Crossing boundaries with Bruno Capinan - a Q&A
Bruno Capinan is a Brazilian singer/songwriter based in Toronto who is known for his tender tenor and dynamic music videos. He sat down with Yohomo to discuss the importance of queer community, the rise of right-wing populism, and performing new music at “real real.”
For your last album, Divina Graça, you released “Vicente” as a single. The song recounts intimacy between two lovers who throughout feel distant. There’s something looming over them, something in the way, that keeps them from connecting. Two lines really stood out to me: You describe Vicente as an “angel without sky,” and you bookend the song with the words “my pain.” “Vicente” sounds like a political allegory for queer relationships that are under siege. Is that what inspired this song?
Capinan: I was on top of the hill in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. I went to visit a friend in a small café for some cheeseballs and tea when this guy walks in: beautiful curly long hair, green eyes, a mixture of Brazilian Indigenous and European. I was mesmerized. I fell in love at that moment. Turns out, he worked there. So I’m looking at him and he looked back. We started talking and I gave him my CD; he gave me a free brownie [laughs]. As I walked down to the metro, which is a 20- minute walk, the song came! I got home and played guitar and finished the song.
Looking back, the song was about being on the outside. It’s the experience of seeing someone you want to connect with and the ways it’s not possible to connect, especially as queers. We’re longing to relate to people, especially our generation right now, but we’re so disconnected. The sky is the impossible. I idealize the guy from the café; he’s untouchable, and he actually was.
I never went back and saw him. There’s a bit of political spectrum in that. It’s so honest and open. It’s more political than I can imagine.
I want to talk about your voice. You have this beautiful tenor that’s tender, open, and vulnerable, and you employ it to tell these beautiful stories. But your voice is something that wasn’t always praised. In an article you wrote for the Globe and Mail, you recall your school principal saying you needed to take hormones because it was too effeminate. You were only 12 then, but how did you find the courage to use your voice and trust its power?
There was no way out. When you’re young and faced with bullying since adolescence, you either break or become stronger. I am a creative and was always meant to be one. I don’t think it was because of bullies that I became an artist. But I do reflect on them, and they pushed me to do what I love. I use my voice for young LGBTQ in Brazil and for youth in Canada who are reading this article. I use it so they can relate to it and gather the courage to be who they want to be. It used to be much harder to think about my voice, but those people, the bullies, made me stronger. When people now ask me who is the female singer singing in Spanish, I correct them and say it’s Portuguese and it’s me. I wouldn’t change my voice for anything.
As an artist myself, I have to say I really love listening to and watching your videos. There’s something cinematic about what you do. There’s a sense of drama and theatre in your songs “Vicente” and “Acalanto.” Where does that come from? Do you have a background in drama performance?
I started doing theatre when I was 13 or 14 and noticed I didn’t like working with other actors [laughs]. I enjoyed doing monologues and was in love with being onstage and expressing ideas. It wasn’t about being in the theatre. I wanted more to explore my creative self.
The first films I watched were by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. They were very dramatic and very funny dramedies. So I don’t think much about the video and the difference between cinema and YouTube. I just make a simple video with simple production.
When I made “Vicente” in Rio, it was the same as well: one camera, one production person, one assistant, one videographer, me, and the actor. I added some Brazilian-Afro religion with some intimacy and it made the video more stunning.
One thing I noticed about your videos as well as your cover art is that you feature brown-skinned and dark-skinned folk. I imagine when most people think of Brazil, they think of folks who look lighter. It’s a part of cultural fetishism and how countries promote a certain image of themselves while concealing another for the sake of attracting tourists. Why is it important to you to show darker-skinned folks while repping Brazil?
I was born in Salvador, Bahia, which used to be the capital of Brazil. It’s still called Black Rome because 87 percent of the population is from Africa, and it was the port used to bring them in as slaves. So it’s the place that’s most connected to my roots and heritage. I brought those guys with me on the cover because they’re not just people of colour, but LGBTQ. I met one in Bahia two years before we did the [Divina Graça] cover. We had a thing [laughs] and then met the other two. It was a natural process and natural decision for me to make.
People outside of Brazil are not seeing the true reflection of Brazil. It is very mixed. Southern Brazil is primarily Eastern European: German, Spanish, French, and Dutch. The farther north you go, you see more people of colour.
What’s happening in Brazil right now is a reflection of the denial of slavery. People haven’t dealt with it to this
day. Divina Graça is the album where I wanted to bring that to light. Black LGBTQ are the ones being killed. I’m opening up the dialogue. That means talking about not just romances but the issues with some glamour. We pay a price for being who we are in society, in general, in North America – anywhere! The chances of you getting killed are very high in Brazil.
Some people don’t want to talk about it. They’d rather talk about Brazil as a paradise. We have that, but we have other stuff, too: beautiful people with not-perfect bodies who are not white. We’re a beautiful country but haven’t come to terms with making our diversity known.
You have a performance coming up February 16 at the Theatre Centre. It’s called Performing Progress: real real. This is another great title. Did you come up with the title for the show as well?
Yes, I came up with the title. It’s a play on the word “real” in Portugueses.
I feel like politicians right now, like Doug Ford, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and Mike Pence, with his wife, are using LGBT people as scapegoats. We have to make sure that the people that we know know it’s the best time to look to one another in order to advocate for our rights. There’s so much room to redefine how we connect in our community and the art we make. We shouldn’t be living in the shadow of a society we’ve tried for many years to be accepted by. People want to be accepted into the groups and family, but [cis, heteronormative] people have already decided we’re not normal. They’re trying to decide what we should do in society, which for me is mind-blowing. It’s time for us to take care of us. We as LGBT have a lot of smart people. We can define our community for ourselves.
What can people expect at the show?
Beautiful outfit. Four musicians plus myself: João Leão on guitars and synth, and a string ensemble. Visuals. And this is the first show where I’m performing the new songs for the album. This is their first look into it before I release it in May.
Check out Bruno’s intimate first offering of new music at the Progress Festival on February 16 at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West, west of Dufferin Street on Queen. Single tickets are $25.