Interview with Rivotrill

The trio from the coastal city of Recife (in Brazil’s north-east) may be unique in that a large part of their music is composed and recorded using exclusively, flute, percussion and electric bass. Their influences stretch from Brazil to Africa and Europe, and their live show combines intense musical innovation with video projections to convey narratives without the use of the human voice.

“We don’t speak English but that’s OK, we’re used to finding ways of delivering our message without words!” says Rivotrill’s bass player, Rafa Duarte. The esteemed Brazilian writer and broadcaster Raimundo Carrero wrote of Rivotrill in 2008, “It’s easy to be a fan of these boys who are full of magic and charm…”

Each member offers their own perspective. As well as playing bass, Rafa Duarte (25) uses effects, pedals and samplers to incorporate industrial sounds and recordings from nature into Rivotrill’s music; he cites Gorillaz and Fela Kuti among his influences. He has been making music with percussionist Lucas Dos Prazeres (26) since they were 13 years old. Lucas uses conventional and melodic percussion, drawing inspiration from the terreiros of the Candomblé religion. Júnior Crato (31) plays flute, saxophone and keys in the band. He is a fan of the folk and progressive rock of Jethro Tull; Rivotrill’s live show includes a version of Ian Anderson’s “Living In The Past”.

Rivotrill performing live:

The inspiration for the name came from Rivotril (one ‘l’): a powerful antidepressant. It is a play on words, taking advantage of the fact that the final syllable, -trill is phonetically the same as the word trio in Portuguese.

I meet Rafa on the eleventh floor of a high rise apartment block in Recife’s city centre. Through the living room window, a trick of perspective makes the Atlantic Ocean look deceptively close. Rafa is bare-chested in a pair of low slung jeans; a haze of tobacco smoke emanating from his corner of the living room.

“Up until now, no one has come up with a name for what we do. Our method of producing is unique and, as a result, so is our music,” says Rafa. Rivotrill recorded their 2008 album Curva De Vento (Curve Of Wind) with world famous percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and contributions from Recife musicians such as Mestre Spok and Yuri Queiroga. The recording alternated between two empty houses in Recife and the nearby island of Itamaracá. Utilizing the ambient peculiarities of each room, they recorded in bathrooms, larders and even recorded the sound of a Djembê drum from inside a water storage tank. “You can hear crickets and dogs on the recording,” says Rafa, “the result is a very organic sound.”

They have recorded a number of soundtracks including the score for the 2007 film Pïrinop, Meu Primeiro Contato (Pïrinop, My First Contact). The film is about the struggles of Brazil’s indigenous people and was awarded at 14 separate film festivals in Europe and North and South America.

Each of Rivotrill’s songs is its own story. “Chuva Verde (Green Rain)”, for example, follows the trajectory of the first raindrop falling on the backlands of Brazil’s water starved sertão region. The composition process starts with the band creating a narrative, then writing a script which is used as inspiration for the music. The videos are produced later with input from the band’s flautist, Júnior Crato.

“Instrumental bands have a reputation for showcasing virtuoso musicians who play millions of notes per second,” Rafa explains, “but with Rivotrill, the focus is on the story and the music as a whole”. Like an orchestra, they use movements to portray scenes such as the passing of day to night. “It can be described as a dialogue between three instruments,” Rafa says, “but, sometimes, we all end up shouting at the same time!”

Rivotrill are from the same city as Chico Science and Nação Zumbi: the band that initiated the Manguebeat scene 20 years ago. Manguebeat was later credited with rescuing Brazil from an identity crisis that was stunting its musical creativity. I ask Rafa if Brazil’s new instrumental scene has the potential to make the same kind of impact. “We convey images in a more abstract way. Manguebeat used lyrics and poetry to spread an extremely intelligent message. We don’t use the voice as an instrument so we don’t have that resource. Ultimately, each person decides for themselves what they take away from our music.” he says.

And they have no intention of using a vocalist in the future. “We’ve all worked in bands with singers and the focus is different, the singer inevitably ends up becoming the centre of attention. In Rivotrill we each have to step up and think for ourselves, making sure we don’t give too much or too little,” Rafa says.

I ask if Rivotrill’s sound is specific to Recife. “Our music comes from the subconscious, it doesn’t have a nationality,” Rafa says. “I don’t know what the connotations are in Europe, but I like that we’re being billed as World Music over there. That’s exactly what we do; our influences are from all over the world.”

The European leg of the tour will be Rivotrill’s first experience of playing outside of Brazil. They will play twelve dates in eight European countries as part of the Brazilian Caravan tour. Later in the year, the tour will take them to the U.S.A. and Canada. It will also include the bands Eta Carinae, Rivotrill, Fim de Feira and The River Raid who, like Rivotrill, are all from the state of Pernambuco.

“In Brazil, there’s still a certain amount of prejudice towards what we do. Instrumental music is pigeon-holed and we’re never put on the same stage as headline acts,” Rafa says, “the fact that we’re travelling with bands that have more conventional line-ups is thanks to an understanding in Europe that instrumental music doesn’t have to be segregated.”

I ask Rafa what we should expect from Rivotrill’s London show. “I can guarantee that whether you’re an adult or a child, you’ll leave our show with a new perspective,” he replies.

by Tom Allsop

Rivotrill are playing at Sounds of Pernambuco at XOYO on Saturday 19th June, part of London’s Blaze Festival.


  1. yelena

    this guys are amazing!!!!

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