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Q&A with Esperanza Spalding

The bassist/singer/composer on where to go for a samba serenade and what instruments she brings back from the road.

Esperanza Spalding

Homebase: Austin, Texas

Claim to Fame: Won Best New Artist at the 2010 Grammy Awards; chosen by Barack Obama to sing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo; taught herself to play violin by age five

Latest Project: Touring for her latest album, Radio Music Society

Travel Tip: “Keep a journal. Otherwise, I forget the little details.”

Favourite Souvenir: “A pea pod I found in the Peruvian Amazon. It makes a great pencil holder.”

Next Vacation: Brazil for New Year’s

You’re big on Brazilian music. Have you ever visited?
I have a lot of friends in Brazil. We go from place to place in São Paulo, usually to listen to music. In Rio, there are bands of street musicians who walk up and play samba for you while you eat or when you’re at the beach. I really enjoy the openness of their culture.

What are the most unusual instruments you’ve picked up during your travels?
I came back from Morocco with hand percussions, kind of like cymbals. And when I was in South Africa, I got a mbira (thumb piano), which was handmade by a guy originally from Ghana, as well as kosika, a percussion instrument made from dried gourds. I’m going to South Korea and Singapore soon, and I’m hoping to find some cool woodwind instruments.

You sing in English, Spanish and Portuguese. How does that influence your music?
Interpreting a song in Portuguese might let me find things rhythmically or melodically, or with my diction and breathing, that I wouldn’t experience in English. It also demands the exploration into the culture of the song; you have to learn about the language. If not, it would be like an actor reading lines he didn’t understand.

Where do you go when you’re back home in Austin, Texas?
In my neighbourhood, Travis Heights, there’s a great vintage shop called Feathers Boutique. You also have to experience Lady Bird Lake by boat and go under Congress Bridge where the bats live.

Is there a city you’d like to explore more?
Montreal. I’ve visited five or six times but I’ve never really hung out there. I love the vibe, and there’s a flourishing jazz scene all year round.



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