François Girouard and Rita Cerqueira Portela are one of Grand Lapa Macau’s greatest sensations. Bringing fresh, multilingual and great tunes to the hotel’s Vasco Bar, the duo is a sight to see in a city that still has few spots offering high-quality live music shows. We sat down with both of them and talked about their thoughts towards the city and music itself, their favourite songs, what people ask most and how is it to live many professional lives in one city.
How long have you been playing at Grand Lapa Macau and on which days can people see you?
[François] Fridays and Saturdays, from 9:00pm to midnight. We’ve already played more than 200 times together, having started in September 2016. I played there before as well, with an Irish singer.
Rita, you are a professional architect by day, and an amateur singer by night. How did you get involved with music?
I come from a family of amateur musicians; the only professional singer is my sister, an opera singer based in Glasgow. I’ve been exposed to jazz, bossa nova, classical music and fado since I was a little girl! I think that growing up within a family where, gatherings are filled with music and everyone plays an instrument had a strong influence on me. In fact, one of my uncles builds violins, cellos and guitars and his older son is now learning this craft from him as well at their studio in Viana do Castelo. So I think it is only natural to follow this musical path. Since I came to Macau, I was always able to sing regularly because I met François through a friend.
Macau also provides great windows of opportunity for young musicians. Do you think that has contributed to why you are now living here, specifically?
[Rita] I have to thank Macau for the fact there are not that many jazz and bossa nova singers here. I think it’s also great because it exposes a different side of being a vocalist to the locals; when there are none around, interest isn’t really fostered. When people are exposed to vocalists, interest might grow. It’s with exposure that people find out about new and interesting things.
[François] I studied a bit of Jazz Guitar a long time ago, but I wasn’t very good at it. I actually played very badly (laughs). After this, I went to college to study electro-acoustic music, experimental and computer music composition. This is my specialty. However, I decided that as a hobby, I’d keep playing instruments. I worked for around 20 years in this area in Montreal, until now, when I started playing jazz on a more regular basis. During the day, I teach music to the locals and still create as well. I had a child some years ago, and that slowed me down a little bit, music production-wise.
François, from your experience, do you feel that people are interested in learning music, and not only classical genres?
Yes, for sure! It’s good because I think I teach different things compared to local instructors, in terms of how the music is taught. Many teachers create levels and have grades but for me, I don’t grade nor do exams. I think music should first be enjoyed and it doesn’t really matter what level you are at. Well, it’s important sometimes, but what really matters is to listen to what you and other people are doing along with understanding the music that you’re making.
Rita, is it true you also practice Aikido?
Yes, I’ve been doing it on and off, because I do too many things at the same time and I have to sacrifice one of them once in a while. I have left Aikido for a while now, but I’m planning to go back to it when I get all my activities organized. It’s a question of time management. When I first arrived in Macau, the first thing I searched for was an Aikido dojo and found one. They’re all locals and I love it! I started understanding them better and better and as a result, I also opened myself to the world because I really wanted to.
Rita, how did you start getting interested in Aikido?
(Laughs) Well, it is actually related to music! Many years ago, I saw Maria João (jazz singer) participating in a program where people would go to a house where there were dancing and music lessons. Once, she gave a demonstration with the Lisbon Aikido Association because she practises it as well. I saw the demonstration and fell in love with the practice! It’s so beautiful and cool especially when you see high level competitions of Aikido; they all seem like they’re dancing. Considering we’re in Asia, maybe the roots are stronger here than they are in Portugal, so there’s no better place to practice it. We also practice with swords, knives and other weapons. It’s a very nice form of self defence.
Do you think Macau is specially prolific in terms of music?
[François] I’ve been here for four years, so it’s hard to compare in such a short time, but one thing I know is that that are very few places for live music in Macau, both to play at or to see. There’s LMA, but you maybe play there once or twice. You can’t play there every week or every month. And most of the time, there is not that much of an audience. It’s supposed to be one of the biggest venues in Macau, but there’s usually only around 20 or 30 people there.
What about the Macao Cultural Centre?
[François] Yes, but one doesn’t go there to have a drink, hang out with friends and listen to music. When compared with Montreal, where I lived before, there are lots of bars with great, high-quality musicians and there are even frequent costumers. In Macau, there is also a lack of dance performance venues. Let’s say you are a young, contemporary dance choreographer and want to showcase your piece. Where would you do it?
[Rita] Chances to present musical or dance performances are usually during performance arts festivals and other places catered for locals. These places usually belong to an association or a group. You can also rent some spaces belonging to the government to do a showcase. However, I think this is also related to the local culture where it’s uncommon to go out at night for example.
So what are the main ingredients for a good and steady urban arts scene?
I think all the arts have to communicate with each other. To have a good musical scene, you need a band community, an arts community and more. This is how art works where the guitar players know dancers who know singers and so on.
What’s the feedback from your concerts?
[François] More and more people have been coming to see us and it’s been great. Lots of them are locals and also from abroad! We also have a small group of fans from Hong Kong and once, we had the Brazilian consul along with his wife who brought their friends the next time they came.
What kind of songs do you usually play?
[Rita] Classic jazz and bossa nova. We love playing Garota do Ipanema, some João Gilberto stuff, more contemporary jazz, some French songs, and some pop. We’d say the large family of jazz is our favourite and some Portuguese songs as well. We used to play more fado, because sometimes, the environment is not too appropriate. When we see that we have a more Portuguese crowd in the audience, we will definitely inject some more lusophone tunes into our set and it’s great. Same goes for when we have a French audience and so on. Once, we even played an Italian song because one of the guys racing for last year’s Grand Prix was from Italy. I love singing in different languages so we have a French, an Italian and an English version of the Bang Bang Song!
When you’re not working or playing, what do you like doing?
[Rita] When I have free time, I go to Yoga Loft for yoga classes, or crossfit in the morning before work. I really enjoy going to Mandarin Oriental, Macau‘s Vida Rica Bar and Goa Nights, which is one of my favourite spots in Macau. During the day, The Blissful Carrot is really nice as well for healthy food. Himalayan House has great food to takeaway and have with friends, at home.
[François] Unfortunately, I don’t really go to bars, since I already work in one (laughs). If I’m looking to have a drink, I’d go to a park or a garden, because I love nature. Usually, during my free time, I like discovering and exploring new spots in town with my son. There are so many places we don’t know. I would just pick up the map and go explore the mountains and new neighbourhoods, for example.
Catch François and Rita perform live at Grand Lapa Macau, Fridays and Saturdays, from 9:00pm to midnight