Gilles is French and runs a wine bar with his wife Amandine in downtown Lisbon. For now, nothing would set off the alarm bells of “it is a good story”, until Gilles mentions that he is also a musician, and more than that, a musician with a repertoire of more than a thousand songs and 50 records.
It was the password for the “good story”. We put the glasses of red wine away from the table and leaned over the unpretentious conversation on a warm Lisbon evening.
Gilles was introduced by a mutual friend, also interested in introducing the French couple’s Bistrot, Madame Bacchus, a charming wine bar on São Mamede Street, with an intimate atmosphere, an elegant menu with vegetarian-friendly tastes, and a real wine list.
A place with potential for a good story, but let’s face it, fifty records and a thousand songs is an elephant too big to be ignored, and that’s how the scene suddenly changed from a table in a downtown wine bar to the studio in the living room of a three-bedroom apartment in Campo dos Mártires da Pátria.
Jam session at DNA and home office studio
It is there, in his home office studio, that days later Gilles twists the tuning pegs on his electric guitar arm in search of the perfect tuning, while his other hand glides across the strings. Arlindo, one of Gilles and Amandine’s two cats, is watching the whole thing. The process takes a few minutes until the first notes echo through the studio room in the lively chords of a samba.
Gilles Cardoni was born in Carthage, Tunisia, in 1972, the son of a Sicilian father and a Belgian mother, an affective georeferencing in jam session style that helps illustrate the trajectory of this multi-instrumentalist musician, from the beginning of his career, at the age of 20, in Paris, with stopovers in Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro and now in Lisbon.
In 30 years of profession, the Frenchman says he has his name on more than 1200 songs, composed solo and in partnerships, most of them published on around fifty records. On average, there are 50 songs a year, an intense and diverse production, which includes rock, bossa nova, samba, house, pop, and bands for films, television series, and video games.
“I’ve had songs in episodes of Dexter and The Simpsons,” says the Frenchman, who confesses to having a hard time tracing the paths of his work, spread across several digital bookstores run by the giant BMG, which acquired the AXS Music label, with which Gilles usually works.
“I’ve had songs in episodes of Dexter and The Simpsons”Gilles Cardoni
“AXS and BMG provide the music to films, games, and series’ producers, and even to the television news broadcast. I only realize where they ended up when I get the list of royalties at the end of the month,” explains the musician, who, in these three decades, says he has managed to live mostly off royalties.
As a way of making a portfolio available, Gilles keeps a part of the repertoire on Spotify, a “best of,” as he calls the playlist with a hundred songs, updated frequently with old and new material.
With his records, the situation is similar. The Frenchman keeps dozens of them on CDs in his apartment, but with the dispersion caused by the end of physical products and the Spotify effect, it is easier to follow the works he has composed alone or in partnerships.
Besides the music available on audio libraries, Gilles also produces to order. On the day of the interview, he was finishing two soundtracks for a martial arts video game. “This one is for when the character loses in the game,” he explains, typing a sad melody with an oriental twist into the synthesizer in the studio room.
The creation process is usually simple and quick, which explains the twelve hundred – and always counting – signed songs. “Most take a day or two to get ready. There are also, of course, others that get stuck in my mind longer, but it’s rare,” he says, as he pulls the fast-paced track for the character’s fight scene in the video game out of the synthesizer.
If the synthesizer is an old acquaintance of Gilles, a close relative of the instrument, the piano, entered the studio quite recently, more precisely when the Frenchman moved to Lisbon in 2014. “I used to try something in the piano, but I started to take it seriously after I met Pablo Lapidusas,” he remembers.
This Pablo Lapidusas is a young Argentine pianist and teacher who lived in Brazil and is now based in Portugal. It was through him that Gilles started taking lessons in Lisbon. “Pablo is a genius and plays in a mind-blowing way”, he praises. The piano lessons continue, although with a different teacher, less hallucinating and more dedicated to the classical piano.
The respect for the new member of the family is so great that Gilles now reserves recitals on the imposing wall piano only for a small group of friends. In addition, the instrument is used with less veneration by the cats Arlindo and Nina; they use it as a backup for their naps.
Guitar in Los Angeles, tambourine in Rio
It was the same need for improvement that took Gilles to his first stopover: Los Angeles.
“I lived very shortly in Carthage, where I was born. My parents soon moved to Hyères, in the south of France, and then to Paris,” he says. In the French capital, the musician lived in the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre, where he began to play his first chords and decided to become a musician at the age of 20.
“I knew that if I wanted to make a living as a musician, I had to improve myself, so I went to Los Angele to study at The Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) at the Musicians Institute,” he says.
His return to Paris marked the beginning of his professional career in the first band he formed, the trio Harry Morse Project: “We released an album called Love Bombing, essentially with house music and big wave. We did several concerts in Europe and even in the Caribbean. It was fun,” he recalls.
Although fun, life in Paris was not enough to keep Gilles from leaving for a new destiny. “I went on vacation to Rio de Janeiro and fell in love with the city. I ended up staying,” he says, in his Portuguese with a Brazilian accent.
It was in Rio that Gilles became “Gil”, a nickname by which he is known among his closest friends, including in Lisbon. In Rio he was also introduced to samba and the instruments that accompany it, such as the tambourine and the ukulele, today they joined with the synthesizer, piano, and guitars in the studio.
“I decided that I will go back to Rio de Janeiro when I am very old, to end my days.”Gilles Cardoni
The Brazilian season was from 2006 to 2008, followed by another return to Paris. “I continued to travel constantly to Rio. I decided that I will go back there when I am very old, to end my days,” he confesses.
Even away from Brazil and still, far from ending his days, Gilles remembers Rio through samba, which he plays at the micro Rodas de samba at Madame Bacchus, in the company of musicians Marcelo Mendes and Micheline Cardoso.
The samba also circulates and purrs through the house to the rhythm of the cat Arlindo’s lazy pace: “He is called Arlindo in honor of Arlindo Cruz, one of Rio de Janeiro’s great samba players,” she reveals, while petting the feline as if playing a fluffy ukulele.
Back in Paris, Gilles and Amandine were introduced to Lisbon by a Portuguese friend. Just as happened with Rio de Janeiro, after a visit to the city, the couple decided to move. “I was fed up with Paris and Lisbon was there, halfway between France and Brazil,” he says.
“Lisbon is fantastic, but I still feel, even after so much time here, difficulties in relating to the local music community.”Gilles Cardoni
The couple landed in Lisbon in 2014. Three years later, they opened Madame Bacchus, now run largely by his wife, Amandine Portugal, who has adapted to the new country since her surname. For Gilles, the wine bar is less work and more a way to rest his head and dedicate himself to other pleasures, such as wine and meeting people, as in this interview.
From the new city, the musician keeps only one reservation:
“Lisbon is fantastic, but I still feel, even after so much time here, difficulties in relating to the local music community, as happened in Rio de Janeiro. It is still a closed circle, which is a shame because I could produce even more”, he says.
Produce even more?
Gilles just smiles and shrugs. After all, for this Frenchman from Lisbon, composing seems a gesture as simple, fast, and pleasurable as emptying a glass of good red wine.
You can read this article in Portuguese.
If you like what you’ve seen us doing, if you get inspired by our stories, if you care about a new Lisbon, more engaging and liveable, if you see any use in this journalism, communitarian and close spare a little bit of your time and consider donating. If you want to be part of this community – join us!