In conversation with Bruno Capinan
by Sophie Adelman
This past Tuesday, 7/31, WKCR programmer Sophie Adelman sat down to interview Salvador, Bahia-born Bruno Capinan, to discuss his experiences in queerness, being a person of color in music, struggles with Brazilian politics, and his hopes for the future.
Bruno uses he/him/his pronouns and is performing tonight, 8/3, at Nublu with fellow Brazilian artists Maglore and Criolina to start off the 2018 Brasil Summerfest.
Hey Bruno, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me this afternoon.
Oh yeah, it’s not a problem!
First, tell me a little about yourself; since I’ve been to Salvador, I wanted to know what area you’re from.
I was born in Liberdade. Do you know that area?
Yeah! That’s right by the Pelourinho (one of the main tourist centers of Salvador that holds music performances almost daily), right?
Exactly. I grew up next to Ilê Aiyê; its building was directly next to my childhood house. I saw them come down the street during carnaval and watched blocos afros practice as I walked around the neighborhood.
Since I was born right where the tourism is, I was exposed from a young age to music. That just happens naturally there and I could never escape the tradition of my hometown and country. Music is a thing people eat in Brazil, something we can’t live without. From listening to records in my family home, their Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Gal Costa albums to playing CDs in the car on road trips with my dad, I was steeped in a long tradition of Brazilian art. Salvador is the Black Rome “Roma Negra” of the world. This is because we have a history of resistance and a history that is still very much alive. If you come to Salvador, come with an open heart.
Did you ever join any of the blocos afros? I know as a drummer myself, the environment in those communities is quite masculine and macho.
Oh, that is an absolutely fair assessment to make. I never joined a bloco afro, no. And basically, for that same reason you mentioned. I felt excluded from the music scene in Brazil, and from society in general. I was always outside the box for many of the groups. I didn’t feel accepted.
Did your school provide an outlet for you to practice music, then? Did it encourage your creativity?
Well, sort of. Before anything else, I started doing theater in school around age 13. I was an actor and a performer because I knew I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to be on stage.
Around 14 years old was when I wrote my first song. It came to me, almost as if it was a revelation.
You’ve been writing since age 14?
Yes. Since then, I began writing songs for myself as healing. The creative process helps bring my ideas to life. The lyrics are all about me on a page. Writing a song is always pleasurable for me, because I love to pour my feelings. My albums and stage performances have always been about creating a live-action story. I want to illustrate what I was experiencing when I wrote my songs. Mostly, I want people to take away a positive message, like that it is possible to be whoever you want to be. It’s important that other people enjoy my stories; I want other people to feel connected. I want people who listen to me to leave my shows thinking they can do anything they want to be.
What are some communities that raised you?
I’ve always been an old person, ever since I was young. So, to answer that question, communities of elders. And one of the things I learned from the older people around me is that you should not take your life for granted. When I get on stage, it’s my lifetime. We might have a moment now, but I can’t say that same thing about the future. I look at others in their struggles – Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and others. I’ve been close to them lately in the past two years, but I’ve always been a fan. Before they became larger than life they had struggles, too. And they still struggle as humans.
When you write your songs, do you have a particular audience in mind?
No, not really. Not when I’m writing. Emotions are emotions – sexuality is emotions, and emotions are universal. Hetero men and women can relate too! Let me tell you, I was performing once, and someone I didn’t know came up to and told me he named his child after hearing my song, Vicente. So now there’s a child in Brazil named after an experience I had of a looking at another guy longingly at a coffee shop one afternoon. It’s really incredible how ideas transfer between two people, and we’re all equalized by emotion.
That’s really awesome. Musically, are you most inspired by a particular musical era in history, in terms of fashion, dance, musical sounds, etc?
Tropicália, Bossa Nova – I really like the wave thing – and blocos afros. But mostly any blend of my country. Brazil is a kaleidoscope of colors and culture, really, a pressure cooker. And once you taste it, it’s my music!
Tell me a little bit about your experience as queer in Brazil. How does this reflect in your art?
I’ve been part of larger LGBTQ scene in Brazil with the creative might of Liniker [of Liniker e os Caramelows], Pabllo Vittar and Filipe Catto, among countless others. This solid group of artists makes me feel really supported. Really, we support, inspire, show up for one another. It’s special.
As you might know, Brazil is the country that kills the most trans-folks in the world. This world is becoming more conservative, and the political climate at home is saddening.
How do you see this shaping the future of LGBTQ progress?
[Laughs] These are deep questions.
Not much concerns me about our future, actually. I am very, very proud of what people are doing – people are still resisting and creating, demanding space that is ours. We’re not asking. The community creates our space, and as we see, less-accepting people are just dealing with fact that we are becoming the new normal.
