Interview | Mônica Vasconcelos

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Brazilian songstress Mônica Vasconcelos kicks off the girls are Summer Sessions at the Forge this Friday evening. With seven records under her belt and boasting an incredibly enchanting voice she is a highly talented and respected musician on the UK scene. On Friday Mônica will perform originals as well as her own reworkings of Brazilian classics. She will also invite a special guest to perform with her for a couple of tracks in honour of the new series.

Mônica who hails from São Paulo, Brazil, has lived in the UK for over ten years. Bringing her Brazilian vernacular music and blending it with an innate jazz sensibility, she has won audiences and critics over with her spellbinding music. Does blending the two musics together make them richer though? ‘I think what happens is that you arrive at something that is unique, or at least different and you have the strength of both. Whether it makes it better or not, that is something I cannot tell you, I’m too involved in it. For us, it is a thrilling experience and it is just lovely to be able to do it. ‘

For many years Mônica worked with saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and she has partnered with Robert Wyatt and Brazilian guitarist Guinga among other prominent musicians. Having worked with so many musicians from varying backgrounds, Mônica has grown to understand the importance of listening in music, in particular jazz, ‘that’s why I find it so beautiful, because you can only be good as a jazz musician if you are able to hear what the others have to say. I find it beautiful. I am quite idealistic, but it does provide perhaps some models of how society could live together. In order to do and give your best, you have to be able to hear what others have to say. It is very much a collective, it is really something that only works if you are able to work in a group.‘

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How has being a woman shaped her career? ‘It is interesting because when I first arrived in England my first musical partner was Ingrid and at the first gig we were offered, the woman who was booking us said, what’s the name of the group? We looked at each other, as we didn’t have a name, and so I said  ‘As Meninas’, which means ‘the girls’. We never actually just did gigs as a duo, we invited Ife [Tolentino] to work with us and then Chris Wells to play drums and we were a quartet called ‘As Meninas’ but we were actually two guys and two girls. I don’t think of myself as being a woman or a man, the difference when I’m on stage, is rather that as a singer I hold the words, the text. I feel there is a difference between the singer and the person who plays the instrument.’

‘I wonder what differences it would make, if I were a man and how different my band would be. It’s very interesting. I feel in my band like we are almost a bit of a family. In some situations I often laugh with them. I used to lead a nine-piece band and during the rehearsals it was myself and Ingrid as the two girls with seven boys. I remember for instance, Ife loved joking and he is quite a kid really and I remember that the English guys especially, just loved it so much because Ife was really naughty  – and you know this is something about Brazil, we are a child-like country somehow in our approach, so there is that playfulness. I think that Ife’s behaviour allowed the other guys to misbehave. I remember that put me in some sort of position where I became the teacher in that situation, which feels very much like a woman thing.’

As part of her the girls are Summer Sessions gig, Mônica will be inviting special guest flautist Lucia Viola to join her on stage. Mônica says that, ‘the flute adds a very special colour, I have worked a lot with brass instruments, but I’ve never had much of a chance to work with a flute player. Lucia, being Brazilian, uses the flute in the traditional way of Brazilian popular music and I love the colour and the lightness of it. She improvises and she also does counterpoint lines to the melody which is so lovely.’

‘She is a special guest precisely because this gig is about girls and I really miss working with another woman. There is something very good about having other women on stage with you. Why? I just don’t know. Well you know it is true that women do understand one another from a different perspective. Sometimes it does feel a little bit lonely not having other girls, so it will be nice to have Lucia there.’

Come down to the Forge in Camden this Friday 12 July to hear Mônica perform live. Further details and tickets can be found here. We’ll see you there.

Rosie Hanley

 

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