"I am 100 percent samba; it's in my blood," says Celso Guimarães. This Brazilian-born percussion maestro has been living in Indianapolis for the last few years. As Carnaval season approaches I thought it would be a good time to catch up with Guimarães, who played in one of Brazil's most prestigious samba schools, Acadêmicos do Salgueiro. Celso is now part of an Indy-based hard rock band called Accept Regret, I spoke with the percussionist after a recent gig on the city's Eastside.
NUVO: Tell me how you got into music.
Celso Guimarães: I'm from Nilópolis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I'm from a Jewish family and my father did not want me to play music. He forced me to go to law school, and I did for two years. But the building for the law school was right next to the school of music. One day on my way to law school, I just said "I'm gonna change," and I went to apply for the music school. It changed my life.
I never had any support from my parents. My dad always said, "You can play music for fun, but you'll never make a living as a musician." But I've never had a job in my life, I never worked in a restaurant or worked on cars. I always paid my bills with music.
NUVO: You've played with some of the greatest samba artists in Brazil; how did those experiences come about?
Guimarães: My style is a little different; whenever I played people would always notice me. I played with Elza Soares, Beth Carvalho, Dona Ivone Lara, Jorge Aragão and Leci Brandão. I was just a kid when I played with Beth Carvalho and she was like a godmother to me. She showed me that Brazil is too small for me. She opened up a lot of possibilities for me.
NUVO: You're from Nilópolis, which is the home of Beija-Flor samba school. Why did you choose Salgueiro?
Guimarães: Yes, my whole family supported Beija-Flor. But Beija-Flor are too traditional - - they don't experiment with percussion. Salgueiro had an open mind; if I came to them with an idea about a rhythm, they might say, "Are you crazy?" But they would give it a try.
NUVO: What's it like being in the middle of the samba parade during Carnaval?
Guimarães: It's indescribable. Imagine over 400 percussionists playing together. You could touch and feel the vibrations of the drums. We would play together for hours and we would become like one beating heart.
In 1993, we won Carnaval with the song "Peguei um Ita no Norte." When we finished the parade my father was there, he was proud. He hugged me and said "You made it." It was a nice moment.
NUVO: Soon after that you left Salgueiro - - and you also left Brazil. Why?
Guimarães: I played with Salgueiro for eight years and I needed a change. I went to London. At first I was just playing on the street - - playing my pandeiro, hustling for money. One day I went to a bar and somebody called my name. It was a guy I knew from the favela, Heitor Pereira. He was the guitarist for Simply Red. He said, "What are you doing here?" I told him I was looking for a job so he gave me his card and told me to call him. I called the next day and he hired me to be a roadie for Simply Red.
During their concerts I would pick up a drum and play along from behind the stage. People would see me and say, "What is he doing?" I changed from being a roadie to being a musician in the band. I traveled with Simply Red for almost two years playing percussion.
After that, I came to the United States to play with James Taylor. I played with James for nineteen months and I moved to Cape Cod, Mass. with his band. Working with James opened a lot of doors for me to play with big artists. I played with Sting, The Cure, Elvis Costello, The Wailers, all the Marley kids and many others.
NUVO: What brought you to Indianapolis?
Guimarães: I came here to produce an album for jazz violinist Cathy Morris. She had a project to record a Brazilian album. I worked with her for a few weeks and then I broke my arm and I basically had to stop everything I was doing.
NUVO: While recovering you decided to stick around Indianapolis and you joined a local hard rock band called Accept Regret. Is there a connection between this and your history playing samba?
Guimarães: I'm playing rock and roll now, but if you listen close you're going to hear the samba. The speed is different, it's not as fast as samba - - but it's the same beat. I never change - - I always play samba.
Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's podcast features a selection of some of the best Brazilian music released in 2012.
You can download and subscribe to the Cultural Manifesto podcast on Itunes here.
1. Criolo - Linha de Frente
2. Gal Costa - Segunda
3. Lucas Santtana - Músico
4. Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra - Afrodisíaco
5. Psilosamples - Paiero (Remix Anos Depois)
6. Curumin - Afoxoque
7. Cabruêra - Jurema
8. Metá Metá - Oya
9. Bonde do Rolê - Tilelê
10. DJ Farrapo & Yanez - Carimbó Do Farrapo
11. Pinduca e Do Amor - Isso é Carimbó
12. Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda - Suor da Cidade
13. Maria Rita - A Outra
14. CéU - Sereia
15. Nina Becker - O Céu e o Som
16. Juliana Perdigão - Canto Maneiro