Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “Gilberto Gil”

Lost Samba – Chapter 13 – A short history of Brazilian modern music

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Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes in the 1967 music festival.

Célia was the pretty and skinny girl from the eleventh floor when we lived in Copacabana. She was friends with Sarah and one day she rushed in very excitedly to say that her Mum had given her two tickets for the International Song Festival for her birthday and, to my desperate envy, she invited my sister to come. The mega-event was in the Maracanãzinho, the Maracanã’s smaller brother, set up right next to it to host non-football related events.  This was a unique opportunity to watch the best artists in the country and other big international attractions live. This was something that went beyond what Eurovision is nowadays, the regime hoped to unite the nation around them and the artists that the organizers chose with the backing of record labels represented all segments of Brazilian society. The intellectual left would have Chico Buarque, the bossa nova purists would have Tom Jobim and Nara Leão, the rockers and psychedelics would have Os Mutantes; the black people would have Toni Tornado, the militant university students would have Geraldo Vandre, the tropicalistas would have Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso; the samba lovers would have Jair Rodrigues and Paulinho da Viola; and then there was Jorge Ben who pleased everyone.

These contests grabbed Brazil’s attention and the relatively recent TV stations transmitted them to the millions of televisions recently bought to watch the World Cup in Mexico.  The military felt proud to demonstrate that, although they did not allow their people to choose their administration, they had nothing against freedom of expression. This was only half-true, with the press closely watched and limited in its freedom, the festivals assumed the status of perhaps the only forum where the debate about the country’s reality could flourish. Although there was also an undeniable commercial aspect them; they represented a break with the Bossa Nova and with the old generations of radio stars and starlets. Most of the successful artists would end up filling the coffers of the record labels and father everything that came after them.

Many songs were indeed political, while others were about the catching up with the hippy revolution that was going on outside the country, and competed side by side with pretty love songs and happy sambas. However, the political controversy of the two main trends would end up in the inevitable clash between the hard-core Bolschevic revolutionaries and the flower power crowd, which caused strange events such as a rally against the electric guitar with the presence of eminent journalists and Gilberto Gil.

The effervescence of the repressed youth, tired of the solutions presented by the traditional left and by the traditional right, would make the festivals the stage of a cultural debate, perhaps too important to the liking of their sponsors. Parallel to this there were other important cultural expressions appearing in the art world, in cinema, in the theatre and in literature. On the other hand, there was a lot happening in terms of political and cultural uprising outside Brazil. Altogether, the nation hungered for expressions that mirrored their life experiences and expectations in times of deep changes. The tropicália movement would emerge from this moment. Although it is currently associated with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes the movement was much wider in its proposal and almost amorphous in its positioning. Under its big umbrella, there was nationalism, folklore, pop, sympathy for the Cuban revolution, love for the Beatles, Samba, and search for the roots of Brazil. Before going commercial and dissipating, the tropicália encompassed graphic artists, such as Hélio Oiticica, avant-garde musicians such as Tom Zé, journalists, writers, philosophers, intellectuals and a plethora of crazies and geniuses that still influence the current days.

What kept all those tendencies together was the opposition to the regime and to Brazil’s enormous social disparities that its rulers were unwilling to deal with. As the political grip tightened, the military realized that echoes of a creative explosion landing inside the nation’s living rooms was complicated.  Many of these festivals winning artists, and definitely the most popular ones, exhibited too much creativity for the ideologues of the coup and, worse, many openly voiced their opposition to the state of things.  For the military, stopping the party or excluding the stars would send out the wrong message, the way out was censorship.

After the AI-5 decrees, that took away all basic civil liberties from Brazilians, things turned to the worse. With no judicial system to answer to, the country’s rulers resorted to exiling and jailing artists, and the festivals died out.

A few years later, the military allowed the artists back as a gesture of reconciliation.  More than their music, their fans missed the political and the libertarian overtones in their songs.  They returned as heroes but had matured abroad and now they had even more professional agendas.  Their concerts acquired a special quality, mixing an authentic resistance pedigree, celebrity status and world-class musicianship.  When Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque played, the world seemed to come back to normal.

This was the time when I began going to shows. They were huge events, closer to football matches and political rallies than to musical concerts. When the doors opened the audience rushed in like cattle, and when everyone had taken their places, there was a similar atmosphere to being in the Maracanã.  It was a lot of fun; the several sections of the theater booed and cheered each other as if they were supporting different teams. They also sang choruses with related and unrelated themes some of them political, some of them related to drugs and some of them just plain funny.

