Brazil-born Israeli Provides Perfect Soundtrack to World Cup

Percussionist Joca Perpignan collaborated with writers in Rio, but then returned to Israel to record his superb new album, 'Manso Balanço.'

David Bachar

Instead of pulling out the standard collection of samba hits, the people in charge of the World Cup TV broadcasts here should have played “Arrancada,” from “Manso Balanço” (meaning “smooth movement”), the new album by Joca Perpignan. It’s a terrific song with a perfect Brazilian rhythm, performed by an Israeli musician who grew up in Brazil and sings in Portuguese. As the word “Maracana” appears in the song, even those who don’t speak Portuguese will know that it’s about soccer. (The Maracana is the iconic soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro.)

Like every soccer song worthy of the name, this one, too, is about a lot more than sport. “Arrancada” means “bursting out” or “breaking away” in Portuguese. When Perpignan, who wrote the music for all the songs on the album, came up with the tune, he had that word in mind, and no more. He then asked Brazilian songwriter Edu Krieger to come up with the lyrics. “He wrote a song about a guy who lives in the Rio suburbs and works as a delivery boy,” says Perpignan. “Every morning he goes to work in the city, and his dream is to play at the Maracana.”

Perpignan met Krieger – along with most of the lyricists for the new album – at a musical party known as a sarao. These are gatherings of musicians and lyricists who don’t necessarily know one another, but meet at the home of one of them, socialize and play music – including their own new songs – and forge creative ties.

Perpignan lived in Rio from 2004 until 2010. He was born and raised there, until he immigrated to Israel with his family at the age of 15. It was at another sarao that he met Délcio Carvalho – “an old samba man who died about a year ago [November 2013],” Perpignan says – with whom he collaborated on 12 songs that will feature on his next album.

Another lyricist Perpignan met on the party circuit was João Cavalcanti, who wrote the words to the marvelous song that opens the new album, “De partir chegar” (“Leaving Directions”). This is Perpignan’s personal favorite on the CD – in fact, it’s one of the most gorgeous songs to be released in Israel in the past year. The lovely melody flows naturally, the singing is assured, the music is provided by a small symphony of Brazilian percussion, trombone and cello riffs, and more. In short, a sheer delight that’s maintained throughout the album.

The album’s songs were written in Brazil but recorded in Israel. (The album was released internationally last year but is only now being released in Israel.) Perpignan had never intended to come back to Israel, but returned when his mother died, then met the woman who would become his wife and decided to stay. Before 2004, he was an in-demand percussionist in Israeli music, and he continues to earn a living by playing for other performers. In 2010, he started to work in earnest on the new album with the guitarist Marc Kakon and the bassist Uri Kleinman. Other featured instruments include oud, 
cello, piano, drums, along with vocals by Mira Awad and Din Din Aviv.

This is Perpignan’s second solo album and it’s very different from his first, which was recorded in Brazil, with Brazilian musicians. “That was my dream; I wanted the true feel you can only get with Brazilian instrumentalists,” he says of his debut, 
“Entreventos” (2006). “But with the new album I decided that I wanted to tell my story. I was born in Brazil but I have the Middle East as part of my influences. For years I was afraid of this accent” – he’s talking about a musical “accent,” not speech – “and only recently I realized that it’s a good thing, and that I have to go all the way with it. The new album is Brazilian, with Middle Eastern spices.”

Afro-Brazilian rhythm

After his family moved to Israel in the 1980s, Perpignan was a drummer in rock bands, including the Israeli prog-rock band Lord Flimnap. He also played the drums in an entertainment troupe during his army service. “But I very quickly tired of drums,” he recalls, explaining, “I was fed up with being the one who maintained the rhythm.” He switched to guitar, which was his instrument when he entered the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, in the early 1990s. In the end, though, he went back to percussion – “but with the hands, not sticks. I found these instruments to be far richer than a set of drums. The Afro-Brazilian rhythm enthralled me. Maybe it was a return to my roots.”

After Rimon, he spent two years at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he deepened his study of Brazilian percussion but also fell in love with the Cuban version. “The conga [tall