Son of Portuguese parents that were living in the territory, he is from Macau, made in Macau, made by Macau. Playing in the legendary acid jazz band Incognito, in London, João Caetano is also developing his own musical project solo — in which the main features are his Portuguese folk and luso-Asian percussion roots. In an interview with mART, he says, today, March 11, in the Cultural Centre, he will show his own work, which is also a result of an exchange between musicians from Portugal, London and Macau.
By Luciana Leitão
Why did you choose London to pursue your goal?
I went to study [Music] in the University of Chichester. I chose Chichester, because I knew it was in England that I wanted to develop my music knowledge — London was a goal after Chichester. London is a city with more than ten million inhabitants, with a vibrant energy and that gives you a wide vision of the world. It is a multicultural city, with music, art and several art centres — for example, Camden, Brick Lane and Brixton. This city breathes art. We have artists like FKA Twigs — she is a young artist that uses music to shake. Also, besides New York and Los Angeles, it is one of the main centres where you can find session musicians — session musician is a freelance musician that works for several artists and groups.
Until you met Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick — the leader of Incognito —, how long were you working in London, waiting for a chance to enter the industry?
I left Chichester when I was 21 years old [three years after my arrival] and in April 2011 [shortly after] I was in the studio, working with Bluey. Pete Ray Biggin — one of the best drummers in England — found me in Brighton, one evening, playing and, at the time, he was playing with Amy Winehouse and Incognito, and we stayed in touch. Once, in London — you start knowing more and more musicians, the word starts spreading — I was simultaneously going to a jam session called W3 and my name started to get around and one day I met Bluey.
It was fast…
Yes, it was very fast. I work very hard, I wouldn’t say I am a full workaholic, but I’m very dedicated and I have goals.
Did you have the goal of entering the band Incognito?
Yes, without a doubt. As a band with percussion, Incognito are a super band, in terms of musicians. The keyboards, bass, drums, guitars — it’s a band that goes deep into the skills of the musicians. Bluey is an incredible leader, because he gives voice to all the members of the band, not only the singers. Santana was also like that.
When you first started playing with Incognito, did you ever feel the pressure of finally working with a big band?
All the musicians feel throughout their career, that feeling of ‘am I capable or not’, but it is completely surpassed by the love for music. This is probably shared by hundreds of musicians. There is always someone better, in everything. You have to play, you have to go on stage and give 100 percent. I have to focus on the final goal.
How did you survive in London?
Macau was very important — not only the Portuguese School, the House of Portugal in Macau, the School of Music, these were institutions, in which I left an impression and these have made an impression in my career and as a person. I went to England with a scholarship given by the Macao Foundation and I got a revelation award, at the Portuguese School. During three years, parallel to the school work, we created a band, a percussion group.
By then, when you were studying in Macau, you already knew you wanted to be a musician?
I wanted to be a musician since I was born. My parents have always supported me, in every decision, as a musician. I studied violin at the School of Music during 12 years. I played guitar, sang, was in the band. I was also in the Portuguese dance and folk song group, led by João Fonseca and Maria José Vaz, which were people that marked my life — the Portuguese folk has been present in my life since I was three or four years old.
Would you say Portuguese and traditional folk are the music that define you?
Totally. When I talk about folk, I’m talking about Zeca Afonso, Sérgio Godinho, António Variações, Mariza — these are names of the Portuguese music that in a way have traditional Portuguese folk music influence. Portugal is a country with an immense cultural richness — all the regions, from north to south, not only in culinary, but also in folk, musical instruments. And in a way it’s that Portuguese music that is present in the project I’m developing.
You’re developing this side project, in London?
Yes. There is one theme running in the Internet, which is called “É Tempo de Mudança” [Time for change, in English]. All the internationalisation I have had, working with musicians such as Chaka Khan or Anastacia, has given me the strength to say something. When you are an artist, you need to have something to say.
What is your message?
