Q&A with Portuguese band of The Ramblers - modern edge to blues rock sound and a new cultural approach

"The blues are the expression of a people against slavery, prejudice, against political and social cancers. It calls for union and fellowship. It has left a huge print in the whole world, it’s so heavy! We must truly treasure it."

The Ramblers: Gypsie Good Times

The Ramblers are a Blues Rock band formed in Lisbon, Portugal, around February 2007. They are the new generation's standard-bearers of Blues-Rock bands in Portugal, bringing the 60's and 70's sound a modern edge and a new cultural approach, as they've been carrying the legacy of some of the greatest blues' legends: The opening shows of B.B King (Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame), Ian Siegal (UK Blues Hall Of Fame) and Carvin Jones (Guitarist Magazine 50 Greatest Blues Guitarists of All-Time) are just the tip of the iceberg of the venues the band stepped on. Now promoting their third studio record 'Wet Floor' (2015), The Ramblers present their most mature work to date: Quoting the band, The Ramblers' music takes us «aboard a ship through the Dead Man's Chest of Witch-Hunts, Fairy Tales and Gypsy-Pirate Gimmicks, with powerfull riffs and loving (yet dirty) ballads».              (Photo by João Pedro - The Ramblers: Richards, Rosie & Lou)

This Ramblers' astonishing studio performance sets the pace for an unforgettable Blues-Rock album: An explosive and dynamic sound that mixes gems of the world's most diverse and loved kinds of folk music into a powerful hard-driving Blues-Rock. From Rosie's soulful vocals to Richard's classic Rock guitar licks, Lou's steady groove sets the pace for an explosive and dynamic Blues-Rock album mixed with precious gems of the world's most diverse and loved kinds of folk music. The Gipsy-Bluers band of Ramblers are: Mafalda Raposo (aka Rosie) on vocals, Ricardo Lopes (aka Richards) on guitar and Luís Nunes (aka Lou) on bass.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues Rock culture and what does the blues mean to you?

Rosie: Somehow I think it could be the other way around – the more I learn about myself the more I understand and learn about the blues. The blues are about expressing yourself in a level I have not found in any other kind of music – except, perhaps, for the Fado. I also think you can like the blues (because it sounds amazing, there’s no denying it) without truly understanding it. The blues imply a sort of lovely bitter-sour irony about things which I totally identify with – whether you’re talking about love, partying or your job. It’s something pretty cultural and so I feel that the blues are extremely powerful and meaningful.

Richards: The Blues was the first kind of music that really made me stop on my feet, you know? I didn’t know that any kind of music could be this much emotional and heartfelt. It had a huge impact on me. I delved into this kind of music trying to understand how did these great bluesmen expressed themselves and trying to learn that from them. I have to say, that’s a pretty long quest! After a while, I had listened to these records so many times that, to me, these bluesmen were my close friends. As such, I feel that, even that music was what brought me here, to me the Blues is to belong to an amazing big family of people that, like myself, found in the music an open door to self-expression.

Lou: I’ve learned that there ain’t a song in this world that doesn’t come from the blues. Everything can be turned to blues and blues can be transformed into any kind of music. That’s really the beauty of it – it’s pure. The Blues-Rock culture (which is a little part of the Blues culture) shows that purity, as you can make a rock song based on your own blues roots and put a little bit of every other influence you have – may it be fado, flamenco, jazz, soul, funk or even pop! It doesn’t matter what you bring to the mix, it will always sound bluesy! I just love it.

How do you describe The Ramblers sound and songbook? What characterize band’s philosophy?

Richards: The Ramblers’ sound is definitely very blues-rooted, that’s where we came from. Along the way, we started spicing things up a little and that led us to the energy and attitude of the great rock bands of the 60’s and 70’s. These guys really knew how to put up a great show for their audiences and we felt that that was a big part of the impression we wanted to make. Regarding our philosophy, we’ve been brothers and sisters on the road for 8 years now, we’ve seen a lot of good moments and we’ve also had our rough patches along the way but I don’t really believe that anything could break this bond we have. That’s a great asset to allow us to continue playing and aim for “higher grounds” as Stevie Wonder would say.

