Tiptoeing Thru the Tulips with Tulipa!

An interview with Tulipa Ruiz, one of Brazil’s newest singing sensations, who was in London to make her UK debut. We’ve also got some great video from her gig at Momo’s.

Last Tuesday night (29th March) at Momo’s restaurant in London, Tulipa Ruiz made her UK debut. The Brazilian singer, with her guitar-playing brother Gustavo at her side, managed to silence the 80 people who had packed themselves into the confined downstairs, ending on a song sung in a mix of English and Portuguese that filled the room with laughter, suggesting she’s as much entertainer as singer (I’ll tell you what that song was later). The day before I had met Tulipa and Gustavo in the French Institute in South Kensington, an unlikely location until you release that her debut album Efêmera is being released internationally on Totolo records, a French record label.

The album was voted the best Brazilian album of 2010 by Rolling Stone Brasil, and so it’s no surprise that people outside of Brazil are starting to take notice. One of her songs, “Efêmera” has been featured on the new FIFA 2011 football game and another, “Do Amor,” on the excellent Oi! A Nova Musica Brasileira! compilation from last year.

I started the interview with the basics. Is this your first time in London?
Yes, it’s my first trip, though Gustavo’s been here before [he played with Mariana Aydar last year].

Is it the first time you will have performed as just yourself and Gustavo [she normally has a band of five musicians]?
Yeah, it’s the first time with this formation. We left São Paulo for Rome to do a programme for Radiola, then went to Lisbon for five shows…

The Portuguese love Brazilian music yeah?
Muito, muito! We were really well accepted there. It was cool. And we had the ease of language too, which was nice.

Well, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of Brazilians in the crowd tomorrow. How has it affected the songs playing as a two-piece because presumably some, such as “Pedrinho,” would be hard to recreate?
It’s been really interesting with just voice and guitar because the structure of the songs have changed a lot, the harmonies, the melodies. It’s like we’re just playing with the spine, with the backbone of the music. It’s interesting.

Do you have a favourite song on Efêmera?
[Following a high-pitched noise]. Now, I am speechless. I would say on this journey the song “Efêmera,” whose lyrics have seemed most appropriate, has been my favourite song. But maybe this will change.
[Tulipa asks Gustavo for his favourite]
Gustavo: I like “Sushi” a lot. I like “Aqui,” “Efêmera” also.

I was reading a little about your family and particularly your father [Luiz Chagas] who was a famous guitarist…
No, he wasn’t very famous. He was part of a movement that was more specialist, they were like pesquisadores (a word that unsatisfactorily, for me, translates as researchers). In São Paulo it was called vanguarda paulistana. Itamar Assumpção, Arrigo Barnabé, Grupo Rumo were all parts of this scene, and my father was a guitarist with Assumpção. So, my father’s well-known in São Paulo as a musician. Plus, he’s played with me and he plays in bands in São Paulo up to today. He was part of the scene in the 80s and is still part of the scene today.

So presumably with a guitarist father and brother too you had a very musical upbringing?
I studied music from when I was small, I was always playing. Always the house was full of music, records playing all the time. My brother always liked music a lot, my dad’s a guitarist, my mum’s a guitarist, so music at home was always very natural. It was part of our daily culture.

Which leads me to ask why you only chose to start singing at around 30 years of age?
[a short pause] Because… music is something very definite for my dad and my brother. For me, music is more like a hobbie, not a profession. I went to social communication college and journalist college to learn a profession. At this point I did music exclusively for fun. But I always want to do anything, whether journalism or music, without compromise, so when I decided to take a break from journalism and concentrate on music I was already 29, 30 years old.

Was it important for you to learn these professions before becoming a singer?
It increased my capacity to compose, to be able to make my own music and allowed for me to hear composers from other languages also.[In other interviews she has named Joni Mitchell, Yoko Ono and the French chanteuses as influences]

Okay, I wanted to finish on a couple of more Brazil-based questions. What’s your favourite place to play in Brazil?
That’s a difficult question. I think the people in Rio de Janeiro make for a muito quente (very hot) show. It’s really nice to play there. Especially at Circo Voador. That’s a big place, very important, with incredible shows, it’s been very exciting when I’ve played there.

Which other Brazilian artists do you recommend our readers to listen to?
In São Paulo; Marcelo Jenici, Karina Buhr, Leo Cavalcanti, Tiê, Cérebro Eletrônico. In Rio I like Do Amor a lot. Lurdez da Luz also, Rafael Castro e Os Monumentais, Orquesta Imperial, Rubinho Jacobino…

Okay, maybe that’s enough. It should give them some interesting leads that’s for sure. I just wanted to say thanks for the interview and best of luck for tomorrow.

The concert at Momo’s was a huge success, even getting a rave review in The Guardian. Tulipa played the songs from Efêmera as well as “Da Maior Importancia,” a cover of a Caetano Veloso song and her final English/Portuguese/Monty Python rendition of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Hopefully she will be back in October with her full band – fingers crossed!

Here’s a video of her performing “Da Maior Importancia” followed by some photos of the concert taken by Caroline Bittencourt.

Words by Russ Slater. Photos courtesy of Caroline Bittencourt.