Da Rocha delights with versatile double bass

| Bonnie Chen 8 Apr 2019

Portuguese musician Jorge da Rocha tore at the audience's heartstrings with his nearly one-man band performance most of the time, simply with his double bass and voice.

Despite lying between the jazz and rock genres, da Rocha's works remind one of the "saudade" theme, commonly found in Portuguese music genre Fado. The Portuguese word "saudade" carries the meaning of mournful, longing, and missing.

In his two concerts at the Hong Kong Arts Festival, he covered some of his favorite pop and rock songs and performed self-compositions in his album titled "To drop and let go," that have been widely performed in Europe.

Explaining his performance of creating a "saudade" mood, the 38-year-old musician said it is perhaps because most are in minor keys. Perhaps it is an unintentional reflection of a homesick feeling for da Rocha, who left home for Barcelona to pursue his music dream for 14 years. He studied guitar, double bass, and jazz music in the Catalan capital between 2008 and 2012 and now performs in main clubs and at festivals.

He reckoned it is relatively easier to look for opportunities when playing double bass rather than guitar, which many Spanish people play. However, the way he plays double bass is unconventional.

In the hands of da Rocha, the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument sometimes serves for solo performance, sometimes as rhythmic accompaniment, or even percussion with his plugging, hammering, and pulling the bow with the strings and striking the body. What's more, he manages to play on his own most of the time with himself as the vocalist, and thanks to the bells he wears at his ankle, and a loop station to create rich soundscape and musical effect.

In a nutshell, he has been searching for a unique sound to travel through his emotional journey.

The songs he selected show his diverse interest in the music genres of different generations, spanning alternative rock, pop, electronic, experimental, avant-garde, and even bossa nova. They included Bjork's "Joga", Amy Winehouse's "Back to black", Massive Attack's "Teardrop", The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army", Radiohead's "Idioteque", and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Inutil Paisagem", etc.

Most songs were rearranged to give an entirely new touch as the melody was only boiled down to simply a human voice and the double bass.

A case in point was trip-hop group Massive Attack's "Teardrop". The electronic sound has been stripped, replaced by vocal and double bass, making the melodic line even more powerful.

Obviously, da Rocha is a fan of Radiohead and his vocal style sounds a bit like the band lead singer Thom Yorke to a certain extent. Da Rocha covered "Idioteque" with his own human voice and the percussion effect was achieved by hitting the double bass body and the loop station to replace the electronic sound. Yorke's hysterical voice style was adopted. Da Rocha encored with "Creep" and the English rock band's sorrowful mood sounded even stronger with the double bass.

His exploration of sounds, voice, and instruments went even further when performing his own compositions with two other musicians, Venezuelan singer and flautist Yexza Lara and Portuguese cellist and vocalist Ana Conceicao.

Lyrics aside, he left space for the exploration of the human voice such as the lip movements for the songs "Fear" and "Birth song" for a soul-searching odyssey.

Female voices added to the chorus part of "Collapse" has enhanced the psychologically falling effect, while accompanying with flute, keyboard, and cello.

"State of stating" showed his background as a guitarist. The frenetic electric guitar riffs reminded one of the music of Muse.

"Raval" was a beautiful piece without lyric inspired by the place where he stays in Barcelona that da Rocha recommended people to visit. One may be overwhelmed by the diversity of the area.

The area was known for its nightlife in the past and is also home to a diverse immigrant community with nearly half of the people living there being born abroad. Exotic and relatively oriental sounds were played out to achieve it.

Da Rocha explained that he was trying to use other instrument playing techniques such as guitar to achieve new sounds with the double bass instead of imitating the sound of that instrument. While listening to many English songs all along, that explained why most of his pieces were not written in Portuguese and Spanish. He is also exploring adding some electronic sounds in his next album.

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