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Brazilian bass titan Junior Groovador on his bombastic playing, rocking Rio with Jack Black and channeling Rocky Balboa

Junior Groovador
(Image credit: Press)

José Adilson Firmino Silva Júnior, or Junior Groovador, is a unique bass guitar player. Allying an unearthly grasp of funk to a butt-shaking dance performance that attracted the attention of Tenacious D back in 2019, Junior is a genuinely compelling musician – but one that relatively few people know outside his home country of Brazil.

As he doesn’t speak English, we used an interpreter to assist with our interview with this effervescent musician.

Asked how he is, the 38-year-old bassist replies: “Everything is fine, everything is groovy, everything is in high spirits here in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, which is the city where I live. It’s very hot here – it reaches 40 degrees.”

As for the city of Natal, he explains: “It is a city with many beaches. Here, you can catch the sun with your hand. There is a lot of tourism here and the forró rhythm predominates here. Forró is a very rich northeastern rhythm with a mixture of a very famous instrument here in Brazil: The accordion, also called the sanfona.”

“I’m a very passionate rock guy,” he continues, asked about his influences. “English and American rock has dominated my life since my adolescence. Ever since I was a child I have had a great love for rock, and also for the culture that we have here in Brazil, this love for forró, for Brazilian music and for American and English music.”

It may have been slightly lost in translation, but there’s definitely some trauma in Junior’s past, specifically when his love of rock clashed with his church-based upbringing. 

“I started playing in the church,” he begins. “My musical education was all in the church, because my parents wanted to keep me well behaved. I was really a very frenetic rocker, so they wanted to put me in the church to keep me quiet and well behaved. The church people chipped in at a music festival, and we got my first bass. 

A guy who is in love with AC/DC, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Def Leppard, who plays in the church, is something surreal

“A guy who is in love with AC/DC, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Def Leppard, who plays in the church, is something surreal. But I took it with a lot of determination and with a lot of love until I was kicked out of the church because of my way of playing and my way of dancing. I would go there with my rock shirts, and my way of dressing and my personality bothered the churchgoers.

“There were always many difficulties,” he continues sombrely, “but it was an experience that strengthened me and made me more motivated. I could be a very radical guy to Christ, but I got even closer to him and I became more passionate about rock. Those negative experiences I had in the church motivated me a lot. I really felt like Rocky Balboa in the movie Rocky IV.”

Once Junior’s career in music took off, he focused on domestic rather than international music (“My whole career was dedicated to playing more Brazilian music than rock. I had to play these rhythms for a question of financial survival. Rock music is not very valued here in Brazil”) and was soon set up with gear endorsers.

“I’m sponsored by Ibanez basses. The amps and preamps I use are Aguilar, and I’m part of Gruv Gear and Planet Music Express, which sponsors me and is part of my artistic career here.”

I studied bass a lot through magazines. I went through many difficulties, I failed a lot of courses

Once he had built a name in Brazil, Junior began to fuse his preferred genres of music: “I have a great love for blues, jazz, and international rhythms, and I put them in my culture and region, and I also started to make this mixture with Brazilian rhythms. 

“I created a musical personality and went through many difficulties here in Brazil because of this lack of appreciation, but I always felt – through God and through my love for music – that I was going to receive international recognition. I am very happy with the recognition I have had. I feel immense gratitude for my achievements. One of the biggest dreams of my life, which makes me more motivated to continue in my career, was Rock in Rio in September 2019, when I got on stage with Jack Black.”

How did the gig with Tenacious D happen, we want to know? 

“At the time I was in my house. Due to this country not embracing local artists, I was working as a security guard, and I was on a holiday period at home. Suddenly, I received countless messages from fans, friends, internet users, saying that Jack Black wanted to meet me 

“He wrote on Twitter, ‘Does anyone have Junior’s contact number? I’m going to be at Rock In Rio’. The internet users started to get in contact with me. I found it surreal, I couldn’t believe it. I was talking to God, I was in prayer, I was in my house, I was in not such a good moment in life and suddenly all this happens, with news, blogs and more... That’s how it happened.”

He continues: “Firstly, a very famous TV channel here in Brazil, Rede Globo, got in touch with me, saying that Jack Black wanted to meet me and was in love with the song I did, Smells Like Teen Spirit in forró, and he had this desire to do it live with me, on ‘Palco Mundo’ [the ‘World Stage’] of Rock In Rio. 

“I always had a dream of at least being a participant at Rock In Rio, and the day of that Tenacious D concert in 2019 turned out to be one of the best days of my life. We did forró and rock, with the song Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

I really wanted to run a school of rock in Brazil, but Brazil never believed in me. They always treated me as that crazy clown

Junior attributes this fortuitous development to divine intervention, explaining: “It’s been a very long journey – 22 years of love for music. I started playing when I was less than 18 years old, and all this is God acting in my life, because I used to watch Jack Black movies on afternoon TV. 

“One of the movies that I am passionate about is School Of Rock: I really wanted to run a school of rock in Brazil, but Brazil never believed in me. They always treated me as that crazy clown, but Jack Black saw an artist, a professional, in me. That’s what he said, backstage at Rock in Rio.”

Asked about his bass playing, he says: “To play the bass well is to make people happy, to make people emotional, to awaken true warmth in human beings. To be a bass player is to make people happy in every sense of life: To make a person leave sadness behind and turn it into happiness.

I have great desire to do shows outside of Brazil – an immense desire. There is an immense will to succeed in life

“I studied bass a lot through magazines. I went through many difficulties, I failed a lot of courses here in Natal. I tried to get into college and music institutes, but people didn’t trust me, so I started to study at home through magazines. 

“I like to improvise a lot, I have many inspirations in various rhythms and it’s a matter of technique too, but it always depends on the music. I like to use slap and two-hand techniques in improvisations, and I like to perform them with several rhythms. I’m aggressive in my solos, but also very danceable, and very joyful, in the rhythms.”

He’s obviously passionate about his craft, we observe. “Yes – I’m passionate about music. In the bathroom, in the bedroom, making love with my wife, there has to be music. Dancing with my wife there has to be music. When I’m playing with my daughter there has to be music. 

“My daughter wants me to play K-Pop and BTS, but I don’t like it, right? I encourage her to like Def Leppard and Kiss and listen to some rock music. When she sees her dad playing she feels really proud, and I’m really happy about that.”

Talking of rock music, is Junior a fan of Brazil’s thrash metal exports Sepultura? “I really like Sepultura, mainly the old line-up from the Roots album (1996). I really liked Max Cavalera in the first line-up. 

“I also like the current singer Derrick, but I am in love with the Cavalera family, the brothers Iggor and Max Cavalera, when Max formed Soulfly. I hope one day to meet them; I’m in love with their work. Sepultura have done some versions of north-eastern rhythms combined with metal, of which I am very proud.”

So what lies ahead for him? “I have my project called Baile do Groovador, which is playing a lot more outside my region, in the southeast region of Brazil. I also love doing commercials, including advertising videos with brands, because I love working with entertainment. 

“I’m upgrading my social networks and YouTube channel, Junior Groovador Official, and I want to play outside of Brazil. That’s my goal, my motivation to continue, because it has been very difficult here in Brazil to get professional recognition.

“I’m sure that a lot of good things will come,” he says. “I’m going to continue making my videos with the musical humor that I bring. I’ll do it with all the determination and the love that I have for music.

“I have great desire to do shows outside of Brazil – an immense desire. There is an immense will to succeed in life and to transmit good things in music. I’m a guy who is ready for anything. I like challenges and new opportunities in life. I’m a guy who is prepared for anything to succeed in life and in music.”

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