Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Brazil’s silent Revolution – Diretas Ja

Rio de Janeiro

In the early eighties the Brazilian economy was beginning to dip into one of the worst economic tragedies the world got to know in the 20’th century. The causes were three: a gigantic internal debt inherited by the construction of Brasilia in the fifties, the retraction of the world economy that had begun in the mid seventies and the ineptness of the military government in dealing with bad times.

To try to divert the attention to these issues and to the lack of democracy, the military resorted to the policy of abertura (opening) which had similarities with the soviet Glasnost, that was happening at the same time. They hoped that the opposition would be appeased by allowing exiles back into the country, by freeing political prisoners, by allowing new parties to appear and by giving more freedom to the press. One of the main channels of this new political openness was a program called “Canal Livre” where popular left-wing journalists gathered to interview all sorts of personalities, including important politicians returning from their exile.

Some interviews were memorable, and even shocking for the amount of freedom that was aired. In one of these programs, the iconic Senator Teotonio Vilela launched the idea of a pacific movement in favor of direct elections for president. This was a long awaited change; since the coup in 1964, the country’s rulers had been chosen by the congress where a large percentage of its members were indicated by the military.

With the ever worsening of the economy, the movement grew like fire on dry straw and was soon embraced by all the opposition forces in the country from illegal trade unions to a large amount of mainstream politicians. From relatively small demonstrations, they grew into gigantic rallies in all major cities of the country with crowds always around the million mark. The speakers ranged from celebrity artists, actors, union leaders and politicians, many of whom would become governors, senators and presidents such as Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luis Ignacio da Silva, or Lula,

Initially branded as “subversive” by the president, General Joao Baptista Figueiredo, the sheer scale of the protests made their voice impossible to go unnoticed. There was violence and there were people sent to jail but the dynamics of the movement were unstoppable and culminated in the Dante de Oliveira constitutional amendment. Although it only guaranteed free and general elections for president eight years later, it nailed the coffin for the worst period recorded in Brazilian political history, and was the founding stone of modern Brazil.

Read a personal account of this historic moment in Lost Samba.

?????????????

Thanks to http://insiderbrazil.wordpress.com/ for pointing to the following video:

The First Chicken in Copacabana

_CopacabanaChic

My parents emigrated from the UK to Rio de Janeiro in the late 50’s. If the countries are different now imagine back then; it was a completely different world. A good illustration of this  was their first purchase of a chicken on Brazilian soil:

In those days they were sold alive. The way it worked was that you chose one and it was delivered to your home a few hours later. It was adventurous enough for Mum to go to such a shop and it was a given that she would not take it home herself. No one would ever expect an elegant “madame” to walk around with a freshly killed chicken in the stylish Copacabana streets.

It was the maid who received the poultry packed in newspaper pages at the back door of the flat. After bringing the future meal in and lying it on her bathroom floor, she went to my mum to try to explain something that seemed urgent. In her very poor Portuguese, Mum understood that there was a problem in cutting the head off. The bulk of their cutlery had not been cleared by customs yet  and only knives they had at home were butter ones. This was unexpected because she assumed that the chicken would come from the shop plucked gutted and ready for stuffing.

Without thinking much about it, and delighted to have a maid to boss around the logical orders were to pour boiling water on its neck to soften the meat and then re-trying with a bit more strength. That would have certainly worked had the chicken not been alive. The shrieks coming from the maid’s quarters made her realize that there was something wrong. When she got there to check out what was happening she understood the morbidity of the situation. The bird was in agony and being dealt by an equally horrified maid, who must have thought that the “gringa” was mad but that orders were orders.

After disposing of the poor chicken, and without the option of buying a ready-made meal in a take away by the corner, they were obliged to eat out in a restaurant . The recently arrived couple must have laughed a lot about the event during their enjoyable evening out by the sea. I never thought of asking about the destiny of the was-to-be meal and would like to think that the maid took it home and provided a feast to her children in the favela.

