2018: A Year In Food
In 2018, my gym coach assigned me to keep a food blog so he could track my meals. Through developing healthy eating habits to satisfy all of my nutritional needs and a rigorous exercise programme, I lost the 21 kg between January-August 2018 I'd gained on anti-depressants.
I wanted it to be somewhere more private rather than being shoved down people's throats (literally) through Instagram/WhatsApp. Hence I've posted my culinary creations here.
Being vegetarian and/or vegan always presents a challenge in terms of hitting the protein target so this was particularly the most interesting challenge for me.
I made a conscious decision to stop food blogging in 2019 (due to time restraints), but it's useful to have a year's diet documented as a reference and a source of inspiration!
Brazilian vocalist Jandira Silva released her debut solo album ‘Festa De Um Sonho Bom’ in April, this year, and she is due to be performing with Samara, led by Steve Rubie, at the606, as part of London Jazz Festival.
I caught up with her for a coffee in Ealing Broadway on the morning of the show, to ask her about her background, influences and experiences being a jazz musician working in London. Read her full story here: www.jandirasilva.com
Tonight’s LJF with Samara starts 9:30pm @ 606, 90 Lots Road London SW10 0QD. Check back tomorrow, to read the 2nd part of this feature.
Read the 2nd part of this feature HERE.
For those not familiar with your music, how would you describe your music to a complete stranger?
Based on my CD, it would be a mixture of influences. On my CD, I’m playing the Brazilian music that I have been playing since the beginning, when I first started talking to my family and friends about how much I wanted to be a singer. Radio was a great influence, and also the songs from my youth.
The songs on my album are a mixture of influences, because it was the music on the radio that I decided to follow. Brazil is full of rhythms, full of music. I will be glad, one day, when I am able to say to you that my style is this or that. Being an interpreter, as well as a writer, opens you up to different styles. At the same time, when I came to Europe, and I started getting into jazz, this made a big difference for me. So it is a mixture of influences. I don’t have the perfect word to describe my music. Even for me, sometimes, I find it difficult to get a song sounding in a certain style. I sing Bossa Nova, Samba, Baião. It’s a mix of things.
If the average person in the UK didn’t know what Bossa Nova, Samba or Baião were, would you just say that you play Brazilian music? Do you find it difficult to transmit or summarise this kind of understanding, without explaining?
For me, people here are really open-minded. On my gigs, I can see that most of the people in front of me don’t understand a word of Portuguese, but they like the flavour, they like the rhythms and they feel the vibrations of the songs. That’s the kind of thing that is a real chemistry between the crowd and myself. For example, the people always ask if I can sing that song by Tom Jobim or Elis Regina, because they have the melody on their minds. Brazilian music is really rich. When you mix the power of the melodies and harmonies that we have there, with the rhythm, then that makes a really powerful combination.
Even if they don’t understand a word that I’m singing, the rhythm brings the people to me. It’s nice to see this kind of interaction, because it’s not just music to dance to, it’s music to listen to as well.
Brazilian music is often very harmonically rich, as well as being rhythmic. Your biography talks about your earliest memories as a child. If you had to choose one, what would be your earliest, most vivid memory of singing? Can you remember the first time that you ever sang?
I don’t remember it that well, but… You’re going to laugh. This has no connection at all with what I do! When I was a little girl, there was a really famous singer, at the time, called Domenica “Nikka” Costa, who was the daughter of a notable music producer, Don Costa. I saw her singing on TV, and I thought, ‘I’m a little girl too, I can sing as well.’
Here, she pauses to sing a couple of lines from ‘(Out Here) On My Own’ – “When I’m down, and feeling blue, I close my eyes, so that I can be with you… Out here on my own.”
There were things like this. It was stupid, but I would try it anyway. There was another thing on the radio. I don’t suppose that you’ve heard about a genre called Sertanejo? Not the Sertanejo that they are playing now, but specifically the Sertanejo that they played, at one time. My father was from the countryside, so, at home, my mum and dad used to listen a lot to the very roots of Sertanejo, countryside music. That is rich as well, especially when they sing with two or more voices together.
Music was a kind of imitation. The radio was the thing at home. When my father was at home, he was always listening to Sertanejo and those kinds of music, and he played a bit of pandeiro as well. Lots of my family were musicians, particularly on my father’s side; his brothers and sisters were always singing and playing guitar. My uncle recorded a vinyl. Music was really present in my family. It wasn’t like I just came into the world and decided to be a singer. My father loved music, and he was always singing boleros as well, he liked that kind of music. So we listened to everything, but mainly that roots music from the countryside – Sertanejo. That was my father’s favourite.
Your parents switched off the radio when you came home from school. Why?
