I-LARK: Welcome to a new episode of Voice in the Matter; guess who has come to visit us today… Max De Tomassi! Not any guest, but one who was awarded the prestigious Cruz do Rio Branco! Welcome Max! Can I ask you if you were awarded by the President of Brazil himself?
MAX DE TOMASSI: Well, let’s say so.
I-LARK: It’s the highest honor Brazil can bestow on a non-Brazilian person.
MAX DE TOMASSI: Let me just tell you that there is one small imperfection; on the web you find that I was awarded the Cruz do Rio Branco, but actually it’s Cruzeiro do Sul, an Order that corresponds to the French Legion of Honour; it’s the honour that is given to foreign citizens, i.e. non-Brazilian, who have distinguished themselves in the dissemination of Brazilian culture in the world; for example it was given to Orson Wells; it was given to Yuri Gagarin (evidently he talked about Brazil on the moon) and to Queen Elizabeth… in fact every now and then we two have a chat.
I-LARK: Of course… you do! Max De Tomassi is the voice that has been telling about the voices of Brazil since… how long?
MAX DE TOMASSI: I started very early; those who work in radio communications, at least my generation, always started early, because the radio was a passion; also there was a new phenomenon in the 70s: free radio stations. I remember I was just a kid, 12 years old, when, knowing that there was a free radio station near my house, I peeped inside their basement’s window to watch them working; then I gradually started working too. My first experience was at Radio Alfa Amatrice: I used to spend my summer vacations in Amatrice, a little village in Northern Lazio, and the priest had set up a local radio there. Then I started working in private radio stations in Rome, very small ones, without any kind of salary, until – after my first journey to Brazil – I started working at Radio Dimensione Suono, which at the time was a small local station but with great potential; therefore, yes, I started early, 16-17 years old. When I had a job at Radio Dimensione Suono I was 19-20 years old.
I-LARK: Let’s say that you and the radio grew up together.
MAX DE TOMASSI: Let’s say that radio and me have changed together. When we first met it already was an extraordinarily powerful medium. An it still is! It never stops surprising us: for example, consider how during the lock down the radio was a precious ally of people who wanted to work and interact, and listening to the news was fundamental.
I-LARK: The digitalization has also opened up a closer and proactive interaction of the radio with its audience
MAX DE TOMASSI: Now there are podcasts, so you can make your own schedule.
I-LARK: The forms of specialisation, the niches, become all the more interesting and attractive within this new ‘digitally tailored’ context. However, when you started the situation was very different: you brought your listeners to Brazil when the public was still ‘general’, so to speak.
MAX DE TOMASSI: The question of specialisation is a theme that has always interested me because I chose this specialisation without wanting to. I am an extremely good-willing person but I don’t consider myself an extremely intelligent person who can plan and think about tomorrow. And so I was carried by the flow of love, nothing else but love led me to what I do now. I conceived a passion for what I listened to and then, with time, I was able to tell about that passion, because, as you said before when we were still off, telling a story is fundamental for communication among human beings; we are the only beings who are able to communicate through words. When we learned the art of storytelling, we got to a higher stage. A very dear friend of mine, a great TV communicator of RAI Broadcasting, to whom I have always been very close and still am, told me: “look Max, you should start studying English, you should start studying the rock encyclopaedia”, and he gave me the rock encyclopaedia as a present, but I honestly wasn’t very good at it, even if I listened to the American English rock (Pink Floyd, Genesis), I liked the Latin world more, so I realised that my friend was right but that there was something that pushed me somewhere else and so I chose this way, unconsciously led by love, led by passion.
I-LARK: Could you pin down what exactly it is about these sounds that attracts you? What is it about Latin music that caught your love and imagination?
