“He is a beautiful cat,” is what I was told about celebrated Brazilian drummer and percussionist Ivan “Mamão” Conti in the process of setting up the interview for this story. And during my eventual conversation with Azymuth founder Mamão, the beauty of his nature is evident. I could hear it across the nearly four thousand miles separating my home in Chicago and the city of London where he is touring with brethren Os Ipanemas.
It is one thing to have an artist simply state how excited he is about a new project or endeavor, but another matter entirely to be able to hear such elation in his voice. When Mamão tells me, “Every day when I wake up, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, for this moment,’” I hear an uninhibited sincerity in his broken English that suggests there is nothing in the world he would rather be doing than making music. And as such, the Jackson Conti collaboration with ubiquitous soundsmith Madlib—born Otis Jackson Jr.—is a legitimate pairing, and a union that makes more sense than, say, the song “Papaya” from their genre-melding Sujinho LP, which sounds something like a broken-beat interpretation of Player’s blue-eyed-soul gem, “Baby Come Back.”
But there are no rules or expectations here. At no point in Madlib’s career has his creativity been defined by any structure or anything resembling normative artistic sensibilities. This is partly why he is successful. It is also what endeared him to Mamão. “It was a great moment with Madlib,” says the Conti half of the duo, also a longtime session musician who has recorded with Roberto Carlos, Marcos Valle, Gal Costa, and a litany of other greats in a career lasting over forty years. “Madlib is a very flexible guy and very clever about what he wants. And he loves my kind of sound—the Azymuth sound.”
In a scene from Mochilla’s 2007 Brasilintime documentary, Mamão is played a version of Azymuth’s “Entrando Pela Janela” from a CD of Madlib’s one-man, multi-instrument take on select tracks from the band’s catalog, and reacts with glee to the work of his North American counterpart. As his interest piques at drum breaks and chord changes, Mamão begins vocalizing and playing the xequere over Madlib’s tribute. The Jackson Conti seed is sown.
Later in the film, Mamão reminisces on a fan unable to comprehend Azymuth in 1972, because, to him, the songs were “twenty years off…twenty years ahead.” We are now thirty-six years ahead, and everything is everything. “The new generation brings back our ship,” Mamão says to me, applying a seafaring analogy from his coastal upbringing in Rio de Janeiro to the sounds Azymuth pioneered over three decades ago. Some aspects—such as sampling—are new to the local culture, but the soul of Jackson Conti unites rhythm and rhythmists in creating one sound and one groove.
“And I’m a happy man,” says Mamão. “It’s my life, and I love this—my life.”