Ed Motta

Following his gig at the Barbican and in the middle of an international tour, Ed Motta speaks about the early stages of his career

Ed Motta remembers crying the first time he discovered his love for Brazilian music. He was 22-years-old and full of guilt.

“I was saying to myself, I’m so sorry,” he recalls. “I was from a generation that listened to music from the US and the UK. We criticised Brazilian music because we thought it was cheesy.

All my friends from school knew more about Black Sabbath than Jobim

Motta’s realisation occurred in New York, in 1994, away from his home in Rio de Janeiro. When studying music with Steely Dan pianist Paul Griffin, he understood the complexities of Brazilian harmonies.

“There’s a stereotype that our music always relates to rhythm, which is quite important,” says Motta. “But the most important thing about Brazilian music is the intricate harmonies and melodies.”

With his newfound interest, Motta began collecting bossa nova and samba records. He was learning about his culture in reverse, listening to the likes of Tom Jobim, Edu Lobo and Guinga.

The most important Brazilian artist though was Chico Buarque. He was a musician who he had been compared to as a student in the mid-1980s. Motta remembers his teacher at the time telling him that while he had not studied harmony, his music was complex like Buarque’s.

“I said, oh man, my God, I don’t want to be like Chico Buarque,” says Motta. “But then in 1995/1996, after I came back from the US, I called Chico and went to his house.”

At Buarque’s home, Ed Motta apologised for this misunderstanding and his musical naiveté.

“I told him, hey man I have to say the truth, I didn’t like your music before. I could not understand it, I had no maturity.

“But now, I love everything you do and it’s influencing my music.”

While Ed Motta had already arrived onto the Brazilian music scene as a teenager (with his 1988 debut album, Conexão Japeri), his discovery of Brazilian music came late.

What was unusual about this fact was that he had been surrounded by it since his birth, as the nephew of the Brazilian singer Tim Maia. A man driven by musical innovations and discoveries.

Rational Culture
In the summer of 1974, three years after Motta’s birth, his uncle read Universe in Disenchantment for the first time.

The book was by Manoel Jacinto Coelh and highlighted the teachings of the religious sect Racional Culture. A cult that asked its followers to exist above previously established dualistic beliefs, and live in harmony with nature.

I remember that period of Racional Culture, even though I was very young

"Man is a vague animal without destiny who was born on this ground without knowing why or what for," wrote Coelh.

Maia discovered the book at his friend Tibério Gaspar’s house, when working on a new double album for the label RCA Victor. He converted to the cult shortly after reading, giving up his insatiable drug habit and red meat.

Maia then transformed his double album into a dedication to Racional Culture. Its lyrics revealed the teachings from Coelh’s book.

Thus, Tim Maia Racional, Vols. 1 & 2 was rejected by RCA Victor for its audience-alienating content. Maia released the album through his own label Seroma Discos and split the profits with the cult.

In 1975, Maia became disenchanted with Racional Culture and returned to drug-taking and red meat. While the album was not popular at the time, it is now considered a masterpiece – having been re-released in 2006 and 2011.

“I remember that period of Racional Culture, even though I was very young,” says Ed Motta. “There is a photo on my Facebook where I’m with him at this time.”

Aside from his ventures into Racional Culture, Tim Maia created Brazilian soul. The sound was a synthesis of American funk and soul with samba and baião, without precedent.

For Motta, his uncle’s musical progress inspired him as a boy and young musician.

I always wanted to be older, to have a white beard like my idols

“The first concerts I used to see were Tim Maia’s,” he recalls. “Since I was a child, he used to bring American soul records to family parties. Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Four Tops; many things. He had such a huge influence on me.”

When Motta was seven-years-old, his uncle bought him his first drum kit. He remembers attempting to imitate John Bonham. “I was very wrong but trying,” says Motta.

As well as listening to American soul, Ed Motta was inspired by rock music. At the age of 12, he became the lead singer of a hard rock group named Kabbalah.

“I was a crazy rock child,” he says. “Everyone else in the group was in their 20s ... To be honest, when I was young, I always wanted to be older. To have a white beard like my idols.”

At the start of his career, Motta was following in the footsteps of his uncle. Tim Maia’s first group the Sputniks played American rock’n’roll. The western influences had permeated both generations.

But when Motta was around 16, a conflict arose between him and his uncle. With his new group Conexão Japeri, Ed Motta gained national fame after the release of their debut album. Tim Maia, renowned for his eccentric moods, became jealous oh his nephew.

“When I started music, I never asked anything from him,” says Motta. “Because I’m a Leo and too egocentric for favours.

“But when I began my professional career, we split because he started making comments. Not on my music but on my behaviour. He’d say, oh he’s too eccentric or whatever ... It was a shame but everyone has their faults. He has his and I have mine.

“I’m happy with the situation now though. I was always sad to see that his brilliant music was absolutely unknown and underrated all over the world. His name is now known and people are talking about him, which he deserves.”

After leaving Conexão Japeri, Ed Motta set off on his own in the early 1990s. It was the beginning of a fruitful period of creativity that has produced 13 albums to date.

But while he has played with the likes of Roy Ayers, João Donato and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ed Motta has always remained a ‘solo’ artist.

The world is shaking all the time because we can’t fix our relationships

“I always found it difficult to work with others,” he says. “At school, I found it heavy to study as a group. I didn’t like listening to other people’s opinions, their reactions.”

Aside from these were the comments made by his uncle, who Motta differentiates himself from.

“What was different with him was that he was difficult to work with,” says Motta. “With myself, when I hear other people’s opinions, it just cuts my inspiration. This is something that I carry in my life today. This is not something good.

“The way our society is organised, everyone seems to be holding a white flag. They appear to be saying, we’re all together, we love each other. But we know this is not always true ... With me, I prefer to be alone and learn by myself. I don’t want to do anything wrong to nobody.

“When I have musicians with me, I write the arrangements but it’s like a letter. Each one reads differently. This is like life because it’s understood differently by everyone.

“The world is shaking all the time because we can’t fix our relationships. Everyone thinks differently.”