Milton Nascimento on his long overdue show at Ronnie Scott’s

Milton Nascimento

Milton Nascimento opened the year of 2013 in London, with a show at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. With an already busy schedule, it was not possible to get a face to face interview with him before the show. Nevertheless, I managed to say “hi” and personally thank him for an email interview done a few days before. To watch the amazing show and to talk with Milton, even briefly, added an element to an interview that was lacking the richness of  human contact. But I must say that even without the colour and rhythm of  a live interview, the responses from Milton were forthright and honest. They were responses that led me to think about music production from a perspective that was different from  the one I was following.

But what about the show?… Ah! The show! … The show was an experience that went to my list of experiences that  must be lived, alongside with other things such as  swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands or seeing the Aurora Borealis. This event made me think beyond aspects that could ever be translated into words. Perhaps this is why I have taken so long to write this article. The challenge to describe this show, with all its magic and lyricism, can’t be underestimated.

I confess that,  with much embarrassment, this was the first time I went to a  Milton Nascimento’s concert. This was also the first time I walked into Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – as it was the first time that Milton, with his 50 year career, came to perform in this famous jazz club. The time was long overdue for both of us. From the bar, I had a good view of the stage. With capacity for  250 people, Ronnie Scott’s is  the ideal size for those who really enjoy music. Tickets for all four concerts were sold out.

The House Band: “Ronnie Scott’s All Stars” feat Georgia Mancio.

“A day that will be hard to beat – interviewing @ milton_bituca to @officialronnies Radio, opening the show for him and singing “Travessia(Georgia Mancio on Twitter)”

The show was opened by the house band, “Ronnie Scott’s All Stars”, with Georgia Mancio as vocalist. A day earlier, on January 25, she wrote on Twitter: “A day that will be hard to beat – interviewing  @milton_bituca to @officialronnies Radio, opening the show for him and singing Travessia.” Georgia shared the interview with the public and repeated a story  heard from Milton himself, when he played a song from Tom Jobin and saw him running to the stage, slamming the piano down and giving an earful: “This is not my music!” . Milton told Jobim that  he was an interpreter doing an “interpretation”. Then Georgia Mancio humbly explained that she is also an interpreter and enchanted everyone with her version of “Travessia”. With James Pearson on the piano, Sam Burgess on the double bass and Dave Ohm on the drums, this was an introduction that  already had made it worthwhile to be there. No! Milton did not go on  stage to interrupt  Georgia, just as Tom Jobim did. And how could he? The interpretation of “Travessia”, by Georgia Mancio, was just beautiful. She managed to bring all the emotional depth that is so necessary to interpret such an intense song. It is was the perfect choice for introducing Milton on stage.

Milton enters the stage

A super band came with Milton Nascimento. They were:

  • the pianist Kiko Continentino, who is renowned for his versatility and specialization on the work of Tom Jobim,
  • the guitarist Wilson Lopes, who came from the  band “Edicao Brasileira” with the Maestro Mauro Rodrigues,
  • the bassist Villeroy Gastao,  who joined Milton’s band to co-produce and write the DVD “Pieta”,
  • the drumer Lincoln Cheib, who was member of the band “Sagrado Coracao da Terra”
  • the saxophonist Widor Santiago, who is responsible for a number of soundtracks for TV Globo programs.

“A song without a name and without lyrics, because a person is inside this song”

Milton enters the stage. He walks slowly. With a very gentle touch, he opens his show with the song “Cais”. His ethereal voice, half gothic, half angelic, hypnotizes the audience. When he starts singing “Cravo e Canela”, this 70 years old gentleman  turns into a jovial giant. A moment after, he presents us with a song he composed for his mother – a nameless song , “because the person is inside it” – as he explained.

