Yesterday we went to a concert by a local group, Uakti (pronounced whak-tchee), at our local concert hall. Some of their albums are available over Amazon.

This particular concert was to launch their new CD, “Clássico” (no listing for that yet). The album was actually recorded in 1999 but only now it’s been made available. Despite their being based in my city of Belo Horizonte for 25 years this was the first time I managed to see them live. It was an extremely interesting experience. Uakti is a quartet: Marco Antônio Guimarães is the musical director and builds most of the instruments; Paulo Sérgio Santos plays strings, wind instruments and percussion; Artur Andrés Ribeiro plays flutes and percussion; Décio Ramos plays wind instruments and percussion.

This reminds me of the joke that alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, who played with the Dave Brubeck Quartet for many years, used to tell… he said that one day he’d write an autobiography called “How Many Of You Are There In The Quartet?”; that being, he claimed, the most frequent question from his fans. (Here are some more Paul Desmond quotes.) Anyway, since Marco Antônio Guimarães hasn’t played on stage with Uakti for over a decade, only three of the quartet members are usually visible.

Marco is very present, though, as composer, arranger, and constructor of the many dozens of unique instruments that the other Uakti members play. Double marimbas made of hardwood and plate glass are used prominently, as well as many weird contraptions made of PVC tubing, ranging in size from tiny compound flutes to groups of thick 2 meter-long pipes. They also use guitars with unconventional strings and tuning which are used as percussion instruments or stroked by cannibalized bicycle wheels, groups of electrical doorbells glued to boards, surgical tubing stretched over wooden resonators, and so forth. They also play conventional-looking drums, tablas and bongos, but they’re carefully finagled to be in tune with the other instruments. Artur (and sometimes Décio) also play flutes in various sizes, including bass and contrabass.

The music itself is very hard to categorize; it’s not New Age, nor is it really “World Music” (whatever that means). Some of the group’s performances show influences from Brazilian regional music, true. Yesterday they played an extended piece prominently using the modes and musical phrases of the Brazilian northeast; on the other hand, it was listed on the program as “Sonata KV331 in A Major” by Mozart. On other pieces, it’s often hard to list any overt influences. They may use percussion instruments to carry the melody and melodic instruments like the glass marimba to set up the rhythm, then switch this around suddenly. The only American group which sometimes sounds vaguely similar to them is Oregon, although I’m hard pressed to point out specific instances.

It’s a mystery to me why they’re comparatively unknown. It’s very difficult to find their albums here in their native city; most of the ones I have I bought in Canada and Europe. Here’s a long interview with Artur Andrés, and here’s a capsule review of the group.

In all, this is one of my favorite music groups. Very highly recommended. I’ll try to post some photos and album covers tomorrow…

Update: Fixed a mispasted link (to the instruments page).