How do you keep up a musical connection, when you're living on two continents and more than eight thousand kilometres apart?
For Ottawa singer Rachel Beausoleil, Brazilian guitarist Evandro Gracelli was not only a musician with whom she composed and performed together in groups such as Sol da Capital. He was also someone who empowered her by respecting and loving her singing, and during his temporary stay in Ottawa, taught her about Brazilian music.
But when his two years in Canada were up at the end of 2011, they faced a quandary: how to preserve that creative link, when she was here and he was in Sao Paulo?
But they didn't give up. Rachel visited Brazil this summer for what she hopes will be the first of many reunions, and her trip that ended up being equally important both musically, and for her current work on her PhD about music which crosses borders.
From two different places
It wasn't the most likely pairing.
Rachel (pronounced RASH-elle) Beausoleil comes from a francophone background in Quebec. Her family appreciated music, but what they liked was pop and classical, not jazz and certainly not Brazilian music.
Musician Evandro Gracelli came to Ottawa from Sao Paulo, Brazil, because his wife was studying at the University of Ottawa. He made contacts within Ottawa's Brazilian, Latin, and jazz music community, and quickly began attracting notice for his musical knowledge, and his facility on guitar and other Brazilian instruments like the cavaquinho.
They first talked in 2010 at Café Paradiso, where Evandro was playing with René Gely. Rachel had seen Evandro play with Caridad Cruz at the NAC, and René had told Evandro about Rachel.
“Evandro came up and talked to me. I guess René had told him that I was a singer and he said, 'Let's get together,' and just like that. … He was just so open. That's his spirit. He's an open door. He just lets everyone in and I think that's what everybody here loved about him so much.”
"This is the way I want to sing"
Rachel started studying music in 1986, first on piano. “I took voice lessons, as all the pianists did at that point. My voice teacher said to me, 'You have to keep singing.' That's when I discovered that the voice was my real first instrument.”
At that point, “I didn't even really know what jazz was. I discovered jazz with Holy Cole in '92. I heard her singing probably on the radio and I just was quite moved by the way she did things and that's when I started to research that style of singing.
“I realized then, 'Oh my goodness, this is the way I want to sing.' It was just so personal, so intimate, and so individual. I could really explore and improvise and explore more of an individual personality in the sound that I didn't find in other styles. I was practicing pop and stuff and I just found that in the jazzy style, it was like, 'Oh,' like a whole world opened up.”
In 1999, Rachel received a masters of music in ethnomusicology at the University of Ottawa. For her thesis, she interviewed Montreal jazz vocalists such as Jeri Brown, Karen Young, and Ernie Nelson, as well instrumentalists like Lorraine Desmarais and Roddy Ellias.
“It gave me the opportunity to talk with all these people and learn so much about the art form and really discover...well, what I was chasing after was a lot of gender roles, the gender roles that we can observe in the Jazz world.”
Music which crosses borders
Her current PhD research, however, is even more directly related to her musical collaboration with Evandro.
A focus of her research is transnationalism: “a music that crosses borders, and a music that travels. … The transnational really brings attention to the crossing and the fusions.”
And that applies to the music she has made with Evandro, she said: “the Brazilian Jazz that we've been doing together, that we developed while he was here for two years. We composed several songs together, and worked together for that period.”
“He had a song, for instance, that he wrote, it's in Portuguese. He brought it here, and he presented it to me. I sang it here. Here I am, a French Canadian singer living in Ottawa, and I sing his music in Portuguese here.
“We played one of my songs, which was written in English, written here, but I'm playing it with him here in Ottawa, but then I traveled to Brazil and played it over there. This is music that moves. The music that we actually wrote together then becomes a real fusion of both our styles.
“Where do you place that? Who does it belong to? Which nation does it belong to, really? That's what I mean by transnational. It's a blend. It's a music that crosses borders.”
"OK. I'm putting together a show"
A few weeks after their first meeting, Evandro invited Rachel up to sing at a gig he had at Café Paradiso. “We did one tune, just the two of us, and then [bassist] Marc [Decho] jumped up on the stage and was very excited. He said, 'You can sing!' (laughs) So he jumped up on the stage and said, 'OK. I'm playing, too.' And then we got [saxophonist] Jasmin [Lalande] up there and we played 'Dindi,' the five of us.
“It was just one of those musical moments where I felt like I was just on fire. Just something happened. It was just magic. It was like I lost myself, and I was just...that's how it feels for me when something really good happens, I just become this vehicle. I'm on another plane.
“I was just so flabbergasted that I just said, "OK. I'm putting together a show, and this group is going to play," and then that's when Evandro said, "OK, we have to get Angel [Araos] on percussion." So we did. We put together a show that we did at the NAC Fourth Stage.
