When we speak about Portugal, we also talk a little about the story of Where The Music Meets. The magazine is based in the most western country in Europe. The people, culture, gastronomy, and wonderful weather are always good calling cards for any tourist.
And it is with this patriotic motto that we enter the history of Portugal and reveal to you a pearl that is ready to break new ground and move from the historic streets of Portugal to the whole world. Grab your headphones, the Criatura will grab you with its new album, Bem Bonda.
From Portuguese to English there are only two or three letter changes in the original word, and that is why we convert the band’s name from Portuguese to English: and from Criatura we go on to Creature. We look at the dictionary: we immediately embrace the imaginary – and we always think of an unusual being, which is only in the minds of each one of us.
And the unimaginable is, in this case, glimpsed. Criatura is composed of ten elements: almost a school class. Acácio, Alexandre, Cláudio, Edgar, Fábio, Gil, Iúri, João, Paulo and Ricardo. The sound convergence between all of them generates a party so perfect that we do not want to leave our feet.
After Aurora in 2016, we turn our batteries back to Bem Bonda. The album unfolds in eleven rhythms of good telling, where each one demonstrates the deepest Lusitanian roots and the most original and cultural things that are done in this great little country.
The name of the record comes from a typical expression used in the lowlands of Portugal, where we find, for example, the largest mountain range of continental Portugal: the Serra da Estrela. Bem Bonda is a changeable expression, depending on the population and the place where it is exposed, which reminds us that enough is enough or that an evil never comes alone.
When applied to the record, it is an impetus of cultural intervention, clearly exposed through each of the challenges the listener is taken issue to face between the first song, Anunciação, and the last, À Mãe. The premise is simple: we must evolve, change behaviours, create paths, but without ever forgetting where and how we came from, leaving our mark and identity as…Creatures that we are.
For each part of the album, a sound, a story of a corner of Portugal. In addition to listening, each song should be savoured. That is what this band gives to us all: a collection of good sayings where we always feel well accompanied and welcome to share what is on the table.
About the Album – Interview with the band
In the mystical confines of Portugal, we find a door. We knock on it, softly. It’s the gang. We’re welcomed and we talk to the Creatures. Excuse us, the Criatura. And nothing better than to be inspired by the ten elements that make up the group, with their good words and unique flow:
[WtMM] Who are Criatura?
Criatura is an eclectic band of musicians, artists and people dedicated to revisiting the popular memory of the territory it inhabits and from it proposes to create music and art that is born from other ways of looking, feeling and being connected to a tradition of a certain population. Music is the starting point and maximum expression of the band, we highlight the 10 nuclear creatures that make up the band and the instruments brought by each one: Acácio Barbosa (Portuguese guitar), Alexandre Bernardo (mandolin, acoustic guitar, ukulele), Cláudio Gomes (trumpet), Edgar Valente (voice, piano, keyboards and adufe), Fábio Cantinho (drums), Gil Dionísio (voice and violin), Iúri Oliveira (percussions and Mbira), João Aguiar (electric guitar), Paulo Lourenço (electric bass) Ricardo Coelho (bagpipes, transverse flute, ocarina and beiroa reed).
Looking at your Spotify bio, we read the phrase ‘…who is dedicated to revisiting the popular memory of the territory it inhabits.’. Which territories speak and how do they influence your creativity?
In our first record we were mainly focused on the Alentejo. It was in Serpa that Criatura was born, where the first album was recorded. At that time Edgar was living there temporarily in order to develop an artistic residence that ended up resulting in the initial formation of the band. We also ended up joined the Choral and Ethnographic Group of the Casa do Povo de Serpa, due to the natural coexistence that existed there. Naturally, the presence of the Cante Alentejano also ended up influencing our music and the narrative we created in Aurora.
