series in LA, which involved a live performance from legendary Brazilian producer Arthur Verocai.

In keeping with our Discussing Brazilian Music series we wanted to ask Miguel about his collaborations with Brazilian music, his love for Brazilian music and the many other interesting projects he has worked on.

First off, I was just wondering what the best way of describing yourself is. What do you consider your main profession? Violinist, musician, arranger?

I pay the bills mostly by writing and recording string orchestras of myself on people’s albums. Overall, I considerable myself simply to be a musician that wears many different hats. It’s ALL so fun! I am a music director, multiple bandleader, composer, arranger, violinist, violist, keyboardist. I also love teaching, producing, djing, playing cello and bass.

Here’s the Miguel Atwood-Ferguson Ensemble performing “Someday We’ll All Be Free” with Bilal on vocals

I saw recently that the new Marisa Monte album has been released which has your involvement, but what have you been working on with Seu Jorge?

With Seu Jorge, I have worked on two songs so far. “Quem Nao Quer Sou Eu” was recently released and the second song is called “Girl You Move Me” which might go towards an upcoming album. I am so inspired by his artistry and how cool I thought he was in person.

What was your experience like working with both Seu Jorge and Marisa Monte? Did you find that you had to change your method of working considerably when working with potentially different rhythms or instrumentation?

Working with both Seu and Marisa was such a joy. They are both incredibly kind, humble and positive people. Their music is awesome on so many levels. I take deep pleasure in working with all of the diverse artists that I collaborate with. I am a global citizen in my heart. I deeply admire Brazilian people and culture. Working with the two of them was very organic and natural to me. I felt like we were all talking the same language for sure. I didn’t change my approach musically in working with them.

You can hear Miguel’s work on “Descalço No Parque” (below), a cover of a Jorge Ben song from Marisa Monte’s last album O Que Você Quer Saber De Verdade. In total, Miguel worked on five tracks with Marisa: “Everyday”, “Depois”, “Ah”, “Verdade, Uma Ilusão” and “Descalços”, some of which appeared on that album.

What was your exposure to Brazilian music before working with these artists?

I have listened to and performed quite a lot of Brazilian music. I ADORE Brazilian music. Villa-Lobos, Hermeto Pascoal, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Elis Regina and Luis Bonfa are just a couple of my favorite Brazilian artists. One of my closest friends is Marcel Camargo from Sao Paulo who now lives here in Los Angeles. Marcel is one of the most profound musicians that I have ever worked with. He is an incredible composer and guitarist.

You’ve worked with Will.I.Am who’s an artist that’s shown a big Brazilian influence. How has that manifested itself when you’ve worked with him in the past? I understand his next album will have a strong Brazilian influence.

That’s an interesting question, I’m not sure really. I definitely hear and feel a strong exuberant quality that is similar between some of Will’s music and the music of Brazil.

You were heavily involved with Mochilla’s Timeless series [He worked on Suite For Ma Dukes – video above]. What was the common link between the three concerts that made up this series?

The common link was the incredible music and spirit of producer/composers Mulatu Astatke, J Dilla and Arthur Verocai. All of them are prolific, imaginative, influential and explored many different genres of music. They all are trailblazers and leaders in their fields. They all have profound hearts and were more interested in making good music than being famous.

How do you find moving between such different styles as hip-hop, Brazilian music, jazz, and so on?

It is incredibly fun! It is very important to me. Each style makes me appreciate the other style all the more. Each style and tradition compliments each other in many ways. My whole goal is to constantly develop the scope of humanity in my music. I’m not interested in just playing one style of music. I’m trying to develop a style that is all inclusive of the past, the present, the future and numerous styles, cultures and approaches to music.

Is there anything else Brazilian-related that we should know about?

Stay tuned for my friend Marcel Camargo’s first solo album that will be released in 2012. It is a very beautiful and special album full of amazing original compositions and incredible performances.

And lastly, what’s next on the horizon? What should we be getting excited about?

Many things! I am currently working on my first solo album which will be released on Brainfeeder in 2012, it is full of all original compositions and features many different amazing musicians. Also working on another duet album with Carlos Nino that I am very excited about as well as my string quartet (Quartetto Fantastico)’s first album which is completely made up of cinematic improvisations. Working on tracks for Marie Daulne (Zap Mama) and The Gaslamp Killer as well. I have also been meeting with my all time favorite record label, Blue Note, who has expressed interest in signing me. Many, many other projects as well!

Here’s a final clip from Miguel, showing his extraordinary skills on the viola, as well as his outlook on life


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