Caique Vidal Brings Brazil to the Bull City with His Joyful, Eclectic Ensembles | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Caique Vidal Brings Brazil to the Bull City with His Joyful, Eclectic Ensembles 

"You can't talk about Caique without talking about Joy," says Jesse Huddlestone, the worship director at CityWell United Methodist Church and Durham musician Caique Vidal's neighbor and close friend. He's talking about Joy, Vidal's much-adored wife and his primary motivation for moving to Durham, but it's an appropriate double meaning to describe the joie de vivre with which Vidal approaches every aspect of his life. Vidal is joy personified: His body bubbles with giddiness as he punctuates words with exclamatory grins. It's contagious.

Huddlestone, like many people, first heard of Vidal by, well, hearing him.

Huddlestone was enjoying a beer at Surf Club when an explosion of syncopated beats, ecstatic horns, and melodies erupted from down the street at Motorco. He decided to go check it out and was pleased to find Vidal performing for a concert in celebration of Carnaval, an annual Brazilian festival.

"He often pulls people on stage to dance, and I got pulled on stage," Huddlestone says. "And the rest is history."

Vidal has been a fixture around Durham for years, performing at events like Durham's Brazilian Day Party and the Festival for the Eno. But he hasn't issued a record until now—this weekend, he and his band, Batuque, celebrate the release of the five-track TYSM. The album's title is an acronym for "Thank You So Much," and it honors Vidal's Afro-Brazilian roots.

One of the record's songs, "Aide," is a tribute to capoeira—a Brazilian martial art, dance, and music style—and a lament of its waning popularity. The song encourages dancers to embrace the ginga (swag) required to perform capoeira. "Batuque de Nego" (translating to "the drumming of black people") is the most political of the quintet: it's a tribute to black ancestors who embodied the persistence of black culture and the importance of fighting against its devaluation today. "TYSM," the titular track and the only song with English lyrics, is a song he originally developed to kindly usher a woman off stage, but has now become a staple in all of his sets. All of the songs pop with precision and flow with narrative depth.

"It sounds like the music that I'm used to, all the culture that I am," Vidal says. "All the action happens on the upbeat."

In addition to producing an album, Vidal also leads the samba-reggae drumming group Batalá Durham, studies vocal performance at UNC-Chapel Hill, and is the father of a 14-month-old named Odara ("Beauty" in Yoruba). Surprisingly, he doesn't come across as stressed or exhausted at all.

"I have a song called 'So Easy' that didn't make the album," Vidal explains. "If I get worked up about a problem, most likely I won't see the solution of it. Sometimes you just need to take yourself out of it, see it from outside. Let the universe do its job. I try to be very laid back."

Growing up in Salvador, the capital of the state of Bahia, Brazil, one of Vidal's most cherished memories was appearing in the music video for Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us" with the Oludum collective. The ensemble is an Afro-Brazilian musical group that fights for social justice in the city. Music and justice have been linked in Vidal's imagination since. His family couldn't afford to own instruments, so he would visit local music stores to practice on the instruments there until owners kicked him out.

"My instrument was buckets," he recalls with a laugh. "I certainly didn't own my own drum set."

As he grew older, he chose to pursue formal music education, studying at Liceu de Artes e Oficios da Bahia, with an emphasis on singing. He then worked at Balé Folclórico da Bahia, a folk-dance company that toured throughout Brazil and abroad. This set his music career into motion and made it possible for him to travel in a way that he never had before.

Vidal arrived in Durham in 2012 through an unusual set of circumstances: He followed his heart. The first time he saw his wife Joy, an American, outside a performance of Bale Folclorico in Salvador, he sang out to her, "You are so beautiful to me"—the popular Joe Cocker song. It was love at first sight for both of them. Soon, he followed her to Durham, where he became somewhat of a personality around town as he made himself an unofficial ambassador of Brazilian culture.

It would be easy to characterize Vidal's life journey from Brazil to Durham as a Cinderella story. But Vidal is quick to clarify that, while he is grateful, he is always mindful of his family and friends back home. He lives in the contradictions of his success.

"My mom is there [in Salvador], my whole family is there, and I know their struggles. It is a big pressure to be here. I'm the 1% and I cannot mess it up. I need to use all the platforms that I have to bring consciousness, to make space for people to discuss things that matter," Vidal says, continuing. "But I also feel proud, because I fought my way completely. If you see the neighborhood where I grew up, you'd say 'no way.' Out of ten of my childhood friends, definitely seven are in jail or dead due to violence, due to police brutality, due to drug abuse."

Still, Vidal exudes an undeniable delight in life, even when conflict comes knocking. Last August, he was at the center of the tension between Batalá Durham and a neighbor whose noise complaints threatened the group's practices at Durham Central Park. A year before this incident, Terreiro de Arte e Cultura, an Afro-Brazilian center for arts and culture, was priced out of their North Mangum space, so the possibility of being pushed out was real to Vidal.

"With the renovation of this city, we are pushing people out of this community," Vidal says. "But we need the people who show us what was here before. We need to protect the people who show us who we are."

Yet Vidal continues to insist on his place in the Durham community by making it for himself, and inviting us all in.

"He's a great example of what I think makes Durham so special—that space can be made for everyone, especially when we see so many people being pushed out," Huddlestone says, emphasizing the importance of Vidal as a man of color, as an immigrant, and as someone who is deeply embedded in the Durham community.

"I think it matters that there are people like Caique who use their limited time, money, and energy to create something that doesn't exist and wouldn't exist without them," Huddlestone adds. "And everyone benefits. And I don't say that with exaggeration. I think everyone who lives in Durham benefits from what he and those around him offer."

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