When the lights went down, the room fell silent and the magic began.  In the best concerts, one felt as being in the artists’ lounge. The calmer songs provided a communal atmosphere that I have never experienced anywhere else and the more rhythmic ones, always saved for the end, resulted in out of season carnivals with the entire theater dancing on the chairs, in the corridors and on the stage.

Parallel to these concert-parties with political innuendos, there was something new creeping in. Rock bands were the expression of the new generation and were the underground of the underground. Their public was frightening: they looked dirty, had much longer hair than the average and took drugs that most people did not even know existed. One of the main expressions was Raul Seixas, his lyricist, Paulo Coelho touched on mystical and sex related subjects close to what bands such as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were doing in the international Rock scene. There was also the Secos e Molhados who adopted and androgynous style and make up that the American band Kiss would copy, and that surpassed many international bands in terms gay openness as early as 1972. These artists, although popular with the youth, shocked everyone and in intellectual terms, no one liked them, not even the Lefties.

As far as behaviour is concerned, they pioneered everything that most people would consider banal in the following decades, drugs, vegetarianism, and interest in mysticism and in oriental philosophies and the following of a sort of zen-individualist outlook of life. As Ipanema’s surfers, the rockers did not have any agenda other than living their lives intensely and ignored both the political dictatorship of the right and the intellectual dictatorship of the left. When disco kicked in, they discovered that looking good and shaking their moneymaker on the dance floor brought in more sex. This, and the large amount of drug casualties made that generation of pioneers mutate and vanish quickly.

With the gradual interchange of these two generations, the concerts slowly ceased to be about resistance to become simply a breath of fresh air from the claustrophobia of both the regime and of the audience’s homes. It also became more and more obvious that this was a rich kids’ club: in order to forget the military for a couple of hours, hang out with the cool crowd, buy the right records, go to concerts, and travel to alternative destinations, you had to have money and it was not everyone who had access to those luxuries.

There were never any representatives of the working class in the room. The masses weren’t hip: they were still the maids who had prepared our dinner, the bus drivers who had taken us there, the guys in the street who asked to look after our cars or and the policemen outside hungry to extort our money. The rebels from the less privileged classes listened to funk and went to their own parties, as portrayed in the film “City of God”, a true story of this period of Rio’s history.

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Scene from “City of God”

Lost Samba – Chapter 11/02 – Hippies and ecological disaster in Brazil.

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The Novos Baianos

Bossa nova, guitar playing and Bahia were part of the same formative package and, as school drifted further from the radar, I discovered the Novos Baianos in IBEU’s Pandora’s Box. More than a band, they were a community of long-haired musicians from Bahia who, like the Greek poet-warriors, not only sang but also lived out the hippy dream.

Their philosophy could be synthesized in the question “Why not live this world if there is no other world?” which they asked in their good-humored samba, Besta é  Tu (It’s you who’s the fool). The song reflects the eagerness of their generation to enjoy life despite what was taking place in the political arena and to distance itself from the caretas, or the squares, and their caretice. They started out as a group of artists assembled in Salvador by Tom Zé, tropicália’s musical genius. When they came down to Rio in search of opportunities, their talent and their carefree ways ended up making them the queen bees of the carioca hippies, around whom everyone and everything cool gravitated. Luck opened several doors for them: career wise, they filled in a talent vacuum left behind by most of the country’s big names, such as Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso that the military had either exiled or completely censored. Music-wise, João Gilberto, the godfather of bossa nova, another bahiano, became very close to them and coached their raw talents into the highest musical standards. Meanwhile, their carioca bass player, Dadi, recruited through a newspaper advertisement, had no one less than Jorge Ben as a teacher.

In terms of their work, they did similar to what the Rolling Stones had done with the blues; they mixed rock and roll energy and authentic Brazilian themes. The result was very strong and, overall, their work reflected what all Brazilian hippies were during the military dictatorship: a force of nature. As expressing political thoughts was too dangerous, the confrontation with the system was existential, almost spiritual, therefore perhaps healthier than conventional politics as it did not involve picking up guns or resorting to violence. Instead this avenue sought resistance through being un-urban, in close contact with one’s true self, with nature, with music and with surfing in the case of Ipanema’s youth.

