OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS Q&A with Ronan Guilfoyle, Tudo Bem!
Ronan Guilfoyle is a major figure on the Irish jazz scene and has developed an international reputation as a performer, teacher and composer. He began his career with Louis Stewart's group in the early 1980's he has toured with his own groups extensively in Europe, Asia, and North America, and is now the Director of DCU's Centre for Jazz Performance. With his group Tudo Bem! Ronan explores the music of Brazil, performing at this month's Signal Series, this Thursday 3rd October at Arthur's, doors 9pm. We spoke to Ronan about his love for Brazilian music, music's power to connect, and the need to support live music.
Q. Where did the inspiration for Tudo Bem! come from?
I have been a huge fan of Brazilian music for many years, and had a band dedicated to playing Brazilian music about 10 years ago – also called Tudo Bem. Then, between one thing and another, I let it slide, but my love for Brazilian music deepened, even more if anything, during that time, and I was determined to get back on the horse again. Which I now have with the current band, and a great band it is!
Brazilian music has so many great facets – it’s joyful, it’s groovy, it’s lyrical, it’s celebratory – so on a fundamental human level it covers so much that is special about music. But at the same time while it can very simply touch our humanity, it is very sophisticated on a technical, harmonic and structural level. So it is – like jazz - at once a folk art, a high art, and high craft. You can have no knowledge of the technique of music and still be touched by Brazilian music, but if you’re a musician you get all the optional extras so to speak. It’s a complete music – and very wide-ranging. Outside Brazil we tend to think of Brazilian music as only being represented by bossa and samba, but Brazil is huge and there are so many regional styles. We’ll be covering quite a few of those on the gig.
Q. What is the most important thing to you when making music?
To connect with myself in order to connect with others. You have to be the first recipient of the musical message, and believe in it, and be touched by it. If you do that, then others can be touched by it also. The great Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan said, “I sing to the singer inside myself and I feel that if he can hear my message, then others will be able to also’ That’s a perfect way to put it.
Q. How would you describe the type of music that you create?
I play and create a lot of different kinds of music, from straight ahead jazz, to very open music, to completely composed music, and, with Tudo Bem, Brazilian music. I would hope that, with all of them, I shape the music in a way that is personal to me and that this gives such an apparently diverse range of music an individual voice.
Q. In your ideal gig, what experience/response would the audience have?
I would like them to feel that they have not just been witnesses to something, but to feel that they have participated in it too. I would also like them to feel differently when they leave the concert compared how they felt when they came in. In a good way hopefully!
Q. What direction do you see the music industry headed towards in the next 20 years?
I have no idea! I think the music industry is changing so fast it’s impossible to predict what will happen. However there’s no doubt that the creative music field is in crisis, in that it has never been harder to make a living playing creative music. One by one, musicians’ revenue streams have been closed off, venues are shutting, magazines and good music journalism are disappearing, and the general opinion of the public seems to be that they should not have to pay for music. This feeling of entitlement to free music can be laid squarely at the door of the technology giants such as Youtube and Spotify. They are the music equivalents of Uber and Deliveroo – giant concerns that make huge amounts of money for a very few people at the top, while the people who do the actual work and produce the content get virtually nothing. It’s the scourge of neoliberalism again, this time affecting the arts, and music in particular. Unless a solution to how musicians can get paid for their work is found, I genuinely believe we will see a huge decline in high quality creative new music in the coming decades. It’s unreasonable to expect musicians to devote ten to fifteen years of their lives to study and practice when nobody feels they should be paid for the resultant music. As a musician, why would you do it? We need support from the public – starting with Thursday’s gig in Arthurs!