NEUNENEU is the project started by RAVI & MARLUI MIRANDA that features indigenous Amazonian songs, collected by MARLUI over a period of thirty years in the forest and features RAVI on guitar, percussion, kora and voice and MARLUI MIRANDA on guitar, percussion and voice. Performances feature audience participation and traditional indigenous dances. Workshops are also available, where indigenous songs and dances are taught.
“Neuneneu/Humanity” by MARLUI MIRANDA and RAVI (Fragments of Indigenous Brazil) is available through good record shops in UK via Proper Distribution and available for purchase online BUY “NEUNENEU” NOW: http://koratone.com/product/
Review of NEUNENEU by Songlines Magazine by Alex Robinson
Marlui Miranda and Ravi “Neuneuneu”
CD004BRIHU0606 (54 minutes) ****
“The best kora-meets-Brazilian collaboration you’ll ever hear.
This must be the only fusion of Brazilian indigenous and West African kora music ever to have been reviewed in Songlines. Those who have explored the far corners of the Brazilian catalogue, out beyond Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos, may have come across Marlui Miranda.
For the past few decades – in between playing with Gilberto Gil and Rodolfer Streter – she has been wandering through central Brazil and the Amazon like a latter-day latin Vaughan Williams.
Collecting indigenous songs, arranging them and recording them, often with tribal people themselves. Her “Ihu – Todos os sons” is a masterpiece. And were it not for her work, few would realise that Brazil’s musicality is as much an indigenous trait as it is imported from Portugal and Africa.
Here Miranda teams up with Welsh-based kora (harp-lute) player Ravi, a walking testament to the success of multiculturalism, to produce a series of haunting, trance-inducing tapestries of repeated harmony and delicate melody which is as lulling as a warm tropical sea and as rich and satisfying as the best from the ECM catalogue. Extraordinary.”
For concert bookings, contact:
WORLD FUSION PRODUCTIONS:
The Guardian (06/09/2006)
‘We respect whites but they don’t respect us’
Brazil’s Mehinaku are threatened by pollution and hydroelectric dams. The Enawene Nawe are fighting ranchers and soya growers devastating land in Mato Grosso. Here, the Amazonian tribal people speak out:
We left our land in the Xingu to come to Europe to speak out about the many, problems we are facing. All the headwaters of the great Xingu river are very polluted. This is because the white people who are agriculturalists throw in toxic pesticides. They chuck everything in there – rubbish, empty cans and bottles of rum. They also kill the wild animals and they leave the dead bodies rotting by the river banks. We Mehinaku use the water to bathe in, to drink from and to fish. We are fisher people – we don’t eat red meat. In the Xingu there is a lot of fish, every type of fish. Fish are so important to us and now the fish are dying.
We are very, very worried because now a hydroelectric dam is being built on the Culuene river. Building has already started. I went to Brasilia to protest. All the indigenous peoples of the Xingu went to demonstrate there, and they told us they can’t stop the dam. They keep on building. We went to the dam site to protest and they stopped work, but as soon as we left they started again. They don’t care about us. When we go to see what is happening they don’t want to know. So we need help. We have to fight for a better life. We don’t want that dam. We want to preserve our land. We have to show people not to pollute the water, not to kill animals and not to throw poison in the rivers.
The governor of Mato Grosso state, where we live, grows soya. That’s all he does. He just orders people to plant soya so he can earn lots of money. He wants to grab half of our reserve, only to plant soya. I am beginning to understand things about the whites. What I see is that we, the Indians, respect them but they don’t respect us.
If you go to my land, all you will see is forest. It’s unbroken. Now we have set up vigilance posts to protect it and the rivers. People come down the rivers in boats throwing out the rubbish and taking the fish. But I don’t take things that belong to the whites. Funai (Foundation for the Protection of Indians) is responsible for our land. But we Mehinaku want to own our land. We want to register it in our name. We need our land and rivers for our life and traditions. This is very important to us. We sing, we dance, we fish, we hunt, we plant. We are never still because that’s our way, it’s how we are.
My message to people in Europe is, please stand by us. We, the indigenous peoples of the Xingu, really need your help to stop these dams. This is very important – for all of us, for humanity.
Kawari Enawene Nawe
A long time ago, this was our land. Now everything is finished. All the trees are gone. There are no bees’ nests full of honey and no eagles. There are no tapirs, no monkeys – they have all died or fled. There are no animals here at all. The Preto river is totally spoiled. There are no fish and the river is all polluted. The ranchers are finishing everything and this land has become ugly.