The early gangster days of Computer Graphics in Rio de Janeiro – part 01

ZonaSulThis was already in the nineties.
I had come back from Europe after the storm of the Fernando Collor years to begin my career as a computer graphics artist. In my luggage was the strange experience of being a salesman/semi-legal smuggler of visual effects equipment travelling between France and the UK and then as a Sales Manager for the same sort of goods in Portugal, this time in a bigger company where I wore suits and had a secretary. I promise to write on those crazy times in another post but this only comes in because it shows an unusual background for a Carioca at the time.
I had fallen in love with those image manipulation and three-dimensional softwares and my mind was made up to be part of the circus. However, succeeding in Computer Graphics in Rio de Janeiro was a steep mountain to climb: in 1994 one could count on the fingers the people who were doing it professionally. I didn’t care and reckoned that if I came back home, bought a PC and ran after my dream the chances of making it were higher than in the European market where the absence artistic or computer related training were a serious handicap.
My guess was spot on; I began calling production houses and most of them were happy to talk to me. As expected they had state of the art video editing equipment and were starting to open their eyes to the possibilities of Computer manipulated images. This was happening abroad and was bound to happen there sooner or later. The people I met were evasive about a possible partnership or about having me as a computer graphics department in their premises  However something struck me: all the studios I visited had signs announcing that they had been recently mugged by an armed gang and asking for any possible leads.
In one of the houses, I bumped into an ex-colleague from University, she had studied art in London and had actually worked at Framestore a facility that would become one of Soho’s biggest. She was on her way out and with her recommendation the doors opened and I got my first job as a CG artist. The owner was the son of the Teresa Rachel theater, see my post about the venue, and it was not by chance that the studio was in the same shabby gallery in Copacabana. The job would not last long, the owner was into video art and had no patience for the slowness of what I wanted to introduce.
Magnetoscopio was quite a trendy place, they had done several music videos with the biggest pop names of the time: Renato Russo, Blitz, Titas and many others. The highlight of my three months there was an exhibition he organized with the american videoartist Bill Viola, for me the greatest artist of the end of the 20th century. It is not that I had an important role in the show, I was there helping to hang things from the walls and from the ceiling and making sure that the equipment had not suffered from the journey. Anyway I made some new friends there and one of them, Marcos, got interested in what I did and promised me to put me in contact with more people.
In the meantime my dentist sister talked about me to one of her clients who was a big shot in one of Rio’s biggest advertising agencies, Artplan. It was a thrilling invitation but in a few days I discovered that this was all about bringing in an extra computer for free to the office rather that doing anything related to footage for commercials. To my luck, the time as a useless artist for tests that the cocaine head art directors asked for was short-lived; one day I received a phone call of a guy calling himself Hoarse Duck (Pato Rouco) saying that Marcos had recommended me and asking me to come in to discuss about a commercial to be done in Computer Graphics.
Nervous, with a demo-reel containing the few experiments I had done with the software I went to meet the guy in his studio that was in one of the worst parts of town; the Feira de Sao Cristovao. As I came into his office the bearded muscular guy in his early forties who seemed to have popped out of a Honcho magazine was sitting with a fat man from Sao Paulo. He got up from his chair and greeted me as if we knew each other for a long time. He presented me to his client and said.
“This is our computer graphics artist!”
The next thing I knew was that I was working on a thirty second commercial for an English course in one of the roughest areas of Rio de Janeiro, and a few weeks later I was seeing my work on TV screens all over town.
Things happened so fast that I never stopped to think what I was getting into. After the second commercial, work went quiet and I started to observe better what was around me. Computer Graphics is a profession known for late nights and going home was one the unsafest experiences I have ever had; I had to walk alone through a unpoliced area famous for having the highest mugging rates in Rio. My work colleagues were all from the most modest areas of town and were street wise rough and kept on insisting that I bought a gun. Their stories were horrific, one of them had witnessed a gang war in a favela where the rival faction hung the head of the defeated leader on a post. On another occasion some others were stranded for three days in a favela at war.
The only two other guys from the South Zone were the editors. One of them only appeared occasionally, he lived in Sao Paulo and liked to brag about how much money he was making. The other one, Luis, was a more shadowy character who lived in Botafogo. He was my age, big and looked like a corrupt police officer, we got along well and were lunch companions; he was curious about Computer Graphics and I was curious about the crazy stories he had to tell. It must be said that I was considered the lovable nerdy guy and the conversations between me and my peers never went further than talking about computers, football and women.
One day one of the runners said that he had heard that Luis and his brother were part of the armed gang that was stealing the other production companies and that the owners had found him out and were going to kill him. Not sure of what to do, we approached him and said that we did not want to know if this was true or not but we had heard this, this and that and that he should be careful. His reaction was to laugh about it and get back to work.
However, a week later he received an urgent phone call while working, asked someone to finish what he was doing and rushed out. Two days later he was on the front page of one of Rio’s crime dedicated newspapers, dead with his body full of bullet holes. After that the owners of other studios left town while Hoarse Duck productions was in a pandemonium.
I over heard conversations about cameras that only went from his house to shooting sessions and back and other creepy stories. I though to myself that I had been introduced to the CG world through a very bizarre door and that now my new mission was to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.

Vimana – the origins of Brazilian Rock

Johnny was an American/Brazilian friend, perhaps because of this and because he had two older brothers he had a more liberated life than myself; his parents allowed him to surf and to go to rock concerts. The friendship opened doors to a world that I wished to get into, namely the surfer’s one.

