Mauricio, Cuca, you guys named your band after a neighborhood or bairro in São Paulo. Can you tell us a bit more about that place?
Cuca Ferreira (baritone saxophone): "Bixiga is an area close to downtown São Paulo, famous for always welcoming new waves of immigrants to the city. First it was an area where they gathered the African slaves, then it became a hub for poor European immigrants, most of which were Italian, looking for a better life, later still laborers from the northeast of Brazil who came to São Paulo to work in construction and most recently we had waves of people from other Latin-American nations and from Africa settling there. In short, it's a melting pot of different cultures. We've always worked there because our recording studio, called Traquitana, is located at 70, Rua 13 de Maio; may 13th 1888 being the date when slavery was abolished in Brazil. In our sound we really incorporate many of the influences we encountered in the Bixiga area, so we have a deep connection to the place."
Mauricio Fleury (keyboard, organ, guitar): "It's also a very musical area as one of São Paulo's biggest samba schools, Vai-Vai, is located there and ever since the nineteen sixties the place is buzzing with recording studios and music venues. In fact it's not even an official neighborhood. Everyone in São Paulo knows about Bixiga, but if you check a map of the city you probably won't find it. As Cuca just said, Bixiga 70 owes its existence to the fact our recording studio - a big space we couldn't dream of finding elsewhere in the city - is located there, and even though none of the Bixiga 70 band members live there anymore, we still spend most of our time there. We're also involved in a big local event called Graffiti Day; a street festival that already existed before Bixiga 70 got together, but has kept on growing ever since we got involved. The building that houses our studio is also used by a video production company and a literature center hosting sarau (A sarau is a cultural, musical or sporting event in which people unite to express themselves artistically. A sarau may involve poetry, acoustic music and other forms of art such as painting and acting, red.) and urban poetry, and is covered in graffiti art from top to bottom."
Cuca Ferreira: "Because the festival keeps gaining in popularity other buildings in the street have now also started to join in, so it's becoming quite colorful. That was also more or less our philosophy: since we were using the area's name as our band name, we felt obligated also to give something back to the neighborhood."
What exactly does "bixiga" mean in English?
Cuca Ferreira: "Literally it translates as "bladder" or a "balloon"."
Mauricio Fleury: "The name actually goes back to a disease the slaves or Afro-Brazilian people in general suffered from, called varíola or smallpox in English."
You just told me 70 is the house number where your Traquitana studio is located, but is it also a wink at Fela Kuti's Africa 70?
Mauricio Fleury: "When we just started out we used to tell people that as a bit of a joke, but the story has gone on to live a life of its own. In any case, we like afrobeat and the whole vibe that surrounds the nineteen seventies, so it's not that farfetched either."
like figures. What are they and what do they represent?
Mauricio Fleury: "Figures like that are known as carrancas (A carranca is a type of figurehead attached to river craft which is attributed with power to protect the boatmen from the river's evil spirits and were used to identify traders operating on the river. They were once commonly found on the lower Rio São Francisco in Brazil's Northeast Region. The carranca is most commonly a figure of a human or an animal, red.)."
Cuca Ferreira: "In the northeast of Brazil there's an important river called São Francisco and the boats on this river have these kinds of sculptures on their stern as a form of spiritual protection. You can compare it to the dragon figures on Viking longships."
Mauricio Fleury: "MZK, the artist who designed the sleeve for 'Ocupai' is very much into these carrancas. We recorded the album in very tumultuous circumstances - people protesting, police everywhere, helicopters in the sky (The 2013 protests in Brazil, or 2013 Confederations Cup riots, also known as the V for Vinegar Movement, Brazilian Spring, or June Journeys, were public demonstrations in several Brazilian cities, initiated mainly by the Movimento Passe Livre or Free Fare Movement, a local entity that advocates for free public transportation. The demonstrations were initially organized to protest against increases in bus, train, and metro ticket prices in some Brazilian cities, but grew to include other issues such as the high corruption in the government and police brutality used against some demonstrators, red.) - and in a way those two figures symbolize the street protests that were going on last year."
Bixiga 70's music is entirely instrumental in nature. Was it a conscious choice not to work with a vocalist?
Cuca Ferreira: "Well, once every so often we invite guests to sing on our music, so it's not something that's written in stone, but when we started this band, we were all kind of looking for a project where we could focus on playing our instruments instead of backing a singer. Bixiga 70 is a bit like our personal playground if you want and playing instrumental music also allows us to be a lot more universal."
Mauricio Fleury: "Playing instrumental music also creates the possibility for anyone to be center stage, something that's quite important to us because as a band we work as a collective."
We're just days away from the start of the Fifa World cup in Brazil. Between the riots the organization of the event caused in your country and the fact like all Brazilians you're probably big football fans, in what light will you guys be watching this edition's matches?
Mauricio Fleury: "I want to start by saying the various problems in Brazil weren't created by FIFA, but the organization of the World Cup and the enormous amounts that were being spent on it, put a lot of things in perspective for the Brazilian people. Most members of Bixiga 70 were born when Brazil was still a military dictatorship (The Brazilian military government was the authoritarian military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from March 31, 1964 to March 15, 1985. It began with the 1964 coup d'état led by the Armed Forces against the democratically elected government of left-wing President João Goulart and ended when José Sarney took office as President, red.) and the fact people are daring to speak up now, is a sign we've become a young democracy."
Cuca Ferreira: "I agree, it shows our country is maturing. Of course Brazilians will always remain big football fanatics, cheering for their national team, but the fact people are now able to separate sports and fun from the harsh realities of their daily existence proves we've matured as a people. The organization of the FIFA World Cup was really the last drop in a whole series of malversations in Brazil. People were promised a lot of investments in things like education, health services and public transport and in the end nothing changed. We all love football, but this time they went too far. FIFA is just about the most arrogant organization you can imagine; they just come to your country and want to rule it for the duration of the event. On the other hand it's the first time we've seen such a gathering of positive energy striving for change in Brazil."
Mauricio Fleury: "In any case, the whole world will be looking at Brazil in the coming weeks, so it's the perfect time for people to speak up and let their voices be heard. Football is one thing, but our lives are another!"