The magic shows its full power when Milton sings “Para Lennon & McCartney”. The spell takes all the Brazilians in the club out of their closets. The “Brazucas”, no longer invisible, form a spontaneous  choir, accompanying the music with rhythmic  clapping. Milton improvised and  made a chorus from a  part of the lyrics:  “do lixo, do lixo, do lixo ocidental (from the western trash)”. He then walks towards the audience who continue  to sing melodically  “do lixo, do lixo, do lixo ocidental.” With great enthusiasm, the whole house carries on:  “I’m from South America / Because you will never know / But now I’m a cowboy / I am gold / I am just like you / I’m the world / I’m Minas Gerais /”. The moment was simply cathartic. It was more than music. It was like listening to a poetry recital full of discrete  rebellion  and zest for life.

“I’m from South America / Because you will never know / But now I’m cowboy / I am Gold / I am just like you / I’m the world / I’m Minas Gerais /”

While performing  Maria Maria, a song about strength and courage, the whole audience was transformed into hundreds of  “Marias”, including Milton Nascimento himself,  showing us all his grit, his pain, his joy, his grace and his ability to always have a dream. At this point, the British public who had already lost its formality and reserve, also became “Marias”, accompanying the song with clapping and singing the last chorus “La la laaa la ue ue ue la la la la, la la I laaaaa lau la, la la la la la la la ra, la ra ra la la la la la la …. “And so we continue to repeat the end of that song, without ever wanting for it to finish – our own response to “Hey Jude.” Suddenly the chorus of “Maria Maria” mingled with “One more, one more, one more” , while Milton and his band were leaving  the stage. A few minutes later, they obliged  to close the night with the sublime “Travessia”.

Meeting Milton Nascimento

It took no more than five minutes. I introduced myself, shook his hand and thanked him for his responses via email.   The jovial giant was still there, but in his human form, which was even more interesting, showing all the marks of  a life lived with intensity. There were many questions that I would like to have asked, but after such an impressive show, I decided not to bother him for more than those five minutes. So saying that, I settled with his written responses.

I must admit that some of the questions I sent to Milton  were poorly researched. Not that I started by being totally misinformed. Milton Nascimento is an artist with a significant presence in the Brazilian state of  Minas Gerais. It’s hard to remember that he was born in Rio and has lived in the “wonderful city”  for over 40 years.  Almost every time someone talks about Minas Gerais, his songs are inevitably used  as background music. As much as he insists that he is not from Minas, the Brazilian hilly state has adopted him affectionately as one of its most illustrious children. But he made it clear that he does not make “Music from Minas Gerais”: Milton just makes music. He also revealed that he has never taken seriously the label “World Music” and explained that the Corner Club (Clube da Esquina) was never a club at all.

Introduction:  The latest developments in digital media, specifically, in regards to  distribution, has strongly affected the music industry, prompting major labels and distributors to financial collapse, as recently seen with  the end of the HMV. At the same time, these same developments brought by the web (itunes, soundcloud, youtube, etc …) have created opportunities that did not exist before for independent musicians. The perception is that Brazilian independent musicians are the most pro-active in the use of digital media, not only in terms of promotion, but also in terms distribution and development. We could say that, more than ever, through the Internet, Brazilian musicians are going “where the people are” as you sing in “Bailes da Vida”. Despite the difference  that many of the beaten roads now are virtual ones,  the Internet is still like a wild  old west, requiring a lots of determination, energy and grit. We have,  for example, the band  “Graveola & o Lixo Polifonico” realeasing all  their albums on the web. Based on this information, my questions to you, Milton, are:

Ronise: If you were starting your career today, what would be the direction you would take, considering that the  opportunities and barriers of today  are very different?

Milton: It is impossible to think about it, because I did not start my career calculating which direction to take. In fact, I’ve never done anything planned in my life. Just as I never recorded an album or participated in some project thinking about a goal or a purpose which would be mainly commercial. The only thing I think about  is  the music itself and if this brings me some return, it will be just the result of dedicating myself to work on what I love.

Ronise: At the of  start your career, we were going through deep changes in our society in all aspects of Brazilian life, despite and because of  the militaryship that lasted from 1964 to 1984. Today, we have a Brazil with an admirable level of popular political participation, fulfilling the promise of the country of the future. What is your vision of this new reality as an artist, as a “Mineiro”(a person from Minas Gerais),  as a citizen of the world and as  a person?