Without parental consent he started to take me to where it was happening. We began by surf films: high school student union cine-clubs showed them in sessions advertised on A4 sized posters suck on to walls of the surf shops that were starting to pop up in Ipanema. Teachers and head masters certainly did not know what went on inside those rooms. The first one I went to was in the auditorium of a Church in Copacabana. The girls looked too wild for us and all the guys in the room had long hair and looked, or at least tried to look, like seasoned surfers.

As the lights went off the warrior cries and the surfer’s “yeehaa!!!” began. The first shot was a fly through the Hawaiian Mountains that landed on a beach with perfect waves. From there it cut to “real” long-haired american surfers which all of us knew from imported magazines. I think that was the first time in my life I was in a room where someone smoked weed. At the end of the session, although my parents forbade surf at home and weed was considered as the synthesis of evil I was a few steps closer to the surfing world.

The next step was going to a proper rock concert. Johnny invited me to go to see a really good band with an English singer that everyone was into. The name of the Band was Vimana.

As it happens that band was to represent the genesis of Brazilian modern rock. It featured guys who were to become major names in the Brazilian Rock scene: Lulu Santos, their guitarist and vocalist on some songs would become one of Brazi’ls biggest commercial successes in the 1980’s, Ritchie, the English singer also would become a household name when he launched the classic Menina Veneno a few years later and their drummer Lobao, only 16 at the time, is still one of the most influential names in Brazilian Rock.

vimana44

The theater was the Teresa Rachel (see article about it in this blog) and the public was the same as in the surfing films but bigger. It seemed that everyone with long hair in Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone was in that hall. There was the inevitable smell of Cannabis in the Theater but what really caught our attention was the futuristic equipment and the similarity of the music that they played to what we heard on our record players: Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes and Led Zeppelin.

The level was deafening and left a hum in my ear for almost a week. As I left the theater I was proud to have been to my first rock concert and that was boasting material for weeks.

Vimana was good even when compared to foreign bands. Unfortunately my pocket-money was not enough to buy the single that they released, the one and only they ever did. As most bands do, they ended up imploding but a few years later they were called up by Patrick Moraez, the keyboard play from the mega British Progressive rock band Yes to work with him, they rehearsed for months but it ended up not going ahead.

The video above is not great but is probably their only live recording ever. Hopefully you will enjoy it.

The Chimpa

ChimpaI knew Herbert from before Uni, we had both studied at the Colegio Andrews and belonged to the same group of friends. In our freshmen’s class, as we started to meet new friends we ended up belonging to the same crowd again. When the group started to frequent each others’ house we discovered that, differently to everybody else, he lived alone with his older brother in Copacabana.

His address was close to the neighborhood’s main traffic artery, the ever congested Nossa Senhora de Copacabana Avenue. Although a bit uninviting at first his flat was very unusual; it had originally been the porters’ premises and was built like a house on top of its roof. As Copacabana’s construction laws stated twelve as the maximum floors a building could have, his “house”was inserted in a bizarre landscape of rooftops and tv antennae with vertiginous drops to the street down bellow. This madness was surrounded by untouched hills on one side and by the presence of the ocean on the other. During the day it was like being in the country; the serenity up there contrasted with what went on bellow. Far away “ neighbors” carried on with their lives: we could see women putting clothes to dry, guys looking after their bird cages and children playing football and flying kites. At night it was as if we were the only ones in a deserted village free from the city down below.

It didn’t take long for the mixture of that unusual setting and the absence of intruding parents to transform that magic spot into the “gang’s” meeting point. After class, nothing serious to do? where should we go? Herbert’s house. In a night with no parties, where should we go? Herbert’s house. The party is no good? Let’s phone Herbert to see if he is in. Had a row with the girlfriend? where to go? what to do? phone Herbert… You get the picture.

As Cannabis became more popular,  the fact that the house was on the last floor and that the illegal and strong smoke went up unnoticed by unwelcome noses made it even more popular. This was a time when Rio’s South Zone’s youth was discovering Bob Marley, and that fell down like a glove on a frozen hand. It was our  ritual to go to the “house in the sky”, put on Reggae as loud as possible and stay admiring the surrealism of that place.

On one special afternoon I visited Herbert for our usual Marley session. While feeling the cannabical “enzimes” acting numbing our thoughts, we had a revelation and noticed the Cantagalo hill in a way that it had never been seen before. It looked like a Chimpanzee’s face!!! (see the picture above). We had a Cheech and Chong epiphany that has lasted until the current days. From then on his house became called the “Chimpa”. It became a code we used in every second phrase, “Let’s meet at the Chimpa”, “You won’t believe what happened at the Chimpa last night!” “This new Bob Marley song! So good… we have to hear it at the Chimpa.”

After so many years, with all our friends having all sorts of successful careers, some living abroad, we still hail Copacabana’s sleeping giant Chimpanzee.

Post Navigation