From Brazil with love

Brazilian guitarist Marcelo Nami and Israeli drummer Noam Landsman have joined together to provide exciting new interpretations of Nami’s master guitar compositions.

Guitarist Marcelo Nami (right) seen here with his musical partner Noam Landsman (photo credit: OHAD ROMANO)
Guitarist Marcelo Nami (right) seen here with his musical partner Noam Landsman
(photo credit: OHAD ROMANO)
As we well know, people gravitate to Israel for all kinds of reasons.
Some make aliya on ideological grounds and some flee worsening conditions in their country of birth, while others make the move for purely romantic motives. Marcelo Nami belongs to the latter category.
“I came to Israel thanks to my wife,” declares the 41-yearold Brazilian-born guitarist.
“We met 8 years ago, in Brazil, and I started learning Hebrew straight away.” Nami’s Hebrew is, indeed, impressive.
After around a year and a half in Rio de Janeiro, Nami and his wife, singer Dorit Grosman, came over here to make their nest. The couple also made several pre-aliya forays to the Middle East and Nami took the opportunity to perform here and to give the odd master class. It was one such workshop, at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem, which generated a confluence with Israeli drummer-percussionist Noam Landsman.
“Noam was a student at the time and we hit it off straightaway,” recalls Nami. “We started gigging and we worked really well together.” Between February 4 and 25, audiences in Jerusalem, Katzrin, Tel Aviv, the Galilee community of Manof and Haifa will be able to see, and hear, for themselves just how far this intriguing duo has gone in the interim.
There aren’t too many guitar- drum twosomes out there and, at first glance, one would be forgiven for wondering how the two players manage to proffer a harmonic and seamless sound to the audience. Nami says it takes a lot of work, but it is a task he was only too happy to take on.
“One day Noam called me and said he’d like to do something with me, as a trio or even as a quartet,” Nami explains. “I told him I’d be delighted to do something with him, but that I had written some numbers in which I had to play the bass lines and accompaniment, and the guitar part, simultaneously. I just needed someone on drums for the project.”
Landsman wasn’t entirely sure about the plan but Nami got him to come over for a tryout.
“I told Noam we should do some rehearsals and see how it goes. It isn’t easy with just the two of us playing, but it’s really good. We manage to achieve something like the sound of a whole orchestra.”
Nami first got the idea for a bassless lineup several years ago, in Brazil.
“I did a record with all kinds of instruments – double bass, drums, guitars,” he says. “But, after that, I wanted to try to play the bass lines myself, and see how it worked out.”
He had some local instrumental support for the notion.
“There is a seven-string guitar in Brazil, which is used in choro [Brazilian music which evolved in 19th century Rio de Janeiro]. This instrument provides the counterpoint.
Choro doesn’t have a bass instrument. That’s played by the guitar.”
Nami clearly knew what he was letting himself in for before he and Landsman got the current project off the ground.
“I tune the guitar a tone down, so it sounds stronger, and more like a bass. It covers the lower frequencies.”
Nami burst onto the Brazilian music scene at the tender age of 16 and quickly began working with some of the biggest stars of the day.
“I worked with a lot of instrumentalists and vocalists, like [singer] Daniela Mercury, [guitarist- composer] and Chico Buarque.”
It was like a dream come true for the youngster.
“I have managed to work with a lot of my childhood idols. Ivan Lins, for me, is the greatest Brazilian musician. Working with him was fantastic.”
It seems the admiration was mutual and the now the 70-year-old Latin Grammy Award-winning composer has been quoted as stating, “Marcelo Nami is one of the greatest guitarists of the new generation.”
Despite spending most of his time in Israel, today Nami is one of the mainstays of the Brazilian music scene. He has been featured on Brazilian radio and TV, and in leading print media outlets and, for some years now, has participated in the recording of the official Rio de Janeiro Carnival CD, and the Brazilian music community kudos don’t come much better than that.
“You know there are all sorts of economic and other problems in Brazil, but we have the carnival and we have music,” says Nami, whose heart clearly belongs to both his native and his adopted countries.
Over the past five or six years of working with Nami, Landsman has delved ever deeper into the mysteries and intricacies of Brazilian music, specifically the samba genre. While he says he initially struggled to tailor his instrumental approach to Nami’s duo concept, it is a challenge to which he willingly rose.
“First and foremost, we have to be very aware of what each one is playing, and really listen hard,” he notes. “The duo format is very open and exposed. You have the guitar, which is a harmonic instrument, and the drum, which is basically rhythmic but also has a melodic aspect to it. I have to think carefully about how to set up my drum kit, and what percussion sounds to bring to the concert.”
Over the years, Nami and Landsman have played with the likes of Yoni Rechter and jazz saxophonists Albert Beger and Yuval Cohen. Nami has also imbibed the sounds and textures of Middle Eastern music.
“I heard the oud in Israel for the first time, and I try to achieve that sound with my guitar,” he says. “I also try to imitate the textures of the darbouka.”
But it is not just a matter of digging Arabic music and churning it out.
“There are 72 scales and modes in Arabic music,” notes Nami. “I am like a baby learning to talk through this music. But I love it.”
Nami and Landsman will appear tonight at the BYU Jerusalem Center, with Dorit Grosman as special guest; on February 11 at the Culture Palace in Katzrin, with flutist Hagit Rosmarin; on February 18 at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv, with New York jazz singer Tammy Scheffer; on February 20 at Pubella in Manof, with Grosman and Rosmarin; and on February 25 at the Beat Club in Haifa, with veteran pop musician Shem-Tov Levy guesting.
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