Not my film about Brazilian music

British DJ Gilles Peterson has made an album of Brazilian music, and in order to promote it, he took a filmmaker to Rio with him to make a 3-minute promotional ‘behind the scenes’ YouTube video. That video grew in ambition and scope to become a 75 minute film about Brazilian culture, politics, musical heritage and the making of what appears to be something of a landmark album.

The film’s now completed – and it had a preview screening upstairs at my local pub, The Hare and Hounds. And I was invited to host the Q&A afterwards. Partly, I suppose, because of my own interest in Brazilian music.

Brasil Bam Bam Bam is about, among other things, Gilles’s hunt for a rare and elusive Brazilian record, some of the overlooked history of Brazilian music, the culture and social setting from which the music emerges, and also, of course, about making a record that brings together traditional and new sounds.

The film is very much about Gilles himself too. Probably far more than Gilles was probably expecting. Here is someone with a lifelong passion for something that a lot of people would see as very geeky and insular – digging for rare and obscure vinyl – and yet this is a celebration of the connections, experiences and friendships that can come out of seriously indulging your enthusiasms.

In the film, Gilles is essentially a kid in a candy store, and the wide-eyed excitement at every encounter is a real insight into someone who is simply incapable of becoming cynical, jaded or blasé about continually meeting his heroes and experiencing both new and old music for the first time. Gilles has so many fans, because over and above everything else, he is one.

Gilles has been a DJ, broadcaster, record label owner and producer for over 25 years – and for me, he’s been something of – if not an inspiration as such, then at least a sort of guide. As a record collector and as a radio broadcaster, Gilles has been pretty influential in terms of my tastes and my search for selecting “the right next record”.

Far more than John Peel for me, Gilles has been a model of eclecticism – because he adds that dimension of working within a set of parameters that considers how one song is given context by the songs you play either side of it.

There’s an incredibly broad range of music in the sonic world of Gilles Peterson – and it includes music from so many different countries and eras – but it all hangs together. It makes sense as a collection, and each tune relates to each other tune in some way. I really admire that way of thinking about music, and it’s that aspect of his ‘oeuvre’ (if a DJ can be said to have an oeuvre) that really appeals to me.

Put another way – if Gilles likes it, I’ll probably like it too – whether it’s jazz, reggae, hip hop, soul, funk, bossanova, cumbia or disco.

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By sheer coincidence, the screening happened one year to the day after Michela and I went to Brazil to start work on our own documentary film, ‘Occupy Music’, which is still in the pipeline and has a long way to go yet. So I was very interested to see the differences (and there are many) between the Brazil that Gilles experienced and the one that we have caught on camera. That’s probably another story for another day.

The fact that this preview screening happened to be at my local pub, and the fact that I got the opportunity to chat with and finally properly thank Gilles for his influence, is something that I’m very grateful to my friend Adam Regan for.

Adam is not only the owner of the pub nearest my house, he’s also a DJ, promoter and label owner with a long history of working with some of the best musicians and DJs in the country.

As a result, we’re often spoiled with gigs by the likes of Quantic, Alice Russell, Marlena Shaw, Basement Jaxx, Roy Ayers, The Hot 8 Brass Band, Norman Jay, Mr Scruff – and we’re looking forward to gigs by Jungle Brothers, Amp Fiddler and more. Having a place like that on your doorstep really gives a neighbourhood an incredibly special vibe – and everyone around here who frequents that place is very aware of how unique that is.

And for me – you couldn’t ask for better. We are a small village in South Birmingham that gets an incredible array of the best of my favourite music in the world pretty much every week.

Of course, Adam and Gilles have been friends for years.

So… it’s moments like these, when you approach ten years of living in a place, when you start to notice that you’ve become part of the life of that community. And I’m really lucky that that life intersects so closely with so much of the music that I love. That sometimes I get asked to play records, or – in this case – talk to the people who do.

And it happens in a way that is entirely particular to this place, with these people, at this time. It’s a good moment to be in Kings Heath, Birmingham for me right now. I’m often far too busy running around everywhere else to notice that.

This was a real honour for me – as well as a long overdue opportunity to stay out late, spend a bit of time on the dancefloor, as well as catch up with some of my favourite people in town.

Speaking as a film maker…

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I gave a talk at Flatpack Festival today about Occupy Music – the film I’m making about independent music and alternative economics in Brazil.

I showed some interview segments and still images from the film – but spent most of my time explaining the fact that despite having spent six weeks travelling around Brazil and accumulating around 24 hours of interview material – I’m not really sure yet what the story is.

The more I work on the film, the more complex it seems to become, and while I didn’t think I was just going to be a passive narrator that explained some things about how it all works – I didn’t expect my own struggle trying to make sense of what Fora do Eixo is, where its boundaries lie and what it all means would become the centrepiece of the story. But that’s how it seems to be going.

The film isn’t edited yet, and there’s going to be more of me talking in it than I had originally intended, so I filmed my presentation today on the off chance I might say something sensible and helpful that could illuminate the material I already have. And I think there may be one or two bits in there that could be useful for the finished movie.

All I need now is a budget to edit, an epiphany or two, and some free time.

Playing Musical Chairs for over a decade

About ten years ago – maybe a little more – I made some programmes for a Radio New Zealand series called Musical Chairs. Each programme focuses on a person who is very important in the world of New Zealand music. Usually it’s a musician, of course – but for me – one radio DJ had to feature.

Recently, thanks to the help of someone in the organisation, I came into possession of archived CD copies of those programmes, for which I am incredibly grateful. It’s a real pleasure for me to be able to hear these after such a long time. And until such time as someone expressly tells me in writing that I shouldn’t – I’ve got them here (via Mixcloud) for you to listen to as well.

Each programme is just short of 30 minutes, and I’m really pleased with them. I’m okay with my writing, my editing and my production (even, at times, my presentation) – but moreover – I’m really pleased to have captured a moment in time as well as a potted history of some of my favourite kiwi music people.

I’m going to be back in New Zealand in July 2012. Wouldn’t it be great to get the chance to revisit these stories, meet with these people, play them the programmes and then maybe get them to talk about the intervening years? That’d be an interesting exercise – for me, certainly.

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UB40’s Signing Off – 30th anniversary

This is the sound of where I live – including the people I work with, like Paul Long, Sam Coley, Jez Collins and Robin Valk; the music of Birmingham and specifically Kings Heath; as well as the characters from around here as well as more recent friends, like Brian from the band.

To say this is an important record around these parts misses the point that this is an important record period. But the fact that it is from around these parts is something that is really significant.

I was lucky enough to be present while Ranking Roger interviewed the members of UB40 at my local pub, the Hare and Hounds. I took some photos while we were there. Here’s the Flickr set.

Listen to the documentary – it’s a great piece of radio production (in large part by a couple of students of ours, Steve and Chris) as well as a fascinating personal story of the people involved. And the music is so great.

My first movie premiere


Jez introduces his film

My friend and colleague Jez (of Dubber and Jez fame) produced a documentary film about music heritage in Birmingham. It’s called Made In Birmingham: Reggae, Punk, Bhangra.

Today was the private invitation-only premiere of that film at the MAC. The one-hour documentary was screened to a cinema packed full of creative industries types and legendary Birmingham musicians, and it was very well received indeed.

In fact, people were so busy applauding and cheering as the credits rolled, we all missed a little quote right at the end. I’m going to have to get hold of the DVD when it becomes available, and find out what was said.

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