In fear of repression but, nevertheless, in complete disagreement with the route the country was taking, many thinking heads of that generation took shelter in a journey of self-discovery. By doing so, the Brazilian hippies dived into a strange, unique and lawless existence. Nonetheless, life went on, and around them was the intensity of Brazil; the mixture of cultures and the sensuousness of its streets still soaked in the euphoria of the 1970 World Cup triumph. Their psychedelic and counter-cultural outlook was akin to Jimi Hendrix meeting Pelé.

With so many cosmic forces behind their music, the Novos Baianos, the most visible and most colourful of the Brazilian hippies, found a record label that ended up providing them with a ranch in Jacarepaguá, in the outskirts of Rio. There they divided their time playing football, rehearsing, creating, eating vegetarian food, smoking weed and having children. The ranch would become an icon of that era.

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If a big portion of the youth appeared to be messed up, the mainstream was even more. Under the military, Brazil had become a lost ship sailing into an economic disaster zone with a drunk and autocratic captain in command. Following a pattern that still remains around the world, while the economy was doing well, huge predatory international deals were sealed behind the scenes; Western power brokers came up with generous investments and told the military not to worry about paying back. The rampant corruption and the suppression of any form of opposition or transparency allowed a huge portion of that money to “evaporate”. However, when the banks would come back for repayment, the bill fell on the lap of people who had nothing to do with those transactions, and who had never benefited from them.

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President Gen. Figueiredo and other Generals in the Seventies

One of the main victims of this orgy of easy money was the environment. Considered as a commercial resource, thousands of forest hectares and of animal species were set to disappear in order to allow huge farms with state-of-the-art technology to appear.  “Coincidentally”, most of the people who the big international banks funded to carry out these projects belonged to the backbone of the regime: the one percent of the population who owned eighty percent of the land. Brazil’s rulers needed this investment in order to silence the suggestion of appropriating unused land and handing it over to the destitute. The so called Reforma Agrária, the Agrarian Reform, still haunted the military despite their heavy hand. Long before the coup, this project had been a hot topic and blocking it had been one of the main reasons why the so-called revolution of 1964 had happened in the first place.

Regardless of this issue, most of the soil under the jungle was inappropriate for agriculture. Disregarding this simple but crucial limitation, the big farmers used the simplistic technique of burning down the woodland to clear their properties. After the flames had ceased, the earth on the new mega-farms became useless, and could only be used for pastures. This silent crime against the planet’s health continued way after the dictatorship ended and terminated a forest area larger than several European countries. This caused another problem: the forests’ eradication forced their populations into the big cities without any skills or preparation.  The saddest thing was that most of these investments never brought any benefit to the economy; a lot of the burnt land had to be abandoned as, much of the time, raising cattle made no economic sense in those remote regions.

Next to such a government, the demonized, longhaired, Cannabis smoking lefties were angels. The world could only blame those young hearts for not risking their lives to fight against that machinery.

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Burning down of a forest.

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Lost Samba – Chapter 9/01 – Ipanema’s revolution

Part15Ipanema 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.

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Edition with Gilberto Gil and Joao Saldanha, coach of Brazil’s 1970 squad

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.

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Courtesy of Pier de Ipanema, a website that focuses on this era.

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Lost Samba Chapter 04 – Part 03 – Rio’s Beauty.

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Photo by Custodio Coimbra

To paraphrase a verse from Gilberto Gil’s hit “Aquele Abraço”, when Mum and Dad arrived, Rio de Janeiro continued beautiful. There was no doubt that this was one of the best places to live in the world; apart from its generous coastal line with exuberant beaches, the Cidade Maravilhosa – the marvellous city – boasted the largest urban forest in the world – the Tijuca National Park, a place so vast that helicopters would sometimes spend days searching for lost hikers. With my parents’ British habit of going on walks and not much patience for spending the entire weekend sun bathing on crowded beaches – nor any friends to do this with them- they got to know the park very well. As soon as my sister and I were able to follow them, they took us along regularly. Exciting as they were, the outings were never dangerous. Sure, the forest was home to venomous snakes, but we never came across any and, as far as wild beasts were concerned, the city’s growing population had hunted them to extinction long ago. Nevertheless, a magical feeling always infected us in the silence of the dense, primeval forest, only broken by the noises of insects, by bird calls and by the crystal-clear water cascading down small streams.

