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Digging Deeper: An interview with Maria Rita Stumpf

For our next volume of Digging Deeper we are honored to be speaking to a musical pioneer hailing from Brazil, Maria Rita Stumpf. Her 1988 album 'Brasileira' album is a deeply moving fusion of new-age electronics, intertwined with indigenous vocals and Amazonian rhythms. One foot in the future, with the other anchored to her Brazilian roots, tracks like ‘Cântico Brasileiro No.3 (Kamaiurá)’ sound as if they’ve been plucked from a contemporary producer’s studio in 2023.

It’s that pushing of the boundaries that gives Brasileira it’s timeless nature. Unique, expressive and pouring with passion, Maria was nominated for one of the most important musical awards in Brazil following its release, but the rising cost of promotion meant that the album didn’t get the wider recognition it truly deserved.

Fast forward to 2017 and ‘Cântico Brasileiro No.3 (Kamaiurá)’ went on to gain cult status with its inclusion on John Gomez's superb 'Outro Tempo' Music From Memory compilation. Subsequently, Maria’s music was pulled into the orbit of a whole new generation of DJs and collectors. It is a privilege that next year, Mr Bongo will be reissuing Maria’s seminal album. It also gave us an opportunity to sit down with Maria and delve a little deeper into her story.


What was life like as a young child growing up in Rio Grande do Sul?

I was born in the countryside in the mountains very south of Brazil in an incredibly beautiful landscape. I have three sisters and two brothers, and we grew up surrounded by nature. My Mother was a great reader and my Father a classical music aficionado. When I was around five, we moved to a little village for the kids to go to school. A place with less than 100 people, a catholic church, a spiritualist center, a little school and the grocery that my Father had, by the only road that crossed the tiny village. Soon we moved to a city of Italian background and lived there till I moved to the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul to study Journalism in the public university in Porto Alegre.

Were your parents musical? What were your early memories of becoming interested and excited by music?

My Mother and my Father were very sophisticated in terms of music and literature. At the same time, we used to listen to the folk music of South Brazil. I always listened to lots of music of all kinds. Elvis Presley was (and still is) the voice I most liked to listen to, together with Milton Nascimento and Elis Regina. Around 14 years old some colleagues, a music teacher and I organized a music festival for students in Caxias do Sul. I started writing poetry aged around 12 and composing using only my vocals. Later, I used the acoustic guitar that I learnt by myself when I was 14. At that time the opportunities were festivals for students or professionals, and we had a group that participated in many such events.

When listening to ‘Brasileira' there’s a clear Amazonian feel, as native instrumentation intertwines with more traditional and contemporary pieces. Did growing up in the mountains of Aparados da Serra have a strong influence on the music you wanted to make?

The Amazonian feeling comes from the natural instruments made using different natural materials, created by Marco Antonio Guimarães and Paulo Santos, founders of the iconic Group Uaktí - both of which I perform with to this day.

The only native instrument in the whole album is a zampoña, a kind of flute from the Andes in ‘Cântico Brasileiro No 3’ played by Elmo Sepulveda. Uaktí had been an essential instrumental group in Brazilian music, performing with Paul Simon, Manhattan Transfer, Maria del Mar Bonet, Milton Nascimento and Philip Glass. Their music should be revisited.

The group finished in 2015 and Paulo Santos one of the founders is still active performing with lots of artists including myself. Luis Eça, one of the biggest names in Bossa Nova and a great arranger and pianist plays acoustic piano in two songs ‘Canção de Barco e de Olvido’ over a poem by great gaucho poet Mário Quintana (who was born in Rio Grande do Sul) and ‘Cântico Brasileiro No 6’. Ricardo Bordini plays many different instruments from acoustic piano, to violin, and lots of electronics with a DX7. At that time synthesizers started to appear, and we were very curious about all kinds of the sounds. Being born in the mountains of Aparados da Serra has not had a strong influence in my music, it is probably one factor of influence among many others.

What was the writing process like for the album?

I had lots of songs written at that time, some of them that I am recording now for a new album to be released soon. So, I did a selection of my own compositions and chose whom to perform each with me.

