Friday, February 3, 2017

Vucina to Veloso - Reconciling Distant Lands

         There is a musical artist in Brazil whose craft has touched and riled his countrymen at least since 1965. His name is Caetano Veloso. On account of how I can see the country from Pacific Grove (in watching Rio and Bizarre Foods??), his art was a part of the friction generated for many decades in the diverse and populous country of Brazil; while his music was, simultaneously, a force that aided to overcome this friction, to ultimately create movement. And movement he did create while immense audiences stood to applaud him as early as 1967. Caetano was a prominent part of the movement of Tropicalia music in Brazil. Tropicalia was an experimental sensation of traditional Brazillian tones and the psychedelic wave of rock and roll produced from the USA and Britain, which, down south (as in really down south), garnered as much impassioned support as it did a wily hatred. Opposition from the traditionalist liberals on Brazil's left wing, as well as the military dictatorship on the right wing, ensured that performances were marred by riotous protest and the banning of songs by the government.
         I would like to believe that this story bears some similarities (as well as some hopeful differences) to the story of local singer, musician, songwriter, and rock-n-roller, Yvan Vucina. This man, nineteen years of age, stands on long legs and shreds a guitar with long arms. His head cascades with caramelized hair that frames a face tan of skin and mossy of eyes. Yvan's mother is native to the area of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the southern hemisphere's largest city, and one plagued by immense disparity of class, culture, and race. Throughout his childhood spent primarily in Pacific Grove, Yvan frequently retreated to the nation whose soil is in his blood. Eventually, with his family, he returned to his matriarchal home. And at home he did feel to a degree insurmountable by any comforts offered state-side. "People are just different there," he says to me as we drink tea in the large, rudimentarily furnished shed in his backyard, walls clad in soundproofing foam. "You can mess with each other, there - that's just what they do. They fuck with each other, call each other names, they have weird terms for everything, they, they speak their minds, y'know? People don't mess around, there. Well, they do, but they're honest about it. They're genuine as fuck whether you like em or not," he laughs. He says this all with an accent distinct to central California. Yvan is also prone to applying eccentric nomenclature to just about most things. For example, a grom is a greasy guy of meager respect, a Wanglo-Saxon is a dick. "Do you know what they used to call me? Alemão. It means German. They call everyone that, who has blue or green eyes, like me, or if you have blonde hair or white skin. You're not American - even though they're obsessed with Americans - you're Alemão. If you're black, you're just a negro. It doesn't offend anyone. Negro just means, like, 'black person' there. People aren't easily offended."
         For those living along most of the California coast, such behavioral tendencies are as foreign as Yvan's mother. I would consider these mannerisms foreign as well, from my Midwestern perspective. People don't grow up here taking a lot of piss and vinegar from the people close to them. Up and down these coastlines, people are laid back in one way or another and therefore very non-confrontational. They aren't easily enthused by friends who act boisterously with each other, or who don't try particularly hard to reserve honesty for politeness.
         I observe this young man in public, as reticent as always, wearing an approachable face. Yet he seems unprepared every time someone excites themselves over his music, but then, alongside his bandmates, he plays his Gibson Les Paul with a zeal few can emulate, and few can earn the privilege to see personally, as I described in my last article. Even knowing him as a friend, Yvan reserves his energy these days to exhaustion via music, and retains an indelible chillness otherwise.
         Yvan lived four consecutive years in Brazil, combined with the collective years he spent there on holiday. In this time, he has amassed a rich library of music. His favorite artists range from the melancholy Nick Drake, the wistful Rachel Rufrano, the varied array of Brasileiro music such as Caetano Veloso and Os Mutantes, to the gravelly aggression of Guns N Roses, the stone-hard blues of Led Zeppelin. In his musical tastes lies a clear contrast between the placid and the momentous, the abstract and the legendary, and of course, the English-speaking world and Brazil.
         Upon educating myself of Caetano's tale, I am only reminded of Yvan. That being said, Yvan is arguably more appreciated in proportion to the magnitude of his listeners. Like Veloso, Vucina has achieved a mystifying balance between the music of the United States and United Kingdom, and that of his homeland, a sonic bridge between them. However, Caetano was a Brazillian embracing American culture to cope with his bleeding kinsmen, while Yvan is arguably an American who embraces Brazilian culture to cope with the burns left by the fulcrum of the two nations.
         Yvan performs at every chance. Sometimes it's just while he chills with his other estranged brethren on any normal night. He also plays at cafes and restaurants, such as Julia's atop Pacific Grove's Forest Hill, where he performs every Saturday. Then he renders molten screams from his guitar with his classic hard-rock-ballad trio called Mental Musk, last seen on Thursday, the second of February, at Planet Gemini in Monterey. When seated with his acoustic guitar gingerly laid across his lap, he picks and strums through open-tunings and intricate rhythms, often modal or in a style traditional to his home nation. He does a cover of a Caetano song, then his fingers flutter through an experimental sedation by sound, then begin to roll like the waves he so loves to surf, in his fervid rendition of a song he calls "Nordic Attack" for its folksy, nord-winter nighttime instrumentals - although the story it tells takes place in Germany, his coming-of-age story, as he wandered solitary and aimless though the nation for two weeks.
         Then he and his bandmates set to sumitting the mighty "White Mountain." This was a song conceived in Mental Musk's infancy. "It's like a metaphor, y'know?" Yvan explains. "Noah Grimes, our first singer, he came up with the idea. There's this hill we used to climb and explore all the time, y'know, Eliot, Patrick, Noah, n I. It was called White Mountain and it was our, y'know, getaway, it was our safe place... One time, Noah began telling us this story about a legendary rock n roll band who just jams the whole way up White Mountain until they reach the top, and we all dug it." He has a notebook in front of him and spins it around to display the contents of the exposed page. There is a drawing of a mountain cloaked in forest and capped in snow, and Yvan's interpretation of the saga lines the rest of the page. It is his employment of this metaphor that distills from him an understanding of the hardship that awaits in the life of a bard. To climb the white mountain, to reach the top, and to rock on by every rock and tree on the way, despite the hundreds or thousands with which they will never cross paths. Upon another slope, Caetano Veloso sits near the peak, admiring the vista and the grace of altitude. Perhaps he will see Yvan and the Mental Musk gang, whether its but a glimpse between the branches or a stark look from a clear precipice. I like to think that one day he will have to see Vucina, because Veloso would only be honored to witness this young man making the trek uphill, to sit beside him and trade riffs and progressions and other experiments in the fusion of rock and bossa nova, the unification of the familiar, the traditional, and the avant garde. They are incarnations of the same quest, and as Caetano prevailed through national scrutiny by the support of his fans, Yvan might prevail through the brooding queries his music seeks to answer by the support of Monterey and all of its weirdos, like Yvan, like me, and probably like you as well.

Thank you, endeared reader, for indulging in my story. If Yvan Vucina's journey interests you as much as it has intrigued me, then keep up with him on social media and don't miss any of his performances, be they of his solo work or his rageful, sensual retinue, Mental Musk. Also check out the 'Muskies' on their Instagram.
         And if you, for some reason, wish to get in touch with me, you can send me an e-mail at

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