* From the collection of excellent interviews and reports by Marcelo Pinheiro
The talent of Bahian conductor Letieres Leite is perhaps matched only by his determination. Embarrassed, like the approximately 1,1 million Africans who, enslaved, disembarked in Salvador and made their homeland one of the most fertile lands for Brazilian music, Letieres spared no effort to impose his artistic convictions. At the age of 20, alone, he left the capital of Bahia, where he studied Fine Arts at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), to venture into a concert hall in the south of the country. Saxophonist and flutist, when he arrived in Florianópolis, in 1981, with the small fee received for his performances, he had to face the difficult routine of sleeping under an overpass for almost two months. Shortly after, in the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, he experienced better days. He was part of a respected group of the instrumental scene of the time, the Banda de Neutrons, and went further. Self-taught in musical writing, he was invited to sign arrangements for the Porto Alegre Symphony Orchestra.
Back in Santa Catarina, in 1985 he embarked on a trip to Spain with a group of musicians. When her friends returned to Brazil, she decided to stay there, took a train and ended up in Austria. In Vienna, where Beethoven and Mozart made history and Strauss and Schubert were born, Letieres honed his musical knowledge. The entry into renowned conservatories came after, at the Viennese carnival, enchanting the local population and the city's mayor by presenting samba school arrangements for symphonic pieces. After brief musical seasons in England, France and Switzerland, he returned to the country in 1994.
Also inspired by the avant-garde of maestros who have marked the history of UFBA, such as the German Hans-Joachim Koellreutter and the Swiss Walter Smetak and Ernst Widmer, Letieres has full intellectual mastery of his art, but does not give up his visible detachment and irreverence. in performances with Orkestra Rumpilezz. With this same mix of information, the conductor talked to our reporter, by phone, while he was on his way to an appointment in Olinda. In the first half of this month, he was in the historic city of Pernambuco writing arrangements for a Candomblé nation called Xambá, which for almost 90 years has kept the tradition of Bantu culture alive. Good-natured, the drummer regent jokes that he is feeling like a student of five or six-year-old children, who intuitively know much more than he does about the wealth of Xamba. With the word, Letieres Leite, Guardian of Mother Africa and apprentice conductor.
CULTURA!Brasileiros – You studied Fine Arts at UFBA in the late 1970s. to the decision to abandon painting and devote himself to music?
Milk Letieres – Since I was little I wanted to be a painter, and until I was 20 I was sure that was what I was going to do with my life. As a Visual Arts student, I was able to participate in free music seminars. I started to get into this wave (Letieres played saxophone and flute) and everything went very well. Soon I started performing at an event organized by the students, the Mostra de Som Universitário contra a Dictatorship, and the tables were turned.
Was the seminar similar to the one created by Koellreutter in the early 1960s? In 1980, was there still the same cultural effervescence on the UFBA campus that marked the administration of dean Edgar Santos?
Edgar made a great revolution, not only at UFBA, but throughout Bahia. He transformed Salvador's music, theater, dance and culture, because he made a huge investment to make all this happen. In the field of music, he brought masters such as Koellreutter, Widmer and Smetak from Europe. When I started attending the seminars, Koellreutter had already left Brazil, but I was lucky enough to catch the last years of Bastianelli (the Italian conductor Piero Bastianelli) and Smetak at UFBA. The college still breathed that atmosphere of the 1960s, so much so that, in 1980, I participated in the first Festival of Instrumental Music in Bahia, which had (the guitarist)
Hélio Delmiro and (the saxophonist) Victor Assis Brasil as guests.
Was your musical talent influenced by your family?
Not even. In fact, until I decided to play, I didn't know anyone in my family was involved with music. Then I found out that a great-uncle was the conductor of an orchestra in Petrolina, Pernambuco. Although he also plays the saxophone, I haven't had the slightest contact with him.
Before participating in the seminars, did you already have some knowledge of the instruments?
