Joe Vasconcellos
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Joe Vasconcellos


Band World Latin


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"Banzai: a necessary addition to any music collection"

(despues en castellano)

The accomplished Chilean writer-researcher Fabio Salas, author of various texts and books about rock music, counterculture, and popular Chilean music, comments exclusively for about the most recent discographic work by Joe Vasconcellos, Banzai.

Joe Vasconcellos was never declared a rock musician; nevertheless the intentions of his songs border more on the prototype of latin rock than any other defined model of popular music. In his latest disc, Banzai, Joe has evolved, I believe, a latin pop with a strong anchor in fusion music; as such his songs possess a highly developed elaboration and structure, unique to latin fusion. This is found, for example, in the form in which the harmonic textures, principally the work of the keyboards and guitars, interlace with the evocative melodies of the songs. It`s not a question of simply singing a melody with a certain rhythmic base and joining it with the necessary harmonics that will easily complete the job. Joe's stuff is much more subtle and refined--his songs possess percussive elements of latin jazz, keyboard lines that simultaneously approach American rhythm and blues (not for nothing is there a cover of the Afro-American soul singer Bill Withers on the disc) and the cream of the crop of Brazilian pop. In the end I can't stop thinking of the work of artists like Djavan or Ivan Lins while listening to Joe's new songs.

In this way, our musician composes under a concept of latin fusion pop while his songs continue being decidedly of-the-people and cut from a danceable mold. If the current radio business were a little less polluted and stupefied, discs like this one would form a part of any habitual repertoire or radio station rotation, being that they are commercial in the good sense of the word. By this I mean that they are universal songs that can form part of any space--discografic or radio—without running any great risk.

In regards to this last, it never ceases to provoke a certain anxiety that a consecrated musician like Vasconcellos has had to embrace the status of independent musician to do his work--that in the eyes of the media, his case is now that of an artist "outside the industry"-- when discs like "Banzai" consist precisely of what the industry needs in order to survive: good songs, catchy and danceable, that are sellable without for all that falling into facile simplicity or automatic stupidity. Joe has won his independence but has never separated from his essential proposition: music to enjoy sensually and dance to tenderly and freely. In no case are we dealing with a "difficult" musician who cultivates a cryptic style, or one complicated beyond the reach of the majority of the public… if this is so for one of the established national musicians of the present, what could happen with those who are still waiting for their opportunity while the Chilean music business agonizes in a genuine drought of dinosaurs?

To continue with the album, Vasconcellos shows us a multicolored bouquet of rhythms and sounds. There appeas, one after the other, a Brazilian samba, reggae ("Puro sentimiento"), a soul ballad ("Amor alegria") and even a Columbian vallenato ("Navegando," in my opinion the best song of the disc), all in perfect concordance with Joe`s essential rhythmic proposal. I'm sure that the music of our friend Joe will endure in time as a representative and faithful sound of what these turn-of-the-century years have been (and haven't been) like in Chile. Listening to this disc immediately evokes images of urban Santiago and a young adult public, a little yuppie, a little committed; dancehalls on Friday night and those girls of the Chilean soap-opera type, waiting breathlessly for their date along with their girlfriends at the table across the way. When we listen to Joe, we will always be hearing the soundtrack of innumerable university students, of urban youth, of girls trying to fight their solitude by projecting their beauty and attractiveness, because isn't that what it's really all about? To find yourself dancing interlaced, with an incredulousness that just might give way to the romantic utopia that the “click” produces? What I mean to say is that Joe's music is an incitation to affectionate encounter, to all sensuality. I'm not implying that Joe is a cheesy balladeer of the Marco Antonio Solis type, but a musician who has always tried to offer a discourse of tender humanity, appealing to the body and to the keys of urban identity that his songs distill.

The CD has an excellent level of production with an urban sound through which we appreciate with clarity the separation of instruments, and clearly hear the acoustic space woven by the supporting percussion and bass. Another important detail that must be mentioned is the efficient vocal work of Joe; his lyrics are clearly heard and the mix allows one to appreciate the shadings of his voice, whispering as in "Cumbia Empaqueta," dra - Fabio Salas

"Joe in complete dominion with his new disc Banzai"

(despues en castellano)

Joe Vasconcellos knows how to do a song with a message. “Los peces no gritan” (Fish Don`t Cry) is about the environmental damage caused by the system of trawl fishing used in the Chilean ocean by factories in the fishing industry. With verses like “Put yourself in my place/ and imagine/ nets come pounding destroying and crushing/ the deep sea where you live” and with a music so alive that it seems like the storyboard of an animated clip. From an urgent stanza that puts the spotlight on a fish to a refrain set in a musical ocean, the sound speaks for itself and the chorus is direct and simple:
“For the sake of love no dragnets anymore/ For they destroy everything at their own pace…”

Vasconcellos is consecrated as the patron of the Latin pulse in recent Chilean music, and also as a live showman, but here shines above all a third facet: his character as a composer. The lyrics and music of the songs of Banzai, his seventh disc, are heard more polished than ever, and the singer is well-seconded by his band. The battery of musicians includes the always consummate Ema Pinto on vocals, and guitarists Àngel Parra (of Los Tres) and Jorge Diaz are called in when it’s necessary to play foxtrot or jazz. The luxurious work of Pedro Melo on “Supercancion” does honor to the song’s title and is a direct passport to a voyage on the Loveboat in company of Charlie’s Angels. The Argentine musician Guido Nisenson returns to produce Vasconcellos’ disc as he did in Toque (1995), giving each song an impeccable identity all its own.