MAX DE TOMASSI: It’s very simple, it’s the union of two fundamental elements which can be found in the DNA of all human beings. The first element is ancestry: in American Latin music, in Brazilian music, there are very deep African roots. We all come from there; then we spread around the world, but human beings were born in that region of our globe and the first sounds that were made in that geographical area were mainly percussive sounds. Today, in Latin music, percussion no longer plays the fundamental role it did when music had to express and transmit tribal concepts. However, percussion and rhythm are the basic rule in Brazilian and Latin music. And then the second element is the poetical word. It was only when I started to understand Portuguese and Spanish that I realised how wide the linguistic and poetical horizon was. When you start to understand what they write, you realise that you are faced with an immeasurable wealth, both poetically and thematically. We Italians have an immense poetry tradition; and yet I have the feeling that we have become a little complacent about the historical, cultural and literary treasures we have gathered over the years, as ‘the greatest’ poets. They, on the other hand, who have experienced great upheavals from a political and social point of view, have always had to question themselves. They deal with the central theme of love wonderfully.
I-LARK: What you were saying reminded me of a song by Chico Buarque: Beatriz, in Italian Beatrice, which is not just any name (Dante’s inspiring female figure); you translated this song beautifully. I have an admiration for translators and in particular for those who are able to translate the words of songs. Translating words for music is something very complex. And you are so good at that. You’ve just said that we have rhythm on one side, the poetic word on the other. Would you like to talk about that? Do you remember anything particular about the translation of Beatriz, that you did a while ago. Beatriz is one of my favourite songs… it’s amazing.
MAX DE TOMASSI: First of all, I am very flattered to hear you call me a good translator. Translation is an extremely delicate work. You have to approach it on tiptoe because you are touching what has already been created and upsetting it can backfire, and it can damage the person who created it in the first place. I have two main models in the art of translation. My first point of reference for translation was Sergio Bardotti, who brought the Brazilian world closer to Italy by translating many songs by Roberto Carlos, Vinicius De Moraes, Chico Buarque and so on, but the person who really taught me how to think and write was Nelson Motta, a Brazilian intellectual, writer, author and journalist, who is very famous and important. He came to live in Italy in the Eighties, and it was then that we met and became very close friends; it was he who explained to me some fundamental rules; rule number one, for me, when I translate from Portuguese/ Brazilian into Italian is to respect the metrics because the melody is all and then to respect the sound of words. So it’s not so easy to translate exactly what a poet says in their mother tongue when you have to render the same concept with the same sounds, and I’ll give you an example: take a sentence in Portuguese that says “sonhar o beijo, que loucura”, in Italian it would be “sognare il bacio, che follia” (“to dream of a kiss, what a folly”), but you can’t translate it that way because the word “loucura” has a sound that can’t be ignored; and so it can be adapted into “sognare il bacio che lo cura” (“to dream of the kiss that can heal him”, to dream of the kiss that will cure this person). This is just to say that there can be a certain amount of freedom. It’s clear that your ultimate point of reference when you take this freedom is the poet who wrote the poem, and I’m lucky enough to have Chico Buarque as a friend.
I-LARK: You can’t imagine the pleasure it gives me to listen to the things you say, the wordplay with “loucura”/”lo cura” is beautiful, it fascinates me and it would open our conversation to more. But I cannot profit further of your generous presence.
MAX DE TOMASSI: I have already “won my day” as the Brazilians say, “eu já ganhei meu dia”: to hear you say that I am a very good translator…
I-LARK: But certainly I don’t have to tell you that! You give us a lot of joy with your translations and your stories; on the other hand, they say that the human being is the story telling animal; thanks for telling us beautiful stories that also tell much about you and your passions; we enjoy that so much!
MAX DE TOMASSI: Let me just add that I have a daughter called Beatrice after the song! which is why when I wrote the translation, which Chico obviously looked at, I said to my daughter: “look, I would like to dedicate it to you because when I translated it I thought of you”. And thus I imagined my Beatrice, as my daughter: a very ethereal, very slender, very elegant dancer… she’s a bit like Chico Buarque’s Beatrice, from O Grande Circo Mistico.
I-LARK: What a wonderful musical, O Grande Circo Mistico! And what a wonderful story. Thank you Max for everything you told us.
MAX DE TOMASSI: Thank you.
I-LARK: and thank you all for staying with us; I hope to meet you again for the next episode of Voice in the Matter.