Milton: Without doubt we had a huge breakthrough in Brazil in recent years, but unfortunately there is still a huge list of things that still need to be done. And the first issue that must be addressed with urgency is education. If governments give priority to the education of our children more than half of our problems would be solved. It is unacceptable for a country, with so many resources, to  have one of the worst educational levels of the planet. Public universities, as well as schools, are completely scrapped, and worst, teachers are badly paid.  How can we be the country of the future,  if we do not take care of our youth?

“Actually, I do not take very seriously this business of World Music.  For me, music is music and period.”

Ronise: The Internet is contributing to the promotion of so-called World Music, which a number of  critics regarding it  as the new Rock in Roll. Obviously the term “World Music” came  from a  British-American commercial perspective. What changes would  you predict in regards to the space conquered by Brazilian music in the category of World Music?

Milton: Actually, I do not take very seriously this business of World Music. For me, music is music and period. The space of Brazilian music in world  began to be conquered since Pixinguinha ran the world with his band “8 Batutas”. After that came the Bossa Nova hurricane with  Tom Jobin, Joao Gilberto and Vinicius de Moraes,  paving the way for the generation that came after:  Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque… Brazilian music has conquered  its space long time ago.

Ronise: Your musical style, and in general, the musical style of  Minas Gerais, (for which you have received credits as one its most influential musicians), stands out distinctly in terms of not fitting within  widespread stereotypes about Brazil in the world. However,  most of these stereotypes are caused  by the  misinterpretation of cultural ideas ​​during translation. With your experience outside Brazil, what do you believe are the points of greatest risk of being stereotyped in relation to the music from Minas Gerais, and what are aspects that could resist this trend?

Milton: Again I have to say, I never do anything thinking of a final goal. Another thing, I don’t do music from Minas Gerais, I just do music. The stereotypes come from a part of  the press that always tends to label everything.

Ronise: Milton, I believe that as an artist, you inspired a number of musicians who have been followed you since the 70’s until now. And this is not  just in terms of musical style, but also and mainly in terms of  independence and innovation. My perception is  that the independent artists of today, took seriously your lyrics from “Bailes da Vida”,  where you say that  “every artist should go where the public is”. However, there are still those who consider the musical leadership in Minas Gerais, from late 1960’s and 1970’s, of the so-called “Corner Club” (Clube da Esquina), as an exclusive club with a monopoly over the music scene in Minas.  What is your perception and positioning on this issue?

“First of all,  the ” Clube da Esquina” was never a club. A club must have partners, headquarters and statute.  And also,  the “Clube da Esquina” was never a movement, because a movement has to have a certain sociological foundation. Clube da Esquina is just a sidewalk between the Divinópolis Street  and Paraisópolis Street, in the neighborhood of Santa Teresa area,  where a group of friends would get together in the 1960 \ 1970 to make music and exchange small talk.”

Milton: First of all,  the ” Clube da Esquina” was never a club. A club must have partners, headquarters and a statute.  And also,  the “Clube da Esquina” also was never a movement, because a movement has to have  a certain sociological foundation. Clube da Esquina is just a sidewalk between the Divinópolis Street  and Paraisópolis Street, in the neighborhood of Santa Teresa area,  where a group of friends would get together in the 1960 \ 1970 to make music and exchange small talk. Now, I do not understand what you mean by  monopoly. If that was the case, then  we could say that bands such as “Skank”,  “Jota Quest”, “Pato Fu” and “Sepultura” (all from Minas Gerais)  monopolized the rock scene in Minas Gerais ,  because the fact that they are bands, they could be  considered even more closed and exclusive than anything. Another thing, I don’t know if you know, but I live in Rio de Janeiro since 1967, so how can I be part of a monopolized scenario which I find myself out for over forty years? Instead of discussing “monopoly” and “exclusive”, we could talk on how Minas Gerais entered the music map of the world, after the work done by us,  from the 1960s,  and the work done today by Sepultura, Skank and many other talents that have emerged afterwards.

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