“We need music as we need food and love” – Brasilian jazz singer Fernanda Cunha
Renowned Brazilian singer Fernanda Cunha performs contemporary and traditional compositions in jazz and other world music genres. She began her career in 1997 and has since toured around the world, carving out a huge following for her post-bossa groove. She has released five albums so far, with the next one due in September 2015. She joins us in this exclusive interview about her musical journeys and experiences, and her upcoming album.
What was the vision behind founding of your music group? What new lineups and instruments have you experimented with since the early days?
I have been playing with my quartet in Brazil for more than a decade (Zé Carlos on guitar, Jorjão Carvalho on bass, Edson Ghilardi on drums and Cristovao Bastos or Camilla Dias on piano). They are very important in my music since they know me very well, they understand the kind of arrangements I like, they understand my soul. I also play with Toronto jazz guitarist Reg Schwager when I am in Canada. He is a great musician, very sophisticated and we became friends and partners in music. Sometimes Tom Szcesniak (accordion) and Pat Collins (bass) join us in some concerts in Ontario. I also played with Portuguese guitarist Afonso Pais in Europe, two times in duo. For me it is very interesting to make these connections, they learn with me and I learn with them, the fusion is interesting and I grow up learning and changing experiences with them.
What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?
I am a singer/vocalist and the big challenge is to perform a song written by a composer and bring it to my universe. I try to put my artistic personality into the song and make it special. As a composer, the challenge is to write lyrics for other people’s melodies. I wrote lyrics in Portuguese for two songs by Reg Schwager for my upcoming CD “Olhos de mar” (to be released in September). I have already written lyrics for other composers like Australian Ray Piper, the Canadian Mike Lent, and the Brazilians Camilla Dias and Ricardo Rito.
Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?
My influences are Dianne Reeves, Sarah Vaughan, Sheila Jordan, Flora Purim, Leny Andrade, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Djavan, among others. I have also been listening a lot to a new generation of vocalists such as Yun Sun Nah (from Korea) and Kelly Lee Evans (from Canada).
How do you blend different musical influences and genres in your music? How do you bring about fusion without confusion?
I guess I have an artistic personality that is well defined, so I don’t think there is confusion if I sing different rhythms. I like to sing different genres (jazz, pop, bossa nova and samba). I don’t think it is a conflict to sing a bossa nova and a pop song in the same CD or in a concert if they have beautiful harmony and arrangements. I like beautiful music, no matter what the genre. I do not sing rock or folk music, but it is just because I would not be able to do that well. But I respect all genres of music if they have quality and if they are well performed.
How would you describe your musical journey and how your albums have evolved and changed over the years? I think I am very fortunate to live from my music and it is an honour to be able to sing all over the world bringing music from my country to other cultures. Maybe this is my mission in life and makes me a happy person. I have recorded six albums over the years and the new one features previously unreleased songs written by great Brazilian songwriters for this project. But all my CDs have the same feeling, since I don’t think I changed my singing. I still produce my own CDs, and I have all my musicians with me since the beginning.
In 2007 I recorded a tribute to Jobim and Chico Buarque in duo with guitar player Ze Carlos. That was a different project, a duo, but still, Ze Carlos is playing with me in most of my CDs. The CD “Coraçao do Brasil” released in 2012 was also the same band, but I invited Tom Szcesniak to play accordion in one song. And in this new CD, Reg Schwager is playing guitar (acoustic and electric) in two tracks, and we wrote the songs together. I try to keep the same quality in all the CDs but at the same time I try to innovate the repertoire and arrangements, bringing new flavours to the listeners.
How does your composition process work: through a main songwriter, or through collaboration/jams between your band members? Do you compose on the road also, while travelling?
All of the above! (smiles). Mainly I record songs from other composers, I consider myself a better singer than a composer. But I used to write lyrics to my fellow musicians/composers, and sometimes I write on the road. Last year, I wrote a song to the city Lisbon but I did not have courage to record it as yet. I wrote the melody and lyrics, so I want to mature this idea, show it to some people I admire and then I will decide what to do. I think we have great composers, I don’t want to be one. I really prefer to sing and perform other people’s songs. That is inspiring and exciting for me.
How was your overall experience in playing in festivals around the world, such as the Borneo International Jazz Festival?
Playing in Borneo was a great experience, it was such a gift singing for that beautiful audience, and different cultures. I felt that music has no barriers and that was magic. My concert in Borneo was certainly a highlight in my career as well as singing in Iqaluit (in Nunavut, Canada) in duo with Reg Schwager in 2012, and in Ushuaia, Argentina (Jazz Al Fin festival) representing my country. These were three amazing experiences. And also I really love to perform in Canada (I have performed there from coast to coast), and in Portugal, Austria, Denmark, and so on.
Among all your tracks or albums, which are your favourite ones, and why?
I am proud of what I have done. The first one was recorded in the US with American musicians, but singing a Brazilian repertoire. The second one was recorded in Rio de Janeiro, it was a tribute to two great composers: Sueli Costa and Johnny Al which I recorded with my quartet plus a small orquestra, saxophone, flutes – it was very special.
Then the third one was in duo with guitar player Ze Carlos, a more intimate CD. The fourth one “Brasil Canada” was recorded in Canada featuring songs and musicians from both countries. The fifth one was recorded in Rio in celebration of my 15 year career, featuring Brazilian standards with a refreshing interpretation and also original and unreleased songs.
And this upcoming album “Olhos de mar” features only new songs – unreleased songs written specially for me, so that is very special. But I like all of my CDs. They represent what I am for sure.
What is your message to our audience? What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political/economical turmoil?
Please keep consuming arts (CDs, books, concerts, etc). The market is getting crazy and there are a lot of good artists that nobody knows about. I know some artists who are giving up their careers because they don’t have opportunity. So it’s very important that people keep consuming and encourage the artists. I don’t believe in a world without music. We need it as we need food and love. I feel arts give people hope, sometimes save lives. And nowadays we need hope, we need to believe in a better world for everybody, we need to be together
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Interviewed by Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ, World Music and Jazz;
Bangalore Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com