All this land belongs to the yakairiti – our ancestral spirits – who are the owners of the natural resources. They own the rivers, the fish and the trees. If you finish these off, the yakairiti will take vengeance and will kill all the Enawene Nawe. We’ve been on this land for a long time. There were no inuti (non-Indian people) here when I was young. We were here long before them.
We never knew that so many ranchers would arrive in our land. We didn’t know that tractors existed and we didn’t know about chain saws that cut down trees. Nor did we know about cattle. Then we saw that as the city people came on to our land, they brought diseases, they polluted the rivers and finished off the birds and animals.
Five years ago, there was nobody here. Now many, many people keep arriving. It’s one ranch after another. We are not interested in cows because we don’t eat meat. So these cattle ranches are of no use to us and we want nothing to do with them. These inuti are very different to us. They cut down the forest, pollute the rivers and mine deep into the earth. Then they throw away what they don’t want. We do not want to sell or exchange our trees.
We have written so many documents to Funai and nothing is ever resolved. So our heads are tired. They hurt because we are thinking and worrying so much. If the authorities don’t protect our land we will take strong measures. The young Enawene Nawe say, “We will burn the bridges and set fire to the ranchers’ buildings”. This will cause a lot of damage. Then the ranchers will get angry and want vengeance.
Blairo Maggi is the governor of Mato Grosso state and he plants soya. This is very bad for us. First the soya people cut everything down in the forest and savanna and kill all the animals. Then they send in a plane that sprays poison. This governor is very bad because he doesn’t care about the animals and plants and trees. He’s only worried about money. What are all the government bodies doing about this? Nothing! They are deaf and blind.
We, the Enawene Nawe, will never destroy the forest. We want the animals alive and are longing for the earth to look beautiful forever. The inuti will take everything out so there will be no fish, no feasts and no ancestors, and we will die.
We are very, very sad and very frightened. We want our words and pictures to be carried far away to other countries, so they can see and hear us. We need help from them.
The Independent (17/07/06)
‘Neuneneu – A Musical Journey To The Heart Of The Amazon, St George’s, Bristol’By Phil Meadley
The term “world music” was invented for nights like this. Aside from Ravi’s virtuoso kora playing and Marlui Miranda’s passionate interpretation of Brazilian Indian music, this UK tour is to showcase the spirit dance and chanting of the Amazonian Mehinaku tribe, five of whom are here tonight, performing in the UK for the first time.
Credit must go to the co-ordinator Miranda – who is strumming on a guitar and emitting otherworldly noises at regular intervals – and Ravi for the show working so well. Their own kind of ethno-fusion brings light relief between the powerful trance-inducing shamanistic displays of the strikingly attired (plumed headgear, body art) rainforest people.
To the left of the stage sit the Mehinaku Indians, the elder statesman and, it seems, father of the other four tribesmen, sitting furthest away. To the right are Miranda and Ravi (with a West African kora and an electric version).
Divided into two sets, the show starts with the Yaupe Dance, originating from the Mehinaku Indians of Mato Grosso, and performed as a healing ceremony, which seems to involve the deification of birds and a celebration of their magical powers. “Watanate” is played on panpipes, with each member seemingly picking one note in a slightly discordant fashion.
“Tchori Tchori” and “Nham gam” feature Miranda on vocals, accompanied by Ravi on kora. While Miranda sings she has the disconcerting look of a female Roy Wood (it could be the face paint), while Ravi is equally bizarrely adorned.
After the interval, two of the tribesmen hold what look like double-barrelled bamboo flutes (called “watana”), which they lift up and down as they circle one another. The flutes are cut at different lengths, giving two distinct pitches. This leads into perhaps the most powerful sequence of the night, the Kayapa Dance – a shamanistic ceremony in which the patient is healed by chanting, stamping and circular dancing. The night ends with all eight performers doing the Yaupe Dance again, this time dedicated to the preservation of the Xingu river, and greeted with rapturous applause.
The Guardian (30/06/06)
‘I’m gonna eat grandfather crocodile’ by Pascal Wyse
They are called the Mehinako tribe and they are heading this way. Pascal Wyse travels to Brazil for a preview of their mysterious music.