At age 12, in Salvador, I was lucky enough to study at a public school called Severino Vieira, which had an Afro-Brazilian orchestra created by researcher Emilia Biancardi. I joined that orchestra and played flute and sax for two years. It was the first contact with Afro-Brazilian music I had in my life. An experience so strong that it has stayed with me to this day. It was also there that I had my first contacts with music teachers who were popular masters and who taught me how to play percussion. One of them, Mestre Moa do Katende, with whom I still have contact and for whom I even wrote a composition, gave me a very strong awareness of this musical heritage, something that served as a subsidy so that, later, I could understand the strength of this musical heritage. music and wanted to study it. I think that the beginning of Rumpilezz, that is, of the subjects I wanted to develop in relation to Afro music, came from this period of discoveries in high school. In the works I did in Europe, these elements were already very well placed in me. I have always treated instrumental music with that intention. When I played with Paulo Moura in Montreux, in 1992, the sound was already very similar to what I do today.
Did you play together at the jazz festival?
Yes. One of the songs I presented to Paulo was a frevo, called Saideira, and the second part had an ijexá in which I played the percussion. Paulo was a great supporter of my ideas, because he also liked the combination of wind and percussion.
He was part of the generation of musicians that, in the 1960s, explored African roots, such as conductors Moacir Santos and Abigail Moura, from the Afro-Brazilian Orchestra, and groups such as Os Ipanemas…
Exactly. And it was a happy coincidence that I met him again in Montreux – I was Paulo’s student in 1984, when I lived in Porto Alegre – because this rapprochement made me insist on the idea of improvising Brazilian music through this format, percussion and blow, which led me to the concept of Rumpilezz.
As an educator, in addition to the musical issue, but also the knowledge of African ancestry, How do you develop the formation of musicians?
As I said, Rumpilezz's musical aesthetic came about well before the orchestra existed. And they all know that this concept also came from the understanding that in many countries the musical influence of the black diaspora has its own organizations, very rigorously, something that we, in Brazil, had not yet developed well.
Were there a lack of learning methods here?
Yes. And I came to understand the lack of rigor around here when I started researching the music of Cuba, which also came from the African diaspora, has the same key that exists in the music here, but it is different from ours, because of the ethnic combinations that happened in Brazil and in the way we execute those same references. In Brazil, until very recently, there was, for example, no awareness of African subgenres, something that Cubans and American jazz musicians began to develop in the late 1940s. When I went to study in Europe, for On my own, I started to take my notes, starting from what I already knew since Salvador. It was in Europe that I began to understand that the structural form of all diaspora-derived music has similar models of structuring and rigor. Studying in Vienna allowed me to organize the bars, the duration of the notes, the so-called “European closure”, things that were not yet theoretically conceived for the rhythmic subtlety that there is in the music that ended up here with the African diaspora.
Until then, especially with the work of maestros such as Moacir and Abigail, these actions were isolated in registration initiatives, but not in the construction of teaching methods.
I think these conductors created solutions for musicians who came after them to combine the rhythm section and the other instruments with greater ease. See, for example, that in Moacir's songs – and I say this because I had the opportunity to study his repertoire – the musicians are able to play the Afro notation because he creates formulas in which the percussive influence converses with the piano, with the double bass. Abigail Moura also thought like that, but she brought the music in an essence much closer to African roots than to jazz.
In addition to instrumental music and samba, this influence is also very present in our popular song.
Yes. It is a privilege of those who work with Brazilian music. Take the case of bossa nova: I had the opportunity to study João Gilberto's guitar and I realized that, even if everything is organized differently, there is also this key of the diaspora. João does not delay or advance the melody at will. He interferes with the beat of his guitar precisely because he realizes where the African key is happening. João is someone who knows that this population was taken from its origins by force, through a great holocaust, as I consider it, but who also believes that this tragedy built something complex, so beautiful, that it has to be respected. When I created the concept of the disk The Crossing Saga and I had to think about the slave ships that anchored on the Brazilian coast, I also created an image of encouragement. I fantasized that they arrived here with the joy that they would not be completely destroyed, as if they could predict: “I arrive here almost destroyed, but my descendant will be Pixinguinha, my descendant will be Jackson do Pandeiro, my descendant will be Batatinha”. The idea of Crossing for me, it is precisely to propose a joy, to praise the possibility of, in the midst of tragedy, being able to create an art that influenced the music of the Americas. Jazz, blues, samba and even tango, all these genres came from the diaspora.
The Crossing Saga was released six years after Rumpilezz's first work. This long hiatus brought distinctions between the two jobs?
