Saturday, April 11, 2009

In conversation--Jovino Santos Neto

Photo: By Daniel Sheehan

WM The Samba Effect--Conversation with Brazilian Musician Jovino Santos Neto
I discovered the healing effects of Brazilian music, samba in particular back in the early 1990s when I began listening to Astrud Gilberto classics. Even though I was not aware of the healing elements of music, I noticed that my spirits lifted every time I listened to a "best of" recording by the Brazilian chanteuse.
Years later I discovered Joyce, Monica Salmaso, Jovino Santos Neto and Virginia Rodrigues among other Brazilian artists. Again, I felt that spiritual lift even in times of great darkness and despair. I did not wish to dissect the music--equal parts polyrhythms hailing from Africa, soaring melodies from Europe, etc... Then shortly after that, Masaru Emoto provided us with a water crystal of a Brazilian samba and earlier still, Don Campbell mentioned in his text, The Mozart Effect that he found the samba most healing.
Although opportunities abound to see Jovino Santos Neto in concert, I have thus far only heard his recordings. I featured the musician along with other Seattle world musicians in an article posted on World Music Central. Still I wondered what Jovino Santos Neto thought of the healing effects of Brazilian music. The conversation that resulted follows this introduction.

WME: While researching the healing potential of music, I have come across references to Brazilian samba in a variety of sources from Masaru Emoto’s water crystals, to a mention in Don Campbell’s The Mozart Effect and other sources. So let’s start with samba, a music that combines African rhythms, with indigenous and other music.
Besides its enticing polyrhythms, why do you think samba is receiving high scores as healing music?

JSN: The way I see it, all physical and non-physical events can be understood in terms of vibrations. There are higher vibrations and lower vibrations. One reason that Brazilian music gets such worldwide appreciation is in its sources. Samba, for instance, works on a rhythmic level with at least three layers of complexity - quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes. If you compare it, for example with a fast jazz bebop tune with two layers only (quarter and eighths) you start to see that to be able to feel the pulse of a highly syncopated style such as samba, you need to open up a place in your hearing apparatus to accommodate that third layer.
Harmonically, it is a similar situation, because even very popular samba tunes feature melodies that reach to flat ninths, flat thirteenths, flat fifths and other non-diatonic tones which point to a sophisticated harmonic basis. In simple terms, Brazilian music, and samba in special, combine the most advanced rhythmic, harmonic and melodic concepts of our planet presented in intuitive and groove-based forms.

WME: In a previous e-mail correspondence when I had asked you about Brazilian music, you had mentioned numerous genres and you have explored various genres yourself. Do any of the Brazilian music styles or genres derive from healing rituals? I am assuming that the answer is yes since this music derives in part from indigenous and African tribal people?

JSN: I don't necessarily think that music is derived from healing rituals, because you cannot really conceive of any healing ritual that does not include music. Even when performed in silence, these rituals involve rhythmic breathing. It is actually impossible for anyone to imagine any
situation of heightened awareness without some kind of musical framework inside and around it. So the question of what came first, the ritual or the music, disappears. One cannot feel creative music without some sort of healing effect, and vice-versa.

WME: Your wife is an energy healer and your music feels healing to me when I listen to it. Have you and your wife combined healing talents in working with individual clients? I have heard of at least one jazz guitarist that was playing music for massage clients in healing sessions. And I am hearing of more and more musicians playing for hospital patients and hospice clients.

JSN: Again, any attempts to dissociate one from the other leads to incomplete results. To imagine a patient recovering from a surgery without music seems idiotic, but unfortunately, most doctors and hospitals fail to provide that most important element. It is as if they thought that a person could survive without water or air. Music is that essential. Any kind of
healing situation without music is, in my opinion, incomplete from the start.

WME: Which instruments do you find the most healing for yourself?

JSN: Music is composed of melody, rhythm and harmony, so for me, I prefer to listen to music that is evolved along those three lines. You might enjoy purely rhythmic music for a while, but if you don't get any harmonic information, there is a tendency to "tune out" and become distracted. The same applies to the inverse situation. Beautiful chords without a rhythmic lattice tend to sound washed-out and shapeless after a while. Balance is crucial. So I like drums, I like voices and wind instruments, and I really need to hear harmonies to feel the complete experience of music.

WME: I have found many Brazilian vocalists, (a long list), to have a healing effect on me. I find that this music in general lifts me out of a funk especially when dealing with gloomy weather. As I write these questions I am listening to one of your former students, Flora McGill singing on your Canto Do Rio and I find that her vocals are lifting me out of a funk. (The weather is stormy at the moment and I am getting over a cold so let’s see where this goes).

