Silvia Nakkach

TheScreamOnline Interviews Silvia Nakkach

Photography editor Joanne Warfield first heard Grammy-nominated composer and recording artist Silvia Nakkach perform at the 2007 World Sound Healing Conference in Marina Del Rey, California. Ever since, she has been enchanted by her mystical, ethereal style which embraces sacred healing music (icaros) and the vocal traditions of Brazil and India. Together, Editor-in-chief Stuart Vail and Joanne have visited her Mystery School of the Voice in the San Francisco Bay area, Vox Mundi Brasil in Rio de Janeiro, and attended her Yoga of the Voice retreats in Santa Cruz, Ca. Silvia also leads retreats in India, the Bahamas, and Japan, and she is on the faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where she created a program devoted to the exploration of music, science, and consciousness.

Her many CD’s are wondrous sonic journeys with lush tapestries of music, from simple vocal offerings to rich orchestrations of instruments from around the world. In this interview, Stuart and Silvia discuss her latest recording, “In Love and Longing,” an alluring collaboration with cellist David Darling, featuring Kit Walker on piano, Christopher Willits on guitar, and Steve Gorn, bansouri flutes. The CD was nominated in the 2015 Grammy Awards in the Best New Age Category.


Stuart Vail & Silvia Nakkach, DeYoung Museum, San Fransicso – photo © Joanne Warfield

Stuart Vail (Editor): Silvia, I’ve heard a lot of your music over the years, both recordings and live performances, and I was always impressed that you extensively used one of my favorite instruments, the cello. Your earlier work featured your late husband, Michael Knapp, an exquisite cellist, and this new CD has you partnering with David Darling, who is on the “Ashes and Snow” soundtrack CD. How does the voice of the cello affect you?

Silvia Nakkach: When writing or performing music I treat and play my voice as a cello. In fact, when singing, my arms often move like playing a bow, and I visualize a cello. It feels like a very familiar and natural sound connection. The timbre and flexible tessitura (or range) of the cello is very close to what we “feel” as a voice. Only the sound of the duduk can get even closer to the human voice, and when the voice tends to engage in an intimate dialogue I always listen and call for a cello (or celli). Cellists also aim to play and sound like a human voice. In the liner notes of this album, I refer to the relationship between the voice and the cello as a creative romance, intensely emotional and sensual, like taste or scent, rasa. In 1998 I wrote a raga-tango for cello and guitar, and I learned a lot about writing for cello. I grew up listening to Villalobos, and the cello is integral to Brazilian music. Like the voice, the cello quests always for more freedom and newness.

SV: The first track,”Luar,” opens with a plaintive and lyrical cello, and the music blossoms into unrestrained joy — bliss — while keeping a relaxed, pastoral feeling. I especially hear the joy in your voice. “Luar” means “moonlight” in Portuguese. What significance does moonlight have to you?

“Luar” © Silvia Nakkach & David Darling

SN: Actually, the true meaning of Luar doesn’t have a perfect translation in any other language. It’s like the word saudade. Luar denotes an action, it’s a verb, loosely describing the action of someone contemplating the splendor of the moon. So, it’s more like “Moonlighting.” It also alludes to lovers enjoying the light of the moon. Personally, I simply adore the sound of the word and wanted to explore and play with it. In the composition, the cello arpeggio came first and inspired the poetry and the image of the cycles of the moon from new to full to new. The same happens to our inner work and the way we deal with impermanence and life passages. In this case, it’s from the view of someone that realizes she is in love because she is waiting for her lover. I call this compositional layer, self-generated poetry. It happens on the spot, when we are in the recording studio, just by listening to the music. I sing the words as sound — meaning is not the focus. In Brazil, this music movement is called a Palavra Cantada. We sensually explore the sonority of the word. In another context, this is like the ancient Naad Yoga.

SV: “Alma Divina” has a very bluesy E-minor feel to it, especially with the b5 in the melody. The line Bb-A-G-E sounds like a paean to Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” especially with the effect of David’s pizzicato cello. And “alma” means “soul,” so there’s the double-play of Divine Soul and the soul of the blues. You and David share composer credits—did you have Mingus in mind?

“Alma Divina” © Silvia Nakkach & David Darling

SN: Alma Divina was approached as a suite. First, we recorded the sound design and created the kind of “molecular” background. Spontaneously, Kit Walker added the piano, David accompanied with the jazzy bass-pizzicato on an enhanced cello, attaching clothes pins on the strings, and when the groove become clear, I added the voice and the melody lines, some new, and the Yoruba chants that you refer to just showed up, wanting to be part of the sexy groovy feeling. We had so much fun co-creating this piece. At the end when mixing I realized that we were all under the influence of divine intervention. It happens when we don’t “think” too much and let the music be.

We have to ask David Darling if he had Charlie Mingus in mind. I know I was mind-less during that whole piece.

SV: Then at 2:33 in “Alma Divina” you bring in a previous tune of yours, “Oshum,” from your “Aya” CD. That was like visiting an old friend. Was that planned or did it develop into that?

SN: Those chants are always in the tip of my tongue when I feel free. Nothing was planned on this album. It ended up being a journey through the unpredictable, life changes, heartbreaking longing, saudades. This makes sincere music. It touches people. It’s real!

SV: David’s “Dark Wood” CD is all cello, and he really explores the sonic capabilities of the instrument, as he does in “In Love and Longing.” Would you care to discuss your composing process, determining what he would do with the instrument?

SN: On this particular album I wanted to put to work the composer in me, my essential musical identity. I didn’t want to be limited just as the vocalist. I was engaged deeply in the orchestration; I was listening to it as “film music.” The composition, “Missing You,” is based on a raga, and ends symphonically.

We usually started with an improvisation, followed by instrumental and vocal gestures. I would suggest a prelude-like on the cello, or David offers an irresistible cello drone, and I hear the raga, we engage in a melodic narration, and a dialogue between the cello and the voice just happens, and builds. Curiosity and inquiry are the heart of this album. Other written-down tunes that we recorded as part of the process were not included, but even so, we covered a huge music territory in 61 minutes, and we saved material for another whole album. Something to notice is that we mastered the album with analogue technology. You can hear the “effortlessness” in the sound. It was truly a labor of love and longing.

photo © Joanne Warfield

photo © Joanne Warfield

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Graphic design by Joanne Warfield
“Luar” and “Alma Divina” used with permission.