Lou: Well, we play the blues like a gipsy/pirate band of Portuguese fellows. We can be all bluesy, or rock about it and it will always have that Portuguese/latino influence in those small details or certain songs. Portuguese travelled all over the world (and still do), so we really had a multi-cultural up bringing living in Portugal. I think that shows up in our music, even though our strongest influences are American or British blues. This gipsy/pirate/latino philosophy applies in our live shows, because we really try to make a party out of everything. We like to tear the house down – there ain’t any other way!

"I miss the love artists had for music! Highly talented musicians have been being replaced by 6- months career hits. To an extended, music has become a kind of disposable thing but I think the scenario is turning around again and people are taking music more seriously once again, more enthusiastically and I certainly hope the trend continues." (Photo by João Figueiredo

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, festival and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Rosie: There are so many! I do treasure a lot all the time we spend together, playing, partying, recording… It’s all part of a beautiful process. To me, there’s nothing like feeling that the people around you are feeling what you are feeling. Robert Plant used to talk about this cosmic energy. I do feel it often when we’re on stage. People singing with you, feeling what you are feeling – that’s gotta be the most rewarding experience when it comes to being a musician.

Richards: BB King complementing our performance opening his concert here in Sabrosa, Portugal has got to be one my most cherished memories!

Lou: Oh that one is easy. Opening for B.B. King was an absolute dream, we still think about it like it happened on another dimension! We haven’t had the chance to meet him, but he complimented our band when he started his show – that’s about the greatest thing any blues band can aspire for! Hanging out with Ian Siegal (and opening his gig) was also an amazing experience, he’s such a talented musician and the coolest cat in the world. We really have been blessed, having these opportunities.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Rosie: I feel that nowadays everything is too impersonal. Music has become part of the consumer society: you listen, you put it on the side. Music’s no longer the powerful mean of communication, the fresh vehicle of revolutions or the voice of cultures and movements. It will never be as it once was. It saddens me to see that the new generations don’t appreciate nor understand what it means to express yourself as an individual through music. The poetry is most definitely lost and I fear the instruments will also give way to production-production-production.

Richards: I miss the love artists had for music! Highly talented musicians have been being replaced by 6- months career hits. To an extended, music has become a kind of disposable thing but I think the scenario is turning around again and people are taking music more seriously once again, more enthusiastically and I certainly hope the trend continues.

Lou: I miss the legendary part of it. There are still great musicians making great music, but nowadays much of the magic is gone, because everything is so accessible and “free”, with the internet and all. There is less opportunities for people to be amazed, because no one goes to a show without checking a band on YouTube or so. No one buys an album anymore because of the cover photo or without listening to it. On the other part, I really think people are more and more paying attention to the blues. New bands, of different styles, are starting to incorporate more blues influences in their sound. I think a new era in music is coming, we’ve been in a limbo for a while. But a “salvation” is in the fellows who run the radios, really. Good music needs more airplay. People, nowadays, listen to everything – good or bad – but it was always that way. I believe they’d still prefer good music, if given the chance to listen to it. We can’t expect them to find us, the music has to go to them.                  (Photo by Lola and the Photography / The Ramblers)

"The great part is that the blues are a universal language – it passes you a certain kind of feeling that every man and women can reach, even if they don’t understand the lyrics. Just listening to, or watching someone, play the blues makes people instantaneously comprehend that we’re all the same, we all suffer and we all get happy about the same aspects of life.

Make an account of the case of Blues/Rock in Portugal. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Rosie: Although we don’t have much bands playing the blues, we’ve had huge rock influences in Portugal, especially during the 80s. The artists flourished with intervention songs and mostly punk rock back in those days but we had artists like Rui Veloso who had a strong Blues Rock influence. Nowadays, we have a huge cult when it comes to electronic music but everybody loves the blues when they hear it. It’s not the kind of music people eagerly look for, but it’s something they love to hear in certain places and ambiences, I’m sure of it.