JSN: Flora McGill has a beautiful voice and a highly developed musical intuition, so it was a joy to collaborate with her on Canto do Rio. There are several Brazilian vocalists that have this effect on me. Some names are: Monica Salmaso, Jane Duboc, Roberta Sá and Elizah.

WME: I would love to see more on this topic of healing music of Brazil. Can you recommend any books, recordings, or websites that discuss this topic?

JSN: There is a recent re-issue of a great book about the music of Brazil. It's called The Brazilian Sound, by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha.
Here is a link to it on

WME: Any last thoughts on this topic? And by all means, plug your own recordings and performances.

JSN: I thank you for realizing the importance of music in general, and Brazilian music in particular in keeping our planet balanced. My musical mentor, Hermeto Pascoal, often says that music is one of the major forces that shape our Universe, along with Gravity and Light. His words are: "Music holds the world together, as long as we live." I believe in that. You can read about my recordings and performances on my web site, and also on
MySpace at .
Thanks for your interest, all the best!

This interview appears in my book Whole Music

In review--Two World Classics

Bob Marley & The Wailers
Island Records

Cesaria Evora
Sao Vicente
Windham Hill Records/BMG

Spring in the Pacific Northwest usually consists of two sunny days followed by a week or two of clouds, rain and wind. And if that is not enough to lower a person's spirit, then add the darkness of an economy that wreaks of a divide and conquer mentality--not to mention perpetuates more fear on the planet. I decided to empower myself. I took up Kundalini yoga as a practice and I found powerful recordings at my local library.

Starting with the classic Bob Marley & The Wailer's recording, Exodus (Movement of Jah People). I have been listening to this recording while performing the yoga exercises. The line, "Are you satisfied with the life you're living?" strikes home with me. The answer is "No, I am not satisfied and I won't be until we all learn to live more harmoniously on the planet." Do I want to be freed from the darkness and grief that surrounds me? Do I want to be liberated from enslavement of the body-mind-spirit and all the negativity that surrounds me? You bet. That's why I research and listen to music of a higher vibration.

Marley was way ahead of New Age thought. His Rasta religion was not just something he preached, but also what he practiced with great conviction. You can hear it in the songs on this recording, from the love songs, Waiting in Vain and Turn Your Lights Down Low, to the spiritual tributes, One Love/People Get Ready, Three Little Birds and Jamming. Exodus is no walk through the park, but an outpouring of a spiritual heart. These songs celebrate the human spirit and help us to endure even the darkest moments through faith in something higher and wiser than ourselves.

Lost your job? Lost your house? Are you wondering why the average person must sacrifice why the one's in power throw lavish parties for themselves? Time to empower yourself through the music you choose. Lift your vibration and transform the world.

The healing effects of Exodus and Bob Marley in general come as universal wholeness and a lifting of the overall vibration. This is the type of music that causes birds to sing for all they are worth. My soul soars when I listen to this recording and I feel empowered. Marley is popular worldwide and I think this healing effect of his music has a lot to do with his popularity and even legendary status. A musician and man with this much charisma can only acquire it from a higher source--in other words, he surrendered to it. And so can we. Get out of the muck and refuse to be a victim of anyone or any circumstance.

Cape Verdean vocalist Cesaria Evora, another important and even classic figure in the world music arena also brings us an outpouring of love through music. Sao Vincente acts as a celebration of life on this planet. Sharing the bill with Evora are Bonnie Raitt (Crepuscular Solidao), Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes (Negue), Orquesta Aragon (Linda Mimosa), Brazilian Caetano Veloso (Regresso) and Pedro Guerra (Tiempo Y Silencio).

One listen to this gorgeous recording, and we can see where Portuguese vocalists such as Lura and Mayra Andrade found their inspiration and mentor. This West African music features polyrhythms, European melodies and passionate vocals. The duets on the recording certainly possess a sunny disposition. Raitt's vocals lend themselves well to the nuances of Cape Verdean music and Valdes' piano and vocals adds further enrichment.

I like to compare music to food in the workshops that I teach. Cesaria Evora's repertoire represents the main course. Everything a listener needs has been lovingly provided by the barefoot diva that we have come to love.

For information on artists such as Cesaria Evora and Bob Marley visit

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

In conversation---Samite Mulondo

WM From the Heart of the African Bush: Conversation with Samite Mulondo

Other journalists besides me have felt the soothing lullabies of Ugandan multi-instrumentalist Samite Mulondo. The storyteller -musician-humanitarian takes his audiences on journeys to the African bush and also deep into the human heart. Listening to his recordings provide an intimate musical experience and seeing Samite in concert provides a different type of emotional experience that opens eyes, ears and hearts.