As cultural melting pots go, it’s pretty rich: a shaman from the Amazonian Mehinako tribe, eating a pizza in an Italian restaurant, in Brazil, accompanied by, among others, a Manchester-born musician who specialises in a West African instrument. But culturally, Yanuno Mehinako – the shaman – is the one furthest away from home. Along with his four sons he has traded his village for the concrete jungle of Sao Paulo – the first step on a much bigger journey, in which members of the tribe will leave Brazil for the first time to perform their music in the UK
“Yanuno has 22 grandchildren,” says Marlui Miranda, the Brazilian academic, composer and singer who is bringing this group of Mehinako (a tribe currently numbering 300) across the Atlantic next week, and who, with kora player Ravi, will be performing with them.
Marlui translates the menu for Yanuno, and explains to me that he is a healer. Suddenly Ravi, Marlui and her partner Lucian are giving details of how they have all been healed, from bad backs to arthritic wrists. Yanuno rubs his hands together, then blows through his fingers – showing how he uses a huge tobacco-plant cigarette during the healing process.
The following morning the Mehinako, Ravi and Marlui rehearse the show. At the front of the stage, carved wooden birds protect the space from the spirits. Ravi and Marlui are wearing painted outfits inspired by the tribe’s costumes, and make-up not a million miles away from Kiss. The tribe members have coloured wraps around their joints, headgear with toucan feathers and various other sticks and skirts. One of Yanuno’s sons bears a circular black target on his chest, indicating that he is a local wrestling champion.
Given all of that interesting stuff, it seems odd that they are keen to film me, but two video cameras are quickly turned my way. “It is very important to have a good story to tell the village,” says Marlui. “That’s why they are always filming whatever they want to learn about – people, food, whatever. Back home they have a 34-inch television to watch the videos. But they don’t like to see other people’s movies – they only watch their own.”
The show they are bringing to the UK is called Neuneneu (Humanity). It alternates indigenous songs from Brazil (sung by Marlui and accompanied by Ravi on kora and percussion) with performances by the Mehinako.
“Some of the songs have a kind of mantric quality, where certain pitches are repeated,” says Marlui. “The kora can be a mantric instrument. It fits with my feeling about how to treat these indigenous songs. They have to be light and simple, not heavy and ambitious. It is symbolic of how we approach and touch this issue of indigenous music.”
“I have always felt a strong affinity with indigenous music,” says Ravi. “It is like going to the source. On paper it doesn’t look as if it should work – indigenous music, Marlui, and me on kora. But fusion has always happened in music.”
As Marlui finishes one song (which includes the line “I’m gonna eat grandfather crocodile”), the Mehinako take the stage. Sometimes the sound is ominous, chanting with stamping feet and bird shrieks, at others more intricate and light. Before a piece, they synchronise their internal watches by “huffing” together, like an engine coughing to life, as they advance and retreat on the stage, bells jangling on one foot. Quietly, they play on miniature panpipes, each with one pitch, sharing the tune out. Then they are flapping grass wings like birds, as part of a burial ritual. Every piece ends with them applauding themselves shouting: “Auch bai! Auch bai!” (Happiness).
Sometimes it sounds fragmentary and incomplete. But it helps to remember the context. Kamalurre, another of the performers from the tribe, explains to me that the “yaupe” ritual that they perform is longer in real life. Two weeks long, in fact – and that’s just a warm-up; some of their rituals can take months. “When someone falls sick, the shaman smokes the sacred cigarette and he passes out,” says Kamalurre. “While he is passed out he sees which spirit is making the person sick. And if it is one of the ‘yaupe’, he talks to it and says we are going to do a ceremony for you, so you will stop making the person ill. The yaupe represents the sickness, and everybody works with their energy to heal.”
There are parts of the show that must not be described in print. Even writing the name of the instrument used in one of the pieces would be a grave offence. Miranda double-checks this with Kamalurre, but he is quite firm.
“The music of the Mehinako is different from the other tribes in Brazil,” says Marlui. “They have preserved much more of their traditional ceremonies and repertoire. Their culture is totally devoted to music; the people who deal with the ceremonies have to be good musicians – and they practise a lot.”
It is so tied to everyday life, you can’t help but wonder if it feels strange for the Mehinako to have people watch them on stage – like a world music edition of Big Brother? “Their life is always under surveillance from the outside, so they are used to defending their identity,” says Marlui. “That is the important question for them: to whom do I show my identity? Who do I trust? They understand well what they are doing – but they are not in a kind of zoo. We will be playing where the audience will respect them. And they are managing this for their own interests. But their real identities they keep in the village – they just show a little fraction here.”
