A new festival in the beautiful Portuguese city of Amarante was the venue for a powerful concert and a showing of Eryk Rocha’s film about him. With 50 years performing and being politically committed, it is extraordinary that he is not well-known in Europe. While displaying his intense energy in performance, he is very easy to talk to and likes to joke.
Jards Anet da Silva got the nickname Macalé from the player who was supposed to be the worst footballer in Rio while Jards was at school. One of Brazil’s greatest performance artists, at age 74 he is still not well-known in Europe.
This is probably explained by the fact that his art has always been more important than commercial success although he has worked as a performer or a producer with some of the best-known names of MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira) and the Tropicalia movement, such as Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethania. He has also contributed to the sound tracks of many films, including several by Glauber Rocha.
Always politically committed, he was involved in putting out the album “Direitos humanos no banquete dos mendigos” (Human Rights in the Beggars Banquet) in 1974, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which was immediately banned by the military government who were keen to promote the arts as long as they weren’t critical of the government.
He was also imprisoned in 1977 during the dictatorship in Brazil, and didn’t record any music for 10 years afterwards.
At the 1974 concert, he had read a satirical poem about a chick (pinto) that has trouble growing and standing up. ‘pinto’ is also Brazilian slang for penis, and was the name of a member of the military government.
After the show, they found the theatre had been surrounded by police and many people were arrested.
Although he has released 15 albums he is also an actor and a composer, and his more recent work is multimedia and often improvised. In recent years he has been involved in documentary films. “Cancoes do exílio” (2011) is a documentary about the experiences of several Brazilian musicians during and after the dictatorship, and “Jards Macalé Ao vivo”, is a concert in Porto Alegre in 2014, directed by Jards’ wife, Rejane Zilles.
Eryk Rocha’s 2011 film “Jards” was recently shown at the MIMO festival, now in its 2nd year in Amarante, Portugal (and its 15th in Brazil), which also featured legendary Brazilian band Nacao Zumbi, and Richard Bona and Mandekan Cubano.
As Jards recounts in our conversation after his Q&A, Rocha’s film was the result of the incredibly close sintonia that he has with the director.
I found it completely stunning, or alucinante to use the better Portuguese word, both for the powerful extreme close-up camera work and its use of psychedelic effects and abstract images.
Incredibly, the DVD is still not available in Region 2 format for Europe.
I saw Eryk Rocha’s film about you – a mind-blowing experience, a work of art, not just a documentary. And the following year, 2012, you performed your Sinfonia, a multi-media experience. Has your work now taken off in a new direction?
This new generation is reinterpreting my music re-inventing everything – Ava Rocha and other younger artists – and each of them are doing things in different ways, so it’s important to give something back to them.
It’s not just a favour anyway, it’s friendship: I’ve known Eryk since when he was still in his mother’s belly, I was friends with Glauber Rocha and Paula for many years.
Did you contribute to the directing of the film?
Of course! His original idea was to make a documentary, but after seeing how the musicians worked in the studio he decided to make a film instead, it’s a film not a documentary. He’s the fruit of his father, but despite his legacy Eryk is not arrogant, and he knows me extremely well, ‘even below the water’ (ate debaixo de agua), as we say in Brazil. Eryk likes to get hold of a person by their skin, and each show is spontaneous.
I had the feeling that when you are performing you involve your whole body, not just your voice or the instrument.
Yes, it comes from my experience as an actor, what happens is uncontrollable, a unique moment.
The way you expressed yourself in the song Só Morto was very intense, was that related to your experience in prison?
No, it was just what happened on that occasion. It was my interpretation, the music is wild Rock. Ok the format is Rock music but it’s something more something visceral, it pulls you along almost into a trance.
You’ve been called a misunderstood genius, what do you think of that?
I don’t agree, I´m not a genius and I think people do understand me!
A rebel though, someone on the margins.
Sure, yes, if you mean the official culture: it’s boring.
You mentioned anarchism in your talk.
Yes, but a constructive anarchism, not just destructive. Something that creates harmony.
What do you think of the current situation in Brazil?
The bourgeoisie and the big corporations in Brazil don’t want the majority of people to improve their lives, they want to force them into a state of submission, and keep everything for themselves. Lula’s policies took 40 million people out of poverty, now it’s being reversed. It’s been like that since the independence of Brazil. A luta continúa! (The struggle goes on).
How do you relate to the cultural industry of today?
The new ways of distributing music, digital, streaming etc., have not been well understood by artists in Brazil. And the whole idea of a ‘cultural industry’ doesn’t exist.
People keep producing music in an amateur kind of way, needing someone to help them deal with the technology. We don’t even have a minister of education anymore – the chaos goes on.
The ‘aesthetics of hunger’ – is that still a valid philosophy?
In Glauber Rocha’s time it was: “a camera in your hand and an idea in your head”. Well I suppose we are heading back to more hunger and it’s important that artists speak up about that.