Richards: I think that the Blues scene in Portugal is making a slow but steady stand for itself. There are more blues festivals today than there ever were: Santa Maria, Lisbon Blues Fest, Gaia Jazz & Blues, BB Blues Fest, etc. In 2016, Portugal will be taking, for the first time, an active part in the European Blues Awards, an accomplishment of the BB Blues Portugal Association, leading ambassadors of the Blues in Portugal today. The Blues was never this strong in Portugal since the 80’s, when Rui Veloso (the “Portuguese Clapton”) or the Go Graal Blues Band were hitting the scene in full blast.  I think that today we have wonderful blues artists in Portugal: Messias & The Hot Tones and Budda Power Blues just to mention a few, all that is still missing is the mainstream media spotlight to this growing niche.

Lou: Portugal is a small country/market you know? Blues has great an acceptance in most people, it really does. Almost no one dislikes the Blues. It just ain’t the hypest thing around, as you don’t listen to it on the radio or TV (that’s why people love to hear blues bands live, because they’re not used to it and get surprised. Even more when it is being played by young guys like us). But speaking of Portugal, there was a Rock Boom in the early 80’s and some of those bands were really influenced by the blues. The big name of that “Rock wave” is still Rui Veloso, who we call, in Portugal, “the father of Portuguese rock”. At a time people even called him “the Portuguese Eric Clapton”. And then there were also bands like Go Graal Blues Band where some important musicians started their careers.

Having said that, I believe NOW is by far the most interesting period in the blues scene here. There are more and more bands and some festivals are appearing, bands are coming from the rest of Europe to play here. Portugal is, for the first time, a part of the European Blues Union, by the hands of two Portuguese promoters (Associação BB Blues) who are great people, good friends and true blues addicts. So there’s magic happening. We like to believe we’re a big part of that wave!

"Blues and Rock music is at the vanguard of social and political intervention affairs from the very beginning. Elvis Presley was the first widely known white man playing black music on the radio and it was a ground breaking shock to society! Woodstock for peace in Vietnam, Concert for Bangladesh, Live Aid and so many many others." (Richards - Photo by  Eugénio Macarrinha)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues/Rock from US and UK to Portugal? Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and forms?

Richards: Technically speaking, I don’t think one could find that much in common between the Blues and any kind of folk music from Portugal: the chords are different, the melodies, the scales, the rhythm… In the Blues those ancient influences are rooted deeply in Africa and brought to the US by the slaves back in the day. Here in Portugal we had a big influence of the Arab culture so our folk music is rooted very differently. Emotionally however we share such a strong proximity that it’s almost unbelievable. I’m speaking of Fado, of course, which means “fate”, considered an Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO in 2011. Its moaning vocals reminisce of Arabic, Angolan, Scandinavian and Middle Age melodies, a mix of the rich cultural broth of Lisbon. The vocals are accompanied by Portuguese guitar (a traditional 12-string instrument) and classic guitar. Such as it happens in the Blues, it talks about everyday life matters, both problems and joys, love affairs, etc. and filled with irony and humor, the equivalent of Rebetiko in Greece. One other mention has to be made, and that is Cante Alentejano, also considered by the UNESCO to be an Intangible Cultural Heritage. It’s a musical tradition that goes on by spoken word amongst the working class in a southern region of Portugal called Alentejo for many generations now. Sang by large groups of men at the same time, it used to set the pace for the agricultural labors in the fields and especially in the coal and iron mines of Alentejo. It often features a lot of improvising and response quality to it, which makes it very interesting.

Lou: Historically, the UK and Portugal have the oldest diplomatic alliance in the world. So we had a considerable British influence in our culture for centuries. The British Invasion got here a bit in the 60’s and 70’s and got huge by the 80’s (after the dictatorship period). And well, America is everywhere. Besides, we also have a big Portuguese community in the United States and the Açores Islands in the Atlantic Ocean have been a connection point for years. Keith Richards once said (when the Stones came to Portugal and played with a famous fado singer – Ana Moura) that Fado is the Portuguese Blues. The whole world is connected, I think there are great similarities between us and those two countries. Still, Portugal is unique, you should come and visit us if you have the chance!

"The Blues-Rock culture (which is a little part of the Blues culture) shows that purity, as you can make a rock song based on your own blues roots and put a little bit of every other influence you have – may it be fado, flamenco, jazz, soul, funk or even pop! It doesn’t matter what you bring to the mix, it will always sound bluesy!" (Lou - Photo by José Estiveira)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local Blues Rock circuits?