I had participated in many music festivals alongside doing some different shows till 1985, when I moved to Rio de Janeiro following Luis Eça´s suggestion and to study with him. Brasileira was recorded in Bemol Studio in Belo Horizonte, the four songs with Uaktí Group (‘Lamento Africano’ that I sing alone in quimbundo, a language from Angola, ‘Cânticos Brasileiro No 1’, ‘No 3’ and ‘Rictus’). I recorded with Luizinho and Ricardo in an apartment of a very good friend of Luiz in Rio de Janeiro. He had an excellent Steinway and home recording equipment. There Luiz did his first and probably only incursion into synthesizers on ‘Canção de Barco e de Olvido’. Brasileira is a fruit of friendship, love, and generosity.

How did you come to meet bossa nova pianist, Luiz Eça? 

I first met his wife Fernanda Quinderé, who worked at the National Institute for Perfoming Arts in Rio de Janeiro, when I was acting in the field of production for theatre. That was the area of my son´s father, Julio Saraiva, who created the cover and all materials for Brasileira. He was a very talented architect, graphic designer, actor, and theatre director. Fernanda introduced me to Luizinho as he was known in Brazil and we developed a great deep friendship.  I have images and feelings of recording with Luizinho fresh in my memory to this day. To sing with him had been an indescribable experience because he knew all the feelings in my soul, all the breathes and all the pauses. We recorded together in the same space, no editions.


Ricardo Bordini and the group Uaktí were also involved in the recording of the album - what was it like working with them all?

I met Ricardo Bordini when I was 16. He was studying to be an engineer and in the end was influenced by me, so he says, to follow a music career in the academic field. We performed together for a long time till he decided to go to the classical field of music, and I moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1985. In 2020 we met again in the studio for the recording of my album Inkiri Om where he brought an amazing arrangement for a string quartet for ‘Run Run se fue pal Norte’ by Chilean great composer Violeta Parra and a garage pad arrangement for ‘Hai Kai das Borboletas’. Ricardo is one of the biggest talents I have met in my life and plays any instrument he happens to have in his hands.

In Brasileira, Ricardo did the amazing arrangement for ‘A Cidade’ where he plays all of the instruments (piano, electronics and violin) and ‘Canção da Garoa’, another poem by Mario Quintana, where he did the electronics for my acoustic guitar. He also did the great and inspired arrangement for ‘Felicidade’ a very popular song by gaucho Lupicinio Rodrigues and an electronic register for a harpsichord in ‘Trilhas’. I played guitar for ‘Relhaços’ and ‘Melodia de Veludo’ that got a wonderful new arrangement by Ricardo Bordini with harp, clarinet and cello for my album Ver Tente released in 2022.

The experience of recording with UAKTÍ was a turning point for me. Marco Antonio Guimarães created the basic arrangements and the four guys invented and added much more in the studio. In ‘Cântico Brasileiro No 1’ you have piano chords performed with drumsticks to imitate the berimbau (there is no berimbau in the album at all), hand claps, body percussion and lots of the innovative instruments of UAKTÍ. In ‘Rictus’ the sound that many think is electronic, is a wood box with some holes where Paulinho had glasses of instant coffee that were tuned as you closed more or less the glasses and he performed with his fingers beating the surface of the glasses.

Which other musicians worked on the record?

Only Elmo Sepulved that played the Andean Zampoña in ‘Cântico Brasileiro No 3’ and Everton Dias who did the programming for ‘O Amor’ where the arrangement is basically done with my own voice. I had Mario de Aratanha helping on the mix, he was the owner of a very important label called Kuarup.

What were your musical influences at the time of writing the album? Were there other artists making similar sounding music you were drawing inspiration from?

I think the influences came from many different factors and not only music. But I can identify influence from Milton Nascimento, Kraftwerk, The Chieftains or Ima Sumac, Mercedes Sosa as well as from Mozart, Beethoven, Sibelius…. I used to listen to music from all places such as Camboja, or the Gamelan from Bali, indigenous and folk or popular music from the whole of Brasil in the collection of Marcus Pereira, Indian, Iranian, the list goes on.