Every trail eventually led up to a massive rock that was usually hard to climb. It took some effort to reach their summits, but these exertions – that very few cariocas undertook – were always worthwhile. From up there we could marvel at the breathtaking views of the city, of the bay and of the coast, a reminder to my parents of what it was that first attracted them to Rio. Mum would unpack the picnic and serve her egg mayonnaise sandwiches, which rather than leaving it to Maria, she always made a point in making herself.

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On one of our many walks, I heard a rattling coming from the trees above us. I looked up and saw the foliage moving in a strange choreography: there was a monkey jumping around the branches as if playing in a funfair. The monkey was not alone – he was followed by at least twenty others, including babies clinging onto their mothers’ backs. They stopped for a while and stared at us with curiosity. Then, just as quickly as they had appeared, they disappeared back into the timeless forest.

Mico2Photo by P&C pictures

The city that stood in our – and the monkeys’ – background spread out along the coast beneath us resembling one of the forest’s butterflies’ enormous pair of wings. From our vantage point, we could see the huge Guanabara Bay opening out to the Atlantic ocean. On the opposite shore was Niterói, an important city in its own right, and behind it there was a never ending sea of hills and beaches. To the north was the Ilha do Governador (Governor’s Island), the location of the airport; my parents’ introduction to Brazil.

On our side of the Bay was the ocean-facing Zona Sul with its picture-postcard places: Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and the Sugar Loaf Mountain. Following the coast we could see the – then deserted – beaches of São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca which were only visible from the highest points in the forest. Closer to us stood the church spires and office buildings in the city centre and the seemingly endless sprawl of industrial buildings, low-rise housing of the Zona Norte. This was where the poor and the lower middle class lived and in our snobbishness, we considered those two thirds of the city as being on the “wrong side” of the forest, somewhere unworthy of our attention. The only recognizable feature there was the Maracanã Stadium: the supreme temple of Brazilian football.

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At the feet of the forest’s hills there were favelas marking the boundaries between the city and the thick bush. This was where the poor lived. Some of them had originated as small quilombos – hiding places set up by fugitive slaves who chose these precipitous mountainsides as they provided the perfect shelter from patrols in search of escaped “property”. The favelas had developed into agglomerations that looked like anthills, where chickens, pigs and dogs roamed in the mud alleyways around the inhabitants’ wooden huts. Crooked electricity posts, television antennae and clothes drying on strings added extra layers to the seeming chaos.

Their inhabitants wore torn clothes and old Havaianas flip-flops and had curly hair, dark skin, loud voices and open laughs. Children ran around barefoot, their mums trudging up and down the steep alleys that curled along the hills balancing tins of water, or sacks of dirty laundry, on their heads. Although many of the favelados were white, this was a Brazil derived directly from Africa.

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A pearl of Brazilian culture

This is an unfinished video by Rogerio Sganzerla one of the big names of the Brazilian Cinema Novo, an avant-gard movement of the fifties and sixties, featuring the recording of an out-timish album that the cream of Brazilian music, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Maria Betania and Joao Gilberto did in the eighties.

At that time “new-age” rock was invading the radio stations pouring tons of crap into Brazilian ears. Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil joined the wave and delivered some of their worst albums ever. This album was like an escapade to Joao Gilberto’s holy cave.

Sganzerla is the director of one of the best Brazilian films ever, the controversial “o Bandido da Luz Vermelha” (the Bandit of the Red Light) done in the sixties based on the true story of a serial killer, a subject that had never been brought to Brazilian screens at the time. His career had gone downhill and although he did not manage to redeem himself with “Brasil” he did get to work with the biggest names in Brazilian music.

The main feature of this short film is his usage of footage done by Orson Wells in his never release film about Brazil “Its All True”- the production that spoiled his reputation in Hollywood and ultimately ruined his career.

Garrincha, Torquato Neto and the Brazilian memory

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Garrincha and Torquato Neto: there are many differences and many similarities between these two great stars in the Brazilian constelation. Both were famous around the same time, Garrincha in the mid-ffties to the early sixties and Torquato from the mid sixties to the early seventies. Both came from small cities, one was from Pau Grande a small town in the State of Rio de Janeiro and the other one was from Teresina, the Capital of one of the poorest states of Brazil: Piaui. One was an outstanding writer, thinker and poet; the cultured son of a judge, who was to become the founder of the Brazil’s counter culture and the other was one of the fifteen semi-illiterate sons of a humble civil servant, who despite having crooked legs was one of Brazil’s best football (or soccer, for the US) players of all time.

