Who: Fernando Lima
What: Composer, Pianist, Drummer
Artist’s chosen place for interview: The riverfront (rained out). Relocated to his house on Music Street, where he strained his Maté using toilet paper.
Q: What have you built with your hands that you’re really proud of?
A: I did build some drums out of sewage pipe once, but I don’t think that building always has to do with materials. Building is definitely a part of music and composing.
When I compose a song I do it in a different way. I don’t follow a lot of the music rules that I learned in music school. It works much better if I put my fingers on the keys and start listening. It’s kind of narcissistic (laughing); it feels so good, almost in a magical way. Sometimes I think my ears are another person, talking to me, telling me, ‘No, Fernando, I don’t like that.’
It’s weird because my ears control me sometimes.
The song ‘O Gambito’ that I wrote, which is the first track on my CD, was my first composition. I was at university for the first year, and they had all these rooms full of pianos, so I was so excited. I didn’t have any idea about harmony or music rules, but my mom had a piano in our house, so I was already playing. Just playing.
When I composed ‘O Gambito,’ there was all of this past that became part of the composition. The song is related with my childhood and my memories in Brazil. It has my family stamped all over it because growing up we’d go to family parties and my aunt and others would play classical piano there. I didn’t think anything of it at the time; I didn’t really pay attention. But as I got older the music came again to my ear from a different way. And that’s when it really hits you.
It’s a nostalgic feeling. That feeling you get when you smell something that reminds you of a certain person or place. Or you hear a melody you remember from long ago, and the past is there with you. I think that’s the closest to a time machine that we can have.
Q: If your house was haunted, what do you think the ghosts would be doing while you’re composing a piece?
A: When I’m composing … I think they … (smiling) I don’t know. They might be watching television with my roommate. I don’t know what kind of spirits they would be, but I’m not sure they’d enjoy the composition process.
I would love for them to be in the room with the music. Kind of like my cats. Sometimes the cats come in, and while I’m playing piano they’re sleeping. I think, ‘Well, that’s a good sign.’ If the cats aren’t bothered and they’re relaxed, I’d like others to feel that way as well.
Q: If you were to begin a food truck business, what would it be?
A: This divides my mind in two ways. There is the one side that is a business person and the other side that wants to give something to people with no return.
For the business side, I would sell some Brazilian food. I think it would fit in New Orleans culture. I have these sweets I make called brigadeiro. It’s chocolate, condensed milk, a little butter. I put in coconut, which is my secret ingredient. (Pause). It’s not even hard to make (laughing).
If I’m making something it’s because it’s easy to make. I’m not a good cook, but I know that I make brigadeiro very well. Everybody that eats them loves them because I don’t make them too sweet, which means you can have a few. I mean, I eat the whole pan. Well, not now. I would have a heart attack if I ate the whole pan now, but when I was little I would eat all of them.
For the more abstract side I’d want the food to come with the ideas of openness. I want to be a person that is open to all different points of view. Sometimes it can feel lonely being in the middle of the city with all these different groups of people around you. To feel connected to all those groups is important, even if you’re not with them.
I like this idea of people saying, ‘Oh, Fernando Lima, he’s on the street playing piano. If you need to talk to someone, you can go talk to him.’ And that’s how it goes. So many people come up to me on the street and talk to me about everything.
Just the other day a guy came up to me and said, ‘Oh, man, my grandmother sucks,’ and he went into a whole story about it. And then another man tried to sell me a laptop for two hundred dollars. I didn’t buy it, of course, but I like that I can be an object that people can use to express themselves. I’m happy with that.
You can see that people feel good just because you’re talking to them. Even if they don’t know what they want to say, you can see that they just want to say something. I like to say to them, ‘Let’s just talk.’ I guess everyone can be a psychologist at some point. I’d like to give that to people.
Fernando Lima will be playing drums at Bamboulas every Tuesday until March 24; he will be at Casa Borrega on March 14 and at Dos Jefes on March 20. You can find him playing his original piano compositions at the corner of Toulouse and Chartres in the French Quarter. The CD is available directly through the artist. Stay updated with Fernando Lima’s music by following him in Facebook.