‘Cântico Brasileiro No.3 (Kamaiurá)’ sounds like it could have been made by an electronic producer in 2023. Did you feel it was ahead of its time and was there a significance in opening the album with this track?

This song had been performed in a music festival in 1984. The recording done live is in my album Ver Tente and it was played with bottles being blown, flutes, lots of voices by Zé Caradipia, and percussion. The audience went crazy for it. When playing live shows ‘Cântico Brasileiro No 3’ was always the closure.

I wrote this song in 1978 when there was a big conflict happening in the south of Brazil with the Kaingangs, due to their land being invaded by the agro business. All indigenous people in Brazil were in danger, as we were at the end of military dictatorship that started in 1964. The Kamaiurás live in the north, so I made the connection and the song is claiming for their word to be listened to and for their land to be respected. It had to be the song to open the album when it finally came to existence in 1987, as it was of urgent importance to get attention for the indigenous situation. An issue that is critical to this very day. I think it is successful all around because it came from the guts and is very sincere. Many people feel that the whole of the Brasileira album was ahead of its time.

How was the album received when it was released?

I received a nomination as Revelation in the most important music award in Brazil. The album got a decent coverage in the press but at that time, things were very different from now and promotion was too expensive with it all being done independently.

What made you make the decision to leave the stage and focus on your cultural and arts agency Antares? 

It was very difficult to earn enough money to live on with my style of music and also to be musicians on the road. Plus, Ricardo Bordini was living in Bahia, I was in Rio. My music was not easy to be performed and understood. Fortunately, I have Ricardo back in my life at least for recordings and met Danilo Andrade and they are a perfect read on me and my music. My process of creation is totally intuitive. Although I studied music, I compose not in writing. It is all in my head and voice.

We read that Millos Kaiser’s dad, Beto, worked as technical director at your agency for many years and that Millos had been playing your tracks without knowing it was the same Maria Rita whom his father worked with. Has this renewed interest from current DJs and producers like Millos and John Gomez been a surprise to you or did you always feel the album was due more recognition?

To be frank, I never thought whether it deserved more recognition or not. I know that John Gomez thought so and did Outro Tempo. He always said that my album was the inspiration for him to create the compilation when he found it in Japan. I have no idea at all how it went so far, as it was never released out of Brazil before 2017. In any case of course it has been a surprise, although sometimes I found my second album Map of the Clouds selling online from different places, all pirate copies. The interest of vinyl collectors has been decisive as well for Brasileira to come back to life.


Did that recognition reignite your passion for music and give you the spark to start writing and performing again?

To perform yes, to write no. I wrote Inkiri Om that is called Cântico Brasileiro No 7 as well after that and not much more. I will perhaps start writing again, I need to make time for that to happen.

Has the way you approach music changed in the past 30 years?

I think so but it is subtle and not easy to put in words. There is a point in life when one feels there is nothing else to be said. The words had always appeared before in the music I create. Let´s see what the future brings.

What projects are you working on that we can look forward to in the future?

I am recording a new album with the great pianist, Danilo Andrade, that has played on stage with me since 2017. We first met at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival in São Paulo, for the release of the compilation Outro Tempo, organized by DJ John Gomez for Music From Memory. He performed on my album Inkiri Om recorded in 2019 in Canção das Horas, did the amazing arrangement for Sete Cenas de Imyra, by great composer Taiguara and played piano and electronics in some other songs. Later he performed in Pavão Misteryozo, a very well-known song from the ‘70s by Ednardo, my composition Vertente (Stream or strand) that  names the album Ver Tente (translation See Try) recorded and released  in 2022. The repertory of this album was selected among my compositions from the 70’s that I never recorded. And some songs by very good Brazilian composers.

A big thank you to Maria for taking the time to speak to us for this feature. Our forthcoming reissue of Brasileira is available for pre-order here - shipping 9th February 2024.

Make sure follow Maria on Instagram and Youtube for the latest updates on what she has got in the works.