Both had in common the destiny of being improbable stars, and of reaching greatness without losing their essence. Garrincha was second only to Pele in the history of Brazilian football. He was world champion twice for his country and in the second time in 1962 he led the squad almost by himself to victory, a feat only repeated by Maradona when he led the Argentinian squad to triumph in 1986. The difference between him and “King” Pele, was that the latter had the knack of P.R, and looked at his career beyond the football stadiums. Garrincha lived the here and now, devouring what life threw at him be it his talent, his trophies and his goals or be it women and hard partying. He enjoyed every moment of it until his legs could not accompany his playing and his hangovers.

Torquato Neto was the lyricist for Caetano Veloso and for GIlberto Gil in the beginning of their career and based on his writings they took by storm the most important music festivals of their generation. They became the visible face of the mainstream/underground Tropicalist movement that revolutionized Brazilian music and that guaranteed both of them stardom until the present days. As the movement’s theoretician and main writer Torquato mixed and made sense of nationalist values, revolutionary tendencies, folklore and rock and roll and set the foundations of modern Brazilian culture. The dictatorship didn’t know how to deal with that explosion of creativity and exiled all the three. When they came back, things became more professional and “movements” became bad for sales. Torquato Neto kept faithful to his ideas but was ostracized and became a “marginal” poet and film maker and faded into irrelevance as the recording companies, as well as his former buddies, prostituted his ideas and prospered.

Both the lives of Torquato Neto and Garrincha ended tragically the tropicalist mastermind committed suicide on his birthday in 1972, while the football player became a serious alcoholic and died in poverty with his body rejecting anything that was not booze.

It is also good to remember Carmen Miranda and Antonio Carlos Jobim were never “forgiven” for their success abroad. The Brazilian Hollywood star never got over the rejection she received from her own people, at the height of her success, after she came to Rio de Janeiro for a presentation. Many say that it was because of the depression this caused that she died. With Tom Jobim, the songwriter who made the “Girl From Ipanema” famous, it was not that bad but he was never regarded as likeable, but rather as an arrogant “sold out” big name by most Brazilians.

The anti-Lula crusade that is happening also configures in this category. For many it is unforgivable that a working class man without a university degree could be elected president twice, do a good government, and be acclaimed all over the world.

Anyway.. here is the question: is the cynicism towards talent and success when it escapes the expected “script” a Brazilian trait or a universal one? It is surely not an Argentinian one; they have forgiven time and again Maradona’s countless “sins” as well as their musical hero’s, Charlie Garcia, ones. Perhaps it is difficult for anyone to accept that some people are born with assets and talents that others but have the same flaws and anguished as us.

The destiny of Torquato Neto’s and Garrincha’s free and talented spirits remind us of how sweetness can become sour. It shows us how gifts can be bestowed upon anyone and have nothing to do with rewarding effort or with being upright. If their sin was falling or not following the tide, what does it say about the superficiality of the people who rejoiced in what they had to offer in the good days but discarded them when they were of no use any more?

There is an expression in Brazil saying that “one should not spit on the plate that we ate from” and this is what happened to them. The question remains, is this a Brazilian trait?

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.

The post-tropicalistas

There is so much to say about the scale of Tropicalia in recent Brazilian culture, its importance, its vitality, its originality as well as its villainy, that one could write several books about it and still not reach a conclusion. The fact is that it left a lasting legacy in Brazilian culture and that it had many children some wanted, some unwanted, some rebellious and some loving.

Its first fruits appeared in the 70’s when the country was still under the military dictatorship and the new wave of artists came from further north than Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, who are from Bahia, to “the south” (Rio and Sao Paulo). They were from the Northeast of Brazil: from Ceara as Raimundo Fagner, from Pernambuco as Alceu Valenca, from Paraiba as Ze Ramalho, the Novos Baianos, a case apart, were from Bahia too. Their influences were diverse but they had several things in common; they were disliked by both the left and the right, they mixed the folkloric side of Brazil with what was being done in the US and the UK and portrayed themselves as having something to say while having strong record labels behind them. Most of them were presented to the country either through being sound tracks to novelas or through festivals that TV Globo organized.

In the seventies, Brazilians from all classes listened to more homegrown music than people from any other non-English speaking country in the western world. This phenomenon had not only to do with the quality and the diversity of Brazilian music but also with the importance that music acquired in previous governments in trying forge a national identity and, after the military coup of 1964, as a means to resist the dictatorship and the American imperialism.