Because I was singing and trying to do my homework at the same time. My parents would ask me ‘are you doing your homework or are you singing?’ And then they would switch off the music, because I was never that good at concentrating as a child. And they knew it – they could tell that I was always thinking about other things instead of doing my homework. I would just sit there with the radio on.
Your parents were quite musical, but at the same time, they wanted you to study?
My family wasn’t that supportive of me being a musician, especially, because of the way that my uncle was living his life, surviving on music. They didn’t like the idea of me being a musician. I was always singing, I was always saying that I’d be doing that for a living.
If your father loved music, how could he discourage you?
My father wasn’t a musician. For him, music was purely for enjoyment. He would be singing, or playing the pandeiro, because that was just something that he did with his work colleagues. He listened to lots of music at home, and in the car as well. But he wasn’t a musician by trade. I think that from the difficulties that my parents saw in my uncle, surviving on music alone, they didn’t want that for me. At the same time, there is a marginalisation of musicians in Brazil. That it’s not easy. They talk about alcohol, and drugs, and all of that stuff. The stereotypes are that musicians are drunks or addicts.
That is very different to how it is in the UK. We have the same stereotypes, but it’s a bit more light-hearted and humorous. Was that not the case in Brazil? Did they really assume that you did those things if you were a musician?
Yes. Even if we did have respectable forms of music, for example, the school bands, I wasn’t living so close to the school, so my father didn’t want to see what was going on there. I tried to ask him to get me into the school band. In Brazil, every school had a band that was going to do the parade once or twice a year. So you have to rehearse, and learn how to play an instrument, and you would need someone to organise that. They would audition people who played instruments – not singers, but I asked my father if I could join the band. First of all, there was not enough money to allow me to go to the school twice a day. If I had to do that, then I would have to stay in the city, because the distance between home and school was forty minutes by bus. We couldn’t afford two tickets. That was the first reason. The second reason was that being a musician was not what my father wanted for me. So I didn’t have the support.
Do you remember how you felt, when you finally made it to the stage, to your first performance? How did you feel – a sense of accomplishment?
I really wanted to sing, and I was going everywhere where I knew that there would be musicians. At this time, I begged people to allow me to hold the microphone. I was pleading with musicians “Let me sing, Let me sing…” I was thinking a lot about whether my parents would allow me, or whether the people would give me the chance to sing one song. If they liked me when I’m singing, then my father would let me join the band. So there were two very different conflicts there.
I was connected with my local church, on the Sundays, at the ‘Corto Do Domingo’ (‘Sunday services’). I was always there with the guys, singing and dancing. When I was young, my aunt, my father’s sister, was always singing the songs from the church with me, when we were doing the cleaning and the gardening. I also had a cousin who was the same age as me. We used to get the book from the church, which contained around a hundred or so songs. We would one by one, testing each other to see whether we knew it or not. That was how I developed an early repertoire.
I had two friends, who wanted to start a project – one was a guitarist, and the other one was a drummer, and they needed a singer. Another friend of mine suggested to them ‘why don’t you call Jandira?’ The drummer was someone who had studied with me in my previous school. And he said, ‘Yes, I know her…’ etc. We started doing small rehearsals, and that was just singing at the school parties for the students, for thirty or forty minutes. These were my first experiences on stage.
Do you remember how you felt when you first walked on stage?
I felt really good. Of course, there were conditions. My father said that they would have to bring me home, so that I wouldn’t end up on the streets late at night.
From the sounds of it, you can’t remember much, which suggests that you took to it ‘like a fish to water’?
No, it wasn’t like that. Not straight in, natural. It would have been nice, but it took time to work up that sort of confidence, because I hadn’t worked much as a musician because my parents wanted me to finish school. As soon as I finished school, I found a job in a private school as a secretary. So I was working there all day. But as soon as I had time to go out at the weekends, with my friends, as soon as I knew that there was a restaurant or a bar with some live music, I always wanted to be there, and ask ‘Let me sing that song’.
Music is a socially driven, time bound, art form.
I would be sitting there in that restaurant or bar, and my friends would have already left, but I would be waiting because the guy said that I would be singing a song with him. Everybody would be saying that we had to go, yet I would stay behind, waiting for him to let me sing this song. Sometimes, I came home crying, because they didn’t let me sing, and I was very sad. The bar was empty, my friends had left me, and the band had switched off all the equipment. Yet they didn’t let me sing a song. Later on, these were the same guys that would phone me and invite me to sing with them. Gradually, they warmed to me.
During this time, you were working in an office, and doing chores at home. How on earth did you have the energy to go out and do all of this?
