Vinicius Cantuária approaches his music in painterly fashion
For guitarist and songwriter Vinicius Cantuária, moving to New York City from Rio de Janeiro in 1994 didn’t involve giving up part of his Brazilian identity—quite the opposite.
“I feel more Brazilian than ever,” he says, reached at his home in the Big Apple. “I pay more attention to Brazilian music, movies, art—the politics too. In New York it’s more relaxed, but musically intense. I don’t have any commercial responsibilities like back home. I feel free to do whatever I want, and have so many great friends here that I play with—like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Brad Mehldau, Marc Ribot, Laurie Anderson, John Zorn. It’s all reflected in the music I make.”
Cantuária has become a familiar figure on the jazz and new-music scenes in New York, known for his imaginative and understated guitar, intimate vocal style, subtle use of electronic effects, and mastery of popular Brazilian rhythms, especially samba and bossa nova. He’s released 11 albums since his move to the U.S., meticulously—even obsessively—crafting the songs in his own studio.
“I can spend days, even weeks, just to find a simple sound I want,” he says. “I feel like a painter, working every day in my atelier, with electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, and a bunch of percussion and drums. I try to create something that’s very fragile and transparent—to my mind minimalist. I like to think of my music as a big white wall on which I put my colours, then invite my friends to come and add theirs.”
One of Cantuária’s most frequent and long-time collaborators is U.S. electric-guitar ace Bill Frisell. The pair played together in the jazz and world music outfit Intercontinental Quartet and two years ago jointly released the highly acclaimed Lágrimas Mexicanas, which focused on Latin life in New York. On 2012’s spare and luminous Indio de Apartamento, Cantuária’s latest album of his own compositions, Frisell performs on three tracks.
“I just played my melody on acoustic guitar and Bill played on top with his harmony, and made some orchestration. I think we are very complementary. For me he’s the best jazz guitarist and knows more than anyone about delays and loops. Just me and him together sounds like three or four musicians. Playing with Bill is something sublime.”
The two will be together again early next year in Brazil for what may be Cantuária’s most ambitious work to date, the Sound of the Rivers. “The songs are about the seven most important rivers in the Amazonas region,” Cantuária explains. “I’ve had this project for a long time, but it involves many people and costs a lot of money. We are finally able to raise it. I have five big concerts lined up, including one in Manaus, where I was born. Bill is in the band, along with Melody Gardot, Angélique Kidjo, and others—I’m really excited about bringing some of America’s most creative musicians back home with me.”