Cyro Baptista: Caym and Abel, Shapes and Sharps
We know a lot about the myriad collaborations you’ve had since you came to the United States but I am wondering how you got your start as a percussionist in Brazil?
Brazil is a paradise for a percussionist to grow, to discover sounds, to develop the spirit of the rhythm. I was touched by this spirit very early in my life, but I was also very involved also with theater, photography, cinema and other things that I can’t (and don’t want to) tell you. When you are young, everything is a matter of life and death, and at that time I did a pact, engraved on marble, that I sold my heart to the music forever and ever…
Was there a vibrant music scene in Brazil at that point?
I started to understand music at the same time (50’s) that João Gilberto and Tom Jobim were assembling Bossa Nova, and during my teens Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque and Mutantes turned everything upside down. At that time (60’s) Brazil was under dictatorship and heavy censorship, so composers and lyricists got to be very ingenious to surpass that condition. Amazing music.
Did that repression lead to your talent for building your own instruments?
I’m not sure if it was the repression or not. But I really believe that everyone can build their own instruments. I do so many workshops these days around the world and I really try to get that point across to people.
I was born near the rainforest – so for me, growing up, I really wanted to emulate the sounds that were around me. The birds, the wind, the sound of the water, the animals. But now, I’ve been living in NYC for so long – so now the sounds of my environment are car horns, the subway, the clanking of the buildings.
Someone who lives in the dessert would have a whole different set of sounds and so on…
It’s all about experimentation! I spend a lot of time at Home Depot and Cabela’s – actually, I’m looking for a sponsorship!
My favorite random discovery of last year was a Novos Baianos album ( Acabou Chorare ) that a friend gave me. When I got it I was struck by the fact that while it seemed really timeless, it was recorded in 1968. Were they an influence?
“Acabou Chorare” is definitely amongst my top 5 ever, I love every song on that album until today.
I understand you spent some time on a commune they founded. Was that experience as wild as it sounds?
We were neighbors for a while – turned into friends. At that time (70’s), I just came back from living 3 years in Amsterdam and we shared the same “gangsters hippies” principles. Later in NY I end up playing with some of them on different occasions.
And now things have come full circle as one of the members sons is the drummer for Beat The Donkey, how did that come to be?
Yes, Gil Oliveira, an amazing drummer with a vast knowledge of so many different types of music coincidentally is the son of Paulinho Boca de Cantor one of my favorite singers of Novos Baianos.
I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a father of two little boys if I didn’t ask you about your work with Nickelodeon. What show do you compose for and how did you get involved with it?
Piper O’Possum at Nick Jr. was this little cartoon that would show between shows. I did hundreds of those, and I loved [them], the problem was, all the restrictions about sounds that would scare or traumatize the children that was kind of lame because they sell so much advertising of products that can really damage and traumatize your kid.
*That’s a shame and is kind of counterintuitive on their part. We try to expose our kids to everything, top 40, rock, jazz, AND the cartoons. Lately, “Matafiel” has been an addition to our nightly dance party rotation. Was there pressure from Nickelodeon to “dumb down” the music you recorded for Piper O’Possum? *
I don’t know if “dumb down” is the right way to put it. Just restrictions on the sounds. That’s so great to hear that your son loves Matafiel! We have actually been developing a children’s show with Beat The Donkey that has been so much fun!! The kids bring a different vibrancy! You should bring your sons the next time we do a show in the area! They’ll love it!
Tell us about your project with Kenny Wollesen, Justin Bias and Eleonora Alberto – The Sound of Community. How did you come up with the idea and how can people get involved?
Yes!! That is the Super Team and I am so lucky to work with this guys and we are crazy excited about it. The Sound of Community is a project of true inclusion, where underserved members of the community would collaborate together. Each participant will be made to feel that music isn’t something only created on big stages and fancy recording studios – but rather can be a part of their everyday life as a ritual and a means of bringing people together.
The team is currently working with several groups like: individuals with physical and/or developmental disabilities, senior ladies, children from the Newark, NJ school system and homeless. The aim here is to join those on the edge of society with musicians of various backgrounds. Everything from hip hop to classical. As well as with choreographers, sound and light technicians to end up with a major performance bringing all this elements together. At the moment we are looking for a venue or performing arts center that will partner with us – the place where we can show and perform all this work.
I really encourage people to get involved in any way possible and to look into what we’re doing – the website is here.
What’s next for Cyro Baptista?
Besides two Beat The Donkey albums that we are finishing – there is another with album I’m doing with Tim Keiper, cellist Vicent Segal and bassist Ira Coleman.
I’ve also been doing a lot of recording on albums and movie soundtracks in my studio here. It’s so great nowadays – people can send me files and I can record with all of my instruments in one place instead of packing cases and cases and bringing them to a studio. I’m going to be doing more and more of this. Also, as always, some touring – you can check on my website for upcoming dates.
I am also really looking forward to this land that we got in the south of Bahia in Brazil – 30 acres that we have a project to build a center for music in the middle of the rain forest.