A Brazilian in the Land of the Rising Sun
Born in the state of São Paulo, Vasco Debritto is a Brazilian artist now living in Tokyo, Japan, where he keeps a very busy schedule. Debritto started his musical career at an early age, but it was not until 1978 that he had his first professional appearance as a singer and songwriter at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro. After doing the college circuit and television programs, Debritto released his first album, Um Dia a Coisa Muda, in 1981, and things did change — for the better, of course. Among the special guest stars in that release, Debritto featured Maurício Maestro, Jaime Alem, Alberto Rosenblit and others. From that point on, his career did not stop. He performed with Antonio Adolfo, Maurício Tapajós, Boca Livre, Paulinho Nogueira and several other big names in Brazilian music. In 1984, he traveled to Japan for the first time, where he stayed six months. This visit to Japan was only the beginning of a long love affair that would get stronger in a near future. After several shows in venues that specialized in Brazilian music, Debritto also toured Europe. From 1991 to 1993, he made France his home, but soon he returned to Tokyo. His performances at the Blues Alley Japan, Sabbath Tokyo, Key Note and other similar clubs eventually led him to release his 1999 CD Visions. The album was well received by the critics and public in general and was nominated for the Golden Album in Brazilian Music in Japan, in the same category as Caetano Veloso and Milton Nascimento that year. In 2001, Debritto went back to the studio to work on his new project, the album Praia dos Corais. The album was an incredible project full of heavy names from the Brazilian and world jazz scene, including Ron Carter, Romero Lubambo, Marcelo Mariano, Robertinho Silva and others. After the album was released in Japan and Germany, Praia dos Corais was released in Brazil in December 2002, followed by several live performances in Rio de Janeiro. In the middle of all this activity, and between Tokyo and Rio, Debritto took a few minutes off to chat about his work.
EL: What was it like to leave Brazil?
VD: Well, I’ve been away for over 10 years. In reality, that time was divided into two distinct phases. The first went from 1984 to 1990, when I came Japan for the first time. During that time, I’d only stay six months there and six months in Brazil. That was all the time I was granted for each visit. You know, all the bureaucracy… The second phase was from 1993 to the present, when I finally got permission to remain in the country.
EL: Why did you pick Japan?
VD: I’d like to say that it was not a voluntary decision, something I worked on. A musician friend of mine who used to work in Japan gave me some ideas and directions to check with the Japanese Embassy about the possibility of this exchange. This friend said that my musical style fit the Japanese market very well, and since the situation in Brazil was getting worse for musicians making live music, I decided to face this adventure. I’ve been here since then.
EL: What is it like to make Brazilian music in Japan? Are audiences very demanding?
VD: As I said previously, I used to stay here for about six months. I’d work at night performing at houses that featured Brazilian music, some restaurants, playing Bossa Nova. You know, a stool, the acoustic guitar, “The Girl from Ipanema,” and in between one song and another, I’d perform one of my own compositions. The Japanese public seems to be very curious about our culture and they value Brazilian things a lot. Undoubtedly, some Japanese people have a lot of interest and know our culture, too. There is a strong relationship between Brazil and Japan, as you know, since the time of the large Japanese immigration to Brazil at the beginning of last century. Coincidentally, my first stop here was in the city of Kobe, the same city from where many Japanese left to go to Brazil. Kobe is a port and sister city of Rio de Janeiro.
EL: Which Brazilian artists would you say have in one way or another influenced your artistic formation?
VD: You see, I heard a lot of Brazilian music in all my childhood. My grandmother had music room in her home, and every afternoon I’d go play there and created these fictitious radio programs in which I interviewed all the important stars at that time. I’d record the interviews in one of those large reel to reel tape decks.
The most important artists, I’d have to include Dorival Caymmi, the music of Noel Rosa, the guitar of Paulinho Nogueira, Canhoto and Baden Powell and all those music festivals, Jobim and Chico Buarque. I cannot forget, of course, the poetry of Drummond and Bandeira and the “little poet” Vinícius. The list is as long as our music is rich. I have to apologize for any omissions, of course. I could not possibly recall all names, but they all occupy a large portion in my heart.
EL: And what about future projects, what can you say?
VD: I have two new projects I’ve been working on at the moment. One of those projects came up after meeting with several Japanese producers. They would like to produce an album and have asked me to perform and arrange songs not widely known from well-known composers. It’s a very roots type of album that is keeping me very excited, but the budget has not been approved yet. The other project is my new album with original songs, this with an approved budget and scheduled to be released in mid-2003. I’m finishing the new songs and arrangements. I’d like to explore more of the versatility and fast pace of Brazilian music. I can’t quite disclose the full details because sometimes the ideas and concepts change when I’m already in the studio.
Two of Vasco’s albums are reviewed in MúsicaBrasileira. Just click the link on his name below.