When you are young, you do it. It’s as simple as that. Some days, my mum would say to me “I need you tomorrow to help me clean the kitchen”. I was there all day at school. This friend of mine who I’d started singing with would say “There’s this bar, they want live music, the money is not that much, but if you were off…” So I would wake up at 6:00am, pack my bag and take my bike. At 6:30am, I would go to school to work until 5:30pm or 6:00pm. Then I was leaving school, going to the city forty minutes away by bus, to sing with my friends until late night. Then we would arrange for someone to bring me home or I would sleep at someone’s house… And then the next day, I would have to wake up really early to go to school again. And then when I finish, I would have to go to my home where my mum was waiting for me to do the chores.
Were your parents comfortable with you doing that?
Not that much. They were worried, because they knew the guy with whom I was working. They knew that that I was working in the daytime, and that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. About him, they would say, “he works as well, he’s not just a musician.” That was the idea that they had – that you are a musician but you work as well, like they are two separate things… Sometimes we would arrive home at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning after a gig, and then I’d have to get up at 6:00 to go to school. So I’d have two hours sleep maximum, and this was when I was around eighteen or nineteen.
What gave you the drive?
I was passionate about singing. Doing this was a way to prove to my father and my family that I really wanted to sing.
Your family was a wall against which you could push?
Yes. I would always be thinking, “Tomorrow, you have to get up early to get to work.” I would have this on my mind. If I were late for work, I would be in trouble with my parents. My father taught me about discipline from a young age – to be on time, to respect people, to not leave people waiting for you. When you make an appointment with someone, you have to be there. He instilled in me a strong sense of discipline. And I think that this is what really helped me with my music.
Once, when I was nineteen or twenty, I became really ill, but I tried to go to work. I was thinking, “I can’t miss work.” I had so many days when I would feel down, and then I would have to do the gig. How could I cancel things? It still happens, sometimes. How can I cancel a show, for example, 606? That would be impossible for me. That’s the place where people come to see my project, my band. There is no way that I would cancel that.
Would you say that these years during which you were going to these clubs and singing were your formative years where you were learning much repertoire and gaining all this performance experience? Was that a major part of your development?
All of these years were part of my development - the experiences that I had in Brazil, then when I came to Portugal and the UK.
You lived in different parts of Brazil, and then you moved to Portugal. Why, apart from the language, did you decide to go to Portugal? Did you see yourself as a Brazilian having an affinity with the Portuguese as your ‘cousins’ or did you see it important as a Lusophone to learn about Portuguese music and culture as part of your own development?
I was at this stage in my life where I just wanted to run away – you know, when you look around, and you feel like things have to change, otherwise you’ll go crazy? I was twenty-two, I had no money and I wasn’t doing the things that I would like to do such as playing good music. I was working hard with my mum to sell food at the market. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted something more than that.
When I was young, watching movies, or programmes on television – you look at those things, and you think, “I want to be this or that some day.” You would look at your life like a storybook, and you would then decide, “I want to do that”. Suddenly, you look around, and you think, “Oh my God, I’m in Lisbon, I’m in London.” Life is like that.
I’d finished school by that point. I didn’t go to university. I tried, but the importance of working was more important than studying, especially as I was not only earning money, but I was helping my family as well… I was working in a private school. I was working there for six years. After that, I left, and I came to Portugal.
My father knew someone there, someone with whom he was confident to look after me. I said that I needed this. Brazil was not the place for me to be anymore. I wanted to go. I was heartbroken. I think that my father felt that I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t easy, honestly – to leave your house, to go to a completely strange place, and then to go to different houses, different venues – being on your own. You learn things such as paying rent, buying food, all of those things. Not that I wasn’t doing that before; since I had my first salary, I was always helping my family – but this was completely different – in Brazil, I would look around and I would see my mother and my father there, but in Portugal, I was on my own. When they are not there, you have to learn to stand on your own two feet, to do things for yourself. I was still sending money back home. That is the kind of immigrant lifestyle that I lived.
How did this affect your music? Did you start playing as soon as you arrived in Portugal, or did you take it slowly?
The first thing was that I had to find a job. It didn’t matter which kind of job. I was cleaning in a hotel near to where I lived. My friend, with whom I was staying in Portugal, said to me, “there is a bar in Lisbon, where they have live music, and they are doing auditions for singers.” In less than a month, I was already in Lisbon, singing.
Were you singing Fado as well?
No, that is completely different, completely separate. That is a Portuguese thing. Not for me, as a Brazilian.
I heard a Portuguese band, called Jazzinho, with Guida Do Palma – she is Portuguese, but she sings Bossa Nova, which is Brazilian. As a Brazilian, did you feel that you couldn’t sing the Portuguese style as well, or was it a personal choice?
