LEAF-PLAYING IN QUITO 1960-1965
The out-of-this-world recordings of Dilson de Souza, leading a kind of tropical chamber jazz on leaves from a ficus tree. Dilson was from Barra do Pirai, in the Brazilian countryside; moving to Rio as a young man, where he worked in construction. He recorded his first record in 1954, for RCA Victor. He travelled to Quito around 1957, soon hooking up with Benitez & Valencia, who introduced him to the CAIFE label.
Dilson played the leaf open, resting on his tongue, hands free, with his mouth as the resonator. Though a leaf can also be played rolled or folded in half, this method allowed for more precision, a tethered brilliance. A picked ficus leaf stays fresh, crisp and clean-toned for around ten hours. He could play eight compositions, four at each end, before it was spent.
Biluka plays trills and vibratos effortlessly, with utterly pure pitch, acrobatically sliding into notes and changing tone on the fly. In Manuco, he leads Los Caníbales into a mysterious landscape on a rope pulled from an Andean spaghetti western, and corrals and teases them into a dialogue. A leaf, a harp, a xylophone, and a rondador — joined in Bailando Me Despido (Dancing As I Say Goodbye) by a saucy organ, doing sloshed call-and-response. In Anacu de Mi Guambra, Biluka shows his full range of antics, hiccuping melodically over a set of magic tricks. His expressiveness was boundless.
The eucalyptus leaf is popular among Aboriginal Australians. In China, they’ve played leaves for 10,000 years. In Cambodia, people play the slek, a leaf plucked from either the sakrom or the khnoung tree. But ain’t nobody like Biluka, ever.