It was all coming back to me: that time-warped feeling of long haul flights, the airport limbo zone and the warm wall of humidity you hit at the Brazilian exit. Having lived in Brazil for five years, I’d made this trip countless times, but this time it was with a different mission. With a huge case full of what looked like objects sold by Toys ‘R’ Us nestled between highly dangerous metal boxes, I was relieved to see that my very expensive set of loaned music equipment had neither been queried nor destroyed by a bomb disposal robot. I breathed a sigh of relief and jumped into a white taxi. The purpose of my trip: to spread awareness of accessible music-making and bring together disabled and non-disabled musicians from either side of the Atlantic in a significant live event.
Something equally important was happening in the UK: Drake Music’s Ivan Riches was working on a key part of the project. Making sense of the gigabytes of video and audio we had collated he was forming a sonic and visual amalgamation of the footage to produce a film and musical arrangement. This was to feature in the live show I was organizing in São Paulo. We had contributions from Charlotte White, students from Claremont School in Bristol, and thanks to Alex Ivanovich, students at CEDA in Exeter. The crowning glory was Evelyn Glennie, the renowned solo percussion virtuoso.
Interviewing Evelyn Glennie:
The first person to create and sustain a successful career as a full-time solo percussionist, Evelyn has inspired countless composers to write for her as well as paving the way for the next generation of solo percussion players. Last year, she performed in front of an audience of millions at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. Ivan and I had the immense privilege to interview her and record her performances on film a few days before the trip, including footage of instruments including the unique Aluphone that featured in her Olympic performance. Aside from her phenomenal musicianship, I love Evelyn’s angle on deafness: “If you want to know about deafness, you should interview an audiologist. My speciality is music… enjoy the music and forget the rest”. Inspirational!
My vision was to create a live show in Brazil, bringing together these UK musicians with a group of disabled and non-disabled Brazilian players. Unified on stage for a one-off performance, I hoped we could bridge an invisible gap and create a far-reaching buzz. As soon as I reached the headquarters of the NPO Mais Diferenças, I was greeted with bear hugs from Luis, Billy and the rest of the team then it was straight to work. Dani and I went through Ivan’s film and translated the Glennie interview into Portuguese for subtitling. Our ten-day marathon was underway!
Bird’s eye view of Rio:
Shooting past Sugarloaf:
First National Meeting of Cultural Accessibility and Environments:
Yuka’s audio playground:
One of the most stirring and electric moments of the trip was my flight into Rio. As the plane veered towards the iconic Guanabara bay, our route sliced right past the mighty Corcovado and sugarloaf mountains. It was so breathtakingly close I felt I could reach out and touch the greenery. However, the significance went much deeper – this was the city in which my father grew up, and the mythical setting of my grandfather’s storytelling. It was also the first piece of Brazil I visited at the age of eight and the birthplace of the music that has fascinated and inspired me since boyhood.
Travelling and spending time with Billy was a real eye-opener; it was the first time I had confronted a city like Rio with a disabled person, and brought all the city’s shortcomings into focus. The picturesque cobblestones of Copacabana became a cattle grid for Billy’s chair and there were painfully few ramps or adapted pavements. It was a gamble as to whether our narrow apartment was going to be accessible, but with a few scrapes and dragging of kitchen appliances Billy pulled off some ninja manoeuvres and things worked out OK. It was a strangely asymmetrical flat, Escher-like with a bamboo lined hallway and the air of a dark scene from a Raymond Chandler novel. With nothing but some sticky cake on the table and a bottle of water, Luis, Billy and I felt strangely like teenagers on a school trip.
The next day we were at the 1st National Meeting of Cultural accessibility and Environment, at the national library. The myriad channels of communication that underpinned the seminar really impressed me: as we spoke, everything was signed live and at once transcribed live onto a screen. Our panel comprised Billy, Luis and I, but was soon joined by a legendary guest – the musician, composer and drummer Marcelo Yuka. Famously a member of one of Brazil’s biggest bands, O Rappa, he also happened to be a fellow dub reggae producer and we immediately hit it off.
Billy and Marcelo’s words were raw and honest. We spoke about music and accessibility and I showed the audience a few clips of the collaborative projects we had started. After the show Marcelo invited me to come to his recording studio for the night. I was amazed to hear he had a reggae producer from Patagonia working with him. It was too good an opportunity so I deliberately missed my internal flight and jumped into Marcelo’s accessible car. We spent the night mixing dub, talking about music and life. The tracks he showed me sounded like an encounter between Lee “Scratch” Perry and some ancient African priests – as though they had been centuries in the making. I realised that if I was to catch my plane I needed to sleep so I put my head down for two hours before heading back to São Paulo.
Part two… coming soon!