An interview with Bïa by Phillip Kay
Bïa Krieger is a singer/songwriter, instrumentalist, dancer, broadcaster and author who has a unique ability to cross fertilise the musical cultures of Brazil, Spanish South America and France. She sings in many languages, and is the possessor of a lovely and beguiling voice which leads the listener into the emotion of the songs she interprets. For almost 20 years she has been enchanting audiences at live concerts around the world, and she has fans in at least five countries. Her music is an exhilarating cocktail of Chico Buarque, Georges Brassens, Jean Duino, Jacques Higelin, Gianmaria Testa and Bïa Krieger. Sailing from the territory of Veloso to that of Serge Gainsbourg, she has entered a new land, one she can call her own.
PK: With so many synapses in the language centre of your brain active, Bïa, which language is the most active? What language do your dream, and create, in? Is it true as I’ve been told that every language in the world has some unique awareness, or expression, that cannot be said in any other language?
I actually live in French most of the time so that language shares my dreams, thoughts and creativity with Brazilian Portuguese. And yes, I do believe each language is a world of its own, and bears a way of seeing and saying the world that’s unique. You have « saudade » in Portuguese, « privacy » in English, for instance, that have no equivalent in French... but then there’s « art-de-vivre » to make up for those!
You seem in your albums to be moving between exploration of your roots in music, and self exploration in some very personal song writing. Is this liable to continue do you think, or will song writing become your main interest?
I’m pretty sure I’ll always love to explore my roots for inspiration, and songwriting will be part of the pleasure when it comes to delivering those emotions. However, my favourite part is just singing, feeling the music, sharing those precious moments with the musicians and the public, whether the songs are mine or not is really the least of my concerns. I’ll have a blast from singing Cucurrucucu Paloma with my best friend Alejandra Ribera just as much as I’ll cry when I hear Edu Krieger and Zé Paulo Becker play to my song Navegar in their unique way.
PK: Your 2015 album Navegar, soon to be released, is predominantly music of your own composition. What inspired these songs? Is there a story about material by other artists which you have included on the album? For instance, are you performing in concert soon with Gianmaria Testa?
I’ve performed with Gianmaria Testa this past year (2014) both in Montreal and in Turin, and I must say it was memorable, for me at least, he being one of my favourite singers and songwriters in this whole wide world. Only singing with Caetano Veloso could beat that for me! As for my new album, it’s a navigation, a cruise, a dance. It was imagined, written, recorded, shared, loved and born between Rio and Montreal, and I handpicked some of the best players around to dance with me two at a time, each song being a real « pas-de-deux » around the voice. Those guys are all amazing musicians and on this album you can really feel their talent, see their colors, as they sail the melody with me. The songs I chose to cover are longtime favourites of mine, the kind of songs you sing to your friends at home, on a warm summer evening when they ask you to pick up the guitar and play a little something. I wanted to share that with the audience, because I love the intimacy, the longing, the sweetness in them.
Unlike some singers who produce rapidly for a market, your albums seem thought out and considered, and your album releases are a few years apart. What are you mainly doing in between albums? Do you spend the time performing, or do you spend it writing songs or do you explore your musical heritage?
Actually there has been so much going on I don’t know where to begin :) Since the release of my « Nocturno » in 2008 and after a year touring with my quintett, I wrote a novel that was published in 2009 in Canada about the dictatorship years in Brazil and my parents’ part in the résistance, taken from the point of view of the little girl I was then. I also became a mother and took a few months off in Brazil to be with my family, which was fortunate because my father passed away shortly after I started touring again, in February 2010. As I had just lost my great friend Lhasa de Sela to breast cancer, that year was very painful and a soul-searching period for me. I toured a lot with Yves Desrosiers as a duet, singing my favourite hartfelt folk southamerican songs as well as other poets : Neruda, Vissotski, and so on.
Then I was invited to work on our national french broadcast (Radio-Canada) on a daily show commenting on culture, politics ans social news. I eventually was given my own musical broadcast in summertime for two years, « Les Escales de Bïa ».
In 2012 I released a children’s album/book that was incredibly fun to write, record and deliver onstage : Pyjama Party. Many concerts followed and you can watch a few clips on youtube that will surely make you smile :)
From 2012 to this present winter (2014-2015) I was touring on two different shows for two different companies : one of them is a tribute to Jacques Brel where I sing Amsterdam and J’arrive, the other is a tribute to Lhasa de Sela, one of the most beautiful accomplishements of my life. I sing Lhasa’s song and dance to them alongside with 18 other amazing musicians, dancers ans singers. We toured Canada coast to coast and will go international in 2016 with this show, called « Danse, Lhasa, danse ».
And that will bring us back to the here and now, with a brand new album ready to be launched on which I’ve been working on and off for the last three years, going to Brazil and back to record, film and photograph the whole trip.
Are you moving to self production? Digital marketing of music has proved successful, as Steve Jobs saw only a few years ago, and theoretically there’s nothing to stop artists selling their work on their own website. Cost as much as it cost Apple to put up material on iTunes. Does that aspect of the business interest you, or would it take valuable time away from performing and composing do you think?
I’m my own executive producer now, which is fantastic as long as I can rely on a crew who believes in me for the commercial part, which I fortunately can. I love having a team and jogging ideas around, building a dream together and making it come true. I’d hate to be isolated during this part of the process. We artists absolutely need to reach out to those who are liable to like our art, they are our oxygen and our ticket to keep riding, so I’m thankful for the crew who’s taking care right now of preparing for my newborn’s commercial birth.
What do you think of markets? There is definitely one in America and elsewhere for Brazilian music. Is there one as well in Francophile cultures for chanson for example? Is this just old fashioned? Do you fall between markets because of your multi ethnic heritage?
I do think I fall between markets and that has been a handycap that I’ve embraced quite willingly. I’ve been living on my music for nearly 18 years now and very very happily, touring many countries, sharing with incredibly talented people and making enough money to keep the dream alive, so I guess that’s what I love : I can’t help being myself, multi ethnic, as you nicely put it. So it really is a case of love me or leave me, because I’m not becoming someone else at this point, and I never look back and say « hey, I should have specialized in this or that ». I chose not to choose ( a single, clearly defined style of music) because I couldn’t, and still can’t ! So there !
With so many musical influences coming to bear on you as you grew up, do you ever feel swamped by these when you try to write self expressively? Your concerns may be the same, but they’re also different, personal. Do you have to avoid sounding like someone else, having interpreted so many?
That was a concern when I started, back around 1996. I felt all the beautiful songs were already written by the best poets and musicians, so how could I dare to compete, and to what avail ? But then I grew bolder and started to write. When my musicians began to tell me how much they loved to play my songs, that’s when I lost any complex and just let my imagination run free.
Do you find yourself watching interesting singers and composers? It seems like you have an affinity with Gianmaria Testa? Is there anyone else? Cibelle or Sylvana Malta or Vania Abreu from Brazil? Other cross cultural singers like Alejandra Ribera? Keren Ann who has crossed the world from France to America? It’s a big world of talented singers for someone who also wants to give due to past influences.
Of course I love canadian Alejandra Ribera who is one of my best friends and favourite artists, as Lhasa was. I love Testa, and Arthur H, and from Brazil I’m a fan of Maria Rita, Ceumar, Marisa Monte, Zeca Pagodinho, Zeca Baleiro, Seu Jorge, besides of course Caetano Veloso who is still my God. And Edu Krieger, who happens to be my cousin and co-producer of Navegar, and who is a most talented songwriter (many female stars sing his material, and he tours with Ana Carolina) and an outstanding 7-string guitar player that you can listen to on 7 tracks of my new album.