There is another purpose to the trip. Their village is in Mato Grosso, which is governed by Blairo Maggi, Brazil’s “soya king”. Soya production is responsible for huge amounts of deforestation. “Behind indigenous people in Brazil there is always exploitation,” says Marlui. “The Mehinako are angry that the Xingu river, a biological sanctuary that they have lived on for centuries, is being poisoned. The state governor is building a hydroelectric dam that is against the law.” Towards the end of the show, one of the tribe makes a short speech about this, which Miranda translates.
The tribe will, says Marlui, miss their village. “This tour will be tough – different food, different hours. They will cross an ocean.” She says that ultimately she would like to see the Mehinako totally independent and free to fight for their own ideas and culture. She hopes this tour, and making useful contacts with the outside world will help this process.
“It’s all about trading. Life is trading,” Miranda keeps saying. Ravi was healed for four bags of beads. Songs are valuable commodities too, and what a musician here might call a cover version or an adaptation can, to the Mehinako, be more like an abduction. Musicians are even kidnapped to be robbed of their songs – abusing a kind of oral copyright. I ask Karanai what the words mean to one song, and he just raises his eyebrows and smiles. “He can’t tell you that,” says Marlui. “What do you have to trade?” But all I have is cash, so Karanai sells me one of the bird carvings from the show instead. “Auch bai!” he says as we exchange. He’s got his priorities straight.
‘Fusion has always happened in music’ …Ravi
The New Statesman (26/06/06)
‘Heart of the Amazon’ by Peter Culshaw
Peter Culshaw meets the extraordinary composer bringing the music of Brazil’s shamans to Europe.
Marlui Miranda is telling me about taking some of her indigenous Amazonian friends to São Paulo to a performance of Stravinsky quartets.
“They loved most of the music, but they couldn’t understand why no one was dancing. And they kept saying, ‘Isn’t anyone hungry or thirsty? How can they just sit there for so long?””
As we sit talking in a comfortable São Paulo hotel room, Miranda is full of stories about the Amazonians with whom she has been working for more than 30 years. On her last trip to the jungle, she saw a shaman smash a TV after something offensive appeared on the screen. But the tribesmen love radio. The group she is working with, the Mehinakus, who live in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park reservation, have very specific tastes: Madonna is “too noisy”, but they enjoy the country-ish music of the rubber-tappers and the popular forró of north-eastern Brazil.
We know all this largely thanks to Miranda – a singer and musician who, in 1994, was adopted by the Mehinakus as a musical apprentice and daughter of the shaman Karanai Mehinaku. She is also in the front rank of contemporary Brazilian composers and has recorded and toured with Gilberto Gil (who will be appearing in the UK in June) as well as Milton Nascimento. Her best-known solo project is the award-winning Ihu: Todos Os Sons (Blue Jackel), which mixes the structures and tonality of Amazonian music with her own sensibility. It sounds like a gorgeous collision between Steve Reich and the world of the indigenous Amazonians. The word ihu, incidentally, is from the Kamayurá language and means “sound. . . all that reaches the ear, including the sound of the spirits and the magical entities of the forest”.
In Brazil, Miranda is famous for being the foremost performer of Amazonian music, and the only outsider who speaks many of the indigenous languages. She is, therefore, uniquely placed to “translate” the people’s little-understood ways of life. While the groups she works with have many, very different cultures (the languages of neighbouring tribes can be as various as Chinese is different from French), they share a distinctive shamanic world-view. “They move easily from the natural to the supernatural world, and each is as real as the other,” she explains. “They also have a different idea of time, somehow inhabiting at the same time the present, the past and the future.”
Miranda feels this very rich, very non-western understanding of the world has been ignored. In July, however, western audiences will have the chance to hear the Mehinakus’ music for the first time, as part of a Contemporary Music Network tour. Their performances will mix music – from flute, kora, double bass and drums – with fragments of tribal ritual. The tribespeople, she says, “don’t see music as separate from body-painting and dance”. The show and the accompanying album are entitled Neuneuneu, a Mehinaku expression that means “human plurality”.
Yet this is not just entertainment. Part of the purpose of the tour is to highlight the critical problems faced by the Mehinakus: although they now have their own land and their population is increasing, the Xingu River, upon which they depend, is being severely polluted by toxic chemicals used by the soya farmers upstream. Miranda hopes that the group can earn money from cultural productions such as Neu neuneu; she has to deliver royalties to them by hand, however, as none of the tribespeople has a bank account. “The tribe as a whole receives the money, because the music belongs to their tradition and not to a specific person,” she explains.