Even if they say that we are ‘cousins’, there is still a bit of segregation – “You stick with your Portuguese. I’ll stick with my Brazilian.” They are two completely different ideologies. The Portuguese love Brazilian music, but Brazilians know nothing about the Portuguese, unless they have the chance to travel and learn about other cultures.
Did you not see it as part of your ancestry and heritage as a Brazilian?
That was a long time ago. Nowadays, there are lots of Portuguese going to Brazil. When I first came to Portugal, there were lots of Brazilians going back to Portugal. Two years ago, lots of Portuguese started going to Brazil, because the economy in Brazil is better, and this has increased in the last two years – what is happening now is similar to what happened back in the seventies, during the time of Salazar – from Portugal to Brazil. These migrants work in the business of cafés and shops. So, now again, they are going to Brazil. Some years ago, the Portuguese were going back to Brazil because there was a crisis. After that, the Brazilians came to Portugal. And now, the Brazilians are going back to Brazil.
When you were in Portugal, you also started singing on cruises?
When I was there, I met lots of musicians. I was invited to sing on the cruise, for one week, going to Ibiza. During this week, I had the chance to meet Portuguese musicians. So we left on Monday, and on Saturday, we came back to Lisbon. On the Monday after that, I was already rehearsing with the pianist.
From my understanding, just from knowing other musicians who have done cruises; playing or singing on cruises can be quite a fixed, commercial labour, artistically. You have to play or sing certain songs with which people are familiar, and it is of a ‘function band’ nature. Was the cruise like this, or did they give you some artistic liberties?
They were exactly like that. You had to do the Brazilian music. You had to sing Mais Que Nada and Garota De Ipanema, because that was the thing. Luckily, because I have more repertoire than the standards, I could adapt to some extent. So I could compromise a bit; give them a bit of what they wanted me to do, and, at the same time, do a bit of what I wanted to do.
On the cruise, there were two or three different bands with which I would play. There was one guy doing Bossa Nova with me. There was another guy doing just piano, nothing more than jazz standards. Then there was another guy doing the carnival show with dancers and everything. At that time, I didn’t have any original songs; I would always be interpreting.
But did you have some freedom to explore repertoire that you wanted to sing?
I was allowed to assimilate repertoire. But it was also good to be exposed to music that I didn’t have knowledge of before. To learn about jazz standards was so nice. The jazz I knew at the time was when someone put on a really beautiful song… I remember really well… A long time ago there was this recording by Nat King Cole and his daughter, singing ‘Unforgettable’.
Here, she starts singing “Unforgettable… Unforgettable… That’s what you are.”
That was such a beautiful song. But that was the only one I knew, before studying jazz. I didn’t know how many beautiful songs Nat King Cole had written… That was the difference. When I went to Portugal, I had access to this information. It made me think as well. In 2000, the Internet was developed in Brazil, but it was expensive. I didn’t have access to computers where I was working. The Internet was not easily accessible to me. I didn’t have all the tools including emails and downloads. Maybe, for you, you already had this. But my area of Brazil was very remote. Perhaps if I were living in Rio at that time, I would have had this. This was when we lived on the coast, after having left Rio (I left Rio when I was four or five). I was living nowhere near a central city. The Internet is there now, of course. But in 2000, it wasn’t like it is today. You didn’t have Internet access like you have today. Today, you can type ‘Nat King Cole’ into a search engine, and you see a whole list of YouTube videos, media and everything. But at that time, this wasn’t the case. You would discover music by listening to the Radio, or, if you had the money, buying CDs – but not someone like me, who, for months, lived out in the countryside, with a poor salary – only if you had the chance to go away, to travel around Brazil, or if you had the money to see cities like Rio or São Paolo. There, they had these courses where you would study music from all around the world. But where I lived, this was not the case. The only way to access this was by watching television or by watching movies, listening to the music of the soundtrack. Moving to Portugal was how I was got to know the music of Nat King Cole. Where I lived, you didn’t have access to that type of information. Maybe if I were living in Rio, then things would be different. Maybe I would never have gone to Portugal.
So you were living in this ‘bubble’, and when you came out of this ‘bubble’, it was like an awakening?
Yes. It was like opening a window and discovering so many things, even about Brazilian music. In the UK, you have access to those things that we don’t have. For example, Romero Lubambo is the guitarist who plays with Dianne Reeves. Romero Lubambo has been out of Brazil for more than three years now. He plays with all the big names around the USA, around the world, and even comes back and performs in Brazil. Why didn’t I know about Romero Lubambo when I was living in Brazil?
So there was quite a cultural disparity, locally and globally, between Brazil and the rest of the world?