I first came across Samite when I was seeking African recordings to review for my former website, Cranky Crow World Music. Tunula Eno landed in my mailbox and as I listened to a beautiful set of songs I traveled through a gamut of emotions, from sweet humor to grief (the CD was dedicated to his wife who died from brain cancer).

A few years later, another Samite CD came my way—his seventh album, Embalasasa, named after a beautiful, yet poisonous lizard. According to Samite, today the poisonous lizard Africans and others face is the AIDS epidemic. The album featured another soulful collection of songs featuring Samite on thumb piano, flutes, percussion and vocals and backed by extraordinary musicians on kit drum, bass and guitar, including Grammy Award winner David Cullen.
Most recently I discovered that Samite would be performing at McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon, Washington. I had seen the musician in concert when I was residing in Seattle so I jumped at the chance to interview Samite for his upcoming concert in the Valley.

WME: I read that you emigrated to the U.S. in 1987 and that you started out recording for the Windham Hill label. Were you recording Ugandan or African music for that label or other types of music? Besides recording for this label, how did you get started with music after settling in the U.S.?

Samite Mulondo: I began recording for Shanachie Records when I first came to the US. I recorded two albums with them: Dance My Children, Dance and Pearl Of Africa Reborn. Next, I recorded for Xenophile, a branch of Green Linnet Records. For this label I recorded Silina Misango. Following this, I recorded Stars to Share with Windham Hill Records. I only record my music and it is in Luganda, my native language.

WME: You offer your listeners a great gift with storytelling, multi-instrumental playing and original songs with the essence of Uganda. Does your storytelling and music come from a tradition similar to the West African griot?

SM: No. In Uganda it is different. One member of the family could be a musician and the rest of the family members might be doctors or engineers. In my family, I am the only musician, the rest are accountants, etc.

WME: Speaking of storytelling, I am interested in the films that your music has appeared in and the soundtrack you composed for the Kenyan filmmaker. Please tell me more about these projects.

SM: The filmmaker that I believe you are referring to is the team of Alan Dater and Lisa Merton (Marlboro Productions). They are not Kenyan -- their subject is. The other important film that I was recently a part of (one of my songs is in this film) is War Dance by Fine Films (Sean and Andrea Fine).

WME: Besides musical projects, you also founded a non-profit that uses the healing power of music to heal orphans in African countries. I know you founded this non-profit, Musicians for World Harmony in 2002, but how did it begin? Do you have any heartfelt stories to share in regard to starting this non-profit?

SM: I think this started from way back when I was a refugee in Kenya in the early 1980s and I realized that music could be used to heal the souls that suffer from various traumas.

WME: In visiting your website, I learned that your most recent trip to Uganda involved photographing a baby mountain gorilla. Please tell me more about this recent photographic tour and how the photographs might be featured in your upcoming concerts.

SM: This is the second time that I have visited Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to shoot photographs. Both times I have been fortunate enough to spend time with mountain gorilla families. This last time, yes, there was a baby that was very young and in its mother's arms. My photographs capture the mother cradling her infant just after nursing. There was also a bit older baby - who thought it would be exciting to "play" with me. He didn't like the fact that I was looking him straight in the eyes (to him a challenge), so he hit me in the head with a branch! (Fortunately it was not a very big one). I do use these photographs in my multimedia concerts.

WME: Your music is special to me because it touches my heart on a deep and healing level. You understand the healing power of music and have demonstrated this knowledge on your recordings and your work with the nonprofit. So how do you approach your music in regard to recording and performing? Some musicians pray or meditate beforehand. Do you have a ritual that you perform so that you become a clear channel for healing music?

SM: I do spend some quiet time alone before each concert. I definitely pray to have a good spirit in the hall that I am performing in. I also pray to open people's hearts -- that may open their hearts and minds for me to reach them with my music even though I am singing in a language that they don't understand.

WME: Is there anything else you would like to add about your upcoming concert in Mount Vernon, Washington? Besides storytelling, healing music and humor, what else can the audience members expect?

SM: I will perform with my good friend, David Cullen, a Grammy Award winning guitarist who appears on many of my recordings. I will be performing my multimedia concert so your readers will get a chance to experience some of my Africa.

WME: Please describe the various traditional instruments you play, (flutes, percussion, thumb piano…)

SM: Kalimba (thumb piano), flutes - African and western, and voice.

This interview appears in my book Whole Music