How the Samba Got Lost
The big question in our childhood in the seventies was, what will you be when you grow up? There was no doubt that whatever we chose as a career, no matter how far fetched the dream was, we were bound to make it big. We were the children of the country of the economic miracle, with two figure growth rates for consecutive years, three time world champion in football (or soccer). Brazil and the Brazilians were predestined to glory, this was a nation that had built its capital in the middle of nowhere and that was now constructing the Transamazonian highway which would open further opportunities for growth. The road towards development and wealth was unstoppable and the saying was that God was Brazilian.
I remember vividly a conversation with Marcio, a guy who would commit suicide five years later after several internments in mental institutions, where we discussed our future and had no doubt about the satisfaction of our kids of living in flats by the sea. As the bus passed a fun fair that had been constructed in Sao Conrado, night fell as our prophesies went from strength to strength.
As school started preparing us for university, and adulthood started showing itself up in the horizon, the economic conditions started changing and the unstoppable optimism was replaced by uneasiness and by a growing politization. This was the time of the “abertura”; the military were restoring civil freedoms, freeing political prisoners and allowing exiled politicians back into the country. The result was that the middle class shifted from raving about their future to indulging in an era of cultural enlightenment and personal flourishment.
The novelty of freedom and of open political discussions created what can be described as the “Brazilian spring”. As youngsters we were hit in full by this illusion and believed that our obligation was to question everything and to oppose any restriction to our rights and to other peoples rights. In the immediate spheres the greatest hurdle for our freedom were parents and the police and we took them on like puppies take on their owners.
Reality took some three or four years to bite in. These weren’t the sixties but by nineteen eighty three or four that dream by the Brazilian coast, of a free country with a free and sustainable future hosting suntanned and fulfilled citizens was over. The truth was that these golden years were provided by the military in order to create a smoke screen to cover up the economic disaster that was happening in the background.
Being a huge country with a politically naive population ruled by corrupt leaders who were protected by a military apparatus, Brazil was the perfect ground for economic hit men. These guys come representing big conglomerates with a case full of money and offer it to authorities in exchange for massive projects that benefit everyone except the population. These operations generate gigantic debts which are one of the most efficient ways for the money owners to suck in the riches created in the “real world”.
The results of this time bomb took by surprise an entire generation, and their parents too. Economic strife and personal hardship were not inscribed in the country’s DNA and until the mid eighties this was never in anyone’s radar. As the situation deteriorated so did the country’s mental health, crime and violence rocketed, cocaine abuse became endemic while the people and their government did not know how to deal with what was going on. The international community’s response could not have been worse, they sent in inspectors of the International Monetary Fund to tell the Brazilians that they had to undergo austerity measures to remedy the pains that their economic hitmen had caused.
This unexpected outcome of our formative years poisoned the air and affected personal relationships. People said sod it to who they were in order to climb out of the hole. Now they did not live for the dream anymore; they substituted that for pursuing the false promises that the system offered. A stamp of serfdom was put on their foreheads and the samba was lost.
It is sad to see this pattern happening again in countries that joined the European Union, and there is no doubt that the cycle has restarted in the Olympic and World Cup Brazil. Yes.. History repeats itself, and we ask until when will we allow people to steal our samba.