Yes. I don’t know if you’ve heard of a singer called Rosa Passos? Rosa Passos is someone to whom more people are giving attention. Some time ago, I couldn’t find any of her music in Brazil… You see lots of really good music coming out of Brazil. It goes back in, yes, but really slowly. To be honest, the music business in Brazil is really bad, dominated by this commercial thing. When you think that this was the place where Tom Jobim came from, it’s sad – it is this kind of music that is happening now in Brazil. In my time, Sertanejo was a real ‘roots’ music – something from far away places. Now, Sertanejo is simply putting two guys together and seeing what they can do. They’re not talking about how hard life was back in the country. They just talk about love, love and love.
One day, I can show you some of the things that my father used to listen to… I can show you, straight away, the differences between Sertanejo, from how it was then, to how it is now. In my time, the guys from school used to listen to Milton Nascimiento, not the Sertanejo of today.
So here you were in this bubble. You went to Portugal, and you discovered jazz standards. A lot of people this side of the Atlantic study music the opposite way round; they learn jazz first, and then they discover Latin music. In your opinion, do you think of jazz and Latin music as two separate schools/disciplines, or are they two branches of the same tree?
Maybe I’m not the best person to answer that. But you can see very clear points where the two meet each other. And sometimes, they’re apart…
Jazz standards are very well known here. And then you take a song from Tom Jobim, for example, and it is really complicated… If you put a good player in charge of a ‘jazz standard’, they are ‘all over it’ – easy. But then, when you put a song in front of them, by Tom Jobim, the form is different, the wary to play it is different.
For example, I do some gigs with some guys. They are amazing players, amazing musicians, and they improvise a lot. Their material was really nice. But my material needs to be clean, structured and rehearsed. The feeling with Bossa Nova needs to be different.
I have heard Bossa Nova played over here, by British musicians. But it’s nothing like the Bossa Nova played in Rio. That is just something else – it has so much feeling, it breathes so effortlessly.
Bossa Nova has to be played in a certain way, and with a certain feel. You can’t just think about Bossa Nova in the same way as you think about Jazz – it’s 2/4, not 4/4, for example. At face value, the rhythm is the same. But the feel and the interpretation are different.
Sometimes, when you go to jazz gigs, the vocalist will bring the charts for all of the musicians – the form is done; the main thing is the improvisation, going around the band, with a solo for him, a solo for her… This is the thing with jazz. But I find it really difficult when I have to do a gig with someone who is not really into Brazilian music, to understand that language. There are lots of meeting points between Brazilian music and jazz as well, but there are differences; it is not easy for me to find a gig, or to do a gig, with the whole band, without rehearsal. But the jazz musicians, they just bring the charts, and it is done.
I understand that your music is more structured, more elaborate, with different sections – like you don’t just have one head, but you’ve got an introduction, a theme, maybe a bridge, going into another section or a refrain?
Yes. If you listen to Rosa Passos, you will understand what I’m saying. I’m not saying that Jazz is not good. I’m saying that there are places where Bossa Nova and Jazz meet each other, but they are different.
Would you say that Jazz has informed a lot of what you are doing now as a musician? You mentioned that Jazz was a different experience, and that it opened up your ears to a new sound.
Yes. When I went to Portugal, I had the chance to discover this different world. That really made me grow as a musician. From that, I started to listen to music more and more, different genres and repertoire. That opened my mind quite a lot. It brought lots of inspiration to me as well.
I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘jazz vocalist’, but if you listen to track four from my album (‘Sem Antes Nem Adeus’), you’ll notice touches of jazz, touches of a jazz ballad such as ‘Lets Talk About Love’ – these completely took my heart… Of course, Brazilian music inspires jazz music as well. When I listen to Dianne Reeves, I cry, because she sings so beautifully, and she’s amazing, and she’s powerful. And then when I hear her interpreting Brazilian songs, if makes you feel, “Oh my God, music from my country is being interpreted by a Jazz singer.”
It must be interesting for you to hear a North American singing Brazilian songs. Brazilian music is reflecting back towards you, as if you were looking in a mirror.
I think that it’s amazing that my culture is being interpreted by other people.
Which lessons, skills and techniques can you pinpoint in your music that specifically came from Jazz? Through Jazz, did you find that some things became easier, or more challenging?
No. I think that there are still some things that I don’t understand. The things that I don’t understand, I don’t mess with. I’m not the one to be standing there improvising. Even if there are some songs that I know really well, I play around with them, but I’m not improvising, because I don’t feel confident enough to do that – that really proper jazz.
Did you find that Brazilian music disciplined you, whereas Jazz forced you to ‘loosen up’?
Sometimes we Brazilians are a bit too disciplined, and maybe that is what we are missing, unless we ‘go crazy’ sometimes.
