Singing without pause

Marco Castillo plays a free show (and not just for the birds)

Marco Castillo's music is as warm and inviting as his personality.

"I love Winnipeg," he says, "and despite the cold it is such a nice place to live; the people are so welcoming and there are so many options for restaurants, parks, and entertainment."

Castillo and his band Brazilian Beats are one of the standout entertainment options at this year's TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival. You can see them live Friday June 13 as a part of the free opening weekend in Old Market Square.

Whether he's playing solo, leading a band, or volunteering, Castillo has been involved with JazzFest since 2007, less than a year after arriving in Winnipeg from Brazil.

"In 2006, after living for decades in Rio de Janeiro, a city with 14 million people if you count the whole region, I was looking for a small city," Castillo says, "and I had family from Guatemala living [in Winnipeg] who offered initial support."

He immediately got right down to business, playing every show and with every artist he could, spreading the sounds of Brazilian jazz.

"In 2007 I got the opportunity to volunteer because of my experience as a musician and backstage, so I was helping during the day and at night I ran all over to the shows."

As he was about to learn, there was already a buzz about Marco Castillo.

"I remember walking into the King's Head and introducing myself to Steve Kirby, and he said right away, "I heard a lot of good things about you!" Castillo recalls.

"I thought to myself, Wow, he is the head at the Jazz Program at U of M! And he is saying that? Looks like I'm doing well!"

The following spring he released his debut album Brazilian Season, topped the college radio charts, and made the move from volunteer to performer.

"[That summer] I had my debut at JazzFest with my band "Brazilian Beats" and I have played every year since," he says. "And now they have a Latin night!"

His 2012 followup album, the samba laden <i>Trip To Brazil</i> fared even better, winning a Western Canadian Music Award for World Recording of the Year. The ever-humble Castillo credited his former bandmates.

"I was spoiled because I played with great drummers back in Brazil, and for Brazilian music you need to have a really accurate sense of rhythm,” Castillo explains. “There are so many aspects that makes Brazilian Jazz unique, not only the accent on the rhythms, that it's hard to define in words."

For Castillo, the words usually follow the music's lead.

While working on a song for what would become his third album, he kept repeating the melody on his guitar, "and zabele, zabele, zabele just came out," he sang.  Zabele is a bird native to northern Brazil.  "And zabele, zable, zabele," he sings without pause between the words, "becomes beleza beleza - beauty in Portuguese.  I had my song."

Zabele was released in March 2014; it’s warm mix of Brazilian jazz and world music, a wonderful break from the coldest winter in a century.

Published in Volume 68, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 4, 2014)

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