Cecilia Keuffer - singer and musical activist in the Lusophone community
Cecilia Keuffer was born in Brazil to immigrant parents who were proud to identify as Brazilians. She grew up eating both Jewish and Moroccan foods, speaking French, listening to Arabic and Spanish (she speaks a Jewish-Moroccan dialect), as well as Portuguese. She also reads Hebrew and now speaks English all the time in Manchester.
Coming to Manchester
"My type of immigrant is not like, probably 90% of Brazilian immigrants because I'm not a financial immigrant. I didn’t come here to get a better life. I came to Manchester because my son, Leon, was accepted at Chetham’s School of Music, a school, a private school, an independent school in the city centre of Manchester. He was the first Brazilian child to be accepted in 600 years of the Chetham’s buildings … so I came with him because it was a boarding school and … I didn't want him to have this clash too much. So I rented an apartment for to be with him at least for a time until he adjusted. But then I couldn't stay with him, so I applied for a student visa. So I did Master's degree in Jewish Studies at Manchester University to stay with him."
Cecilia's son went straight from Chetham's to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he won a scholarship to study violin. From there he went to Salzburg, in order to further develop his central European repertoire.
"So he is 25 years old, and he is in his fourth country of residency. Because we lived in Brazil, then we moved to US for my Master's Degree in opera. Then he moved here, we moved here and then now he's in Austria. So we are a family of immigrants, actually, my parents, my grandparents, you know? I married a British man, my colleague, and also he's Jewish like me. I married in 2016. So, so that's why I live here in Ashton because he used to live here in Ashton."
Manchester as a city is a home and not a home, for Cecilia. She does not feel deeply rooted.
"When I came to Manchester, it was because of my son, right. And I got a visa to stay with him. But after my visa finishes, I had to go back to Brazil. So I spent six months here with my son and six months, whatever, in Brazil travelling, so I never got this connection with the city. I had a synagogue that I used to go to but it is still not... I… I feel comfortable here, but I still feel that it’s a passage for me."
Cecilia's music-making is wide-ranging, involving Jewish music, but also singing opera and traditions of world music, particularly Brazilian jazz and Afro-brazilian music. Her interest in Brazilian music has a strong community dimension in Manchester.
"[Before Covid-19] I was planning a festival, the Lusophone Festival in Manchester. I had sponsors already. It was sad to return the money, but you know... Lusophone communities in Manchester means all the communities who speak Portuguese […]. So we would break in little events, like literary events, cultural events, like traditional customs, food, dance, and a big concert of music. I had all the repertoire. I had people to do it, but then all of this happened."
Music in Cecilia’s Life
In different phases of Cecilia's life, depending partly where she has lived, different musics have been important to her. She grew up going to the theatre with her parents, she studied piano, and went to Conservatoire at the age of 17. And she sings a range of traditions, including opera and Jewish chant. She values the way that people come together to develop traditions, and the supportive community that this brings. But she also has some reservations about how communities work.
"Because we are... we cannot do anything, I joined a local choir. Now this is interesting, okay. This I haven't done in my life. This is a first. It’s an Anglican Church. But they were about to die, because nobody, nobody wants to go to the church anymore, much less sing in a choir. So they have a Jewish woman who sits down through the service. We have a choir member, she said “I was baptised here, I've married here, I baptised my children here, and it's so sad to see, to see the church empty, but while I have life, I will sing in this choir”. And, um, you know, she, in her way, she's doing exactly what I'm doing. Trying to keep something important alive through music."
"And music is, is, is an incredible source of congregation, you know. And in my case, they are learning that there is a Jew there. They don't need to try to convert [me] because I will not [….] the good that they can do for me is much bigger than the bad that can do. And they, they really propagate ideas of love and, and peace and […]if I can help them with their choir, I will and I am."
"[There] is another thing about immigrants. You know, many of us, some people we don't have way to ... to be supported. We need to be strong. You know. And that's why for some immigrants, community, in another country is everything. It’s a lifeboat. But it’s also a curse. It's also a curse. Because if you have a ghetto mentality, you don't progress. You keep talking your own language, you, you keep your own habits. And gradually you start isolating yourself from the broader community and the community of the new country. You should interact with the, as we call, natives, you know, in respect to the country, this is another thing that I face out."
Music and Identity in Migration
Cecilia chose to share a song sung by the singer Debbie Friedman, because it expresses two qualities of herself.
“I have two things in me. I have the Jewish and the Brazilian in me. I have, I have the knowledge of the Jewish wandering 2000 years over the planet.
"It’s because, it’s because it's the, it’s the immigrant song for us. It says 'you go'. 'You go to a place that will show you. And you leave your house, you leave your land, but you will be blessed. And I will be with you through your journey. And your children will be, will have a name.' So this is for, every time I cry. I cry, because I think about my grandparents who left Greece, who died in Auschwitz. Always from a country to a country."
"When I chose [this song] I thought, 'Well, I hope they don't relate this to Judaism in itself'. No. It’s the meaning of the... (of course for me it has a meaning of course this level of, I'm not religious, by the way, I don't believe, barely believe in God, okay...) But someone, but Abraham, put in his mind that someone told him to go, go forth. You know, don't be afraid. You go to a land that you don't know. You know, and to enjoy life. […]
I think about my parents’ situation. I think about my grandparents’ situation. And the ones who came before them. Always in the move. My parents found happiness and peace in Brazil, even though they died too young. […] But they were happy there. They found peace. And can you imagine you come to a country with no family, not speaking the language and being adopted? How [scary] this should be to a child. You know, so that's why I'm, yeah, I feel strong about the song, because I think everyone can relate [to it], any immigrant can relate."