Let’s Have a Word is David Soares‘s attempt to make the Lisbon scene spill the beans.
Luís Peixoto is no doubt one of the most respected and in-demand string musicians in the realm of trad folk music in Portugal. The weapons of choice of this Coimbra native are mainly cavaquinho (the ancestor to the ukulele), mandolin (bandolim), and Irish bouzouki. Peixoto has played in several bands and with many renowned names over the years: Dazkarieh, Stockholm Lisboa Project, Sebastião Antunes & Quadrilha, Anxo Lorenzo band, Júlio Pereira, and Assembly Point, to name just a few. He currently plays for Ana Bacalhau, Basque trio Kalakan, the Sondeseu Orquestra folk de Galicia, and Companhia Clara Andermatt, and also as a solo artist. Peixoto has released one LP under his own name so far (Assimétrico – 2017), a fusion of folk and electronic music, branded as techno-folk — a style he has been touring and perfecting for the past couple of years.
(conversation held in Portuguese)
How did the idea of merging techno and Portuguese traditional music come about? Is this the voice you couldn’t find in your various collaborations? I first learned to play traditional instruments at Coimbra University. There I joined the estudantina (Note: a student association’s so-called ‘tuna’, a musical group made up of students whose repertoire is essentially traditional), where apart from getting into that atmosphere of the strings section, I had Amadeu Magalhães as a teacher, who taught in the fado section but was starting up a strings group with a traditional Portuguese repertoire. I met many colleagues there, a couple of which ended up giving me the bug for Irish trad music and I felt quite seduced by it as it takes the most out of the instruments technically. At the same time, I discovered a lot of Portuguese and Galician traditional music, then later Nordic music, mostly Swedish. But I have always liked electronic music, ever since I was 15, when I remember buying the compilation Electricidade or Nº1 or whatever it was called (laughs), I just liked it, I think all teenagers go through such a phase.
When I started out as a professional musician, with Dazkarieh, I began working with software. I started using Protools, recording my own ideas and working with a software called Ableton Live, which, apart from recording ideas and composing, enables you to add digital rhythm. It’s widely used by composing DJs. At the beginning, I would only use it for recording but eventually, I started composing using both elements.
Then came Pop with Fernando Barroso (2012 – Groove Punch Studios & Producións do Cuarto Baleiro), where we already used a few things like background rhythms, pads, oscillators, all very soft, not too prominent.
So all this time, I’ve always wanted to make my own music. As I was always in bands, I would give my contribution, but I was never the artistic leader of a project, be it with Dazkarieh, Stockholm Lisboa Project, Anxo Lorenzo Band, or Sebastião Antunes. Sebastião Antunes made a few propositions in that sense, first with A Saia da Carolina — I think it was my first release openly fusing folk and electronic — and then Cantiga da Burra. I spent some time on this track and it went well.
Why with electronic? Well, it was a tough decision because everybody knows me for folk music. I just had to do it, the temptation was too strong (laughs), people would tell me: “Make a traditional record first, position yourself in the scene and then you can do this.” I just couldn’t resist and went straight into it, although if you show the record to someone from the electronic music, he/she probably won’t consider it as such.
You’ve played in both folk festivals and electronic festivals. How has your music been received in both contexts? Recently I took part in the Aura light festival in Sintra to accompany a VJ’s jam, this was the only electronic festival as such. I haven’t been invited to electronic festivals that much, because I’m still more labeled as folk and my music fits into that world.
I have friends in both worlds. The ones on the electronic side think of it as something new, but the language used in electronic music is very different: it’s more about ambiances, textures, sensations, the musical structure doesn’t follow the same pattern as in trad folk, where you have phrase A, phrase B, repeat A, repeat B. Well, electronic music is very far-reaching. Maybe commercial electronic dance music has that chorus and melodies pattern, but not techno, for example. Before I made the record, I thought of many different styles. It was hard to choose and I drew inspiration from several among them.
On the folk side, I have always received good feedback, and this makes me proud. There are people who prefer something more acoustic and purist, but they’ve always respected my music and congratulated me for the novelty. Although I don’t think it’s that dramatically new (laughs).
