the old and the new
In Britain we still know Joyce best for tracks such as Aldeia de Ogum, which started taking the dance-floor by surprise in the early ‘90s. If Flora Purim is Brazilian jazz’s ethereal spirit, who had to ‘leave’ Brazil to forge her own musical sound, then Joyce is its survivor. She has spent 27 years in the music business in Brazil, alongside such legendary ‘60s names as Edu Lobo and the Tamba Trio, and is still making records there, even if today she records separate sessions for home and abroad.
I met her after a gig at the Jazz Cafe, just in the day before from Brazil, still exhilarated from playing to a crowd composed of boisterous Brazilians and adoring British fans. In a more intimate setting than her previous and first appearance in Britain at the Fridge in December ‘93, her voice seems stronger than ever, from its muscular low register to a sweep higher than you’d think possible, perfect for those dissonant top harmonies she writes, that twist the melody around in an almost painful but always heart-grabbing way. Her range of music is a loving homage to Brazilian musical genius, from Tom Jobim’s sublime Aguas de Marco a thick-as-honey rendering of her own, much-covered Misterios. And you know a band’s got it when you see people’s shoulders or pelvis twitch and they look surprised. This band, featuring husband and long-term musical partner Tutty Moreno on drums has a strength, movement and power you only get with musicians who know each other all too well. It was a gig more poised, more together than that breathtaking very first one in London, where she seemed surprised by the intensity of the reaction of a rammed house, fired up for a Christmas extravaganza, all singing along in their own version of Brazilian, Portuguese, clapping in the right places to that demarcated phase in Upa Neguinho.
“That was very beautiful”, she sighs, wiping the sweat from her face after this gig, referring to the previous visit. “I was very happy about all that, I started telling this to everyone in Brazil: everybody who’s played here, Edu Lobo, Marcos Vane, and they can’t believe it either”.
So do they understand in Brazil what the British scene is about, our eclectic and almost random collection and adoration of old tunes?
“Some of them do-Marcos Vane for sure. But England really is a different scene. I’d been working, for the last ten years, more in the jazz scene in Japan and other places in Europe and the United States, the audience here is so young, that was a big surprise for me. I found it really great, this meant it’s an audience that will last a long time and probably grow”. Is the dancing to her tunes, the club venues rather than concert hail is that new too?
“That started here-now its happening kind of everywhere, it’s a lot of fun.”
What strikes me about Joyce is that her new songs seem to keep coming as strong as the old ones. With all to many artists we know and love from old recordings, the new tunes that they play, when they arrive here, seem dry in comparison, her new material has the same spirit, that blend of bossa nova, sweet samba and a peculiarly feminine perspective.
“I think I remained faithful to the same music that I always liked. Everything grows, everything changes, you get more mature and learn a lot, but the music I like is still the same. Anyway, the records you were playing here, my old records, is music from 15 years ago-not that long. Maybe I didn’t have time yet to change my mind about music-maybe I never will-anything can happen.”
Have you always played music? I ask, with visions of the young Flora Purim in my head, being forced to appreciate the classical music of her musician father. “I started playing guitar at 14-so I’ve been playing more than 30 years!”
And were you always singing too?
“Always singing and playing. I always needed this voice and guitar together thing. That was a little bit strange in my career in Brazil because Brazilian singers usually don’t play, and it was always very weird for everybody, to see me always with a guitar in my hands. Everybody always said ‘leave your guitar woman, please’. I wanted always to be also a musician – the guitar is part of my music- I’m committed to that guitar, it’s part of me.’
Did people think the guitar was part a folk thing, a North American vibe, like Joni Mitchell?
“No nothing like that. We don’t have this folk thing in Brazil – we don’t know Joni Mitchell. I hardly know who she is!”
So many internationally renowned women singer-musicians have come out of Brazil-it doesn’t seem to happen so much in other countries. What is it about Brazilian women?
‘You think there are many? You’re talking about singers?”
Instrumental singers-people who use the voice as an instrument, like Flora Purim, or….
“Flora’s been out of Brazil for ten years now, so she doesn’t have much space in Brazil for her music. In Brazil, the singers that have more success are the ones the French call ‘chanteuses’, someone who sings the words. I like to sing like this too, when I do a ballad or something. But instrumental vocals like Flora does, it’s very usual. I think maybe this is why she left. She was a pioneer. She learned everything with Henneto Pascoal, who is a great master, and she has a beautiful career that I admire very much. It would be very hard for her to make music in Brazil now because they are not used to this instrumental vocal thing.”
Are you still recording in Brazil? “Yeah. Actually I’ve been through the process of doing two different albums every year. One for my country, and one for abroad. It’s very funny, and in 1996 there’s a strong possibility of it happening again, a co-production between Brazil and Japan first, then later on perhaps a, more instrumental, jazz album in the United States. But always Brazil first-I can’t get Brazil out of me.” Is that part of the success of your music, retaining the feeling of Brazil?
“Sure. I’m happy because now I can travel with a Brazilian band. It’s always more roots when you’re playing with someone who was born and has the same blood you have because the music is in the veins it’s so natural, always the best thing for me.”
Joyce’s songs have been recorded by and she’s written for so many important Brazilian musicians, that I wonder if she now thinks of herself foremost as a musician or songwriter.
“I think both. I remember always creating music. When I was a kid I would place music on top of the books that I had to study so that I could keep everything in mind, I don’t remember not composing ever, it’s part of me -always will be.”
And you’ve managed to make a living doing it” ‘Yeah. 27 years doing this. I can live comfortably with that. And stay in Brazil, which I think is a good thing. Sometimes I thought about leaving, especially when the country was having a hard time, but I was thinking why should I leave when the country is going through a hard time. Maybe they need this music a bit.” Was it difficult for you to compose during that time?
“No, not at all. I’ve never had a dry season in my music. I’m always growing, so I always have material to recycle, and I always have new things to do.”
And, it turns out she has some old things afoot – this month marks the release of a ‘new’ album of fine, mostly instrumental pieces (on the new label Far Out Records, founded by Joe Davis), featuring Joyce and husband Tutty Moreno recorded way back in 1980, during one of her most creative periods, and for those of you who am yet to sample the delights we recommend you leave it no longer, and at least pick that album up.
Susy Marriott for ukvibe issue 17 1996