There is such a thing as too much guitar in the house, according to Badi Assad. Too much rehearsal, too much classical music, “too much everything,” she said.
And the young Brazilian girl wasn’t even playing yet. But her brothers, Sérgio and Odair — who would become Duo Assad — were, from the day she was born in São Paulo.
“When I was a child, I didn’t want to do anything that was tied to music,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to be a dancer, so it was always related to art somehow, but I was always thinking about something else other than guitar.”
It would prove to be a fated family tradition impossible to escape — and one she has never looked back from — spawning into a four-decade-long international career that will bring her to East Hampton for the inaugural “Guitar Masters” festival from Thursday through Saturday at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
The festival — featuring concerts, film screenings and talkbacks — not only marks Assad’s first visit to the Hamptons, but is also the first programming of its kind anywhere on the East End, at least according to guitarist GE Smith’s recent memory.
“No, there’s been nothing like this,” explained Smith, who will perform with Richard Thompson and his son, Teddy, on Friday night, as part of his “Portraits” series. “It’s amazing what Guild Hall is doing. I’m really excited that I’m gonna get to play with Richard Thompson, who’s a real guitar hero of mine. I’ve learned a lot listening to him. I’m really looking forward to the whole thing.”
Smith first met Thompson a number of years ago during a sound check at The Bottom Line in Manhattan. For the former lead guitarist of Hall & Oates and musical director of Saturday Night Live, it was a thrill, he said, just sitting with Thompson and chatting as he changed his strings.
“The amazing thing about Richard Thompson, he’s one of the only guitarists that I know of who is equally world class on both acoustic guitar and electric guitar,” Smith said. “To be able to do both at the absolute top of the game is very rare. He’s an incredible songwriter, a great singer and he knows thousands of songs.
It’s really, really exciting to get to play with him.”
Assad will share the stage on Saturday, July 7, with acoustic duo For Living Lovers — with composer and jazz guitarist Brandon Ross, and acoustic bass guitarist Stomu Takeishi — and Israeli superstar David Broza, making for a truly international evening, she said.
“We live in a world that everybody’s mixing everything,” Assad said. “It’s a matter of finding the people like yourself, like myself, that are still connected to the purity of music and the beauty of it — and needs it to feed the soul and the spirit. The world music scenario and the jazz scenario, the classical scenario, it’s all shifting.”
Her music training started in her native Brazil, first at age 8 — a piano career that lasted all of six months, she said — and then finally on guitar at age 14.
But she did not realize her calling for the love of music, she explained. It was for the love of her father. They had recently moved from Rio de Janeiro to the countryside of São Paulo — not far from where she was born, she said — after her brothers’ music career took off.
“When we were back in the small town, he had nobody to play with for fun. So he invited me, and it is how I started, accompanying my father,” she said. “And I really had the talent! I mean, I was very fast playing all the repertoire that he taught me how to do, and I started to learn classical guitar — and I started to win some competitions.”
In 1984, she won the Young Instrumentalists Contest in Rio de Janeiro and, three years later, she was named “Best Brazilian Guitarist of the International Villa Lobos Festival” — with credits in Europe, Israel and Brazil alongside guitarist Françoise-Emmanuelle Denis, under the name Duo Romantique. In 1988 she wrote “Antagonismus,” a solo performance as a guitarist, actor, dancer and singer.
“I discovered I also had a voice, and I wanted to explore my voice,” she said. “So I kind of found my own way, my own artistic voice, different from what my brothers were doing and what they do — which is good, because then I found my own path. I didn’t ever become a shadow of the Assad Brothers.”
She calls what she does “universal Brazilian music,” treating her voice as a percussive instrument that she layers with her guitar. In the early 1990s, it was a foreign sound —“Here in Brazil, nobody whatsoever was doing that, and they didn’t get what I was proposing at all,” she said — and the critics did not always react kindly.
“I did a concert in a very important jazz festival here, and I chose the most exotic things I was doing — the things that invited me to record an album in America — and I played in this festival, and this critic destroyed me. Like, ‘This is so bad,’” she recalled. “That moment, I was still in my 20s, so that could put a distorted seed in my mind. If I paid attention to that, I would never leave the house again, like I was ashamed for what I was doing.”
Assad talks about this chapter of her life in the Brazilian documentary, “Badi,” which will make its international premiere on Friday, July 6, at Guild Hall, as part of the festival. It is a part of her story that helped shape her into the artist she is today, she said, and a sentiment she has overcome.
“Now I understand it is impossible to please everybody, in any circumstance. And this is a notion that artists can fall into this trap, that you want to please everybody. But when you learn that that’s just impossible, you relax,” she continued. “It’s beautiful. It’s the beauty of life. And I have to face all the challenges, and the movie shows it.
“It is a journey. It is an ongoing journey. We never know what’s out there until you live it,” she said. “I was always very alert to choose spirituality and taking music as part of my journey in this lifetime. And it is an extension of me.”
The inaugural “Guitar Masters” festival will be held from Thursday, July 5, through Saturday, July 7, at Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton.
Film screenings will include “Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police,” preceded by the short film “Music for Lens & Guitar,” on Thursday, July 5; “Badi,” preceded by the short film “History of the Electric Guitar,” on Friday, July 6; and “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” on Saturday, July 7. Each screening starts at 4 p.m. and tickets are $14, or $12 for members.
Andy Summers and Ralph Gibson will perform on Thursday, July 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $85 to $200, or $80 to $195 for members. G.E. Smith’s “Portraits” series will continue with Richard and Teddy Thompson on Friday, July 6, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $55 to $150, or $53 to $145 for members. David Broza, Badi Assad, Brandon Ross and Stomu Takeishi will perform on Saturday, July 7, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $50 to $150, or $45 to $145 for members.
“The Art of Guitar Making” with Ken Parker and “Please Be With Me: a Song for my Father, Duane Allman” with Galadrielle Allman, will be held on Saturday, July 7, at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $15 and $13 for members.
All-access passes are $1,000, which includes access to the catered VIP lounge, all programs, a party on June 9 at a private home with a performance by Doyle Bramhall II, and entry to win a limited-edition Fender G.E. Smith Telecaster Guitar.
For more information, please call (631) 324-4050 or visit guildhall.org.