Rosie: I’ve said it before: as a musician, the most rewarding experience is when you feel that the people around you are feeling your thing. Naturally, in these circuits, everyone knows the same songs and artists. I just love it when people get together with a couple of guitars and some extra bottle of wines and start improvising. Improvised beatnik poetry and the strumming of the guitars.

Richards: Looking up from the stage at each show and seeing a growing audience in front of us to hear us play is always very touching and rewarding!

Lou: We always play a B.B. King song in our shows. It’s our way of expressing gratitude and respect for everything he has done and for the chance to open his gig. When he passed away, just a few days later, we opened the Ian Siegal concert and there we “made” a full theater sing “Rock Me Baby” (the man sang “Rock Me” and women would respond “All night long!”. Really cool, Rosie made it happen!). Man, that touched us a lot. I mean, he’ll be alive forever, you know? Gives you the chills. About the laughing part, we play all over the country, but we don’t do it as much in Lisbon, generally, which is where we live. This tour we’re making now has been giving us the chance of playing here, in our home. So we’ve been having a lot of fun playing the blues for some of our friends and families!

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Blues Rock?

Rosie: This question, although legitimate, kinda made me laugh! The fellas treat me like one of the guys, and I’m so thankful for it. When you spend so much time together, sleeping in motorhomes, gyms, studios, not showering properly etc, you tend to forget about genders! Of course people can be a bit condescending sometimes – which makes me pretty mad – and sometimes you have special attentions – which is pretty nice – but altogether I’m really comfortable being a female artist NOT IN A MAN’S WORLD but in a man’s band.

"I feel that nowadays everything is too impersonal. Music has become part of the consumer society: you listen, you put it on the side. Music’s no longer the powerful mean of communication, the fresh vehicle of revolutions or the voice of cultures and movements." (Rosie - Photo by José Estiveira) 

What is the impact of Blues and Rock music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Rosie: You can’t talk about blues and rock and not think about their historical (social, cultural and political) importance. It’s a huge legacy, a very strong and powerful one. Unfortunately, not everyone knows about this. The blues are the expression of a people against slavery, prejudice, against political and social cancers. It calls for union and fellowship. It has left a huge print in the whole world, it’s so heavy! We must truly treasure it. The blues talk about real experiences from real people. Everyone can relate to the blues, it’s so personal!

Richards: Blues and Rock music is at the vanguard of social and political intervention affairs from the very beginning. Elvis Presley was the first widely known white man playing black music on the radio and it was a ground breaking shock to society! Woodstock for peace in Vietnam, Concert for Bangladesh, Live Aid and so many many others. In these days there are Blues concerts in the White House and President Obama is a big fan, I think that’s a great achievement for the Blues as a music genre! The Blues might not be where they once were in the racial, political and social intervention scenario but the world’s a different place today. I do believe that there still is a lot of power in music for social causes.

Lou: Oh, it’s huge! I mean, not as much in Portugal, but in the UK and the US – which impacts the whole world – it was/is enormous. The Blues are a big part of the fight against prejudice, slavery, unequal opportunities… Which are, really, fights we all struggle with, one way or another. The great part is that the blues are a universal language – it passes you a certain kind of feeling that every man and women can reach, even if they don’t understand the lyrics. Just listening to, or watching someone, play the blues makes people instantaneously comprehend that we’re all the same, we all suffer and we all get happy about the same aspects of life. So, what are we fighting and killing each other’s for?

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Rosie: Montmartre, early XX century.

Richards: This one’s really hard! It doesn’t matter how far back I go, one of my favorites wouldn’t already be amongst us and I’d lose the chance to meet him/her. For the same reason, I don’t think they ever were all in the same room at the same time! If I really have to answer, I’ll go with the show at Ebony Theater in California on April 15 of 1987: BB King, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Paul Butterfield put on an amazing show that night! Can we bring my guitar in your time machine?

Lou: The Caribbean, baby! In the 1600’s / 1700’s. Afterwall, we’re pirates. Argh! Now, really: I’d like to live in the U.S.A during the 60’s and 70’s, watch all my influences play live. I’d spend a whole day watching concerts of lots of guys in the 60’s!

The Ramblers Blues Rock Band - Home

Photo by João Pedro

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