Just getting the cash to the Mehinakus’ remote home is fraught with difficulty. Often, “if the river is too dry or the boat breaks”, Miranda has to postpone trips, and she has had to walk 60 kilometres to reach them. But the journey can offer unexpected delights. Before her first trip to see the tribe, Miranda had heard ethnographic recordings of their music. When her 4×4 got stuck in the mud near the Mehinaku village, she sang one song over and over again. After several hours, the tribespeople appeared. “They had heard me singing and had been hiding for hours listening to me, astonished to hear a white person singing their music,” she laughs.
Miranda was born in a small city in the Rondônia region of the Amazon Basin, but moved away as a child, reconnecting to the music of the Amazon only as a teenager. The Amazonian impact on Brazilian culture has been complex, she says.
“The African influence in our country’s mainstream music is more obvious because Africans were closer to the colonists, inside the homes of the white people,” she explains. “The Indians were ignored because they could not be enslaved, and were seen as something very primitive and savage. But their influence is deep in Brazil, in the language, the food, the customs, the way the Brazilians are . . . the sweetness.”
She laughs for a moment and then her open face becomes serious. “Working with them has brought me so much – it is my life now.”
“Neuneneu” (HUMANITY) Tour Press Release:
‘Neuneneu’ is the Mehinaku (inhabitants of the Central Brazilian Amazon) expression meaning ‘human plurality’. It is a unique concept of these people and goes some way to expressing their particular understanding of humanity and their interaction with the outside world.
There is no greater expression of this concept and of their spirituality than through the music generated by these extraordinary people. For this indigenous race, every single sound is considered music – a stone rolling or an arrow cutting the air. Sound is directly related to spirituality. There are no boundaries between real life and music. They are one.
The Brazilian composer, musician and singer Marlui Miranda has devoted her career to the study, research and development and protection of the Brazilian indigenous race. Their culture, spirituality and music – all inextricably linked – have been the focus of Miranda’s work and here for the first time she allows us to enter the world of these fascinating, absorbing people by transporting the focus of her work to the UK. As the most acclaimed and recognised researcher and performer of Brazilian Indian music, Marlui’s work spans the release of award-winning cd’s (Ihi Todos os Sons), tireless fieldwork to preserve, protect and facilitate the music and culture of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (for which she was awarded the prestigous National Cultural Merit Medal) to recording and performing with the superstars of Brazilian popular music, Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento.
A most musical and spiritual journey to the Amazon
The Guardian (02/08/06)
‘The odd couple’ by John Sauven
Greenpeace won its battle to stop destruction of the Amazon through soya cultivation, thanks to an unlikely ally – McDonald’s
Last week, some of the world’s most powerful companies took a first step towards saving the Amazon rainforest from the ravages of soya cultivation. An unlikely union of Greenpeace, McDonald’s and leading UK supermarkets successfully pressured multinational US-based commodities brokers into signing a two-year moratorium on buying soya from newly deforested land in the Amazon.
I cannot say it came naturally to Greenpeace to jump into bed with the world’s largest fast-food company. But it is a fact that the company immediately recognised the nature of the problem and sought not simply to put its own house in order, but to use its might to push a multimillion-dollar industry towards a more sustainable future. For that, McDonald’s European executives must be congratulated.
Home to at least 30% of the world’s land-based animal and plant species, and 220,000 people from 180 different indigenous nations, the Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Yet, in recent times, an area the size of a football pitch is cleared every 10 seconds. Soya is becoming the prime driver of this deforestation as the crop is used increasingly to feed chickens, pigs and cows for meat products, including, until recently, Chicken McNuggets.
We conducted a three-year investigation into the trade, uncovering a supply chain that begins with illegal rainforest destruction and ends in the fast food restaurants and supermarkets of Europe.
Using satellite images, previously unreleased government documents and undercover monitoring, Greenpeace campaigners for the first time tracked the trade in soya beans from plantation field to fork, in the form of meat reared on the bean. Given the slice of the market commanded by McDonald’s, it was an obvious starting point for the application of consumer pressure. We did not expect the speed with which the campaign progressed, and the allies we would make along the way.
