João Felippe is a Brazilian musician, who is currently studying on exchange at Örebro University. However, he is not just an artist, no, he rescued an almost forgotten instrument from its disappearance: the cavaquinho.
João (31), you are known as a cavaquinho soloist all over Brazil. But still, your instrument is rarely known outside your home country. Try to describe it. What is a cavaquinho? What makes it special? – A cavaquinho is an acoustic guitar – just a small acoustic guitar. Originally it is a four-string instrument. You could compare it to a base. It usually goes with a singer and the cavaquinho stays in the background.
But you are a cavaquinho soloist. In 2017 you released your first album, CONTRASTE. How can you entertain people on stage just with that instrument – without singing? – I believe, I have transformed the way of playing the instrument. First of all, I brought the cavaquinho to different rhythms, like jazz, rock, blues, tango. That’s very unique. I have also mixed the music with modern effects. Besides, since I am a soloist, I have always felt the need to have another string, in order to improvise more – have the opportunity to play a higher variety of accords and arrangements.
So, what did you do? – I started researching, if a five-string cavaquinho existed. And yes, indeed, in 1920 there were some Brazilian musicians who actually played a cavaquinho with five strings. But it was – you could say – a forgotten instrument. Nobody played it anymore!
In 2013, you began an effort to rescue the five-string cavaquinho from near disappearance. – Yes. Since I could not find any five-string cavaquinho, I ended up buying a Canadian mandolin and had it rebuilt by a luthier, who transformed it into a five-string cavaquinho.
How many of these instruments exist nowadays? – Just a few! I would guess, around ten people in Brazil own one – even less.
But you are still the only one playing it professionally? – I would say, I’m one of the few. I have done some research, and I have found around three musicians playing a five-string cavaquinho, but I do not know for sure if they are professionals or amateurs. Since my instrument is really unique, I would say, I am one of a kind! (Laughing)
Actually you wanted to play another instrument, when you were a child, right? – Indeed, at the age of six my first instrument was a keyboard. However, in my first ever concert the keyboard did not work. I got somewhat traumatized. And so I never wanted to play it anymore. (Smiles)
So how did you end up playing the cavaquinho then? – My father, also a cavaquinho player and teacher, used to have a student, who was a little bit older than me. He was really, really good at cavaquinho. One day, I thought: I am the the teacher’s kid, I am his son and I don’t know how to play his instrument. This student was my inspiration, I wanted to get better than him. This is why I started.
Do you still know him? – Yes! We are really good friends nowadays. But, he is not a musician anymore.
In the meantime you developed into one of the best cavaquinho players in the world. This summer you went on a 15-day tour to the United States. You passed through cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. And now you are here in Sweden, in Örebro. Why? – In 2015 I was accepted to the UNIRIO (School of Music) in Rio de Janeiro and started my undergraduate studies in Brazilian Popular Music and Musical Arrangement. Once a student, I found out that UNIRIO has this partnership with Örebro University and that it was possible to apply for an exchange program over here. I have always wanted to be part of a program like this, to study abroad and be in touch with another culture.
“It is just great!” The Musician enjoys studying at Örebro University
But, what convinced you to join Örebro University? – I have wanted to experience a music language exchange. Here you have a greater influence of jazz, blues and rock. That’s important for me, since in Brazil I’m usually in touch with latin rhythms. That would help me to develop my own style. And so far it has been a great decision! I’m absolutely amazed by the infrastructure of the University, which is just incredible. The teachers are excellent, and each student has free access to the music campus at any time. And I think, the biggest difference between Sweden and Brazil is, that here we can practice almost every instrument at any time. The rooms are always equipped for rehearsals and practice. It is just great!
You also started a project together with Swedish students. – Yes. I brought one of my Brazilian projects here. Now we rehearse it here with Swedish students as well. I want to exchange knowledge. It is about teaching – and also learning.
João, you like to teach: In 2012 you were hired by one of the largest music education websites in Brazil to teach online cavaquinho lessons. Your own Youtube channel has more than ten million views already. – If there are students who are interested in learning the cavaquinho, I would love to teach them!
Muito obrigado! Thank you very much for the short interview, João.
Rehearsal. João (left) practises with his fellow students