The Mindful Bard – The Cuica Story

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

This article originally appeared December 2, 2011, in issue 1946.

?Happy New Year! The Conjunto Roque Moreira wishes you peace, health, happiness, success, and we hope in 2011 we can go to Canada to show our work to this wonderful country . . . We have news! We begin to record our new CD in January. Cheers!?

Anderson Almeida, drummer and vocalist for Conjunto Roque Moreira, in a message to Wanda Waterman on New Year’s Day, 2011

The Cuica Story, or How a Handmade Brazilian Drum Found Its Way to My Doorstep in New Hampshire

Think of this as a kind of Mindful Bard side trip. It’s not my typical ramble on why this or that film, book, or CD might inspire your next oeuvre, but It’s a story that involves a little of each?and which, but for the Mindful Bard, might never have come about.

It started when I discovered a Brazilian rock band called Conjunto Roque Moreira. They were a highly rousing bunch, and their music was a combination of indigenous sounds and Brazilian rhythms. To this they often added elements of reggae, tango, jazz, blues, and any genre or sound that happened to tickle the ears of these highly creative and aesthetically curious musicians.

I decided to get in touch. They sent me their CD, Sintonia da Mata, which I readily recommended in this column. Soon after that we did an email interview?a singular mission considering their partial lack of English and my complete lack of Portuguese.

I was impressed enough by their music. But what really blew me away was something else: Conjunto Roque Moreira had founded Fábrica Roque Moreira, an organization that designs musical instruments which underprivileged children can make from natural and recycled materials. The kids can then sell the instruments and help support themselves. Here was a band that was deeply motivated as much by a passion for humanity as by a peculiarly Brazilian sense of fun.

In other words, it was the perfect Mindful Bard match.

Not long after the interview the band asked me if I could help them come to Canada to perform. Although first I sent them the contact information of a good tour manager and various world, jazz, and folk festivals that I thought would be glad to nab the group, I later remembered Ali Hancharyk, whom I had just interviewed. Ali and his cohorts had developed Home Routes, a highly innovative model of touring that was relatively low stress, highly enjoyable for all concerned, and a system that actually permitted musicians to come home with money in their pockets. It sounded like a good fit.

Home Routes involves a network of private homes where musicians perform. The hosts feed and house the musicians overnight and provide a small concert space where they invite friends, family, and neighbours to come over and spend around $15 on a small live concert. The hosts take away nothing but the pleasure of hosting professional musicians for a night.

This model worked so well that some musicians were reporting making half their year’s income in one short tour, and the system has now spread to other parts of Canada.

I encouraged Anderson Almeida to get in touch with Ali in the hopes that they might be able to work together. To my surprise, the process zipped right through, and Conjunto was booked for a Home Routes tour. Just as I had expected, Canada loved them.

As a thank-you gift the band sent me a cuica (Portuguese for ?opossum?), a drum used in samba. YouTube the instrument and you’ll recognize its sound if you’ve listened to samba at all. It’s played by rubbing a wet cloth along a rod centred inside the drum and rooted in the drum’s sheepskin head.

Arnaldo Oliveira tells me that the body of the drum is made from ?a creeping plant that [grows] in the sandy soils.? The plant,? he adds, ?is often used is to carry water for consumption . . . [and as] food dishes for people working in the field.? It’s also used to make other instruments, like the caxixi and shekere.

Of my drum Arnaldo says, ?It’s the first instrument made by Fábrica . . . We are already designing it for various people and places, but You’re the first to have an international instrument.?

And this note from the band toward the end of their tour: ?We are now leaving and going to North Battleford in Saskatchewan, Prince Albert . . . the next day we go to La Ronge . . . [we] finish our last show day 8 November, [but] we’ll be in Winnipeg until after . . . Nov. 24 . . . Obrigado and happiness.?

Last night I played the cuica at our Friday night musical gathering in Whitefield, New Hampshire.

It’s been a good week. A very good week. Obrigado and happiness.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.