We have people from all over the country claiming space. With me from Salvador, Liniker from countryside of São Paulo, Pabllo from the North and São Paulo, and Filipe from Rio Grande do Sul, we see the geographic diversity of the LGBT community and our strength in numbers. We aren’t going anywhere.
What’s a message you would give to the music industry if you could ask directly?
We aspire to become the mainstream. It’s tangible. Listen to the time. It’s 2018. Society is telling us that we have been more diverse than ever, the younger generation is much more fluid when it comes to sexuality and race, and the music industry
Another thing is that we really need the representation, the space that we can define for ourselves. There’s a lot of discrimination within the LGBTQ artistic community, such that classically acceptable white people get a lot better treatment than trans, gender-nonconforming, and queer artists of color. We need the industry to reflect all these different experiences. I hate that media pushes this narrative that we are taking up creative space and underserving of attention. Our creativity doesn’t have a sexuality. We are talented, not because we are LGBTQ or that we are people of color, but because we work hard at our craft. We just don’t want to conform to what other people tell us will be popular with the masses.
It would certainly be annoying to have to hear record executives say, “this is going to sell,” or “this is what you should do.” It stifles creativity. And also, it’s annoying how at the same time, people nowadays speak about “fighting back against oppression,” but still don’t support artists of color, queer people and any intersection of identity.
For all the talk of a tense political climate – artists of color, women of color, the extended LGBTQ community – we are a good antidote. We have the best opportunity to show the world that we’re here to stay. We are the people who have always been (and still are) marginalized. The media doesn’t realize that by supporting us they are doing politics; they can help change the world. Giving us a platform is like making sure everyone has an opportunity. Not taking anything from anyone else, but just taking what’s ours. It’s equity, and it’s democracy.
I bet you have inspired a lot of the younger generation.
It’s important that me and the musicians in my generation don’t make that same mistakes as musicians in the past and don’t and that we own our identities to show younger people it’s ok to be proud. We need to send a message showing that we are not intimidated by the negativity we see, and tell the younger generation that we are not going anywhere.
I think it’s the first time in Brazilian music that is ours; good, and powerful. The presence on social media is the future. A lot of younger people don’t want to listen to the same music over and over and over again. They want exposure to new things. They know there’s room for everyone in the industry.
A message especially important with President Temer [Michel Temer is the right-wing President of Brazil] in charge.
Yes. Unfortunately, it isn’t a happy time to be in Brazil. It’s almost impossible to do art in Brazil – things are being censored everywhere. I really mean that. But I believe this, right now, is the new moment in Brazilian music and Brazilian art. This is the most politically charged climate since 1964 [the year of the coup in Brazil, and the beginning of a 20-year military regime]. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but see the parallels between us and Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gill [founders of the Trópicalia music movement].
What would be the message you had to your city, Salvador, and Brazil as a whole?
Brazil and Brazilian music, despite all its problems, is one of the most beautiful things in life. It’s a beautiful country and people. Music is what I feel connected me to Brazil. Growing up wasn’t easy, family wasn’t easy, people in my space weren’t easy. But my city and my culture is one of the only things that kept me connected to Brazil. It’s a big part of me, and keeps me to the point where I would like to go back to Brazil.
Who are some artists you look up to?
Teegan and Sarah do a good job of representing their community, and I have a lot of respect for them. like Arca, who performs with Björk is great. In Brazil, I like all the people I mentioned before! [laughs]. But seriously, the whole community of queer people, really. It wouldn’t be fair to single people out. Basically, just anyone who entertains by being themselves.
What have you liked about Canada in the past few years?
So, my career has been pretty much in Brazil, Japan and Canada so far. I spend half of the year in Brazil right now.
Canada is getting better in terms of a music scene, with more respected artists like Drake, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, etc. Toronto is a very diverse city, and there are also people fighting here. There still issues, but, this is true everywhere. One thing that’s missing is an artist like myself, speaking another language, to reflect the multiculturalism that the city holds.
Montreal is a better city for that. There’s people like Lido Pimienta who sings every song in Spanish and won the Polaris Prize, one of the highest prizes in Canada. She was part of an underground scene, and now she’s performing all across Canada. That’s what I want.
I hope you get that. And I’m so excited to see you perform on 8/1 at Nublu! Are you excited to be coming to New York?
Yes. I haven’t been here since 2009, so don’t know what’s cool to do and where is cool to go. I want to go to Brooklyn and see what’s happening there. I’m glad things are coming to New York, it’s an honor to be there. New York is such an iconic place.
Bruno thank you so much again for taking the time to speak with me. I just have one final question for you. Who makes you laugh the most on Twitter?
Can I be honest? I think it’s Donald Trump!
I’m just so shocked by the idea of him. How did people elect someone to run the country on Twitter?
It’s pretty crazy, right? I bet Michel Temer has a boring Twitter.