Legendary Brazilian percussionist and composer Chico Medori is the man behind 80’s smooth jazz ensemble Grupo Medusa. Their two albums released in the early 80s blended smooth jazz sounds, popular in America at the time, with traditional Brazilian rhythms and claves. After playing drums and percussion with a series of bands, Chico started Grupo Medusa with bass player and best friend Claudio Bertrami in the late 70’s. Keen to push boundaries and explore new sounds, their music soundtracked a new hope and cultural explosion that was taking place in Brazil at the time. After decades of militarism and a long fight for democracy, a brighter future was materializing, and Grupo Medusa’s musical fusion seemed to tap into the nation’s new consciousness. In the years since Grupo Medusa disbanded, Chico Medori has continued to work tirelessly in his recording studio in Sao Paulo, producing for and playing with a wide range of artists including his daughter Graziella. The band reunited for a festival appearance in 2010 and Chico is planning to start work on new Grupo Medusa material very soon. In the meantime, BBE Music are re-issuing their spellbinding 1983 LP “Ferrovias”, so we thought perhaps it was time to pose some questions to the man behind the drum kit.
(Interview with Chico Medori conducted by Kall do Vale with additional words and editing by Will Sumsuch – January 2016)
Kall do Valle - Firstly, please tell us about your musical influences.
Chico Medori - My main influence was my brother, Valdir Medori, who used to have a band (accordion, guitar, drums, percussion and clarinet) while I was still a child. When I was about 6 years old, I listened to a lot of Brazilian music; samba, chorinho, baiâo, forró and other rhythms of Brazil, as well as waltzes and some music from the USA. The other band members came from a similar background. Amylson came from classical music to Brazilian popular music like Bossa Nova and Chorinho etc. My close friend Claudio Bertrami, who has unfortunately passed away, first learned to play the piano and later also mastered the bass, always playing Brazilian music. As a band we listened to a lot of internationally known music like the Beatles, Rolling Stones etc.
KDV - How old were you when you decided you’d like to be in a band?
CM - I started my musical career when I was seventeen. 2016 sees my fiftieth year on stage! I recorded with famous Brazilian musicians such as Toquinho, Simone, Wilson Simonal, Domiguinhos and Claudia (on the album Passario Emigrante feat. Hermeto Pascoal). I played in a lot of different bands over the years, but after playing in the Jazz-Rock band “Humauaca“ I decided to found “Grupo Medusa“ to create my very own sound, based on typical Brazilian music.
KDV - Did the other band members also play in other bands before founding Grupo Medusa?
CM - Yes, we all gathered a lot of experience in playing with other musicians, we gigged, recorded and jammed a lot with well-known musicians like Amylson and Claudio Bertrami and various Jazz, Jazz-Rock or Bossa Nova bands.
KDV - How and when did you meet each other? And how was the band formed?
CM - Grupo Medusa started as a casual meeting with Claudio (Bertrami) in a recording studio. We always met in the same studio while I was playing with a Jazz-Rock band, but soon we planned to do something completely different, going to a new musical direction. One day in the studio we talked about my ideas and initiated a meeting at Claudio's house, where I played him some of my compositions. Claudio was fascinated and even though he had never composed any instrumental music prior to our meeting, we started working together right away. Claudio composed some of our tracks himself, others we composed together. As soon as we had enough tracks, we invited Amylson Godo to listen and he joined in. A little later Heraldo do Monte joined the band to record our first album in 1980, and when we recorded “Ferrovias“ in 1982, the guitar player Alemâo also became a member of Grupo Medusa.
KDV - How did the name “Grupo Medusa“ come about? What does the album title “Ferrovias“ mean?
CM - Medusa was one of a few options, initially it was the title of one of my compositions, the band members chose this name in a little ’election.’ I came up with the title “Ferrovias“ (Railways) because I love trains! My grandfather used to work for the Brazilian railroad company and most trains in those days had been imported from the UK. Ever since my childhood I've been fascinated by trains and train stations; I can't get enough of them. I've been to France and travelled with the “TGV“ and when the train arrived at my destinations I just didn't want to get off. I took a lot of pictures...
