Hermeto Pascoal Featured in Jazz Journal

Hermeto Pascoal, that crazy Brazilian albino

David Block ventures into the eccentric musical world of the intuitive multi-instrumentalist who became a global jazz name when he played on Miles Davis’s 1970 album Live-Evil

Hermeto Pascoal is an enigma. He creates music out of almost any object that he can get his hands on, from his beard to a knife and fork. He is also legally blind. “I know that he can recognise people from six feet away”, said Bill Smith, president/owner of the talent agency Riot Artists, who has also worked with him for the past 12 years.

Smith and Jovino Santos Neto, who was part of Pascoal’s band from 1977 to 1992, got to know Pascoal and see facets of him that the average fan might not know about. They were both kind enough to share their experiences working with Pascoal for this article.

Hermeto Pascoal was born 22 June 1936 in the small farming town of Lagoa da Canoa, which is in the northeast section of Alagoas, Brazil. Born with Albinism, Pascoal was incredibly nearsighted. He dropped out of school in fourth grade, because his school could not provide him with the special accommodations that he needed in order to be on par with his classmates. However, all was not lost. His father, Jose de Costa Pascoal, was a musician and he taught his son how to play the accordion.

Pascoal’s parents had a farm, which allowed him to figure out how to incorporate animal sounds into his music. He also taught himself how to play the piano and the flute.

One of Pascoal’s strengths was to use everyday objects to make sounds and then incorporate those sounds into his music. Smith said that Pascoal would be sitting in a restaurant or sitting outside and he’d pick up the things within his reach to see what sounds he could make.

“He’d wet his beard and pluck it with the microphone held closely”, said Smith. “He frequently plays a tea kettle filled with water that makes various and unusual sounds. We can be in a restaurant and he will bang on the glass with his silverware. He composes incessantly whether on tour or at home. It doesn’t matter if he’s in Tokyo, Paris or New York”. Smith said that when Pascoal travels to these and other cities, he does not see the sights or get the feel for the place. “He spends all day in his hotel room composing. He has people draw the scores for him and then he places the notes on them”.

Making music out of anything has always been a Pascoal trademark, even before he played professionally.

Pascoal moved to Rio de Janeiro in the early 60s, where he began recording with some of the new generation of Brazilian musicians, such as Quarteto Novo. He went on to play with such luminaries as Miles Davis, appearing on Davis’s 1970 album Live-Evil.

Despite being legally blind, Pascoal once tried to box with Davis. As a result, Davis referred to him as that crazy Brazilian albino. There’s a video with more info about that playful boxing match.

When Neto met Pascoal for the first time in November 1977, he had no idea that he would end up performing with Pascoal for the next 15 years. At the time, Neto was not a professional. While living in Canada, Neto formed a band, but they were strictly amateur.

Neto was working on his master’s degree in ecology at the Amazon Research Institute. He had spent the past few years studying biology in Canada and was home temporarily in Brazil visiting family and friends.

“When I came home, I learned that Hermeto bought a house close to where my parents lived”, said Neto. “I just wanted to meet Hermeto and say ‘Hey, I’m a big fan’. I heard his music; I was at a few of his shows. I had to meet him”.

Neto mustered up the courage to ring Pascoal’s doorbell. To his surprise, Pascoal’s wife opened the door.

Neto would later relive that moment in his article, “Ringing the Bell at the Hermeto Pascoal House.”

He wrote: “I-i-i-i-s Hermeto home? I’m a musician and I’d love to meet him”. She led me to the living room and I found myself sitting alone on the couch while Hermeto Pascoal, in trunks and shirtless, played an electric piano with headphones on and his eyes screwed shut”. The original story is here.

“I told Hermeto that I had a band in Canada and showed him my tape, so he showed me his latest album Slaves Mass (1977).” To date, Slaves Mass is one of Pascoal’s best-selling albums.

“Hermeto then asked me if I could read charts”, said Neto. “I said yes. That was a total lie. He pulled out this chart, had me read it and I botched everything”.

Being caught in a lie, he expected Pascoal to show him to the door. Instead, …”he asked me if I could play a gig with him that week”.

“I couldn’t believe it”, said Neto. “Hermeto has this amazing set of antennas. When he hears a person play, he can always tell what is possible. He said a person could play given the right environment and nourishment, and the right orientation”.

After his initial performance with Pascoal, Neto decided to forgo his studies. He spent the next 15 years in Pascoal’s band.

According to Neto, Pascoal has spent years composing some pieces and wrote other pieces spontaneously. One of these spontaneous occasions happened when they were in Montreux, Switzerland in 1979.

“Hermeto picked up a laundry list on the ground and just like that, he wrote a whole piece, right before going on stage”, said Neto. “He performed it on stage”.

According to Smith, Pascoal has not capitalised commercially on his strengths.

“He’s into producing and performing what he calls his universal music”, said Smith. “He’s a multi-instrumentalist – he plays the piano well. You can hand him any instrument and he can play it. I’ve seen him walk on stage and play with two rubber ducks”. At the age of 82 Pascoal is still playing numerous live dates, as his Facebook page testifies.

