'The most beautiful music': Winnipeggers take on Latin jazz

Papa Mambo with Rodrigo Muñoz, center.

Papa Mambo with Rodrigo Muñoz, center.

The label “Latin jazz,” like many genre labels, can mean a lot of different things.

Unlike other genres, however, the term covers such a wide range of styles, that the differences are comparable to saying someone from Cuba is South American, or saying someone from Brazil is Colombian.

 When you search for Latin jazz, you never know if you’ll find gentle nylon strings and smooth vocals, or an upbeat clave pattern, or something more for dancing like tango.

Despite the challenges in defining it, Latin music is still a popular subgenre in the local scene, as evidenced by the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra and Papa Mambo’s Rodrigo Muñoz playing two sold-out performances of “Fiesta Cubana” at the Winnipeg Art Gallery April 28.

Muñoz said he thinks that labels can be a bit silly, but he’s happy when they help people find his music.

 “Latin is a very broad thing. It refers to anyone who speaks either Spanish, or Portuguese usually,” he said.

“When people hear Latin music, they're usually talking about Latin American music, but it includes flamenco too, from Spain.”

Two of the biggest types of music that fall under the Latin umbrella are Afro-Cuban rhythms – typically from Cuba and the surrounding area – and Brazilian styles of music like bossa nova and samba.

Muñoz said he got his education in Latin music while living in Puerto Rico. He had previously studied classical guitar, and moved to Puerto Rico for three months.

 “I was living for three months and studying with different masters of percussion and arrangement and things like that,” he said.

 That was in 1990. Papa Mambo, now one of Winnipeg’s premiere Latin groups, began in 1989, and started again after Muñoz spent eight years living in Chile from 1993 until 2001.

 “I came back and I started playing JazzFest right away,” he said.

 This year is the 30th anniversary of the band, and they plan on celebrating the milestone with a show in late summer or early fall.

Sarau Carioca

Sarau Carioca

One group that is performing at this year’s festival is bringing an entirely different take on Latin sounds to Winnipeg audiences.

Local bossa nova duo Sarau Carioca is bringing its specific, jazz-influenced Brazilian style to Winnipeg listeners.

The pair, comprised of Luana Cunha and Marcos Martins, perform stripped-down bossa nova tunes, centred around Martins’ fingerpicking guitar style and beautiful vocal melodies.

The duo have made a name for themselves performing what could be considered the ‘standards’ of Brazilian music – songs by artists like Tom Jobim, Cartola, and Noel Rosa – as well as original music.

Bossa nova is strongly connected to the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, a city Sarau Carioca knows intimately.

Although Cunha and Martins each moved to Winnipeg from Rio, they’d never met before they left Brazil. Understandably, since Winnipeg is so much smaller than Rio, they wound up meeting in Winnipeg through mutual friends, and discovered a mutual love for this specific style of music.

 “We realized, why not share that music with Winnipeg and Canadians? It’s so beautiful,” Martins said. “We think it’s the most beautiful music.”

 The pair have honed their craft playing at venues like McNally Robinson’s Prairie Ink, occasionally at  La Garage, and at a new Brazilian restaurant in the West End called Deli Brazil.

 Cunha said she’s not sure bookers know what they’re getting when they book Sarau Carioca.

 “I think they think bossa nova is jazz,” she said. They don't see the difference between bossa nova and jazz, and samba too, I think they think samba is jazz too.”

 To Cunha, like most Brazilians, bossa nova is a fairly limited genre that was created in the 1950s and ‘60s.

 The pair are starting to write, though, and want to add their own unique contribution to the lineage of bossa nova songs.

 “I don't think we're consciously thinking about that [type of tune we're writing],” Martins said.

“With all the influences we have, let's see how it materializes. I don't know if its going to be bossa nova.”

 Both Cunha and Martins said they feel it’s important to share this connection to their Brazilian roots with new friends and family in their adopted home.

 “I think I enjoy playing to the people here in Winnipeg because it's very new,” Cunha said.

“If we were in Brazil, playing what we play, we'd be one more duo, one more singer, you know? But here in Winnipeg, it's different to play for the people who don’t know about our music or what it is.

“When we play a very famous song that everybody knows is awesome, and they're hearing it for the first time, it’s very nice to see how they like it.”

 Sarau Carioca performs Friday, June 21, at Old Market Square.

Jen Doerksen