Poppy Talk: Jascha Hoffman Plays Tribute to Caetano Veloso

RP: Your previous works have been described as “deceptively simple, deeply weird Pop songs”. You are also working on songs based on recent obituaries, however you are taking a pit stop with Brazilian Tropicalismo. What drew you to Caetano Veloso?

JH: For the last few years my main focus has been on composing and recording my own pop songs. A couple of summers ago at a wonderful Brazilian music camp, I wandered into a beginning bossa nova guitar class and learned a few jazz chords. Since I have been obsessed with Brazilian pop, its harmonic and rhythmic complexity, its melodic genius, its relaxed beauty. I’ve begun to make a systematic effort to delve into the Brazilian repertoire. Caetano Veloso is an unavoidably important singer, songwriter and public intellectual in Brazil.

I am very lucky in that his vocal range is nearly identical to mine. But the real reason I chose him is that I feel a certain deep spiritual kinship for his songs. They take me by surprise, and they move something deep inside of me. I’m doing what I can to respond.

RP: It’s a real retrospective in covering 5 decades of Caetano’s career in a 2 hour show. How did you narrow it down?

JH: A couple of months ago I put together a giant Spotify playlist with every single song that Caetano had ever written, and I listened through them chronologically to try to find the material that moved me the most. Sometimes I picked a song because its melody was beautiful, or because it used a new rhythm, or because its lyrical content was interesting. But mostly I tried to pick songs I can sing well.

RP: You will provide translations for Cateano’s songs at the show at Red Poppy Art House. How much sentiment gets lost in translation?

JH: It’s funny you should ask about translation. I myself have never been a professional translator but I’ve long been interested in the craft of translation. Just last weekend I published a piece in the New York Times Book Review about the challenges of translating humor (“Me Translate Funny One Day“).

In devising my own translations of Caetano’s songs I have found that there are are two distinct types. One is a literal line-by line-translation to give people a window into the meaning of the song, like subtitles at the opera. I’ve enlisted the help of a couple of Brazilian friends to put together a little program that I’ll be handing out to audience members at this show. The other kind of translation is a much trickier task: essentially trying to re-create the song so that someone could sing it in English, using the constraints the melody imposes on rhythm and phrasing and vowels and articulation, while trying to come up with a sort of parallel flow of meaning that doesn’t make a wreck of the original song. It’s hard work!

RP: Your video, “Some Hungry Guy” went viral on Boing Boing, what did it feel like seeing it go viral?

That video was created for me by the very talented Brooklyn director Benjamin Ahr Harrison. He cut up old comic strips from Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland” strip, and animated them to tell a story of a little boy running through a sort of dreamscape of dangers and perils. More recently the filmmaker and science journalist John Pavlus cut up some vintage science fiction films to make a video for my song “Limited“, about a robot that misbehaves because it is misunderstood. In both cases it was really nice to see a good response online to these works that we had put some sweat into, and even nicer to see people discovering the music and staying in touch with us as a result.

Still I have to admit that recently I’ve cecome a fan of the old-fashioned face-to-face model of performance where you wrangle a whole bunch of people into a little room and move some air with them.

RP: What would you like to tell us a little about your upcoming projects? A new album perhaps?

Right now I have a number of projects that I’m excited to be working on. My album of songs based on obituaries is currently in post production with Brooklyn producer Leo Sidran, and I’m working with a very talented video editor to make music videos using found footage from newsreels and other documentary sources to tell the stories of amazing but unknown 20th-century heroes, such as a ping-pong champion, a model airplane builder, a Manhattan Project scientist. I’m also working on a set of songs based on science fiction films that moved me when I was younger, and I’m excited to keep refining those.

As far as performing I am continuing to dig into the Brazilian repertoire, presenting this Caetano Veloso material in New York City in November, and soon hope to hope to present San Francisco with a full set of songs by the marvelous singer-guitarist songwriter and sometime Brazilian culture minister, Gilberto Gil.

RP: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your work.

More about Jascha at JaschaMusic.com

We look forward to theTribute to the Master of Brazilian Songon Saturday October 27th at Red Poppy Art House. Admission is $10-$15 sliding scale, doors at 7:30pm show at 8:00pm.