Neto concluded that he wants people to understand that there are many sides to Hermeto Pascoal. “He’s known for playing with a pig on stage, banging on the teapot, and sometimes being silly, but there is a serious side to Hermeto, like his depth of composition”, said Neto. “Music is part of him”.

Dakh Daughters to Perform at globalFEST 2019!


globalFEST Ticket Info Here

Marco Werman and Allison Herrera recently discussed a DakhaBrakha concert at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on their summer tour of the USA.

“When you go to hear the Ukrainian band, DakhaBrakha, the first thing you notice is their outfits.

The group’s three female vocalists, Iryna Kovalenko, Olena Tsybulska and Nina Garanetska, wear towering hats made of black lamb’s wool that make you think of old-world farmers roaming the Ukrainian countryside. Pair that with the long, white dresses topped with chunky, beaded necklaces.

It’s quite a fashion statement and suits their unique and beautiful blend of traditional, Ukrainian folk music and punk rock — a sound they describe as “ethno chaos.”

The three women and Marko Halanevych, who plays accordion and sings, came together in 2004 at the Kiev Center for Contemporary Art with the help of avante-garde theater director Vladyslav Troitskyi. The band’s name means “give/take” in Ukrainian. Since their start, they’ve released five albums and gone on 14 tours all over the world.

Vocalist and cello player Nina Garenetska says she especially enjoys the reaction the band gets in the US. “Americans are very emotional people. When they love something, they will jump up and scream and clap. And if they don’t like it, they’ll just sit there quietly,” she said through a translator.

In a recent, sold-out concert at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, no one was sitting quietly. There was plenty of dancing, singing and clapping. Clearly, the love is mutual.

DakhaBrakha draws from traditional Ukrainian folk songs — they want to show people through their music that Ukraine isn’t part of Russia. Ukraine has its own rich traditions going back long before they were part of the Soviet Union. The band’s vocal style is called “white singing” and came from the Hutsuls people in the Carpathian Mountains.

DakhaBrakha has been described as “psychedelic ethno” and “punk ethno” but the group doesn’t label themselves that way. They consider themselves as having more of a world music feel — taking sounds and voices from all over the map and tying it together with Ukrainian folklore.

DakhaBrakha incorporates stories collected from small villages throughout Ukraine. A perfect example is the song “Karpetsky Rap,” or in English, “Carpathian Rap,” from their 2010 album, “Light.” The piece is based on what Garentska recorded from a woman in a village she visited. It tells the story of a young woman in a small village who’s looking for a husband. The song, while hearkening to days gone by, has a contemporary theme.

It’s about sex.

Kovalenko, Tsybulska and Garenetska rap about the young woman’s conquest. Here are some of the translated lyrics: “If only my Mom knew/What Vasyl is capable of/She would just tell me/”Oh my God, no way!”/A cuckoo was calling/Somewhere over there/Where all the guys are good/But Mykola is the best./A cuckoo was calling/Over there near the forest./I don’t love anyone/Like that Yurchik guy.”

“It was almost as if, though upon searching for the right husband, she maybe has some neuroses,” said Tsybulska, who plays percussion and sings. The young woman is basically really picky, as the song illustrates.

“It is about a girl who wanted to find a husband and goes through one after another because there were always issues that arose: [this man] had a bad mother, [this other one] does not own a house, this one’s nose is crooked, for example. So, there were always shortcomings that did not satisfy her,” said Tsybulska. Sound familiar?

Making music about the plight of Ukrainian women is what DakhaBrakha does. It’s something they know well, though the three vocalists say they are lucky not to feel the same pressures that so many other women in their country do. For one, their spouses support their musical ambitions.

“For some people in Ukraine, it’s considered normal to have the idea that a woman should be at home cooking and taking care of things, and she doesn’t need to worry about having a career,” said Garenetska.

Also, many Ukrainian women suffer abuse at home. According to the National Police statistics, 60 percent of women in the country experience some form of intimate partner violence.

“The idea is that a woman must not let herself be oppressed. That if a girl is taught by her mom that it’s OK to be treated a certain way, the consequences will come out later in life. And so we have to teach our children, our daughters, to be strong and to stand up for themselves,” said Tsybulska.

That message comes through in their songs. And in Ukraine, it’s a message that isn’t always well-received. Tsybulska said when people back home listen to them, some are “are in shock.” After all, Ukraine is still a young country. But Tsybulska is hopeful. Women’s roles are changing. Just a handful of years ago, women in Ukraine couldn’t hold certain jobs for fear it would interfere with having a child. Today, more women are providing for themselves and their families. And that’s what DakhaBrakha’s music is all about — being a part of that change.”

Songlines Music Awards 2018 Nominees!

Congratulations to two Riot Artists performers who have each been nominated in multiple categories for the Songlines Music Awards 2018!

Oumou Sangaré: Best Artist; and Africa & Middle East


Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino: Best Group; and Europe

We wish them luck in the awards ceremony in October!