How is the composition process? Tunes and riffs come first or the rhythm? I don’t have a method, I do things with the tools at my disposal. It’s been happening in every way. Tracks where I started with an electronic bit and then started building on top of it. In general, I think most of the tracks began with a harmony on the Irish bouzouki, which sets the rhythm, the harmony, and a defined mood right away — it’s easier for me. But it’s happened in all manners.
Then, during composition, with the music recorded on the computer session, the software enables you to alter beats. And even the things I recorded, I process and modify them, duplicate them, cut them, drag them and sometimes mix them all up randomly, and new things come out of it that will remain. As someone said, “without disorganization, there would be no creativity.” It also happens to me, it’s one of my tools (laughs). Disorder.
You’ve sure been honing your live skills in terms of looping, sampling, and playing on top of beats, but I know you improvise a lot live. I think I improvise too much (laughs), in the sense that the tunes are sequenced as on any setlist. For some, I try building loops and then add up the bits previously recorded and for others, I start with the pre-prepared bits and then I step in with the string instruments. Anything can happen. And sometimes I also start recording with the controllers, I do harmonies with the Ableton Push. I can play along, choose the scale, make rhythms. Everything live.
And does it never go wrong? Yes, sometimes it does (laughs). Hence why I said I improvise too much (laughs). Some artists bring their set all sequenced, from beginning to end, nothing changes, so there’s no improvisation within that safety, even times between tracks are safeguarded.
That’s why some video projections in concerts look amazing, it’s all made at home first. I’m thinking of doing the same (laughs).
The sequencing or the video? I’ve already worked with a VJ, VJ Draft. We did a concert last year at Miradouro da Graça. It was a great success. It was the first time I worked with a VJ and it was all in real time. We both did it live. Not that it was entirely improvised, but we never really knew when the other would stop, or how long silences were, or which bit would stick to another. We just interacted, that was fun. We’re going to try and do the same on September 21st (at Teatro do Bairro).
I’ve seen you proficiently dabble in playing many other instruments: bodhrán, hurdy-gurdy, guitar, concertina, violin, bagpipe, etc. Why in the end the three instruments (cavaquinho, mandolin, Irish bouzouki)? How did you get into each of them? They have different functions. The Irish bouzouki has a harmonic, rhythmic function and it sets a base. The mandolin has a melodic function. I’m divided, I enjoy doing both things. Cavaquinho can have both functions and it’s a traditional Portuguese instrument that I feel the need and love to play — and I know it’s not played that much, even less so in a fusion environment like with electronic music.
I had flute and guitar lessons as a kid and I used to play with the boy scouts in mass and camps, but when I joined Coimbra’s estudantina, I ended up playing the small tambourine (pandeireta).
Did you have to jump around as pandeireta players do? I didn’t have to, I really enjoyed doing all those acrobatics (laughs).
I came to the mandolin because I used to get really bored during slow songs. Since I’m not a keen singer, I started playing mandolin on the slow ones, then I started learning Irish tunes for mandolin and Portuguese tunes for strings and I played all the time.
The Irish bouzouki came last. As an instrument, it’s very present throughout European folk. A bit like the electric guitar of folk. It has 5th chords, so-called power chords, that fill up the sound and set the pace, so it plays a strong role in a band and I’ve always been drawn to it.
I first played bodhrán and other percussions in Sebastião Antunes‘ band. He had an Irish bouzouki that I picked up in gigs because I could play the mandolin already. I would borrow it, and a mandola he also had, to practice. When Dazkarieh invited me, I still didn’t own one. By the time I joined them, I would only play Irish bouzouki and mandolin and a little bit of cavaquinho, to give it a more Portuguese touch. Actually, this was the direction I wanted to take the band into. Their back catalog didn’t have much to do with me, so that was part of the deal: write new songs based on Portuguese samples, and that’s what we did.
I started cavaquinho as a student in Coimbra. I was taking mandolin and Coimbra guitar lessons (Note: The Coimbra version of the Portuguese guitar is like its Lisbon counterpart but with a bigger body and tuned one tone down), and since I was artistic director of the student association at the time, I was granted free lessons so I took up the cavaquinho. All with Amadeu Magalhães, who taught pretty much everything, he is such a great reference. But in a leisurely manner at first. I just enjoyed learning tunes by Júlio Pereira, I was discovering his albums at the time. It gave me such a buzz.