Banzai is like those old long-play discs where next to each title is written in parentheses the style of the song. Here the sequence would say, without repeats or mistakes, (samba), (reggae), (bolero), (fox-trot), (soul), (rin), (underwater drum n` bass), (pop), (bossa nova), (cumbia), (rock), and (folk). From the beginning the lord of the manner calls up the nobility, with his specialty of drums from Bahia, samba, brasilian chorus, and the tyrannical bass of Christian Gàlves in “Si te contara.” In “Amor alegrìa” he gives himself the double task of first imagining a bolero and then playing it like a non-bolero: innovative. “Puro Sentimiento” is a pretty reggae from first listen. “Volatil” is a fox trot like Vasconcellos would sing it—rhythmic. The heart of the disc is aquatic: “Navegando” begins as a rin from Chiloe (the folkloric rhythm from the isolated island far to the South in Chile) and changes into a vallenato, pure Latin American fusion; “Cielo azul” is a beach melody composed by the author on his arrival in Chile in the late 70’s, and has the exact air of FM radio songs from the epoch of Steely Dan, like “Really Wanna Know You” or “Stranger”, of Gary Wright or E.L.O. ¨Cumbia empaquetà” is a synonym for rocking in a beach hammock to the rhythm of an exquisite bossa nova. The song that actually is a cumbia is “Circo”: if in “Las Seis” (one of this classics) Vasconcellos entrusted himself to La Sonora Palacios, now he sounds like he’s planning for northern discos, while the reading of “El empampado Riquelme” (by the feature writer Francisco Mouat) proposes to the singer a rock that is blues, Mapuche (the native Indians of Chile), and intense.

Now that we know Banzai is on par with his previous musical disc, En Paz (2004), the picture is complete with the present music, music that concentrates Joe’s joyous and accessible side. Accessible is moreover a literal expression, considering that the CD is available in kiosks in the street at a price close to 4,900 pesos: the best price-quality ratio of the year, to put it in those terms. In Banzai, Joe Vasconcellos is clear. If he has passed turbulent times, here he has dominion. Full dominion.

David Ponce
(translated by Megan McDowell)


Joe Vasconcellos

Joe Vasconcellos sabe cómo hacer bien una canción con mensaje. "Los peces no gritan" se refiere al atentado ambiental que causa el sistema de pesca de arrastre usado en el océano chileno por las factorías industriales de ese rubro, con versos como "Imagínate que para pescarte van con todo arrasando, moliendo allá donde vivo", y con una música tan viva que parece el storyboard de un clip de animación. Desde una urgente estrofa que hace foco en un pez hasta un estribillo ambientado en un oceáno musical, el sonido habla por sí mismo y el coro es directo y simple: "Nunca más redes de arrastre, por amor / porque arrasan con todo a su paso".

Vasconcellos está consagrado como el patrón del pulso latino en la música chilena reciente y como un showman en vivo, pero aquí reluce sobre todo un tercer rasgo: su carácter como compositor. La letra y la música de las canciones de Banzai, su séptimo disco, se oyen mejor terminadas que nunca, y el cantante está bien secundado. La batería de músicos incluye a la siempre absoluta Ema Pinto en los coros y a guitarristas como Ángel Parra y Jorge Díaz si hay que tocar foxtrot o jazz. El lujoso arre - El Mercurio de Santiago

"Chilean Rocker Remains Close to His Roots"

In his homeland of Chile, singer-songwriter Joe Vasconcellos routinely sells out stadiums and sees his albums go platinum.

Outside Latin America, it's another story.

Other Chilean artists, such as the rockers La Ley or Lucybell, might pale next to Vasconcellos in terms of creativity, but they've achieved a higher international profile.

So Vasconcellos has launched his first U.S. tour, which includes several stops this week as part of the 2004 World Music Festival Chicago. "That's why I'm going to the States, to address this [disparity]," he said in an interview Monday. "In Chile, it's a different way of surviving. In a sense, keeping it pure, not having the exposure outside Latin America, has been good. Now that I'm 45, I know how to appreciate [my position] in the music world."

The son of a Brazilian diplomat and a Chilean mother, Vasconcellos is a true citizen of the world, with postings in Brazil, Ecuador, Italy, Japan, Peru and briefly the United States. His music, a blend of Latin folk-rock, reflects his travels, with a multitude of influences: Caribbean (reggae, soca, cumbia), Brazilian (forro, axe, samba) and even points beyond (such as Arabia).

