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Brazilian conductor Issac Chueke talks culture and music

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Isaac Chueke, professional Brazilian conductor, came to the University at Albany on Wednesday, Feb. 10 to host a talk about the history and importance of Brazilian music and culture. Chueke, who trained in music in four countries, said he “symbolically has a music degree in four countries,” though he got his doctorate of music in Paris. The talk was sponsored by four departments here at UAlbany, the Department of Languages, Literatures and Culture; the Center for International Education and Global Strategy; the Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latino Studies; and the Department of Music and Theater.

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Chueke’s life started out musical, as it was an important part of his family life. However, his family considered music to be a hobby, not a profession. He had to fight them to be able to study what he loved. This led Chueke to cultivate an independent nature early on.

His parents’ opinion on his profession has improved over time. In fact, Chueke seems to be highly motivated by his family. One of his most moving memories of performing was when his wife, a pianist, and his daughter, a singer, performed with him. Though they all have their own careers, he said that it was nice to be able to bring his family and music together.

Besides his family, Chueke is also inspired by his home country of Brazil. He feels a personal responsibility to teach others about the country. He enjoys being a kind of ambassador for the diverse music that comes out of Brazil. This was what he focused on during his talk: the music of Brazil, how it evolved over time and its historical significance.

Chueke seemed to not mind that there was a rather low turnout at his seminar. In fact, he seemed happy to be able to reach out to more people personally. Chueke talked about the history of Brazil, especially how the country was under military rule in the 1960s, and how music was not only a form of entertainment but also a way to express yourself and rebel against the government.

The language of Brazil has been Portuguese for hundreds of years but it was influenced by the many different cultures introduced to Brazil. Chueke believed that “language gives music impressions and rhythm, and a general impression that makes it different.” He also went over different types of traditional Brazilian instruments.

Chueke then brought up some sound clips of various traditional and modern music. Two of the clips that stood out the most were a traditional violin piece, then the same traditional piece but remixed with faster electronic bass beats. The juxtaposition of the same piece in such different styles was nice to hear, and showed how the history of traditional music is not lost in the modern age. This also carries over to traditional dances, such as the samba schools that have annual parades and competitions, of which Chueke showed us some videos. The entire event is focused on how Brazil still honors its past while continuing to progress.

The event ended with Chueke having everyone clap along to the beat of another traditional song. Throughout the entire experience, I was touched by how kind Chueke is. He shook everyone’s hands with a strong grip when they went to talk to him. He listened to everyone, asking them questions, and he seemed genuinely interested. For someone of such international prominence, he was humble, and welcoming to everyone. He brought not only the culture, but the spirit of Brazil with him, with his attitude and personality.

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