Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Tereza Rachel Theater – The cradle of Rock from Rio

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Back in 1974 my friend Johnnie invited me to go to my first Rock concert of a band that had an English vocalist. The name of the band was Vimana, the English singer was to become a household name in the Eighties, better known as Richie. The guitarist and the drummer would also become mega rock stars in Brazil, Lulu Santos and Lobao respectively. For a twelve year old boy this was thrilling; I had never been to a concert, let alone seen a world class band. Their musical genre was what would become known as Progressive Rock represented by amazing bands such as Pink Floyd, Yes, PFM, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Focus and Genesis. It was not only the sonority of these bands that blew our minds but the technology too; their music was futuristic and was as close to high-tech that a kid of my age living in Rio de Janeiro would ever get to.

The show was not the epiphany I had imagined, in reality, Prog Rock was something that you had to warm up to, if the song wasn’t great one only started to understand/like it at the third or the fourth hearing, although to look good you had to pretend with your friends that you loved it. Vimana only had two exciting songs and the rest had complicated instrumentation which were as distant to my taste as most of the songs in my older sister’s records. The only thing that stayed with me after the gig was a buzz in my ear due to the super loud amplification, however what continued with me for a long time was the venue, the Tereza Rachel Theater, or the Terezao as it would become known.

Vimana went on to form a band with Patrick Moraez, one of the many keyboard players that Yes, one of the Progressive Rock monsters, but the project never went ahead. On the other hand, the Tereza Rachel went on to be the most popular music venue in Rio in the seventies. There was the more traditional and expensive Canecao, with tables and waiters, where the well known mainstream artists presented themselves and more underground theaters that were a bit too rough for upper middle class youngsters and where not all the bands were good. The Terezao was the place to go, and during its five year reign it managed to present the best upcoming artists at a accessible price and retain a counter-cultural aura.

Its stage witnessed the gradual shifted from Rock and Roll to Brazilian (electrified) music and then back to Rock in the eighties. It became so popular that it could not be ignored by the big names of the Brazilian Musical scene such as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben, Tim Maia and Milton Nascimento and even the veteran legend of Northeastern music Luiz Gonzaga. The theater had a wild atmosphere of its own, and communication with the public was always easy for the artists. More than once did I presence them organizing the audience in choirs of men and women, choirs on the left and on the right, choirs upstairs and upstairs and downstairs and choirs whistling and non-whistling in famous songs. It was also a given that the a concert would end up in an out of season carnival with the audience taking the corridors and the stage in a crazy party. The Terezao was like the air escape of the pressure pan created by the suffocating dictatorship; a place where people could be themselves and literally let their hair down.

The audience was like a club; independently of who the artists were or the trend they represented one always bumped into the same faces. The weird thing was that it was in a commercial gallery and it would be strange to see on every weekend that tribe of displaced people gathering in front of the closed shops waiting for the gates to open. In accordance to what happened at the time there were many guys with long hair and dirty clothes, many girls in hippie dresses and a lot of cannabis. There must have been an agreement with the police because there was never one bust inside the theater in its history.

There was an intellectual and aesthetic effervescence in that theater that made everything that was happening pass through it. The best shows were of the newcomers: Alceu Valenca, Fagner, Djavan, Ze Ramalho, Moraes Moreira, who had recently left the Novos Baianos but still played with its legendary guitarist Pepeu Gomes and with Salvador’s Trio Eletricos’ founder’s son, the incredible Armandinho, Joao Bosco and so many others who would become established artists.. There were also the intrumentalist vein; names that would become internationally known in the Jazz scene such as Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos and Hermeto Pascoal, would mesmerize Terezao’s audience with their technique and musical erudition. Meanwhile, democratically sharing the theater with these “respectable” artists, were the “dinosaurs” of Brazilian early seventies rock bands like O Terco, Made in Brasil, Bicho da Seda, Casa das Maquinas and of course Rita Lee, the succesful remnant of “Os Mutantes” Brazil’s pioneers in quality rock.

When the new bands of the eighties arrived there were still rock concerts at the Terezao, but with the appearance of new venues and of a new generation, it shrank and ended up becoming a meeting place for an Evangelical church. However for our generation was one of those magical things where who saw it loved it and who didn’t missed out in something amazing. I’m happy to be part of the first group.

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