Victor Kinjo

By Isadora Soares

Music and reflections on river regeneration were the main ingredients for Brazilian singer, composer, and researcher Victor Kinjoa who presented the “Vem Pro Rio” concert yesterday (19) on his YouTube Channel. The show was recorded at the boat Almirante do Lago, moored between the Tietê and Pinheiros rivers, in São Paulo.

The concert celebrated the new single and music video “Vem pro rio”, from his second album TERRÁQUEOS, by YB Music label. Accompanied by musicians Guilherme Kastrup, João Antunes, and Eduardo Colombo, and the special participation of Ivan Banho, the work brings a sensitive and engaged approach to the waters of the world, with a repertoire of original songs and  special versions of Caetano Veloso, Julio Numhauser, Serena Assumpção, Luiza Lian, Hélio Ziskind, Shoukichi Kina and Pete Seeger.

International Rivers exclusive interviewed the artist, which already presented his songs in worldwide events as Boston GreenFest, VI World Uchinanchu Festival, and UN 18º Fórum About Indigenous Discussions:

INTERNATIONAL RIVERS: Where did the inspiration to create “Vem pro rio” come from?

Victor Kinjo: I was born in São Paulo, where the Tietê River is heavily polluted and cloistered by marginal roads. But five years ago, I moved with my partner Eduardo Colombo to a farm in the Atlantic Forest, where there are still clean rivers. One day, arriving in São Paulo I saw the sun shining in the oiled waters of our forgotten Tietê and I stopped the car to, for the first time, come closer. I then remembered an old lyric that my friend Ivan Banho once wrote and added my feelings (my inner river) and the things I listened from the Tietê that day. But the first version of this song would arrived completely when we received South-Korean artist Min Jung Park to an artistic immersion in our farm in 2017. Half in Portuguese, half in Korean, and the refrain in English: Come to the river. I then composed another part in Japanese and finally the text in Portuguese specifically for the Tietê. It was a transcultural process, just like the waters. As a singer and researcher with an Indigenous ancestry, I realized we need to listen to the rivers for socioenvironmental regeneration. And this was the main inspiration for this song.

INTERNATIONAL RIVERS: You recorded Vem pro rio between the Tietê and Pinheiros rivers, in São Paulo. How was the recording experience? How do you see the relation between São Paulo, one of the biggest cities in the world, and these incredible rivers?

Kinjo: We recorded the videoclip VEM PRO RIO in an 1100km artistic-scientific expedition from the source to the mouth of the Tietê river and the launching concert in the boat Almirante do Lago, between the Tietê and Pinheiros during the I Navega SP Festival. It was really an incredible and challenging experience, for me, personally, a proof that dreams can come true with a lot of work and mobilization. Now, we want this boat to be reformed, so it can become a permanent platform for culture and environmental education. São Paulo hosts more than 300 rivers paved by “civilization” and the situation of the Tietê is a mirror of Brazilian history of colonization and exploitation. As a researcher, I´ve been observing and participating in the emergence of a wider movement around these rivers in the city, with groups of citizens, artists, researchers, and activists gathering for saving the clean sources of these waters. As I sing in this song, I believe we should thank our rivers, because everything we have in our cities comes from them.

INTERNATIONAL RIVERS: What is your history with music and with the academic field? And how did the intersection between scientific research and your artistic performance happen for you? Does one area influence the other?

Kinjo: I sing since I am a kid. As a grandson of Okinawan Diaspora to Brazil, I started singing in Japanese. During my PhD in Social Sciences, when I studied the geopolitics of culture and the Asian misrepresentation in Brazilian Culture and the of Okinawan history in the world, I realized that artistic performance is a way of producing knowledge and also enunciating complex things. Because of this research, I started singing in Uchinaaguchi (one of the endangered Indigenous Languages of Ryukyu, land of my grandparents). And when it happened, my body and my worldview also changed. When I started to identify as an Indigenous subject, my relation to the Tietê river changed. And I could not close my eyes to its situation anymore. My post-doc research on river regeneration processes in global cities, as well as the song “VEM PRO RIO”, was born from this same impulse. Because science and arts are siblings in human knowledge. I am currently researching the emergent theories and methodologies of arts-based action-research, experimenting, and also writing about this. And I feel it´s the kind of knowledge, together with policies, governance, communication, and social engagement that will be fundamental to face contemporary global challenges.

INTERNATIONAL RIVERS: What are your biggest musical references and what can we expect from your work for 2022?

Kinjo: I believe diversity and transculturality are important sources of creativity. So I used to melt different references to invent my musicality. I would mention our Brazilian masters Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, but also Okinawan artists such as Shoukichi Kina. Caetano and Gil were the leaders of Tropicalia Movement in the 1960s/1970s, mixing the electric guitar and rock to Brazilian Music. In the other side of the world, Kina was doing the same with his “Champuru” band, melting Western music with the Okinawan Traditional sounds. I would add to this pot the always surprising sonorities of Bjork and Esmerald Spalding. With different ingredients of a diverse range of influences, I look to create my own music. In 2022, if the pandemics allow me, I will travel to Asia and North America to research artistic and cultural movements around river regeneration in the world as a post-doc fellow. And also launching my second album Terraqueous, in which “Vem pro rio” is the first presented track. I hope to collaborate with International Rivers actions because there´s a lot of work to do together!

The concert “Vem Pro Rio” connects to the singer’s postdoctoral research at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the University of São Paulo on the importance of culture for the revitalization of urban rivers, under the supervision of Professor Pedro Jacobi and the support of FAPESP.

Featured Photo Credit: Bruno Fenart