The 10 musicians that make up the band, however, come from different locations around the country. And each one brings with them their own language, which derives not only from where they were born but above all from all the other places where they have drunk, eaten and grown up. Basically, we bring roots from the places where we’ve felt at home, which, multiplied, are a lot. Nowadays, most of the band lives in the outskirts of Lisbon, so there’s also a very present electricity in our music. And then there are curiously many of us who were born more in the south of Portugal, in the Algarve region, but there are also those who come from the northern mountains, like Ricardo “gaiteiro”. Or Edgar, for example, who belongs to Beira Baixa, where we find Serra da Estrela (the highest mountain range in continental Portugal). It was because he had an empty house there with a good space for us to work that we ended up going there several times in residence during the composition of this second record.
Without even being intentional in the first phase, we ended up being inspired by that same Beira territory, where we even found the expression “Bem Bonda” that gave name to the record. As time went by we understood that there was a pattern present in this new record that was related to a set of symbols related to the music, the culture, the memories and the popular spirit of this territory and from there we were building even more firmly this narrative. And of course, without ever forgetting all the other places we come from and pass through, as well as those that come to us in various other ways, such as in the music we hear from the four corners of the world. This absorption is something that happens naturally when we set out to simply be and create with what we feel. Sometimes we end up absorbing and expressing what we want, sometimes even what we didn’t know we wanted. In the end, if we understand that it all makes sense, it is because we really felt it.
Are there different sonorities in each of these lands?
Yes, very different. Portugal is a very small country but very rich in terms of diversity. The landscape itself changes a lot, from the north to the south, from the interior to the coast, which is a fundamental factor in the change of sounds that come out of each territory. For example, as we have already mentioned, in the Alentejo there is the Cante Alentejano, where curiously the figure of the man assumes greater protagonism. We can almost see, through the way it is sung, the Alentejo plains and the hot summer sun softening the bodies during the hard hours of sunny work. The campaniça guitar itself seems to carry in its sound that same solar presence, almost like the sounds of guitars played in desert territories in other parts of the world. Anyone feels the warm fragrance of these plains when listening to Aurora.
In Beira Baixa, where we were more inspired in this new record, more percussive instruments like the bombo or the adufe are fortunately still very present in traditions that are still alive. The songs in this region, especially those sung with adufe, are usually evoked by women and have tonal modes and melodic ornaments with a very own spirit, even mystical, also because the music in this region has always been used for religious acts, coming from the matriarchal pagan cultures that preceded the presence of Catholicism itself, which we are now trying to deconstruct.
It is important to mention that although during Salazar’s dictatorship there was a traumatic attempt to uniform Portuguese culture and music for about 40 years, fortunately there was resistance on the part of some people who at great cost managed to preserve their identity, also preserving through music that which most distinguished them. And that is why, even today, the richness of culture and regional music that exists in this small piece of land called Portugal, could be dissected here endlessly.
But going back to the spatial route that influences Criatura, it is important to mention also other more urban influences that exist in our music, even because at this moment a big part of the band lives in the big city, in Lisbon. That’s why you can also feel nuances brought by fado, for example, as well as others of greater electricity. Several of us have other projects ranging from funk, gipsy/balkan, rock, jazz, electronic music, among others, and we accept that all this can also be part of our sound spectrum.
In spite of being rooted in our roots and their immediate connection to the music of the land, or more rural, the truth is that these influences from other parts of the world, or more urban, are somehow taking root in us and contaminating our way of feeling, being and being tradition.
For those who don’t know you – and taking the name of the first song on the new record, ‘Anunciação’ – how can you challenge the listener to embrace your sound?
Above all we can challenge the listener to be well prepared before listening to this record. We challenge him to take care of listening to the album on the best sound system he has at his disposal and to take care of the environment in which he will be listening. It is a record with many different emotions, with a lot of sonic information and with a strong spirit and message. Maybe that is why it makes sense to have a little preparation before listening to it, to listen to it without any other occupations and to keep some time to digest it afterwards. Like a dedicated listening ritual. Of course we imagine that many artists want this attention to be paid to listening to their work. And we are no exception. But besides asking for this because it is our record, we recognize that there is something in it that asks for that time and space
so that you can truly feel its essence. Even because there is in it an “Anunciação” [annunciation] of something that the Creature itself is still trying to discover.
