bird songs and tutti frutti twilight zone

“Ukulele i Ja”

Below is an article that Rita Braga wrote originally in English for Vreme magazine (published on 27/11/2014). It was then translated to Serbian by Sasa Rakezic, appearing both in print and online versions. 

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Rita Braga corresponding from Scandinavia

I’m a musician from Lisbon living in Porto, whose musical path is connected to playing in different kinds of places and contexts over the years. I’m writing this article from Malmö, where I performed at a private party in a burek shop owned by Montenegrins, as part of the AltCom festival. My so called “stage” was actually the kitchen desk where they serve čevapčici, burek, kebab… They had no sound equipment but there were some disco lights!

Sometimes you meet strange people and you end up in strange situations. Once I did a concert at a socks shop in Seattle during the working hours. Surprised visitors would look at the corner where they would see a girl performing some songs on a ukulele and they were not sure how to react. In Rotterdam I played at the Magic Bar, opening for Harry Merry, probably one of the most interesting “outsider” musicians out there, and one afternoon I ended up distributing mail from door to door, since Harry asked me for help distributing letters, his day job when he is not working in music.

Touring with music in general can lead you to very distinct realities from one day to another. It’s my favorite way of travelling, and most of the time I move alone with my little ukulele and i- pod making a whole set. Last June I was touring for the first time in the north of Italy: I played at Teatro Altrove in Genova, then I went to a small location in the Alps called Gatti (population: 3?), to play in a former primary school where a hippie couple from Milano started a cultural center (“Lunalpina Fattoria Creattiva”) where they host workshops and different kind of activities. There were people coming from different points from the mountains to see my show, including children and older people, and before there was a nice smell resulting from a focaccia workshop in the next room. I spent the night in Sondrio and next day I arrived in Venice, where the organizer gave me a boat ride and took me to a private party in an ex-greenhouse for Elle Decor Italia magazine at the opening of the Architecture Biennale (something that wasn’t even communicated to me in advance, that it wasn’t a public event), and so to my surpise, this time the audience was the high society from Milan and Venice. Suddenly I had the boss of Elle magazine running after me, and I was walking around with a glass of champagne smiling and cumplimenting people in this very superficial kind of enviroment. It was something like playing at a wedding. And finally the last show was at a nice bar in Milano called Gattò (I play in some “normal” and decent situations, too!).

I spent some period of time in Brazil. In this country not only daily life somehow resembles their TV soap operas, but I also performed in some unusual places, such as in Vila Velha, a town in Espírito Santo . There I played at a gas station, because someone opened a comics gallery and shop there (something like the local “Elektrika” for those familar with the Pančevo underground scene). He put an amp and two speakers outside and I played at sunset for an audience of 15 or 20 people who came to see a show and an exhibition, plus the local workers while they were filling in the cars and occasional curious people passing by.

Something to comment about my experiences outside the old continent, which include Brazil and the US, is that people are living much more in the moment, it’s here and now. The real exception to this phenomen as far as I know seems to be the Balkans, where people are also pretty spontaneous (yes dear reader of Vreme, I’m talking about you too). This different time perception allows changes to happen very fast. I had a percussionist and bassist waiting for me in San Francisco the first day I got there who had already rehearsed all the songs (thanks to the help of Neil Martinson, a great music host in town from whom I had asked in advance to collaborate with some local musicians) and in the same evening we played at The Vortex Room, probably my favorite underground venue where I’ve been, which unfortunately was just recently shut down like many other artist places in SF due to the high rise of rental prices. The Vortex Room resembled a mix of Barbarella and The Jetsons cartoons, very 1960’s “sci-fi” and everyone living in this place looked and acted as if they were in a movie from the same decade as well.

Similar “go with the flow” time structure in the South American continent: on the second day in São Paulo I started a band which I named “Indiozinhos Psicodélicos” (the little psychedelic indians), just few days before I had the first concert, with two musicians I met in Casa do Mancha, a hip DIY venue in town, including Mr. Mancha himself on drums and a bassist, and by the 5th day – the day of the show – we were a band of five: myself on vocals and ukulele, the aforementioned bass and drums, plus two electric guitars and two or three rehearsals, we were definately ready. This newborn band not only followed me spontaneously to Bragança Paulista, a town few hours away, but also to Rio de Janeiro, where the bassist was able to book another show, plus a last performance in SP, with the solo gas station gig in between.

I come from Portugal, so I should state also some facts about my homeland, which often comes as the hardest place to comment since it’s where I grew up. I feel like I had the right start though, back in 2004: the first time I ever performed on stage was in a variety show (the “Sunday Show”), which was happening on random Sunday afternoons, always under a different theme, organized by people from dance and performance and welcoming enthusiastic amateurs new to the scene such as 19 year old Rita. The theme that day was “Repeat”, and everyone was meant to interpret the same song by Elvis, “You are always on my mind”, for which I invited three friends to join me: one just stood on stage the whole time with a lampshade in his head (we were called “The Light Orchestra”), the other was reading a newspaper, and the third one had a Goofy mask and played a saxophone solo while I was singing and playing keyboards with medical bandages on my face and a blonde wig. Somehow we ended up on the cover of the cultural section of El País (“Tentaciones”), the biggest daily Spanish newspaper, with the subtitle “Electro punk is back in Lisbon”. Since then I had many ups and downs – example of “up”: in 2011 I opened for The Legendary Tigerman, one of the most famous Portuguese rock musicians in the international scene, in the coliseums of Porto and Lisbon for an audience of thousands, before I even had my first album released, just solo with my ukulele which would very unlikely happen in such a big venue – and down too, since last year a lot of my concerts were cancelled out of the blue, either due to fundings being cut, or mere disorganization…

And finally: the Balkans! This year I had not one, but two Balkan tours: in April I played 12 concerts across all ex-YU countries except for Bosnia (including Kosovo), and in August I was back in Serbia and Macedonia, ending with the Pančevo Film Festival. I always had the best audiences in these countries and funny enough, Serbia was the first country where I performed an “official” concert outside of Portugal – at Grrr! Comics Festival, 2006. It was also in Pančevo that I performed for the first time as Rita Braga, and not under a pseudonym. And this year I finally played in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Užice and Subotica, after years of just appearing in the South Banat region, including places such as Banatsko Novo Selo.

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live at Too Cute to Puke

The second show in Malmö happened at a club night called Too Cute To Puke which only books female artists. It was their 4th anniversary and I invited some girls I met during the comics festival – from Sweden, Serbia and Bosnia – to join me in some songs. Again a band for one night. A lot of accidents happened on this trip: starting with documents, money and i-Pod being stolen – but at least I had two Carmencitas, one Klaus Nomi and a big Mama with me on stage!