For me, this album is a natural evolution of the idea of the first one, which was much more didactic. All the arrangements and executions of the compositions of this new album were completely in sync with this idea of the African key and the exploration of its power in the most conscious way possible. I managed to make the trombones and trumpets, for example, play in sync with the percussion, rhythmically amalgamated. In this new work, I didn't have the slightest concern to appear didactic. I used, for example, even beats that were turned into odd. I felt an unprecedented compositional freedom, both in terms of harmonics and melodies. The fundamental difference between Rumpilezz's first album and this second one comes precisely from this freedom. I think another central factor is that, from the beginning, I had a very clear motto, the issue of the Atlantic crossing of the diaspora, something that gave an ideological sense to the compositions of this new album.
Even though you don't deal with the format at Rumpilezz, you collaborate with several artists on the song. How, for example, is your relationship with the music of Gilberto Gil, honored by you in Luminous Professor.
It is not for nothing that I called Gil a teacher. I learned a lot from him. In Brazilian popular music, there are several moments in which the African rhythmic origin was very well used, but Gil's work is of great importance, for me and for Orkestra Rumpilezz, because, in the things he does, there is not only the rhythmic aspect. Gil's music also brings forms of harmony and melody that take on a contemporary character, an intention that coincides with my desire, because, as much as I base myself on ancestral elements that are in instrumental music, my idea is also to make contemporary music. The ijexá, one of the ringtones that Gil recreated,
for example, it comes packaged in a very special way to extract the balance of your guitar.
What was it like to have played with him in São Paulo?
We were fortunate enough to do some concerts with him at Sesc Pompeia. In these encounters, the sensuality in Gil's music became even more evident. Those were very happy moments for me, because I always knew that his music is directed towards the same concepts that I defend. That's why I didn't hesitate to pay this tribute to him.
In fact, this meeting with Gil attests to another important facet of Rumpilezz, the versatility of the orchestra to dialogue with other artists…
I have the habit of bringing the orchestra closer to composers who impose rhythmic challenges. Lenine, for example, who has played with us, always liked to play with the rhythms of Pernambuco and, from them, made interesting constructions. I'm in Olinda, as an apprentice, and I realize how much he defends music here. I saw this same respect with Bahian music when I set out to unveil Caymmi's guitar, which features bass lines and ready and precise rhythmic divisions. Rumpilezz's approach to his work was very light. I usually take the arrangements to rehearse with the orchestra and start with the rhythm section and then move on to the wind scores. Something interesting happened with Caymmi's compositions, because in them everything is ready and very well insinuated. When I got to know Caymmi's guitar, I discovered that he was fully aware of the comprehensive construction that is in his music. Something that seems to come from his unconscious, and that is evident in the result of everything he has done. Something nice to notice. Elements that are directly linked to the best of Brazilian music.
In fact, two years ago I saw the show by the Goma Laca project, which brought together Afro-influenced music composed since 1902, but arranged by you and performed by contemporary musicians. Both on the show and on the record (listen and download the album) it is impressive to see the modernity of those compositions, almost secular…
Exactly. Everything there seems to be connected with the music of the present, doesn't it? So much so that I wrote the arrangements for the record, but when it came time to play them live I put all the scores in an envelope, kept them under a table and told the musicians: “Let's make everything from scratch”. They agreed and I conducted the arrangements on the basis of onomatopoeia, coordinating bass, piano, singing and drums. Of course, it all went very well. We made a kind of experience of these compositions there.
I would like to end the conversation by talking about the experience of perpetuating your ideas through Rumpilezinho.
The project was born in a music school I had in Bahia. When I realized that there were a large number of students who could not pay for classes, I decided to create this social project. Some of them were so talented that, arguably, they had to stay with us. Then I realized that there was another aspect that was even more dependent on support: that of women who wanted to play instruments in a popular orchestra. When I studied in Europe, I played in orchestras in Berlin, Vienna, London, and there were always women playing double bass, drums, woodwinds. So I made a special class, which was named Rumpilezz de Saia. We had almost 40 girls studying music and we trained several of them. I still have difficulty maintaining these projects, because they are run with support from the private sector. Although we faced a break without activities due to lack of support, Rumpilezinho remains active to this day. The methodology is the same as for the orchestra, but includes electric instruments, such as guitar, keyboard and bass. We stand firm, consistently.
Listen to the entire album The Crossing Saga on Sesc's Youtube channel.
The CD can be purchased through the Sesc virtual store (visit)