“That's when we started meeting every week, and Evandro would come to my house with his guitar and he just said, 'Well, I've got this tune. What do you think? Do you think you could write words to it?' And I said, 'Sure.'
“I said, 'Well, I've got these words. Would you write me some music?' So we exchanged. I worked really hard, and every time he would come on Wednesday, I would have something more. And then I'd say, 'Well, OK. You know, I have this melody. It's got words and it's got music. I don't know where it's going to go next.'
“So he would take it away and then he would make it longer and write more, and then he'd throw it back at me. I'd write more words. It would just sort of grow. So we just built this repertoire.”
“He did the same thing. He threw me a little piece of melody. 'Just throw some words at this.' And then I said, 'Well, wait a minute. What about that other piece?' And I put them together, and I changed the keys and I fiddled around. Anyway, it was just great fun. That's how we put the repertoire together and we ended up with about eight songs.”
By 2011, they'd starting calling the band Sol da Capital (a suggestion from Marc Decho) and played at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, the Buckingham Jazz Festival, the NAC Fourth Stage, and other venues.
And then Evandro's time in Canada was up. “It was just so sad to see him go. (laughs) I was very, very sad to see him go. I cried very hard, and then I just said, 'You know what? I just can't let this go. I just can't let this just fizzle.' So I said, 'I'm coming down there.'
“He got right on it and he started...First, we talked about dates and whatever, and when we figured out when I was going, and I said, 'OK. I'm going to get a ticket. I'm just going to go. I know it's expensive, but I'm just going to do this.' It wasn't about making money. It was just totally about keeping that connection going and working with him.”
Singing, lecturing, teaching in Brazil
Rachel was in Brazil from July 31 to August 14, 2012, in Sao Paulo and its surrounding area. Evandro “created all kinds of opportunities for me down there that I'm so grateful for, and every aspect of my musical life was touched.”
They played several gigs together, as well as an aula show (lecture/pocket show) at the University of Sao Paulo. Rachel talked for an hour about French Canadian popular song, and about how transnationalism relates to Quebec music and French Canadian music.
“Then I blended in what we did when Evandro and I play. He was there, of course, so we did a little pocket show.”
They played five tunes: in Portuguese, French, and English. “When you're talking about transnationalism, singing in different languages and speaking different languages just makes so much sense. It was a great blend of all kinds of things that I've done.”
“It was, again, mixing these two aspects of my musical life that I didn't think would work quite as well as it did. Actually it was a really lovely surprise and people were thrilled. They had lots of questions and they were very engaged.”
Because the talk was for the Departement des Lettres at the university, Rachel talked in French. She also performed French songs at a children's concert she did with Evandro – songs she sang for her own children's classes at a Waldorf School in Ottawa.
At Espaço Musical, where Evandro teaches music, Rachel lectured about Canadian music, “which was great fun – very intelligent audience, great questions, very engaged and curious about Canadian music. They were really very receptive.”
“I think the Brazilians that I met there were curious to know more about our traditional music. They're kind of fed up with the American rock and roll thing … the British Invasion thing. They want to know more about what came before.”
“That's bringing everything together with my academic studies, as well. My thesis is probably going to bring in this whole aspect of transnationalism and the Latin American influence on Canadian music, which I think is very important, that hasn't really been written about in academic texts – particularly on French Canadian music, because there seems to be a very big affinity between French Canadians and Latinos. Culturally, there's something shared there, probably because of the roots in Latin languages, probably because of religious background, historically.
There's definitely something about francophone culture in Canada that has this affinity. That's the best word I can find, that seems to be very much aligned with a Latino kind of a ... Latin cultures tend to be very open, very free with their bodies, free with their expressivity in a way that the Germanic and Anglo speaking communities from Europe and Canada just [aren't]. ... It's just a different world view, right? And I think that that world view is something that francophones really share with Latin Americans.”
Connecting through movement
There were also unexpected additional events, such as a vocal workshop at another university, Faculdade Santa Marcelina, “which was just an amazing experience, very touching. The students there were warm and excited to learn, and very emotionally attached to their singing, and some really phenomenal things happened with one girl in particular who's blind.
“She wanted to sing for me, and I noticed that she was extremely still. But more than still, she was all caught up, and her chest was sticking out. She was kind of standing like a pigeon. I realized that the way people teach her, because she's blind, people touch her and they move her body in a way to place her the way she should be standing.
“Because she can't see what we're trying to describe, she's trying three times as hard to obey. So, she gets herself all tied up in knots standing there to try to please the teacher, right? And she sang this beautiful Brazilian melody to me and to the class.
“I said, well, why is she so still? I don't even remember what she answered, but I just said, 'OK, let's do this again'.
