Interview: Bandua – Bringing Folklore to the Dancefloor (June 2022)

Bandua (Sara Mercier)

Bandua, ‘electronic folk’ duo comprising producer Tempura the Purple Boy (Bernardo D’Addario) and musician Edgar Valente, take the centuries-old traditional music from the Beira Baixa region of Portugal and re-imagine it for the contemporary dancefloor. It’s the first time these sounds and songs have been repurposed as a Portuguese-language electronic pop record. “We wanted to create something new,” explains Tempura, “while not forgetting where we came from.”

Influenced by pagan and Moorish traditions, Beira Baixa is steeped in ancient culture with a rugged, hyper-regionalised history of folk music. With their symbiosis of folk music and downtempo electronic, Bandua hopes the area’s ancient tradition of storytelling music will find a new generation of listeners.

Rhythm Passport: Hello Edgar and Bernardo. Where are you and what is it like?

Edgar Valente (EV): I’m staying at my place in Lisbon in a neighbourhood called Anjos, which means Angels – so they might be around in the air, somewhere… I live with many musicians. We have a lot of nature and trees here in the middle of the city which makes everything in a green mood, a reflection of the light and plants – some kind of Babylon.

Lisbon is a creative city, with lots of musicians and artists. There are many different communities of people. It’s a multicultural place – the fragrances in the air are very rich and different. It’s a city with a beautiful light and a very inspiring community.

Bernardo D’Addario (BA): I share a house close to Sintra and the beach where I go often to kite surf.

It’s been a busy period and I just feel great! We’ve had the good luck of making something special that people have been reacting to positively and it’s been guiding the way for us. It feels like we’re being led along a path: there’s a breeze that’s blowing Bandua along and we’re trying to keep the flame alive. We are constantly ploughing the fields to plant seeds and make sure we can pick more fruits down the road.

Even with everything else that’s happening in the world, it feels like there’s a nice, solid bright light at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly the door has opened up; it feels liberating.

RP: Nature seems important to you both and the landscape is very present in the album. Is that something that connects you?

EV: Nature makes a lot of sense to us both. We can live around the city, but we need to really connect with nature from time to time.

I sing as I do these days because I started opening up, a long time ago, to nature as something that’s vital to me. I need to see the green of the plants every day, to take my shoes off and put my feet on the earth to recharge and liberate the energy that has accumulated. This work and the relation we both have with life we can call shamanic: a shamanic consciousness of our life, and how we behave and deal with it.

With this project we’re working with the roots of this region [Beira Baixa] where our ancestors are from. Also, we’re bringing the electronic side with the intention of rooting or grounding, which I think increasingly has value for people. Life moves so fast and we are exposed to so many technologies. We need to balance this through the music.

Maybe there’s a person that can’t find a place to put their feet on the earth, but we believe that listening to our music will create a similar effect somehow. I think this is definitely one of the things we are here for!

BA: Talking specifically about the sonic role of nature in our music, the farm or countryside sounds – people working their tools, birds, animals; field workers or bags of grain being carried – by composing these beats I wanted to transport the listener to a place that felt like an open field, with the rustling sounds of leaves in the wind. Field recordings and samples enable this.

It was clear that Edgar and I wanted to make music that’s inherent to our roots and this land that we both share, so I added a bit more of that spice. There was a conscious attempt to create an atmosphere where the listener is transported back in time, when these sounds were a lot more present in daily life.  

But it was a very organic thing, a natural process of musical placement. With Edgar’s musical input, his vocals, keyboards and the adufe percussion instrument, things started to come together. The voice became the glue. 

The idea of fusing a traditional with a more modern route is trying to find a space where they both live together. Where’s the symbiosis? After all, our ritualistic culture of ‘clubbing’ is pretty much the same as the ritualistic culture that the region had many years ago.

EV: It’s amazing how a human being can transform and adapt to its own needs. One amazing thing that happens in cities is the club culture. When human beings can’t connect to nature, they have this capacity of trying to find a wilder nature within themselves.

RP: The album feels like it’s an equal celebration of traditional and modern culture. Electronic music can bring the traditional way of life alive for new audiences. Why is keeping that folklore alive important?

EV: For many reasons. For a matter of identity, so we don’t forget where we’re from.

All the songs on the album are old poems. I believe that the people that made this music had a connection with the earth. The region has a lot of paganism, which I like because people are really connected to how nature is behaving around them; the gods and entities are the natural cycles and rhythms of life. I feel there’s a lot of substantial, essential knowledge that we are increasingly disconnected from. This, I believe, is one of the parts that traditional music can play.

Also, music has the function of connecting people. It’s about community spirit. It’s beautiful that there are songs that everyone knows with stories behind them. The songs came from people passing their time together. I believe these people are more connected to the essence of music and culture in general. They are like these melodies – with the potential of something shamanic, going straight to your heart.

With this specific work we’re based in a region which is beautiful in terms of landscapes, but it’s not just that everything is beautiful. In Portugal we have the coast, and also an inland part of the country which is connected to Spain. It’s a very old and deep problem of this country, politically, economically and socially, that this inland part is usually forgotten in many ways. So it’s also a tribute to open our eyes and say, “Let’s not just look to the big cities, the metropolis, the coastline where everything happens; let’s move inland to the mountains, where the people are often forgotten”.