This is your second studio album. After Aurora in 2016, what can we expect to hear on Bem Bonda’
Aurora symbolised the birth of Criatura. From the music to the artwork itself, there is an idea of a formation of something new, coming from the marriage of diverse genetics, allied to a naive will to discover the world and to relate to the land. It is a Creature in an ethereal state looking to find its purpose and also more contained for not yet feeling totally at home.
In Bem Bonda there is a solidification, hence the stone, the mineral on the cover, symbolising the attainment of the first state of matter. It is undoubtedly another state of maturation where we can see that we are all growing, individually and as a collective.
There are also some particularities that mark the difference: in this record Gil Dionísio got together with Edgar Valente and together they composed a good part of the songs, which is felt in a sense, in a way that we can feel the difference. The arrival of Iúri Oliveira to the band also added an enormous strength in the percussions and a palette of new sounds coming from the vast set of instruments he has at his disposal. And the Coro dos Anjos, which joined with their voices a very special energy and arrangements worked with more time and effort by the simple question of coexistence, since the Coro dos Anjos is directed by Edgar and rehearses and coexists weekly.
But above all, the maturation as a group is present in the dialogue with the roots, with the tradition, with an ease that is only possible because there was a previous endorsement of these egregores so that we can now work on them with more depth. Therefore, there is also the courage to bring other types of questions, or other ways of looking and being, not only towards tradition, but towards the social environment that surrounds us and, above all, from each one towards oneself. Then arises the need to review various aspects that are rooted in what conditions us, even in the way we see ourselves politically, which ended up resulting in a sharper critical sense. We are realising more and more clearly that what we do today may be the tradition of tomorrow. That we are creatures that have the possibility to create what is creating us.
What does ‘Bem Bonda’ mean?
“Bem Bonda” was rescued from the linguistic ancestry of the mountains of Beira Baixa. It’s a mutable expression, which depends on people and places, that within the world of meanings reminds us not only that “it’s enough”, but also that, “as if it wasn’t enough”,”a bad thing never comes alone”. The expression, in turn, is presented as an interventionist ode to the alternative of evolution, the need for change, the urgency to imagine new paths, without forgetting where we came from, the memory and the identity of the culture that makes us be the creatures that we are. We bring this expression as a new cleant way to encourage action, for stomping our feet together for a world where we can continue to feel and let others feel, before it’s too late. But we want to do this with love, not just protesting or identifying problems, but by being the solution just by being centre-hearted Creatures.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic, with lockdown after lockdown. Was the process of creating the album complicated?
The process of creating the album, at least most of it, didn’t happen during the pandemic. This is an album that has been composed since 2015, but it was mainly in 2016 and 2017 that we did the residencies from which most of the songs emerged. A good part of the composition and creation process happened still during the tour of the first album, and some of the songs that we present in this Bem Bonda, were even part of some of the concert line-ups. At the end of the tour, in 2018, we decided to take a interregnum and we were about two years away from the stages, keeping our attention on creation and composition, until in 2019 we decided to materialize what we already had and move on to the recordings.
Fortunately for us, when the first lockdown took place we already had the album practically recorded and the quarantine time served us in the best way, to finish the last recordings, edits and arrangements before the final mix. This one was concluded already in the middle of the confinement. The current conjuncture of living with this global pandemic brings with it some blockages and impediments, but it is certain that as long as we continue to have the love that allows us to true dedication, there will always be another space, another time and other ways to give life to everything that fills our hearts.
What is the song that has given you the most joy in creating?
We enjoyed creating them all without exception. But Bem Bonda in specific was a kind of initiation fire of this whole process and was raised by the whole band together in a short time in one rehearsal session, at least its structure and main arrangements. It was a very magical moment, which we all treasure with immense affection. Curiously, this ended up also being the last song to be recorded, so it is without a doubt a special theme because it had this function of starting and closing the whole process. Also because of this, the record couldn’t have any other name.
How have these troubled times been?
Each on our own way. But somehow, together. These are times of immense uncertainty and consequently of revision of many things. Somehow, for us artists there is a certain fascination for these moments of clear urgency for change. We know that the law of impermanence is more evident than ever and this also invites us to imagine new paths.