I wouldn’t say my music is interventional, I would say it is inspirational — of following your dreams. António Gedeão said, in a well-known poem: O sonho comanda a vida e sempre que o homem sonha, o mundo pula e avança [The dream commands the life and whenever the man dreams, the world jumps and moves forward, in a free translation, in English]. That is the message, in that theme.
And in the other themes that you are showing today, what is the message?
I can’t talk about it, because it is still not finished.
The push I had playing with Incognito and with musicians playing everywhere in the world, has changed my vision of the world. I take Macau, Portugal and everything unique that I have, which is my percussion — a mixture of Asian and Macau, the dragon boats race, the lion dance. Those sounds and colours, the red colour — that, in the Chinese culture, has a completely different meaning than in the Portuguese culture — all that had a big influence in me, when I was a child and it is in my music. When you listen to “É Tempo de Mudança”, you feel there is a lot of percussion and life, and there is a message — my message while a percussionist musician.
What can we expect from today’s concert, at the Macao Cultural Centre?
In this concert, I am going to present my work. I’m going to play seven or eight themes — I still don’t know if these belong to one album or if these will be in different albums. These are themes that no one has heard, made by different people. This project has been an exchange between Macau, Portugal and England. Most of the themes were recorded in London, in Bluey’s studio; but also, in Portugal, with Fado [a Portuguese traditional musical genre] musicians and here [in Macau]. I’m going to have a guest at the show, that is from the Chinese Orchestra.
Are all these themes very different or do they share common features?
The conducting line is percussion, my life as a child in Macau, all the roots I have created with the Portuguese folk music and my internationalisation. Also, this is an attempt of doing an exchange with Macau, Portuguese Fado musicians and England musicians. These themes are all recorded. The lyrics are all in Portuguese, most of them have been made by me — they reflect living in Macau, on the road, living alone — without the family’s comfort — and I’m in love with Fado. Fado is so important for the Portuguese culture. Undoubtedly, it influences my work.
In this concert, will you be playing percussion and singing?
Yes, I will sing my themes, but I will also play percussion.
How many musicians will be on stage?
I will be with two guitar players, one bass player and one drum player — three are from Portugal and one is from Macau. Most of the themes were recorded — the meat and potatoes is recorded and developed in London, but I went several times to Portugal to record several musicians, as well as to Macau.
This is the musical genre you want to pursue — a combination of Fado, percussion, traditional folk?
While musician and person, this is what I identify myself with. This is an extension of myself. I have a work ethics, that is not egocentric — everyone is involved. Actually, this is the Bluey’s ethics in Incognito. It is a band that is everywhere in the world. The project I’m developing is a result of aggregating different musicians and influences. Nothing is international from the beginning. There is always a starting point.
And your starting point will be this show?
I hope so. I have here my home — I’m from Macau, I was brought up here, I grew up here and I know Macau. I’m very cherished in Macau. But I think this work is also very Portuguese. This is a difficult question.
You’re a person with goals. So what is your goal, regarding these tracks that you already have recorded?
My goal is to make music that brings joy to people, that makes people feel something that, at the moment they were listening to that music, they were not feeling. That’s what I feel when I listen to music that I like. I want people to relate to a moment that I spent in my life, with a moment they have spent.
Do you imagine leaving London and heading to Portugal to promote this work?
I cannot really say. I’m writing and recording, writing and recording. I don’t feel I am a London resident. I feel that I am international. As a freelancer, I’ll go where I have work. One thing curious about Macau is that there are no barriers — when I grew up and I had to ask someone in the street about directions, the fact that I was born in such an international city with such a mixture of cultures prepares you not to be afraid of the world. That is a good thing about Macau.
In the short run, what are your goals?
The band [Incognito] is now recording an album…
Will you prepare your solo album?
I cannot say. There is a lot that not only depends on me, at this stage. I will be doing the tours and at the same time I will be working on my music.
So, in this concert, you will launch your tracks — the ones that are still a secret?
No. I’m just going to play for the people inside that room. But I don’t have nothing planned about launching those tracks after the show.