The April release of our investigation, across three pages of this newspaper, coincided with an invasion by 2-metre high clucking chickens of McDonald’s restaurants in seven UK cities. By the time the last of the chickens had been unchained by police from the counter of the company’s Manchester’s flagship restaurant, Ronald McDonald had come to the table.
The company quickly agreed to get Amazon soya out of its chicken feed. But it also formed an alliance with other UK retailers – including Asda, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer – to put pressure on agribusiness interests operating in Brazil to stop destroying the rainforest. Cargill, the world’s largest privately-owned company, has led the march of soya across the rainforest frontier. If the big retailers will not touch chicken fed on Amazon soya, went our reasoning, the pressure on such commodities giants to source soya from elsewhere would become irresistible.
An indication of the influence being exerted by the retailers came in May at a meeting I and my colleagues had with Cargill executives in the midst of a shutdown by Greenpeace of the company’s European headquarters. Our discussions had been preceded by phone calls from UK buyers expressing concern at Cargill’s practices in the Amazon. Cargill’s bosses were ready to negotiate. And they did.
Eventually, the alliance of Greenpeace and European retailers led to the two-year moratorium. Last week, the agreement was signed in Sao Paulo. The signatories included the US-based multinationals Cargill, ADM and Bunge, Brazil’s Amaggi group and France-based Dreyfus – between them responsible for most of the Amazon soya market.
Given the scale of the crisis, a two-year moratorium falls far short of what is ultimately needed to protect the rainforest. It is now up to us to ensure there’s no going back on the commitments made. Crucially, we have to close any space that might allow companies to go back in two years’ time in the belief the heat is off.
But the deal demonstrates the influence consumers can have on events thousands of miles away, and the power that can be brought to bear when business is willing to apply its might to the greatest problems faced by our species and our world.
· John Sauven is campaigns director of Greenpeace.
AN INTERVIEW WITH MARLUI MIRANDA ALSO APPEARED IN THE JUNE 06 (ISSUE 52) OF SACRED HOOP MAGAZINE
An interview with Marlui Miranda by RAVI
Singer and composer Marlui Miranda is widely acclaimed as the leading interpreter of Amazonian indigenous music. Adapting and performing the traditional chants and songs of the Brazilian Indians, as well as recorded and toured with Brazilian pop superstars such as Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil, she has also won awards for her film and TV soundtrack compositions, such as Hector Babenco’s ‘At Play in the Fields of the Lord’.
Marlui is a renowned anthropologist, documenter of indigenous cultures and a committed campaigner, successfully lobbying for recognition of the intellectual property rights which resulted in being awarded in 2001 the National Cultural Merit Medal from the President of Brazil in recognition of her services to the preservation and diffusion of Amazonian indigenous cultures.
Discovering Marlui’s music, through her award winning album ‘Todos Os Sons’, was a revelatory experience for me and a search for more recordings revealed “Kewere” an Indigenous Mass plus one of her earlier song albums that featured Brazilian legend Egberto Gismonti.
The first opportunity to meet Marlui came about when making my most recent CD ‘The Afro-Brazilian Project’. At a recording studio in Sao Paolo, in which Marlui and I improvised a series of duets for a trilogy of pieces called ‘Amazon Journey’, I asked Marlui about her work and for an explanation of the Indian song which she sang whilst I accompanied her on the kora.
Finaly, last winter, when Marlui came over as special guest to a conference at the University of London, I had an opportunity to speak to this sensitive, fascinating and articulate woman in more depth, as well as discuss our plans for a new project that will be a collaboration between, Marlui, myself and indigenous musicians . Actually, I mostly listened, in complete awe of this extraordinary artist who I have had the privilege to spend time with and who at one point had tears streaming from her eyes due to the subject matter for which she has devoted her life.
Ravi: Can you explain how you became involved with the Brazilian Indians?
Marlui: 30 years ago when I was beginning my career as a musician I got to know Nunes Pereira who worked with the Indians for FUNAI. He had some very old recordings made by a Salesian priest called Alcionilio Bruzzi, which was an impressive collection of six records with a book and a dictionary of five or six languages.. It was totally unknown for most Brazilian people at this time and I was also suprised by the music, the sounds, and the rhythm of the languages, which is so rich.
I was puzzled and wondered ‘why has nobody touched this?’ There were people collecting indigenous songs, using their own compositions but never approaching the traditional styles and ways of playing, so I said to myself, ‘I’m going to devote my life to this’.