Last time that I saw you perform at London Jazz Festival, you played Milton Nascimento, ‘Cravo E Canela’, and also Tania Maria ‘Come With Me’. It was very free and open, and it seemed to me that the band didn’t quite know or had planned where it was going. Did you feel a bit on edge, thinking, “Where is this going?” Or, did you find that the jazz element within you made you feel more at ease with it?
I think that there are songs with which you identify yourself, whereas there are songs with which you don’t have any connection. For example, someone can say to me, “I love that song,” etc. And then I listen to it and I don’t feel anything. I was feeling free to open up with those songs that you heard.
As a singer, you feel this, especially, when you can get the people to interact with you. That makes a better performance, because it’s not just you trying to do something, to impress people, like singing or scatting. Maybe because I don’t know or don’t feel confident enough to do certain things, like improvisation, I go out of my way to get the people to sing with me… When I’m doing gigs in a bar or a restaurant, I feel that the people are really into the music: when you look at them, when you talk, or tell some jokes to get the people involved, it is not ‘you as a punter there, and me as a singer here’. You have to build those bridges, blurring the boundaries between audience and performer. This is how I feel. That helps me to grow in confidence, because I’m getting something back from the audience.
Had you not had those experiences on the cruise, where you were discovering Jazz, do you thinkthat you would have been able to do that – without having studied Jazz?
No. For me, the most important thing, after living in Brazil, was that the world of music was now open to me. For many things, I’m really grateful for that day when I took the flight to Portugal. It wasn’t that easy, but I had lots of friends who helped me, lots of people who went out of their way to help me as a musician or singer. Even if I didn’t go to university or anything; everything that I learned was from the night, those practical skills that I learned from going out and singing. I am really grateful for the way that things have happened, because if it wasn’t for my dad, then maybe I’ll have never left Brazil. If I were living in Rio, I would probably have had access to those things as well, but this wasn’t the case. I was in a place where you didn’t have access to this kind of information. When I went to Portugal, and met all of those pianists, and they were playing all of that great music that I had never heard before; it was nice to be in contact with that, because it opened up opportunities for other gigs as well.
That’s how you find different styles, songs and artists – just by meeting people and them introducing you. There’s only so much that you can learn as a musician on your own – Music is a social, as well as aesthetic, art form.
I would spend an afternoon with a pianist, and he would play me a CD. And he would be saying, “listen to this, listen to that. That is a nice song, you have the kind of voice that could sing that song really well, I’m sure.” I studied a bit of English in Brazil, at school, and also through some private courses. When I came to Portugal, I studied a bit there and I did a bit here as well. I’m still not the best at speaking English, and I know that I make lots of mistakes, but I try my best! And I think that makes me grow a lot. When you really get into music, and you hear the stories, and the recordings, like Betty Carter singing the songs of Ella Fitzgerald – it was amazing. She just told stories; song after song, she would say something. If you are interested in the stories, for example, when she wrote that song, or when she interpreted that song; it’s a nice thing. It’s the same when I’m trying to find my repertoire in Brazilian music. But Jazz was another world. That is the point. Maybe I consider myself someone who is trying to do a mix of things. Maybe for my second CD, who knows? Maybe I’ll be doing Jazz standards, played in a Brazilian feel? You never know.
You always have to remain open to learning new things. It’s never that you reach a certain point; you’re always developing. If you stop developing, then it’s not a good thing. What made you decide to move to London?
Because I got engaged with someone, and then he moved here to work. After that, for one year, I was coming here to spend three days, and going there to spend three days. At some point, we got a bit tired, and we’d miss each other. At that point, I was doing a TV show and doing live shows in Portugal. At that point, I thought that it would be nice to change, to experience another challenge and to see what would happen.
You seem to be really driven and motivated to pursue challenges. I think that is a really strong quality.
Routine can be a bad thing – especially when it comes to music. I hate routine.
You said before that there was a big musical hub in London, and that you could discover different styles of music, for example, Esperanza Spalding, and all sorts of music. Was that not also a main part of the decision to move to London?
No, I think that the main part of the decision was because of my husband, but also to try different things. I didn’t know that London was so connected to the Jazz world, as well as Portugal – even when you watch TV, and the pop songs that go higher and higher in the charts. I was really glad to have the chance to meet the people that I met here, and to do the gigs with the musicians here. That was very different from the way that I was living in Portugal. I was able to do different things, to learn different things. Sometimes, I even played with a Jewish band, doing Jewish songs, when they allowed women to sing.
London is such a multicultural city, and it enables you to discover not only Jazz and other, perhaps, Anglo-American forms of music, but also Jewish music, Italian music and so on. I’ve heard of Soul Fiesta. Could you tell me a little bit more about that project?
Soul Fiesta is a function band. I have to be versatile to maintain my bills, in addition to doing the small gigs. It’s not easy. I do lots of functions here, weddings and parties. I would like to say to you that I’m just playing very nice jazz clubs in London, but that’s not the case. I would like to, one day, maybe. But I really like the guys in Soul Fiesta. We play together pretty much every week.
