The present formation of Fra Fra Sound has existed since 1998 and its bassist and bandleader Vincent Henar is as solid as a rock. Guitarist Andro Biswane is unique in his ability to incorporate the fingerpicking-technique styles of Africa and the Caribbean with the jazz guitar.
Pianist Robin van Geerke is a master in harmonic tensions. Saxophonist Efraïm Trujillo and trumpeter Michael Simon, both experienced arrangers and composers, form such a tight duo they often seem as one person.
Drummer Walther Muringen not only provides excellent timing but adds colour to both the soloists and ensembles. Percussionist Carlo Hoop alternates effortlessly between modern and traditional African rhythms. He and Robin van Geerke have been members of the band since the end of the 1980’s.
Studio: Hello Vincent, What’s up! I heard from PlatformaBrasilHolanda that you guys had a great tour of Brazil this past June. PlatformaBrazilHolanda.com.br is a nonprofit that promotes cultural exchange between Brazil and Holland.
Vincent: Yea, great, the band was very excited about our first tour to Brazil.
I was pleasantly surprised with the high educational level of the music students we taught and played with.
Studio: Before starting on the trip, How about telling me what’s going on with the band? I know you have a new Cd.
Vincent: Well yea , the new Cd was actually recorded last year(2010). Its called Black Dutch.
Studio: Why Black Dutch?
Vincent: First it’s a political statement about some of the racist ideas currently being associated with Dutch citizens who have some Surinamese background or parentage.
Studio: How so?
Vincent: Well for one, the word Negro is being used to label us. Its being used in a negative way, also there are those in the Dutch society who question the right of people of Surinamese heritage to be Dutch citizens.
Studio: I think this seems to be happening in other European countries and is a result of the majority placing the blame for the economic recession on minorities particularly people of color.
Vincent: Thus the title “The Black Dutch”, the album makes the historical and political statement about our right to be Dutch citizens, and acknowledges our South American and African Ancestry.
Studio: Cool , Some things never change. Well lets talk about the trip. What was the one thing that surprised you the most?
Vincent: I was happily surprised to see the proficiency level of the students at the music schools and communities we visited.
We had gone there to perform, additionally to our surprise we were asked to do educational workshops on the music we play. Our music is a merging of Calypso, jazz and African world traditions. We also gave some introductory lectures and workshops on improvisation.
Studio: How was that received?
Vincent: Well I think our guitar player (Andro Biswane) was possibly the most well received, but I think the students enjoyed all the band's musicians, the pianist as well(Robin Van Geeke). We taught children who were mostly string players. Violinists, cellists and bassists. But we did teach some brass and woodwind players and a few guitarists as well.
Our most effective lessons were teaching the children how to play pentatonic scales.
The Brazilian audiences all seem to immediately recognize the rhythms we play in our music. I think that is greatly due to Suriname being next door neighbors to Brazil
Studio: Did you notice any disparity between the poor and middle class?
Vincent: This was kind of shocking and sad. We visited several poor communities and performed or did workshops. We visited the communities of Cubao and Villa Natal. Both favelas in the district of Santos near Sao Paulo.
The favelas we saw were very similar to some ghettos in Africa that we have visited.
Ironically, I was also struck by the great spirit of the Brazilian people. Even those in the favelas still have a certain happiness and a spirit of aliveness.
Studio: I have that experience every day. It is very inspiring to understand and experience those who have little but maintain a sense of happiness and well being despite their circumstances.
What are your plans for the future with regards to Brazil?
Vincent: Well, FraFra sound was very well received in Brazil. The people danced to our music and I think there are some kindred elements in our approach to composition and performing in relationship to Brazil. I feel our music is different than anything that is going on in Brazil right now in my opinion. We hope to possibly be doing some jazz festivals in the fall or winter, but we will need sponsorship due to the cost of the trip.
Its expensive with the cost of flying. Yet, FraFra Sound has the potential for a great future in Brazil.
Studio: Thanks Vincent.
Vincent: No problem. I am going to send you some videos
Studio: Maybe we will see each other at some jazz festivals in the fall.