And funnily enough, you eventually played with him later. Yeah, of course, it was a nice achievement
I had met Júlio Pereira once. My cousin José Peixoto knew I’d like to meet him so he took me to his home studio one time. When he invited me to his band, I was still living in Galicia. It just so coincided that I had just left Anxo Lorenzo band and Clara Andermatt also invited me to be a part of her show Fica No Singelo, so I moved back to Lisbon….again (laughs).
You grew up in Coimbra and Lagos and lived in Porto, how did you end up here in the first place? To join Dazkarieh. It was an opportunity to become a full-time musician. They lived and rehearsed here.
What was your first impression? There’s always a certain awe when one moves to a bigger city, right? One of the things I loved the most was the fact that so many trad folk musicians were concentrated in one area where I could play with them (laughs). And all the jams, it was very stimulating. Actually, I was there at the very first Carmo jam (Note: Informal weekly gathering of musicians and dancers that used to take place on Largo do Carmo for several years), it was amazing, especially in the summer: we would just turn up, there would be people dancing and we would play tunes we’d learned at Andanças festival. At O’Gilin’s too, the jam session existed already. Having an Irish trad session in Lisbon, to me that was wonderful, it was unique (in Portugal) and still is.
Didn’t you get mugged on one of your first nights in Lisbon? Yeah, I did (laughs), but I was still living in Coimbra, I just came here for a gig with Sebastião Antunes and I was walking on Miradouro de S.Pedro de Alcântara with my girlfriend at the time, when these seven teenagers stole my bank card, with a gun, which could have been fake, but I couldn’t tell. They stole the amount I had earned at the gig. That miradouro was pretty dark back then. Live and learn.
But now you’re currently based in Barcelona, for family reasons. What do you miss most about Lisbon/Portugal? Chouriço bread and apricot Compal (laughs). What I really miss is going to an establishment, any ordinary establishment, and being able to order a good espresso coffee with a chouriço bread, or a cake, or a beer, or a croquete, all in one place. It’s one of those practicalities that you only notice when you miss it. There, if you want these things, you’ll have to go buy them from different places. It’s incredible, but that’s what I miss (laughs).
Then there’s speaking Portuguese, of course. And the Portuguese humor. Also, the volume of people talking in public spaces is different, I miss a certain tranquility of the Portuguese (laughs).
But in terms of concerts, I would say Fábrica do Braço de Prata. Because it has a very interesting program, many established artists bring smaller parallel projects there, when their schedules are less busy and where the most important thing is the enjoyment of playing, regardless of the size of the audience. For example, you can have a pop musician playing in a jazz combo and on the same night some Cape Verdean act in another room.
Who’s your favorite Portuguese musician? Who’s your big reference? It’s a hard one, there are so many. But I’m going to say Júlio Pereira. For all the work he’s done, for the records he has made, and for his musicianship.
Let’s have a word: tell me your favorite Portuguese word? (long pause) Arremenedo (laughs). That’s something I learned in the Beira region. I’m not even sure how it’s spelled, I’ve heard it used like an interjection, but I think it means angry. I just find it amusing.
What’s next? I’ve been doing production work. That’s something I intend to pursue in the future.
There should be a new record next year and all options are open as to what it will sound like.
Next solo concerts:
August 30th: Arredas Folk Fest – Barcelos (Portugal)
September 1st: Cool v Plotě Festival – Pisek (Czech Republic)
September 21st: Teatro do Bairro (Lisbon) with special guests Ana Bacalhau, Adufe em Lisboa and VJ Draft
Check all Peixoto’s tour dates on https://www.luispeixoto.com/agenda/
Official page: https://www.luispeixoto.com/
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/bandolim
iTunes : https://itunes.apple.com/pt/artist/luis-peixoto/321850864
Soundcloud : https://soundcloud.com/groovepunch
Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpgteWivXzUdHa3rWoCWlTg
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/luisppeixoto/
And some tracks!