Did you establish Soul Fiesta yourself, or was it a group effort? Or, was it already established when you arrived in London?
No, it was a question of time – meeting people in the Brazilian community. For example, half of the band members are Brazilian; the other half are from London. We play a lot of Brazilian music, but we also play a lot of non-Brazilian music with that line-up. We mix things, because when you say ‘Soul Fiesta’; ‘Fiesta’ is a very Latin name, but then we play Motown, and we play Soul. We play a bit of everything.
It’s parallel to your experiences on the cruises; you were playing more commercial material to ‘pay the bills’, but you were also playing more interesting material as well.
The cruise was almost the beginning of my days in Portugal. I was there on the cruise, just playing with the Brazilian section. I met these Brazilian guys there in Portugal, and they needed a Brazilian female vocalist for only one week on the cruise, so I didn’t do too much cruising, to be honest. I did this one, and then I did another one, four years later, once again, just to play with the Brazilian section. And then we had Portuguese guys doing the Fado, and then we had another girl doing the Soul. It’s really interesting.
Would you say that it is a similar situation in London?
No. Here, like the cruise, I was at the beginning just playing Brazilian music, but when they found out that I do other styles as well, I started interacting with other people. If you present yourself as playing more types of music, then you get more gigs than you would as if you were just playing Bossa Nova.
So was it that you had two or three different projects, involving the same circuit of musicians? And did you find that you were playing among the same musicians, but playing different styles? Or, were there different musicians for different projects/styles?
Both. I think that for me, it was the two things. For example, do you know Da Lata? I sang with them in July, then in August, and then we’ll be doing a gig on the 1st December. It will be a massive event, really big. I will be on the CD as well. I have recorded two songs.
Could you tell me a bit more about Da Lata; what is it, and what is their sound/ethos?
I can’t describe that really well, because I’ve only worked with the guys for three or four months. Da Lata is a band that plays Brazilian music inspired by the sixties and seventies – by the way that Brazilian music was done before. But to this it adds a very nice groove, and some new electronics from nowadays. They are a big act, and now they are coming back. The singer that used to work with them before is no longer there. Guido Do Palma from Jazzinho was in Da Lata as well. I’m the one who’s here now.
It’s interesting how you can find these established progression routes that work through the same genres, communities and networks. You completed your debut album Festa De Um Sonho Bom in April; what were your first, initial thoughts when it was completed, and you were listening to it back for the first time – what was going through your mind?
People look at you, as an artist, in a different way, when you say that you have a CD. That is really nice. But on the other hand, you need more and more gigs with that band to sell the CDs, otherwise it’s not perfect. You’ve got to keep both things – the recording and the gigs – going at once. I feel really good to know that I have done that.
I think that every singer, when they start, wants to have a really nice career, but sometimes there are many things that get in the way – you lose yourself, or you don’t focus. At some point, I was a bit lost, because I was doing so many different things with so many different musicians. At some point, I thought to myself, “What am I going to do with my career? What am I doing for my solo project?
When you look at my time in Portugal, I was singing with everyone there. I was singing on TV shows. I was working on lots of different projects. And there are people who don’t notice me, but then there are also people who look at me, like, “oh, you’re the singer who was at the TV show, or, oh, you were the girl who used to sing with that band.” They never knew my name. They didn’t remember me. Here, it’s a bit different, because at some point in the beginning, I was trying to get in contact with the people, get gigs and show the musicians what I could do. And then I realised, myself, that I’m going the same way, one more time, as I did in Portugal. Where was my project? Where was my name? Where was my band?
In the UK, I have my own projects. I go to some places, for example, Speak Easy Jazz Club, playing as ‘Jandira Silva Band’, ‘Jandira Silva Quarteto/Quinteto’. I did that in Portugal as well, only, then, I didn’t have a CD, and I didn’t have originals. Here, I started doing Brazilian music, but just with ‘Jandira Silva Band’. This was the beginning of my solo career, at the 606, National Theatre and Guanabara; my name, but at the same time. There was one time at Guanabara, where I was doing Tuesday with my band, Wednesday with the samba band and Friday with Soul Fiesta. So, in the same week, I was there three times, doing different things! That is the main issue. You get lost, because you’re doing so many different projects, and where are you? How many people can understand you and what you are doing? You are working for other people a lot, which is great, because you get different experiences, but it’s not the best thing that you can do for yourself.
Apart from your album and some of the projects that you have already mentioned, what are your main focuses at the moment?