Despite his dual ethnicity, he does not consider himself solely Chilean and Brazilian. "I feel that I am South American," he said. "Here, we're like 'Zelig,' that Woody Allen film. If I go to Peru, I'm Peruvian; if I go to Ecuador, I'm Ecuadorian, and so forth. I like to get to the middle of people so I can learn their [cultural] secrets."

Geographically isolated, Chile lies at the end of the world, but for Vasconcellos, it remains the center of his existence.

"I have lived in a lot of places. At a crucial point, I had to choose between Brazil, New York City or Santiago [Chile]. People in Rio told me I was mad to go there.

"In New York, I would have been lost. But in Chile, there's still a lot to do, to learn. Since I traveled so much in life, I didn't have a true identity, and Chile gave me that. I came back here at a perfect time, when [dictator Augusto] Pinochet was leaving power [in 1990]. In Chile, it's like working in the countryside: Everyone knows everybody. It's a good environment for an artist. I'm useful here. Now I have two kids, I have a family here. I owe Chile a lot."

That mind-set also comes across in the socially consciousness nature of his work. "Even though my dad was a diplomat, he always tried to keep us with people. I might have had a five-star life, but I also had to work for it. I went to public school while growing up in Italy in the '70s. It was a very socially conscious time. There were five left-wing parties, two rightist. You had to find a place for yourself, or you were nothing."

As for many Latin Americans, the assassination of Chile's socialist president Salvador Allende, in a CIA-supported coup in 1973, proved to be a watershed moment for Vasconcellos. "I had to make decisions. I could not go into politics; it would be bad for my dad. So instead I decided to keep very close with people who don't live as we live. In South America, that's a full plate. It's important to me to be on the side that is humble."

For Vasconcellos, another decision has been to remain in Chile and not relocate to Mexico, as other Latin rock groups have.

"There is this myth about Mexico, that you must go there first to make it. I don't agree. I must be here in Chile. It's a different way of living here. I've lived in so many places, I need this point of reference that South America has given to me."
- Chicago Sun Times


Esto es sólo una canción / 1989 ...Re-released 2000
Verde Cerca / 1992 ...Re-released 2000
Toque / 1995
Transformación / 1997
Vivo / 1999
En Paz / 2003
Banzai / 2005

Soundtrack: Taxi para tres / 2001
DVD (live + videos) Al mal tiempo, buena cara / 2003


Feeling a bit camera shy


Joe Vasconcellos is one of the most popular musicians in Chile today. His music, a unique fusion born out of a life of traveling, is dominated by Latin and Brazilian rhythms and completely dispels whatever notion the listener might have of what Chilean music should be. Flowing from samba to cumbia to reggae, sometime all within the same song, Joe also incorporates the music of Chile's native Mapuches into to the mix alongside more traditional blues and pop. Joe Vasconcellos embodies the essence of what is today's “world music”--a fusion of cultures and sounds from around the globe--and channels it through intelligent traditional and pop songs that have made him a superstar in Chile.

Born in Chile to a Chilean mother and Brazilian father, “Joe” (as he is affectionately known in Chile) spent his youth in Italy listening to and DJing Brazilian music. He returned to his homeland in the late 70s and soon joined the legendary progressive-folk band Congreso, with whom he wrote one of their most famous hits, “Hijo del Sol Luminoso” (1985), a song that continues to be heard throughout the country to this day. But after 6 years and much success with the group, Joe once again felt the need to travel, and so he left to go to Brazil, where he studied Brazilian percussion and was part of the great Brazilian singer María Creuza’s group.

Feeling the need to follow his own calling, he returned to his native Chile after 5 years and began a solo career, starting from the bottom as an underground artist with a unique blend of all his influences, charting a territory that was very different from the popular music at the time. A mix of Brazilian rhythms, Chilean folk, and Latin sounds with politically charged lyrics, his crossover success, from a folk musician to becoming one of the highest selling artists in the country, has proven the power of his urban, social and ecological songs. After a string of hit records, his live greatest hits album Vivo was certified 5 times-platinum in 2000 (one of the biggest selling albums in Chilean history), and he has since received numerous awards including being knighted by the Brazilian government, which distinguished him with the Order of Rio Branco for his support through his music of the integration between Chile and Brazil. In 2004 he made his first ever tour of the US, and 2005 saw his music appearing in three major motion pictures in Chile, as well as being the theme song to a hit reality show, as he finished his latest album, Banzai.

His contemporary musical synthesis, rising as the result of an incredible life experience and a sincere vision (regional and at the same time universal), fit perfectly in the Chile of the 1990´s, a society that was re-finding its roots, re-locating itself in the region, and connecting itself with the world. Day by day he is more and more representative, in his eclecticism, of the musical crossbreeding possessed by countries like Chile. In that resides the secret of his local success as well as the attraction of his music for other countries and peoples of the world. In 2005 Joe Vasconcellos released his latest album, Banzai, to great success in Chile. The album will be released in April 2006 in Spain, and he will be on tour in Europe, USA, and Argentina in 2006.