“So, she started to sing again, and, instead of touching her, I asked her permission if she felt comfortable putting her hands on me, and she said yes. So, I put her hands on my hips and I just started to dance. Then I took her hands and I put them on my shoulders, and then I put them on my throat, and then I put them on my head, and I put them on my arms. We were swaying and dancing to this beautiful rhythm she was...I mean, it was Brazilian, right? It was a fabulous rhythm, and my hips were going, [laughs] and I was just sort of really dancing freely in all directions.
“And with me, she relaxed and she...I mean, I have shivers talking about it because it was so emotional. By the time she finished her song, first of all, the sound that came out of her was phenomenal. Everybody was so excited, just shouting and crying by the time she finished her song. Everybody was wiping tears, and Evandro said, "Oh my God, I couldn't stop crying!"
“She put her arms down after we'd finished and in English she turned to me and she said, "Thank you." It was one of those...It was just a gift. It was really a great experience. So I was really happy to have lived that.”
Rachel particularly noticed a feeling of cooperation in Brazil. “I really felt strongly down there that every single person I met and was introduced to wanted to do something. They all wanted to do something constructive and work together and 'Let's keep in touch.'
“They're so gregarious and it's 'allegria.' It's joy. It's this joy that I feel from these people that to me that is so contagious and I just want to feel it longer and spread it. Like if we could have more of that, my goodness, you know, what that could do for the place.
“It's all about this art that has the power to move and power to shake people's cage a little bit and make them think, 'Wow, you know, humanity needs to get together. Humanity needs to touch and feel and express and love in a human way,' you know? That's what I came home with.
Brazilians “don't hold back anything. A standard greeting is a massive bear hug and a kiss. … Of course I gave them two, because I'm French Canadian, and they thought this was even better. Two hugs and a big bear hug, two kisses.”
“It was just great. So much joy, and so many smiles, warmth, relaxed. Let's have a glass of wine, let's have a coffee. They sit and they enjoy. They really savor.
“Although Sao Paulo has 18 million people in it, they're late for everything, because there's so much traffic. [laughs] You can't be on time for anything, of course. They're laid back. They're like, 'Yeah, whatever. Motorcycle just cut me off, but that's all right, whatever. That happens all the time.' They're just not angry. They're so joyful that they don't seem to carry a lot of that negativity.
“Maybe I was sheltered, maybe I just saw one piece, but I don't care because if that's the piece I came home with, then good for me.”
A greater audience engagement
One difference between Canada and Brazil which Rachel noticed was that the Brazilian audiences were much more engaged. In one of the few concerts she had time to attend – with Antonio Nobrega, a well-respected singer from the northern part of Brazil – he “came up on stage and said, 'Good evening.'
"The entire audience, in this room the size of Southam Hall [in the National Arts Centre], everybody answered, 'Boa noite.' You just don't get that here.
“When he did a … farandole. A conga line. He did a conga line through the audience, and people were leaping up out of their chairs to participate. Just from all over the audience, not just the front row, people were like, 'Pick me, pick me.'
“Everybody's very engaged. On the downside, they talk through the entire concert. [laughs] That wasn't so endearing, because I was like, 'Shh, I want to listen.' At the same time, they're so into it. It goes together, right? They're just very active and they participate and they answer questions – spontaneously, just like that, which is something that we just wouldn't get here. We would get met with uncomfortable silence.
"A difference that I was very much aware of everywhere I went was the spontaneity and expressivity, that they're just not as inhibited.”
Writing at a distance
Evandro and Rachel didn't end up having time to write music together while she was in Brazil, but “fortunately writing is one of the things that we can do at a distance. He can send me material on computers, and we can exchange information that way. We can continue to write together from a distance. That is definitely the plan.”
She said they were also planning to record, because “we're really proud of this music. It's got something to say musically, lyrically. It's something that we feel very proud of. We really, really want to get it down on recording.”
If everything works out, she may get back to Brazil in September 2013. “I'm crossing all my fingers and toes that the funding that we're after comes through for that.”
“This trip, of course, was just an amazing eye opener on a window...a very small window I have to admit because I was really mostly in Sao Paulo. So it was but one episode. I have to go back...and go back for more.”
Continuing the connection
But, regardless, the connection will continue.
“[Evandro] said to me just before I left, he said, “You know what? You have to go back, girl, and you make it happen and you keep us going because we're very special.”
“And I just bawled my head off. He's just a marvelous person. I just feel he's, you know what? He's the first musician who has empowered me to the extent that he has. And he believes in me, and he loves what I do. I feel that when I'm singing with him. What it does to our sound is magnificent.
“It makes all the difference in the world. When you're playing with somebody that you know has respect for you and loves what you're doing, it's just, you feel, I feel, free to make the sound that is me and to express my music the way it's meant to be and not be inhibited. He gave me that loss of inhibition in my music that I've been looking for.”
– Alayne McGregor
October 22: Corrected list of interviewees for Beausoleil's Master's thesis and authorship of children's songs.