In Brazil we have around 240 indigenous peoples, and 280 different languages; can you imagine? This is like having 240 different countries within Brazil and each with their own styles, so there is plenty to do for an entire life. Only now, 30 years after, did I have the chance to meet the Tuyuka and Tukano People, the original source of inspiration.
Ravi: could you speak about the spirituality of the Indians
Marlui: The Indians are highly spiritual and not like us. We have a division between the natural and the supernatural, but for them it’s all connected and they cross from the natural to the supernatural so easily. Things that we think are natural, like when you compose, is a supernatural fact; it was made by a spirit, using the body as an instrument. The compositions most of the time are the gifts of the spirits or the ancestors and to get to compose or learn something they have to fast, to have some special diet in order not to disturb the body and allow it to be more clean and not to eat white people’s food. They fast for many days and then the names of the newborns or the new names of the teenagers (for rites of passage) appear in the compositions as well as the music that will be sung during the ceremony and also so they can clearly listen whilst dreaming.
When an idea comes to them they wake up and memorise it, keep it for themselves and present it to a council of elders. Most of the elders are healers and shamans who accept the composition and see the gift is given by the spirit and acknowledge it to everybody and hence this person is acknowledged as a composer; a spiritual source is given by a specific spirit or ancestor.
When they fish in the canoe another way to learn songs is to put the ear on the water and listen to what the spirits of the underwater world sing and especially the fishes.
Also some tribes (this is related to the Kamaiura people and sometimes the Nambiquara people) used to take a couple of weeks being in a area where there grows, in season, bushes of bamboo, called Taquara, which grow in special places where only men can go. When they see it they wait till the spirit blows the taquaras and by drinking some hallucinogenic substance, they can listen to the music of the wind beating on the bamboo which brings to them the most extraordinary compositions.
Every single sound is considered music for the Indians, like an ant walking, a stone rolling or an arrow cutting the air. Everything is incorporated in the world of sounds . The hearing capability is most important, because if the person turns out to be deaf, he is also spiritually deaf, he cannot hear the sounds of the fishes and the spirits, because its the spirits that are transmitting from the spiritual world into the real world. He cannot participate in ceremonies or do anything, so the deaf person is seen like the way white society sees a mad person, a total outsider, who cannot participate, hunt, sing, or do anything practically, because everything in the indigenous world is about hearing.
Hearing is understanding as well; for us we think of the brain as the place where we understand things, where we complete ideas and where ideas come, but for the Indians the ear is everything and does everything. So when they say ‘it is in my ear’, it’s because it was transmitted; you can understand in your ear because of the miracle of the spirits. You don’t go beyond your understanding and the understanding is everything. You understand the situation, you understand the music and you understand the world. You listen to individual sounds. You have to develop your ear and to hear bird song like the shamans do.
You can also fly from one village to another and turn into a bird and so bring news. Whenever that happens the shaman has a good composition, has a good spirit and a good bird who sings good music. The more the music is good and is considered good for the parents, the better magic comes and the ancients meet.
So I don’t see boundaries in real life and in terms of music . Sometimes they don’t want to contact us, they don’t want to approach us; they feel like this would disturb the quality and purity of the language. Not only the life, the land, the security and everything, but I think it would mainly disturb the spiritual side of their lives which is so connected to nature so they would forget little by little the capability of hearing which is beyond our imagination, what they hear and how strong is their intuition to know and to foresee situations.
The problem with contact with society is that they learn to listen to different things and they are driven more and more to listen to the concrete world and less of the supernatural. We do not hear the supernatural, not any more. Once we lose this, it is hard to get back to that. This is still going on in Brazil, because if we are talking about indigenous people we are talking about religion, faith and spirituality.
Everything comes out of spirituality; if they go to harvest there is a religious procedure, you cannot do it at a different time. If there’s some kind of animal passing through, you have to stop because it is not a good sign or it is not a good day to do it or you should not be doing it at certain phases of the moon. There are lots of supernatural reasons to do or not to do certain things. There are times such as just before the dawn, when it is not totally dark and you can see the stars and you can see little spirits of people. The shaman will sit, call and shout things whilst the people are dancing in the shape of an infinity symbol, designed in the earth by their feet, a choreography of the spirits.
Its the most spiritualised moment I’ve ever experienced, one doesn’t see anything but the lights of the stars, the spirits of people and the voice of the shaman singing. It’s impossible to describe it.
The only moments that are not spiritualised in the indigenous life is when there is confrontation with white people.
