Lost Samba – Chapter 9/01 – Ipanema’s revolution
Ipanema entered the world’s consciousness as a dream-like place in the mid-1960s when Frank Sinatra discovered Bossa Nova’s laid-back melodies. However, by the 1970s, Bossa Nova, Frank Sinatra and the positive outlook of the Brazilian society had become something of the past. Living under a dictatorship and recovering from the wounds of democracy’s failed resistance, Ipanema would now take centre-place in the country’s process of digesting the new reality. It would do this with a twist of rock ’n’ roll. Although the neighborhood was the embodiment of the middle class comfort that the so-called “Brazilian economic miracle” had ushered; there was an awareness that the newfound wealth was for a privileged minority and that this status quo was backed by a harsh political clampdown. In the early days following the 1964 coup, Ipanema seemed like an independent republic, an island of critical thought where talented and comparatively wealthy, bohemian artists and intellectuals congregated. Their resistance to the military regime began early when, in 1969, a group of them launched a satirical weekly called O Pasquim. This seminal publication would land many of its contributors in prison for varying lengths of time, but would also position them into the elite of the country’s intelligentsia.
O Pasquim was ahead of its days: not only did it firmly position itself against the military but it also lampooned the bourgeoisie and their values. There were ground-breaking interviews, many of them fuelled by bottles of whisky, with all sorts of football players, artists, politicians, actors and other celebrities. In a time of heavy censorship, they exposed these public figures from previously unexplored angles, encouraging them to talk about their private lives, their views on controversial subjects such as drugs and sex and to confess their sins. They also approached people who the mainstream media ran away from, such as Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva – Brazil’s future president but in the 1970s just a rising leader of the “inconvenient” metalworkers’ union in the outskirts of São Paulo.
Battling the heavy hand of the government, O Pasquim was one of the very few remaining independent journalistic voices following the suppression of the mainstream media. Somehow, this publication succeeded in being both humorous and penetrating and the weekly sold solidly right across Brazil. Their contibutors became household names throughout the country and had the effect of making Ipanema a synonym for a free, resistant and happy bohemian zone. This image would be a key to how Brazil would eventually handle its return to democracy.
On the other hand, if one was to leave aside the political void during the early years of the 1970s, with double figure annual growth figures the middle class was by and large content, not only in Rio’s Zona Sul but throughout Brazil. As far as they were concerned, the economy was sailing along nicely and the new prosperity had a very clear impact on middle-class lifestyles. Sales of cars, televisions, Coca-Cola, records, contraceptive pills, electronic gadgets, music and surf magazines, and marijuana all rocketed in Rio.
As the new generations began to enjoy the fruits of prosperity, strange long haired and socially unclassifiable characters started appearing on the streets and, via television, right across the country’s living rooms. In Ipanema, the rock ‘n’ roll spirit was omnipresent and the youth embraced the new genre with conviction, making the neighborhood unique in relation to the rest of Brazil. Groups of hippy-like youngsters walked around with upper class girls who, in what was still mostly a conservative society, looked sexually available, their t-shirts and lack of bras turning heads wherever they passed. Something new was in the air: a feeling that was alive, menacing and with strong sexual overtones.
With Ipanema at the eye of the social hurricane, its teen boys discovered surfing and did what they could to emulate their southern Californian contemporaries. For local residents, something strange happened. There was an uneasy but very real blend of its political edge and a pioneering rock ‘n’ roll way of life. Life was an exciting adventure for young Ipanemenses; in the 1970s the Rio’s youth had not yet split itself up into “tribes”. It was possible to surf in the morning, go to an underground musician’s gig in the evening, then listen to a Led Zeppelin cassette in a car heading to a disco, and finally end the night in the Tijuca forest smoking a joint while listening to Pink Floyd or to an old Caetano Veloso cassete. In people’s minds, worlds, tastes and practices all crossed each other. You belonged to your particular circle of friends and no one ever thought about re-defining himself or herself because of a specific musical trend, or political or ideological movement. Life was like a box of chocolates full of novelties, so why not try all of them? These were circles of privileged young people, a minority with a considerable trend-setting power, who liked to believe they rejected bourgeois values and were unsympathetic towards the military regime.
At the same time, with Copacabana becoming less socially desirable, a new wave of very wealthy people were moving into Ipanema. They would make its beachside promenade Avenida Vieira Souto the most expensive address in the entire country. Its main commercial strip, Avenida Visconde de Pirajá, absorbed the moment and had hippy-looking burger houses, pinball arcades, surf shops and boutiques selling flower-power inspired clothes. Meanwhile, old-style bars scattered along the side streets leading to the beach, attracted an older generation of bohemian left-wingers. With feelings of condescension, amusement and worry, the rich observed all this from the back seats of their chauffeur-driven luxury cars.
Long haired surfers wearing imported Hawaiian trunks and t-shirts took over street corners in this new Brazilian California. In order to look like their North American counterparts, those guys dyed their hair blond with surf wax or peroxide, and overall they seemed healthy, wealthy and wild. Although the intellectuality and the dogmatism of politics put them off, they believed they were resisting the system by doing whatever they felt like doing – mainly drugs, sex, rock and roll and surfing – and by looking the way they wanted to. Ipanema’s girls were part of the second generation to be liberated by the pill and displayed their tasty bodies on the surfers’ turf – the beach – giving birth to the tanga, or the Brazilian G-string bikini.