I would like to get my band involved in many more big things. I felt really glad when I had the chance to play in a really nice jazz club like 606. As you said before, the ambience is amazing, and the crowd there – everything. But I would also like to be more practical, and do more jazz festivals, or go to Europe – to play internationally. That was always my dream. I would like to know how to get in contact with these things. Right now, I do not find it easy to get a PR or a manager, if you don’t have this kind of name or reputation.
Have you ever thought about managing yourself?
Yes, but that is the point where I got lost, because it’s not easy to manage yourself – find the gigs, do the gigs, organise the repertoire – at some point, there will be one thing that is not completely possible. There you are, behind a phone, trying to find the gigs, trying to get the musicians to organise the rehearsals and get the repertoire done. Then there are the payments, the invoices, and doing the PR, like I’m doing talking to you now. There is so much administration, a lot of work. I was trying to get a PR, but I couldn’t get one.
Sometimes, you’re lost – you just feel like some things are missing. For example, when I was organising my CD launch, I didn’t know a lot of things. Honestly, 606 was packed full of people. Most of them were people who know me personally, of course, friends and such. I sold lots of CDs, and it was amazing, and ambient too. But there are so many things still to be done… Maybe you need someone to work with you in organising these things, and then you can just focus on the music. You can be doing a gig as Esperanza Spalding was doing yesterday. I’m pretty sure that she wasn’t thinking that tomorrow she had to pay the bass player. It’s nice to be able to take that weight off your mind, and focus on the creative aspects.
Tell me a bit about Samara, and what to expect from tonight.
Samara is a band that has been here quite a long time. Steve Rubie puts a lot of love into it, because he loves Latin music. It’s nice to see those guys playing together for so long. It’s a kind of inspiration; you like that kind of music, you put together a project, and then you try to keep going - even if everything else is falling around you. I think that this is an example of dedication and friendship… Steve and his percussionist have played together since the band started. It’s a very nice thing to be done. It’s not easy. Sometimes, we start a project, and then, soon afterwards, realise that it’s not working.
What’s the focus of the project?
Latin music in a Jazz setting. Steve likes Latin music a lot, and he always learns new material, and puts some guys together to learn that music… Samara is the house band at 606. Every last Friday of the month, we do a gig. Tonight will not be the last Friday of the month, because if it is October or November, it is London Jazz Festival, and they change the date to be Samara on the last Friday of the London Jazz Festival.
I have just three more questions. My first question is, have you been to see any other gigs at the London Jazz Festival, and what were your highlights?
Last year, I went to see Hermeto Pascoal. This year, I watched Esperanza Spalding as I told you. I think that it’s wonderful to have the chance to see musicians like that, and to have a group that is really interested in putting all of these big names together for one or two weeks, which makes it possible for people like me to get the chance to hear music like that. I think that it’s a really good thing. One day, there will be my band as well!
That leads me quite nicely onto the second question. Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
It’s a long time. You don’t even know what’s going to happen to you when you cross the road. How can I predict what’s going to happen to me in five years’ time?
Do you find that this ‘living in the moment’ philosophy, taking each day as it comes, is very important to you, as a musician?
It’s very important, and, actually, I’m learning that; to not create too much expectation, to live each day to the fullest – I’m learning that. You can say that I’m learning that now!
Here, she leans into the microphone and settles her point!
My third final question is: you are stranded on a desert island, and you are only allowed three albums, one book and one luxury item. What would they be?
Dianne Reeves, Rosa Passos and Joyce. For Rosa Passos, the album would be Pano Pra Manga. It’s difficult for me, for the other two, because I listen to them quite a lot. Maybe their compilations.
‘O Caçador De Pipas’ (‘The Kite Runner’) by Khaled Hosseini. I love that book.
One luxury item?
A CD player. How can I have three albums and nothing to play them on? You didn’t say that there would be some things there to be playing my music!
Presumably, then, you’d need an electricity supply, and a pair of headphones? This could go on forever.
A battery. A solar-panelled generator to get the battery to work!
This could potentially lead on to an endless list. So, your album, Festa De Um Sonho Bom, is out now. Where can people buy it?
They can buy it off my website, www.jandirasilva.com. Then I’m on Spotify, to be downloaded. Then I’m on iTunes as well, and BandCamp.
It’s very generous of you to share your recordings online.
Yes, this is what the new artists are doing now, isn’t it? Even the big ones are doing things like that. Why should I be like, “You need to buy my CD if you want to listen to it”?
You’re performing with your own band on the 3rd December. Where is it?
It’ll be at the 606, just my band, if you can come?
I’ve got it in my diary. I’ll definitely be coming! Thank you for giving us the time, for sharing your music.
Rory spent the first few years of his life in an ice cave, carving out his palace of wonder. He's a bit of a love doll, but he who melts the ice shall have their reward.