For the greater public of the more southern states of Brazil –  RIo de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais – the post tropicalistas from the Northeast were like exotic wild fruit discovered in one’s own backyard; they used familiar rhythms but their themes, their talent and their depth touched that generation and opened their imagination. As the Vikings, they considered themselves as the Northern conquerors of an untalented South as well as the new voices that would replace a commercialized tropicalia.


It is undeniable that Caetano, Gil, Jorge Ben and Cie. had already opened the doors for them so they had less tradition to shatter and, hence, were less ambitious and freer musically and ideologically. Their long hair and the presence of electric guitars were statements; also, they did not have the need to say things to hit the headlines or be important presences in the Brazilian Cultural scene, they just concentrated in the magic of their music, and sharing a new light on on the regions they came from.

Their gigs had a strong 70’s hippy/cannabical tint, and they were masters in mixing of rustic percussion and state of the art musical gear. Because most of them appeared in local university circuits and gradually acquired fame, they had a greater knowledge of how to relate to the public, and in this they were more accessible than the big Tropicalia stars who practically began their careers as stars. Their acts were great fun and always ended in something close to street carnivals with people dancing all over the venues.

As the 80’s approached they started to lose their freshness, and became either mainstream cheesy acts or were seen as old hippies, the smarter ones, namely Alceu Valenca, retreated to their own region and are considered as living legends to this very day.

After them Brazilian Rock burst into the scene, the economic crisis too. The new bands made a point of having nothing to do with what had come before. There weretropicalist and post-tropicalist attempts to catch the eighties wave, but they were greeted with rejection. Although with less brilliance, Rock was clearly different; it was urban, angry and in tune with the turmoil that was happening in the “real world”. Of course, the movement was also backed by the big record companies.

As a final note; although the post-tropicalists were the closest to get to what happened with Reggae in Jamaica. Their music was very intuitive and free and had deeps roots in the traditional music of the countryside. Despite this, and although they were from the same generation, there was never the equivalent of a Brazilian Bob Marley. To understand why, it is important to see what happened in Jamaica: their artists came from their Favelas. In Brazil this would never happen; the artists played for the middle class and this public would never fill a theater to see someone from the working class perform, there was the carnival for that.

On the other hand, depending on where they came from, the lower classes listened to Samba, or Forro, and musical tastes never crossed barriers. Bossa-Novistas, Tropicalistas, post-Tropicalistas and Brazilian Rockers were all artists from and for the middle and upper classes. In our opinion it is here where they failed.

The TV Record Festival of 1967 – The birth of Brazilian modern music

 

In this fantastic video one sees the birth of Brazilian modern music.

Bossa Nova, Rock, Jovem Guarda, traditional music, politicised music, tropicalia are all present on stage in all their freshness.

The tension between tradition and the new music brought by the new comers Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso presenting themselves with pop visuals and references to rock culminates into a rally against the electric guitar with the presence of Gilberto Gil and eminent journalists such as Sergio Cabral, gives an insight to a time when the Brazilian left associated that instrument to American Imperialism.

There is also Roberto Carlos, the best-selling Brazilian artist of that generation who headed  the Jovem Guarda movement, a Brazilian  interpretation of Rock and Roll, singing samba, a rarity in itself.

The participation of the audience is also revealing, it shows the importance that those festivals had and the hopes that the youth put into music as a way to propagate ideas, and indeed democracy and resistance to the dictatorship. It also shows the birth of the Brazilian modern music industry in line with the creeping American influence; the organizers of the event talk about the business side of things and one can see that the artists went along with it. They knew about the marketing potential of those festivals, and were more worried about their careers than any student in the audience could imagine.

There is also an absence of working class people, which gives another insight to a world where the poor were regarded as secondary players and were patronized as the “mass” who the youth were ready to lead into a better world.

There is also Chico Buarque, the darling of the left who, because he was not so aligned with Gil and Caetano’s radicalism, was to remain out of the “cool” club.

The winner was Edu Lobo would end up not being too expressive in the Brazilian musical constellation.

Finally one sees the courage, and perhaps opportunism, of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil to introduce radically new forms of music to a hostile crowd, and their winning them over due the sheer quality of the music. They are the ones who most took advantage of the festivals. The two songs that they presented, Domingo no Parque, and Sem Lenco e Sem Documento launched their careers as stars and put non-traditional music on the Brazilian map.

This was a night that set landmarks and its repercussions are still felt to this very day. There is more about it in Lost Samba, the book this blog promotes.

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