It seems a fair assertion to make that there is no equivalent in Dublin — or, indeed, in Ireland — to eight-piece Nova Collective, with their gorgeously breezy bossa nova melodies and the smooth-as-honey combined vocals of Luana Matos and Dónal Kearney. The brainchild of pianist and composer Louis Ryan, the group’s initial incarnation was back in 2013 — “I was just out of college and there was this group of musicians I knew from Trinity […] and I suppose at that time I was listening to a lot of bossa nova,” Ryan explains. “The idea was that we’d start a project and maybe play in that sort of style, or at least be influenced by it.”
The group produced several well-received video releases thanks to the combined efforts of a talented circle of college friends, but they went on a brief hiatus so that Ryan could take some time to do some writing. “I often think that writing anything — not just music — is kind of like a muscle, and you need to do it a lot in order to keep it in exercise.”
The hiatus allowed for a reassessment of what exactly Nova Collective was and, on the advice of a jazz musician, Ryan realised that it was important to involve Brazilian artists given that the music he was writing has such a strong cultural identity. Thus entered the likes of Matos, with her delicate Portuguese vocals and her assured knowledge of said cultural identity. This is hardly to say that Ryan — or indeed the other members of the group — are in anyway ignorant of their genre, and the three members present seem to have an equal knowledge of a variety of Brazilian albums: “You would probably know a lot of Brazilian albums that I’ve never heard of,” Mato says to Ryan, but he argues that the same is true vice versa.
Their sound has certainly gone down well with Dublin’s Brazilian crowd — “There were so many Brazilians dancing and singing along, it was so cool,” Kearney says of their intimate headline show at Bellobar last year. With that said, Ryan admits to a tendency to playing more upbeat sambas than lilting bossa novas in their live sets because of the incredible crowd response. “It’s all about the rhythm,” explains Kearney, “People hear the rhythm and they just feel it.”
Matos is hesitant about tailoring gigs to focus on just the faster songs, however: “If you talk about Brazilian music, people are gonna think about samba,” she says with a good-natured groan, “And it’s not just like that! Our first single ‘New Samba’, it’s a bossa nova […] it’s not just music to dance to, it’s to enjoy! The way that [Ryan] writes is so rich.”
The pianist’s writing style has changed over the years, he says, finding himself more relaxed in his scoring: “I used to score everything really heavily because that was the way I’d been taught […] but now the more you trust the other people in the band, the music comes alive through their interpretation.” The group’s approach to lyrics is quite fascinating too, with Ryan sometimes coming up with concepts and lines in English and giving them to Matos to translate into suitably lyrical Portuguese.
There is the anticipation for the next wonderfully rich composition Ryan comes up with for his two singers, whom he increasingly finds himself writing for: “For whatever reason, these two have been my biggest catalyst ever.” With their beautifully light, lilting EP on the horizon and a tour to support it, it’s a truly exciting time for Nova Collective, and everything seems fittingly like it’s going the way of the final refrain from ‘New Samba’ — “sweet and loving”.
Photo by Benedict Shegog.
For more information on Nova Collective, see: www.ensemble.ie/novacollective
Interview originally published in tn2 magazine