A resident in the German capital for 20 years now, the double bass player is an important figure of Portuguese music on the European jazz scene. He talks to us about his life, experiences and musical career.
Before he wanted to be a jazz musician, Carlos Bica (Lisbon, 1958) wanted to be a musician. He never imagined that this desire would lead him to take up residence in Berlin as a respected double bass player. There were no musicians in his family and “I never thought I would play that role. In fact, I saw musicians as untouchable beings”. It was actually his father who paid for his course at the Academia de Amadores de Música as a reward for getting into university. “It was one of the most important days of my life. I walked into the small auditorium and the person who would be my double bass teacher was playing on stage. I told him that I didn’t know what instrument to sign up for. He said “Show me your hands”, and then just said, “See you tomorrow then””. That’s how his musical career began, as he spent his all time at the Academia: “I studied a lot initially. I finally had what I wanted and it hadn’t been given to me on a plate. I was in seventh heaven”.
After playing in the Orquestra Sinfónica Juvenil and the Orquestra de Câmara de Lisboa, in 1981, he found himself in Berlin with the World Youth Orchestra “with young people from all over the world”. He felt “immediately at home” in the city, although it was very different to what it is like now. At the end of that year, he got a grant from the German government to attend the University of Music Würzburg, in Northern Bavaria, which he extended as long as he was able to. He managed to get a visa to stay in the country via the jazz singer Maria João’s agency, who he toured with in 1985.
While a member of a number of German chamber orchestras, he played in a Brazilian music group and did free jazz sessions. “It was a great learning experience”. At the same time he stsrted making music with the German guitarist Frank Möbus and American drummer Jim Black (“two exceptional musicians”), with whom he would form the Azul project that would make its debut at Hot Clube de Portugal jazz club in Lisbon in the early 1990s.
Ich bin ein berliner
A visit to Berlin in 1994 turned his life plans inside out. “I was fascinated. It was the phase after the fall of the wall, it was total freedom”. He managed to get an apartment in the city centre, in Scheunenviertel, the Jewish neighbourhood, which, despite not hiding its historical past, is “currently, the most interesting part of the city because that’s where the cultural scene is”, where he still resides. It was at this time that he decided to start composing. His first work, Azul (1996), considered to be one of the best Portuguese jazz albums ever, is also the debut of Carlos Bica & Azul. The trio, who have already made five albums, have played all over Europe and Canada, as well as the Middle East and India. The man of the four strings recalls a show in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, on the Nile, during a difficult time in the country’s history, where “the reception was incredible”.
Returning to his Berlin routine, Bica concentrates on the music, keeping his much appreciated contact with nature for when he visits Portugal: “I love the sea and the smell of the earth and so I love going to Zambujeira do Mar”. Despite his regular trips to his place of birth, he feels like “a citizen of the world”. In Berlin, he can “easily hang out with other musicians. At the moment, I’m playing with some people half my age”. With the young German DJ IIlvibe, who also contributed to the fourth Carlos Bica & Azul fourth album, Believer (2006), he has done improvised concerts. At Carlos do Carmo’s request, Carlos Bica was responsible for introducing the double bass to fado. He also writes music for cinema, dance and theatre, challenges he finds “very enriching”.
Although he continues to play concerts thoughout the world, 2015 will see a new album from the Azul trio, which has been recorded in the capital of European cultural movida.
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