Ravi: is there a parallel with the way the Tibetan people have been forced to become exposed to the outside world. Apart from all the awful events that have happened there’s also a feeling that these circumstances enabled them to come out of their isolation.
Marlui: Yes, I think so. The indigenous peoples have had to look for outside support because they’ve got problems they cant sort out on their own and also because it’s issues related to the outside world like economics and the global economy. They haven’t the strength to fight and pull all the community together and face people who are aggressive, so they need our support and not only financial support, they need friendship. It’s very important for them to keep going, the situation for them is very difficult and nothing is simple or easy and some groups are in a better situation than others.
Ravi: Do some tribes find it easier than others to engage with the outside world?
Marlui: Yes, they don’t put all members of the tribe into this situation but choose one, two or three individuals who are capable of dialogue with society. Some are chosen for a specific mission such as those who speak the language and some who have very good communication with the world. All the ethnic peoples in the world choose somebody to contact the outer world because if they don’t do this they could disappear.
Ravi: with some cultures, their music has been a way to reach out to the world. One particular example I have witnessed is the music of The Cape Verde Islands and I’m wondering how that relates to the Indians and the potential for help through their music.
Marlui: Yes music can create miracles. The way I have been helping them was through their music supporting the community. But there is nothing for free, so we are going to record some songs to provide another source of survival, because their economy is very small and also has little contact with people to help create understanding of who they are and what they need. I do believe in music to help us to contact the people we belong to. And we don’t know, we even don’t even know that we belong to them. They are part of us. It’s the entire humanity. They are inside us. We just find out bit by bit that we belong to this humanity. We think we belong to a local part of the planet but we belong to the planet itself, to the entire world, we are not isolated. Or, I should say, the more isolated, the more we belong to this world.
Ravi: Could you speak about the Indians’ place in Brazilian society
Marlui: There’s a recent statistic that 80% of Brazilian society don’t want the Indians to be extinguished and want to see them alive and taken care of, because half of the responsibility is with society. We are their tutors. The government holds the possibility to take care of them and the Indians can adopt citizenship fully if they want to and have all relevant documents. So in recent years the work developed by Brazilian citizens, the work of NGOs along with international criticism has changed the relationship amongst the surrounding society to the Indians.
The Indians are redefining their position in society and being more accepted in terms of their music. Before 1995 they used to be shown only on the ‘Indians Day’, where the press would say ‘let’s do something for them’. Now it is different and they can perform throughout the year and be noticed. That, in its turn changes the mind of society and people are learning more by example in schools and accepting that they have indigenous blood. Up to 1995 it was very bad and at that time people were saying to me why should the Indians survive? so I replied “is it not enough that he’s a human being like you?” In fact part of Brazilian society still consider Indians are like animals. Our main problem is a racial one, it’s not only geographic; why shouldn’t they be considered as Tuyuka, as Guarani and as Kayapo. This is not written in the Brazilian constitution, not like Australia and Canada, which have multicultural constitutions.
There’s still a lot of work to do, but in general people have been very open to the Indians because the world is so small and the Kayapo tribe are going to make the first Indian television station, so anybody can see the Kayapo, who are very wealthy and have a good hold of political issues.
Ravi: There is a new project that you and I have just created: Neuneneu, Humanity ‘A Celebration of Human Musical Plurality’.
Marlui: Yes… It came out of the respect I have for different cultures in general. I respect my own racial backgrounds: African, Jewish, Indigenous, Spanish, Portuguese and the first time I heard the Kora being played by you (Ravi) , I had the impression that this was the right moment to explore a cultural synchronicity, because although you are not from Africa, you are African as well and transmit this so perfectly; the idea of the African culture crosses through your hands; it’s so transparent and sometimes I hear ancestral songs in your playing.
It’s very difficult to recreate indigenous songs because everybody tends to massacre the songs, to crush it with lots of elements and when we met, I found there was space in the music and this shows what we have on our backgrounds. The Indians used to live in proximity with the African people and for centuries the runaway slaves used to hide in the jungle and live as a free community. They used to exchange ideas with the Indians and do things together. Some of the melodies I have chosen for this project have some similarity with African songs; very old and ancestral songs which might have come from these exchanges.
Ravi: What do you see as the vision for this project?
Marlui: To spread the word of understanding to each other, who we are, where we are going to and how close we are to the most distant cultures. This is the basic stuff besides Africa, besides indigenous, besides everything, it’s about understanding.
Ravi: Thank you Marlui.
Marlui: I thank you.