July 6, 2006 by cosmoakacitizensmith
Copacabana beach. Ipanema beach. Sound like places from a fairy tale.
A musical part of the mission opens up as we´re walking on Ipanema beach looking for samba. Samba is the peoples´ music and Carnival is the focal point of the musical form. The whole country goes mental for it for a few weeks during February.
There are no pop charts in Brazil. The samba bands all round the country write songs or have them written and perform them to death during Carnival. People hear the tunes and if they like them they buy them. The songs then get on radio rotation for the next 12 months until Carnival comes round again.
More high brow is bossa nova, which came from the middle classes in the 60s and 70s. At a small shop near the beach dedicated purely to MPB, (Musica Popular Brasiliera – Brazilian popular music), I get to hear the names of the greats and check out their sounds….Vincius de Moraes, Joâo Gilberto and Gilberto Gil. The last of these still tours, all the more remarkable because he is Brazil´s Culture minister and incidentally the only black face in the country´s cabinet.
Imagine having a musical legend in the UK Cabinet….Eric Clapton, Natural Law party MP and Minister for Consciousness Expansion….
The book shop has some great titles, including a guide to music during the dictatorship. As Gibby and I hustle the shop owner into telling us where a good place for me to play some gigs would be, the man who heads the biggest record company in Brazil walks in.
So we hand him one of my CDs and snigger as we leave like a couple of naughty schoolkids playing a trick on a teacher.
We hit the restautant where de Moreas and Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote the lyrics to the second most recorded song in the world – the Girl from Ipanema, bossa nova´s international smash hit. The English version was sung by Joâo Gilberto´s wife Astrud.
Unfortunately the samba gig is not happening, but we get serenaded through the window by some buskers playing Choro , a kind of “sad samba.” They hassle us for money. On the way back home I see a little child counting out some money she´s hustled together during the day. One of Brazil´s countless street children.
First gig at the legendary Christ statue in Rio!!! The only interested party is a young girl of about twelve who smiles and dances away, while the rest of the tourists gaze at the incredible views. An official comes along and moves us along. Just like the old days with Flannel…..!!!!
On the train back home, a group of buskers spot me just as we´re about to get on the train down from the Christ statue. We jam all the way to the first station…..
Gibby and I are in the bar I talked about when I first arrived. Bowled up and started playing for a laugh. The old drunks loved it, especially when I played Satisfaction by The Stones. They played out here a while back and it was a national event. They even had TV programmes teaching people Rolling Stones classics so they could sing along during the gig!!!
Skol – the best beer you can get in Brazil. Seriousy…..! Hagar is as horrible as ever…..
At a bar by Copacabana beach some girls start singing songs on the table next to us. One of the tunes is called Watercolours of Brazil, which Gibby knows and he asks them how the words go. They sing them, laughing. They look about 16 or 17. One of them tells us that she´s a Libra and reads Paulo Coehlo. Then they tell us that they´re both prostitutes and they´re currently at work. Gibby tells them we´re just here for a drink and they head off into the night looking for custom.
Poor Brazil. All that contrast and what can you do?
During the dictatorship, a metal worker and former shoeshine boy called Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became head of his union and led the workers on strike, an illegal act at the time. When the dictatorship crumbled he became the head of the Workers´ Party and promised radical reform and an end to corruption. He won finally four years ago – Lula, man of the people and the first working-class president of Brazil.
Then over the last 18 months the party he put together has crumbled around him in a corruption scandal. He, however, remains with clean hands but the Workers´ Party (the PT) remains tainted. As a figurehead, however, he is still strong.
But what can you do if you´re young and political in Brazil?
Brazil was once 70% forest. Now it is just a small fraction of this. City life is great but I need to see some green. And I need to meet the MST…… It may be a while before the next post…..