Writing New Shapes & Histories: An Interview With Bella

Rio de Janeiro’s Bella is an instrument builder and sound artist. Her latest album, Tinku, is a collaborative opus, bringing together all Latin American artists – Ale Hop, Ava Rocha, Inés Terra, and Raquel Dimanta – to create their own sonic language. Recorded during the height of the pandemic, most of this work was done remotely, but it is a cohesive, enthralling aural journey brought together with Bella’s unique vision. Each artist’s perspective becomes a foundational pillar of Tinku as it’s woven together through captivating arrangements into music with a physical presence and a lasting impact.

Tinku is out now on cassette and digital formats via Buh Records. Grab a copy HERE. Bella can be reached via her website HERE.

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So I always start interviews by going back because I love hearing how artists and musicians first feel a connection or call. What are some of your earliest music-related memories or experiences stuck with you through the years?

My earliest memory is playing piano together with my grandmother. I think I was around 5 years old. It was a song called “Paul and Virginia” (maybe the name is not right, but I remember an image of a couple on the cover of the musical score). I can’t remember the song, but actually, the feeling of being playing together with someone. So since I was 7 years old, I had music lessons every week until I was twenty. 

My second strong memory was together with my brothers. They played tambourine and cavaquinho, and there was frequently “roda de samba.” I remember that I was there also playing some percussion that someone had left aside. 

Did you always want to be a musician or a composer?

No, I was not so clear about that. My uncle Vitto Meirelles was a musician, and my mother always told me how difficult it was. So, somehow I grew up thinking it was not possible to be a musician or work with music. But then, when I was around twenty years old, I realized that all the places I used to hang out and friends were related to music somehow. I was always involved in it. 

At what point did you start creating your own sounds and songs?

I started creating my own songs and sounds in my teenage years. More strongly when I was around 21 years old and bought my first notebook. So, I could record, mix, edit, and compose using it. Then I went to Germany and stayed there in Berlin for three months. I lived beside a vintage instrument store and around many music stores with vinyl to listen to for free. I could create more and more and started to do circuit bending using a toy keyboard.

And you also build instruments, which is fantastic. Where did your interest in that come from?

 As I said, I was in Berlin and could go to this vintage instrument store and test many things. So I was interested in having some pedals, and the guy there built them. First, I started to observe how to do it. I was always looking for autonomy. And I knew it was much more challenging to have technology in my country. 

Let’s talk about Tinku. Can you talk briefly about the album’s concept and where it first came from?

During 2020, I was very close to my grandmother, and she worked all the time crocheting. I was very curious about the language that the tapestry could create and about how old it is, especially in the Latin American continent. I started to search for this on the internet. And I learned that weaving was done among women around a tree, creating a connection between the deepest of the earth and the air. This caught my attention and led me to fulfill this desire by inviting women of Latin American origin that I greatly admire to collaborate at a distance.

What surprised you the most when you were making this album?

The first track on the album was born by chance. I was going to record a song from Chelpa Ferro’s Hip Hop album. With the pandemic coming in, I found myself away from my house and my things for months. So it was the first time I would turn on my devices after a long recess. Then Thiago Nassif, who was going to record me, captured my sounds at that moment. I said that I was testing, and when I stopped, he said, look what you’ve done. 

One thing I really connected with on Tinku is the album’s physicality and sounds. It’s music that it’s almost as if I can feel it in my body when I listen, especially if I turn up the volume. That aspect can also have a real emotional impact when I’m listening, which is overwhelming and wonderful. In your music and creative approach, I’m curious how vital physical connections like that are to your work and how you try to create those connections through sound especially?

I’m glad to hear that it touched you physically. That is really my goal. For me, making sound is something entirely physical and bodily, like a ritual. Sound is body. There is no division. I always look intuitively for a way to implicate my whole body in the sound experience, from the choice of sounds to the way I play. I used to play a lot on the floor or loose in a space, walking and dancing. More and more, I want to dance more than play! As my devices are photosensitive, I have found a way to make sound from my body, from my dance. 

One thing I think about a lot is the transportive nature of sound and how it can take us on a journey, creating entirely new worlds and spaces in the process. Tinku definitely has this quality to me in so many different ways. What are your thoughts on the transportive aspect of sound and how it can create spaces for shared experience?

I don’t believe in the idea that sound transports you, but rather that it situates you in your own body, place, time/space, in the present, and in presence. From this, and from this frequency nature, all presences can touch each other through resonances or even distance themselves through the lack of it. When many people come together in a space with the desire for that sound and to be present there, this force field is actually increased, and we feel more connected (something that is proper to nature and our living existence). 

What is the story and reasoning behind calling the album Tinku?

Tinku is about meeting, and tinkuni is a word that says a lot about the coming and going of the thread along a seam. This poetic image of the weaving of a language that is made by filling in the gaps is what tinku is to me. I came up with this word from the idea of twins, twister, and the braiding of our DNA. Then I looked for a word that had a relationship with Latin America, and I found tinkuni from a text by Cecilia Vicuña. I kept really studying these meanings and what came closest to what I wanted to say. 

Photo by Wendell Wagners

What were some of the biggest challenges with Tinku?

There were not many challenges. I was really thrilled to receive the collaborations. Each one that sent me, I really cried. They came ready, in place, fitted together. I had more work in the moment first before sending the tracks to the artists. Because I always work in editing and pre-mixing. My compositional part happens on the computer, and I am very detailed. So I spend a lot of time on it.

Collaboration is obviously an integral part of Tinku, but I’m curious, more generally, about what it is about collaboration that is so important and meaningful to you in your work?

I have had numerous collaborations, and for me, the idea of creating together is fundamental. I really enjoy working in a collective way. I had a remarkable experience with “meteoro” in 2015, which was a project in which I brought together women and non-binary people to create sounds together. 

How did you come to work with Buh Records on this project?

After the album was ready, I sent it to many people to listen to and give me tips on labels I could release it on. I really wanted to work with some foreign label, but I was groping around for it. Then Chico Dub, a curator here in Brazil, received my email and told me that just by the album’s description, he felt it resonated with Buh Records. So, I wrote Luis, and it just flowed. And I am very grateful!

Since it’s January, what are some of your highlights from 2022, and what are you looking forward to this coming year?

I went on tour in November 2022, which was very important for me. For the first time, I played as a band in Thiago Nassif’s project. We did many shows in different cities and countries in Europe. And I also performed solo in Portugal, Germany, and Denmark. I learned a lot about this research I’ve been doing on my dance with sound and light. This year I would like to play more and travel to other places, like the North and Northeast of Brazil, the United States, and Mexico. I would be very happy to be able to present Tinku in an integral way, inviting collaborations. I have also been working in the visual arts field and strongly desire to do my first solo show. For now, I am already happy to have started the year participating in a group show at Tropigalpão, a project of the tropi gallery that has just begun.

Foxy Digitalis depends on our awesome readers to keep things rolling. Pledge your support today via our Patreon or subscribe to The Jewel Garden.