RP: You’re touring the album at the moment. What’s the clubs’ response to the album and its folklore elements?

BA: I don’t think we’ve had any negative comments regarding that symbiosis between the old and new. Where the folklore and modern elements come together in that abstract conjunction, it’s been received in a very positive light. When we released the first single Macelada, we were commended for making something that wasn’t just a stale attempt at joining folklore and Portuguese dance music; but something that was more exciting and alive.

We are automatically preserving some of this older music – by translating it into a more modern format.

My initial intention was solely to make Portuguese downtempo. I felt there was a hole that could be filled with an identity of Portuguese folklore imprinted on slow dance music. Then everything else came by osmosis. There weren’t a lot of references, or records we could listen to, to build this record upon. Instead it’s my electronic production persona and Edgar’s earthly-connected folklore research put together.

EV: The artist that I like the most is one that lives freely – just creating because it’s part of his being, and so freely that without any expectation it becomes a case study. I feel a little that this is what’s happening here!

It’s quite amazing how we’re attracting the attention of so many people and have been receiving such great feedback on the album.

But we were just simply free. With many of these songs, we didn’t listen to the originals, so we could be completely clean in our interpretation with new melodies. Feeling the word and beat in the background, then working out how I could freely sing the poem without thinking. Just feeling it was the process that made sense to me.

Borboleta Branca came on the second take, the whole song; the first part is the original lyric, the second part is improvised. It was like channelling something. I even felt like my voice transformed. When you really surrender to the moment and trust that you have permission – possible for me because of many years of connecting with these people and this way of singing, the old spirit and traditions. So suddenly I felt permission to sing this poem and who can say that I’m wrong – nobody! I just do it. Things come naturally, and magic happens!

It was a very beautiful process.

RP: The idea of connecting with something deeper links to your theme of shamanism or paganism in the region. What does the deity Bandua represent?

BA: The Celtic-Iberian identity, predominant in pre-Roman culture, was very strong around the peninsula. People would worship Bandua under different names, as both man and woman, and the deity was believed to tie the men together in terms of business and good fortune. It felt right to choose this androgynous entity with the power of bringing people together to give us a name.

EV: Bandua’s androgyny also seemed relevant to the open-minded city and club culture. Bandua was responsible for linking people and their things in a protective way; for uniting people.

So we have this name with us and who knows, maybe it will manifest! We trust somehow that we are meeting this Bandua entity sometimes: there’s a mystery around all of this. We have more and more that connects us with each other and also with nature; it’s about the link, whether we call it God or love – it’s in the empty space, or in our relation with everything. Bandua can transform depending on perspective. This is the magic of the entity.

BA: To me, Bandua is the space in-between; it’s that matter/anti-matter thing, the kind of abstract, invisible presence or force that brings things together. The connecting thread between atoms, that thing we cannot see but we feel… Call it love or whatever you want to, Bandua represents that to me.

RP: What’s next for you both?

EV: I want to be heart-centred, existing as well as I can in all my relationships, and I trust that this will open doors for the real way that I want to be.

Bandua has a lot of concerts; I’m also playing with Criatura – a big band that’s exploring the feeling of being Portuguese for this generation. I have another project called AIÊ with Luiz Gabriel Lopes, a Brazilian singer/songwriter, and we have an album recorded to release in the next year.

After feeling the permission of the land to move forward, I now feel like a guardian of this culture. I’m starting to find more old relations of Portugal, in this case with Brazil. D’Addario is half Brazilian, so we have a relationship with the other side of the Atlantic that is present in our lives. The Brazilian community  has been growing in Portugal since Bolsanaro has been in government; but in this ancestral relationship there are many things to clean and to reconsider. I think this is also the role of Bandua: with this down-tempo music, inspired by artists like Ecuadorian Nicola Cruz – this shamanic electronic thing – we are building a bridge.

We are here with heart, eyes and ears open to understand what work needs to be done, combined with a balance of doing things just because we want to. We trust that the way will be shown to us. Some new creations are already coming. There’s definitely a willingness to fuse the old spirit with modern sounds.

BA: We have some new music in the pipeline, some of which we’ve been playing live. We’re preparing a remix record of the album which will be released, possibly as a double vinyl with the original album.

We’re definitely looking at another year of work, production and creation so we can keep this flame alive and keep tying the knots. We’re stepping away from the slow down-tempo music; we’ll start heading towards the 100 BPM range, to kick things up a bit and keep it going later into the night. We’re also stepping away from the region that we created this music for, Beira Baixa, because we don’t want to tie ourselves to one specific region. Traditional songs will come our way – we’ve always created things in a very natural and organic manner.

I’m really excited to keep on working with this project and to see how far it can go.


Bandua's self titled debut album is out now via Frente Bolivarista. 

You can have a listen to and buy the album HERE, while you can read our review HERE

 

Photo ©: Sara Mercier

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