At the same time, in order to have time and space for the imagination of a place free from blockages where eyes can still shine, the minimum conditions must exist for us to have bread on the table and feel minimally safe. It is difficult to create and think the world when we are only in survival mode. And the truth is that some of us have lived on that threshold. But that is where the strength of the collective lies, in caring for each other and ensuring that we all continue to live lives with dignity and charm. We don’t want to leave anyone behind, because we need a bunch of Creatures available and strong to face other bigger struggles together.
What are your biggest inspirations?
The people that surround us. There is nothing so authentic, palpable and absorbing as them. We are happy to be part of a life surrounded by many people who inspire us and teach us to grow. Without a doubt these are our greatest inspirations. Then, musically, there is the music we hear, which is distinct from musician to musician and which each one brings to the whole.
If you could collaborate with an artist/producer, who would it be?
It would have been José Mário Branco. We can’t imagine another one, just like that. As we won’t be that lucky anymore, we are happy to count on the friendship and wisdom of master António Pinheiro da Silva, a living legend of sound in Portugal, curiously also an eternal friend of José Mário. Tó was the one who mixed and mastered our two records. Although he wasn’t their producer, we have learnt a lot of things with him that has helped us to be independent in that aspect. And that’s probably how we want to continue producing our records, autonomously.
What have you been listening to recently?
There are many of us and the best thing is that each one listens to very different things. The best way for us to answer that question will be soon when we put on Bando (website) and on our spotify the personal playlists of each member of the band, which we will update constantly.
As a band, what is your biggest dream?
At this moment, the biggest dream is to play again for an audience full of people, without masks or restrictions, where everybody sweats, jumps and feels, without fears.
To feel that smell of Criatura that fuses the public and the stage and confirms that we are all together, really. It seems that it’s not much to ask, but at this moment it’s already a lot and that’s all we can imagine.
Twenty/thirty years from now, you look back at your artistic career. Where would you be at that moment?
The way we’ve been going, we might be releasing our 7th album! And we hope at that moment we will still be looking for other ways to look at life and the music we make. By that time there will already be generations born after Criatura itself and it is nice to imagine that they can still listen to our music, who knows even with a redoubled enthusiasm. Our music was made with a will to be timeless, so if that happens, it will be a sign that we have done things right. We hope that some of our songs may have passed from generation to generation and have been played in many different ways by many other people. In the end, that’s the biggest goal of popular music: to become popular. And of course, across borders, that we may have made the world more aware of the identity of Portuguese music and culture.
Besides that, we hope that there is still health and freedom inside and outside of each one of us. We are very friendly with each other, it will be beautiful to be able to be well, in the greatest simplicity, and that this work has helped us to grow above all in the sense of learning to be together, connected, even, by the friendship from which all this springs. For the rest, only the mystery of life will dictate where we will be, sure that if this connection exists, there will also be the love that will allow us to continue to live life with charm.
It is also curious to imagine what will become of Bando, the platform that
we launched with this record – that you can access through www.bembonda.pt – in order to create our own community of people who follow, feel and collaborate with the Creature. In 20 or 30 years, we should have done a lot of beautiful things together!
To finish, how would you describe Criatura in one word?
The WtMM team would like to thank the members of the band Acácio Barbosa, Alexandre Bernardo, Cláudio Gomes, Edgar Valente, Fábio Cantinho, Gil Dionísio, Iúri Oliveira, João Aguiar, Paulo Lourenço, Ricardo Coelho, to the representatives of the pack, Joana de Souza Dias and SoulSistar Management and Carlos Parada.
We are all Creatures. We are born, we grow and we die within ourselves. Along the path we travel, we meet many other creatures, with stories, qualities and defects that, for better or for worse, will mould us. And it is this mould that takes shape and leaves our mark on this passage through Earth. The Criatura is already well rooted in our daily life and is, in fact, a greater ‘Bem Bonda’ for the world. From the most historical Portugal to the four corners of the Earth, it is a WtMM recommendation for the years to come.
Listen to the full album: