“We started Caravela intending to shine a light on the communal and traditional music from Lusophone countries, drawing from their eclectic characteristics. The music from Portuguese countries is very diverse, lyrically complex, melodically rich and rhythmically intricate and it carries social and emotional elements from a long story of travelling, miscegenation and oppression.
Focusing on the music of Brazil and Cape Vert, we feel sorry to see such symbolic and relevant music traditions like Bataku or Maracatu losing their popularity and being forgotten. As we were growing up around it and after a long period of deep research, we felt like this music is too good not to keep growing. So, we brought it to our world to show our respect by spreading it as much as we can. We also can’t help taking it further into a contemporary sound with improvisational contexts, embodying traditions like call and response circles with improvised verses and chorus.”
Apologies, but in summary and addition to what Caravela have just stated, they are a London quintet who musically are the embodiment of Lusophone (Portuguese speaking) traditions. They take west-African, Brazilian and Portuguese musical fundamentals, often rhythms and percussions and fuse it with a modern outlook. The outcome? A sensational jazz groove which in some way or another, resembles the sound of jazz-funk heroes, Azymuth; after asking the group whether they look up to the Brazilian outfit, they reputedly stated that they aren’t necessarily influenced by the group, however, they do probably share similar influences.
After asking this tedious and, well, frankly amateur question, a wave of humility had risen. Am I a dimwit, a fuckwit and a nincompoop? Here I was, asking about influences and resemblances. And there was Caravela, a shining light of what appeared to be sophistication, brim with knowledge in their chosen genre. To put it simply, ‘what the fuck do I know?’.
Well, I know some stuff on Brazilian social mobility. When Brazil was a colonial state, governed by Portugal around 1500 to 1815, and even after until 1888, it was the prime location for imported slaves from West Africa, taking in 40% of the total number of Africans that were transported to the Americas to work on the newly born nations agricultural plantations. Since abolition in 1888, workers’ rights never truly improved, and slavery still exists illegally in various remote corners of the nation.
Given that Brazil hosted the 2016 Rio Olympics and then the football world cup in 2018 but received little international comment on the poor employment rights and racial inequality within the country, it is a wonder as to why the national press and distinguished artists, such as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso or Baden Powell, who were known to criticize the Placa Militar throughout the sixties and early seventies, don’t discuss this much. Caravela, who rightly so would like to “focus on expressing positive feelings and embracing emotions” in their music “in an attempt to enhance the community sense of the listeners”, go on to hint that perhaps Gilberto Gil and others think in a similar way to them.
But, when commenting on those racial issues, they discuss that modern inequality issues often “get lost in fake government strategies to make one believe actions are being taken. One effective way to work around it, we believe, is to reach the closest person and inspire them to embrace the cause, trusting one will do the same and multiply the energy mentioned before.”
It should be noted that initially, I was going to discuss Caravela’s music, but this was severely delayed. That fateful night, we were going to discuss politics. Originally, we exceeded the time limit, as this interview was due to last around a few hours — it went on for two nights. Okay, that isn’t as hardcore as you may expect, we were talking over email.
Myself and Caravela, on the first evening, talked about inequality not just in Brazil, but across the Lusophone world, with added comparisons to the UK; the ensemble, after asking them about fake promises and whether they’d witnessed that notion being made in the UK, they almost instantly referred to the case of the Grenfell Tower fire incident and the mistreatment of residents.
“It’s incredible how all Grenfell tower ex-residents were assured they were going to be provided with housing within their community, but it turned out it was a promise Theresa May failed to keep.”
As it stands, one of the Grenfell tower fires many atrocious products was the politicisation of the event, both members of the UK’s Labour and Conservative parties sought to propel their own ideologies on the tragedy. With the left actively using the disaster as an epitome of mass austerity and the right using the event to prove that they feel compassion for all people, despite many conservative radicals believing that the fire wasn’t exactly a disaster as the residents were mainly illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and criminals. Does one have to ask what they ultimately mean by this statement?
Heading back to Brazil, where we discussed whether the country is exploiting both its residents and their native resources, placing them both directly under the excessive need to obtain more capital — these elements were common throughout the protests that were seemingly not taken seriously by, yet again, the international media and community. Caravela expressively mentioned that whilst the country was putting on these displays, they were trying to rise above the assumption that they were no longer a developing nation, but instead, a nation that is developed.
It could be debated whether the countries 35th president, Lula da Silva, who pushed for Rio to win the honour of hosting the Olympic games and was for a long time in his life perceived as a hero of the people of Brazil, truly ‘developed’ the nation.
“In our opinion, the interests of the people should come before anything else, what happened at the Olympics and the world cup disappointed a lot of people and the protests were serious. Lula was part of that growth over the last few years and he came from the working class so from the beginning he had a lot of support from the people, with a strong emphasis on the art-making community…
Lula gave people hope of a new, modern, developed Brazil for the people and he was found to be corrupt too. So we guess in a lot of ways, Brazil still has a developing mentality in that sense, it’s a vicious cycle.”
It was around here, on the second night of the interview, that the group began to change the subject from politics to music; they still needed to get their message across.
“What we think we lack as human beings is seeing the bigger picture and making a difference in our own communities, through an art form we do. In our case, it’s the music and the feelings and emotions we try to convey. In our debut EP, ‘Na Terrero’ is a track that expresses the need of keeping traditions alive that cultivated the spirit of the community between women in Cape Vert.”
‘Na Terrero’, the seven-minute elongated, soft light-hearted number from Caravela’s self-titled EP, as well as expressing the vitality of keeping Lusophone fundamentals alive, is the groups message in a bottle and the further in we go into the second night, Caravela proceed to go in depth on their compositional skills and those elements that are specific to these traditions, with subtleties thrown in to show what path they’d like to take in future releases.
“One of the main common threads [in Lusophone music] is the language — Portuguese is spoken in all of these different cultures and we’ve been fascinated by the sound and the unique nuances of each accent. For instance, writing and singing lyrics in Portuguese from Brazil is naturally beautiful due to its major use of open vowels rather than the consonant/closed sound of Portuguese spoken in Portugal, and that also shapes the way we write melodies.
We hope that we continue finding ways to make it count in today’s world and make it reach to everyone, considering the mainstream music industry is mainly ruled by less humane social trends.”
As the second night of emails came to a close, Caravela finalised the interview with a note stating that they are in the process of developing new material, incorporating and absorbing influences from traditions in Angola and Mozambique. All of which will be included in a potential album that may be due for release at the end of the year.
For now, though, they’d like to encourage the readers of this article to go out and buy their 12" record via select music stores across London or, if the capital is unreachable, then the loveable Bandcamp. If, though, London is a reachable area, then perhaps as an extra, go see them live at one of the few venues they frequent at for a modest price.