Airto Moreira: Bucking Percussive Tradition

His performance on the classic Return to Forever album Light As A Feather was a turning point in Moreira’s career, establishing him as a drum set player. The influence that Moreira and Purim had on the Corea’s music at that time was immense and evident on the timeless track “Spain.” Moreira recalls, “When we were recording Light as a Feather, it was the first time I really felt locked in as a drummer playing jazz. I finally felt that I had become a complete drummer.” When Corea decided to take Return to Forever in a different musical direction, Moreira and Purim went on to form their own group, Fingers, returning to their Brazilian roots.

While he has accompanied many legendary players, Moreira has also worked alongside some of the greatest percussionists on the planet – most notably with the 1991 Grammy-winning project Planet Drum, which included Babatunde Olatunji, Zakir Hussain, T. H. Vinayakram, Giovanni Hidalgo and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. Moreira found that the common thread shared by these percussionists was their positive energy, lack of ego and a willingness to share.

During the ’90, Moreira and Purim formed another Brazilian group with guitarist José Neto called Fourth World and Moreira released several solo recordings, including his 1977 release, I’m Fine, How Are You? The track “Celebration Suite” from that album proved quite profitable, as it has been remixed and become a number one dance track in over 26 countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Moreira has also performed with the Boston Pops Orchestra and on MTV Unplugged with Smashing Pumpkins.

“These guys are the musicians of today’s music and beyond,” he says. “It’s amazing how they can listen to a short piece of music and loop it with other samples to create exciting dance music. They do what I can’t do with this new technology. My daughter and her husband are into this new technology and I have learned a lot from them. I still prefer first-generation sounds, like when you clap your hands or strike an instrument. Once you record a sound, it has already become second generation.”

Nonetheless, his upcoming album, Homeless, will feature some new technologies. Homeless includes a mix of machines and real players (including Moreira’s son-in-law, Krishna Booker, who is, incidentally, the son of Walter Booker). Moreira describes his new direction as “tribal music – a combination of many new styles including a little drum ’n’ bass, hip-hop and what they now call trip-hop,” he explains. “I enjoy working with the new technology and I feel that this is actually my best recording ever. I don’t think I’ve gotten off the path at all with this new style of recording. Everything in this world comes from nature. Even the most advanced microchip for the new computers would not exist without nature. It is the same with sounds. There will always be a place for real musicians creating real sounds, but you must also be open to the new technology as well.”

Perhaps Moreira’s open-minded approach isn’t so surprising when you consider that his father, José Rosa Moreira, was a spiritual healer in Brazil, who influenced his son’s belief that music helps create a deeper spiritual connection with the universe. “Music transcends the material world,” Moreira says. “When a musician plays in harmony with himself and others, without thinking about what he’s playing, then he is communicating on a higher level. When you create this type of energy, that energy is released into the universe and it is felt by others. The music that I enjoy playing projects a positive energy into the universe, especially in a live situation. When the music can lift a person into this higher place, they feel better and they wish they could feel this way all the time. This feeling brings people together and it brings us, as human beings, closer to the purpose of why we were put here on this planet, and that is to love one another. It’s the same way that our spiritual masters have tried to enlighten the people of the world. As musicians, we have the same power to help others. But this is something that musicians must take the time to figure out for themselves. The brotherhood of the world is much more important than fighting and hating each other for greed and money.”

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