KDV - How would you describe your music, and your sound?
CM - The music of the band is a fusion of Brazilian rhythms, from Baiâo, Forró to Samba, and some influences from African music and Jazz and other North American music. Brazilian culture, rhythm and music is the most important base of our sound.
KDV - Who would you say your music appealed to?
CM - Brazil saw a period of massive political changes during the 60s and 70s, with the end of militarism and the fight for democracy in the 80s. Many Brazilians had high hopes for their new country, more democratic rights and the feeling of something new. They were difficult, but exciting times. Many people showed great interest in culture, they wanted to enjoy themselves. In those days you could turn on the radio and listen to instrumental music, and we were part of that. Our aim was to create music for all people who were looking forward to a new Brazil with great expectations. However, Brazil hasn't changed as much as we hoped and there has been quite some disappointment, yet as a band we reached our aim because Grupo Medusa's music stays alive!
KDV - Which concert or performance remains firmly on your mind as your favorite?
CM - I have got many fond memories of amazing concerts with Grupo Medusa, from our debut at the local public school “Caetnao“ until our final show. Performing in France has been wonderful, because several radios broadcasted our concerts live on air and the audience showered us with positive energy. It was an unexpected and amazing experience to feel the love of the audience. Another very special one was our gig at the Winter Festival Campos do Jordâo in Sâo Paulo. When we left the stage the audience just wouldn't stop applauding, we came back on stage three times for encores, but the audience wanted more and more. It was great , and very exciting!
KDV - What tracks were particularly special to each of you?
CM - I like the whole album but “Pouso em Congonhas“, ”Aduba-lé“ and “Fantasia“ composed by Claudio really stand out. These tracks are very different and I love them a lot.
KDV - If you could have played with any famous musician, who would it be?
CM - If I had the chance I would love to record with the following artists: Al Jarreau, Hermeto Páscoal, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter (the sax player of Weather Report) and of course Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger. I saw many of their concerts and I admire them greatly. Freddie Mercury is another great idol.
KDV - More than thirty years after Grupo Medusa's last release, how do you feel about the music industry today compared with how you found it in the 80s?
CM - The music industry in Brazil has changed a lot since the 80s; in my opinion it became a lot more complicated in the digital age with the Internet etc. In Brazil there's not enough control over downloads and I think we should change how digital music is handled. The money I get from ECAD (the Brazilian collecting society) is a ridiculous amount, forms are not handled correctly and everything seems to be out of control. Times changed and labels aren't supported as much anymore; therefore they cannot sponsor artists as much as they used to. In Brazil a lot of things should change, we can only hope for a better future with better rules and rights for artists.
KDV - You have two albums to your name: ‘Grupo Medusa’ in 1981 and ‘Ferrovias’ in 1983. What caused you to disband after the second album?
CM - The end of the band came when Claudio Bertrami had a stroke and couldn't play anymore. We tried to invite other musicians, but it never really worked out and we just didn't get in the right mood anymore. The feeling wasn't right. In 2010 we re-united for a gig at the Festival ‘Virada Cultural’ in Sâo Paulo, you can find video footage of it on Youtube. The audience loved our surprise show; many musicians and fans (old and new) were there. We plan to record a new album soon: hopefully it'll be ready early in 2016.
KDV - What have you been doing since Grupo Medusa disbanded?
CM - I own a professional music studio in the northern part of the city of Sâo Paulo. I'm still producing and recording my own material, as well as music from other artists or bands that require my expertise and equipment. I released two solo instrumental albums as well as creating two albums with my daughter Graziella Medori. For twenty eight years I worked with the world-famous Brazilian accordion player Dominguinhos, but he passed away two years ago.
KDV - What are your best memories of Grupo Medusa?
CM - My memories with Grupo Medusa are great and I miss those days a lot. Especially the big concerts and the appreciation of the audience: that's been most rewarding. The positive feedback from all over the world on our album is worth more than any money. For this reason I love music, because music connects people and makes the world small without the need for words, especially instrumental music like that of Grupo Medusa. With that in mind, I want to thank God, the universe and everybody who likes our music.