Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the month “April, 2013”

Brazil and the future

ImageA country’s mission goes way beyond constructing stadiums and hosting mega international sporting events that move a lot of money but that have dubious benefits. A country’s mission is its statement, the way it can contribute to the progress of mankind. This sounds outdated in a world that honors dead leaders who said that “there is no such thing as society”, but is it really?

Out of all the big emerging countries, or B.R.I.C.S. members, Brazil stands out as a question mark, what is that country about? Is it just jumping in and out of the big stage, or is it there to stay? What will happen after the Olympics and the World Cup? Will the global recession hit it or not? Will the traditional corruption prevail or will the new way of thinking brought about by almost a decade of left-wing government guide its development?

With the possible exception of South Africa, differently from the other B.R.I.C.S. Brazil has no solid past to stand on. In many ways it is like a teenager among adults, which can be seen as a weakness but can also be seen as a big promise and a great strength. There is a fascinating civilizationary process going on there; a country is writing its history in front of our very eyes. Of course history is happening everywhere at every moment, but very few nations have such a wide range of choices as the Brazilians do.

Here we must separate current state from potential, there is a huge difference between what something is and what it can become, between. As any other nation under the influence of the western financial power, Brazil suffers from the mess. This has been the case since its foundation as a westernized country but politicians and thinkers in the highest echelons of the Brazilian establishment are aware of this and wish to walk away from this bad influence, like teenagers from dysfunctional homes who are aware that their “parents” are drunkards or drug addicts.

This is not a consensus, and is the source of the recent protests that swept the country. There are many who would happily go the easy way and allow the country to perpetuate a model that has been a source of easy profits for the richer and more powerful countries. This is what the B.R.I.C.S. boils down to; China, who has never fully digested western dominance, is leading the train but Brazil is an active member with the backing of several other Latin American countries.

Returning to the main subject, as we stated above, Brazil stands apart from its geopolitical allies not only in the physical map but also in the metal/cultural/spiritual one, and there where its potential statement and mission come in. Brazil’s melting pot is much more comprehensive and more effective than the one of its brother up north. There the mixture of African, European and indigenous didn’t and doesn’t happen. It may have happened on paper, they may have a black president, but in Brazil it has been happening for centuries in bedrooms and in maternity wards, more than eighty percent of its population does not belong to any specific race. There is no such thing as a Hispanic-Brazilian, a African-Brazilian, a Native-Brazilian or a Teutonic-Brazilian there are only human beings belonging to a population that is proud of residing in a beautiful country and of being part of a young and promising nation.

When we talk about promise we revert to two Brazilian thinkers that shone in the 20th Century: the world famous anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro and the tropicalist Jorge Mautner. Both point to the same direction: their country’s potential to accept all differences and to amalgamate them into something new and profoundly human. A place where happiness and peace are more important than wealth; the world’s promised land. Out of all the countries in the world Brazil has the potential of doing this and of setting an example.

With the big capitals of the west becoming more and more multi-racial and communication shortening the gaps between cultures and people we see mankind “Brazilifying” itself. We can only hope that Brazil finds its way to that special place and that it opens the gates to a brighter future for the entire mankind.

Shamanism and Rock and Roll


..at least one professional philosopher has taken mescaline for the light it may throw on ancient unsolved riddles as the place of mind in nature and the relationship between brain and consciousness” these words are from Aldous Huxley in his famous book The Doors of Perception, a book that links the highest of western erudition, rock and roll and the traditions of ancestral cultures of Latin America.

A small but visible long haired fraction of the generation above ours brought back to life this way of thinking and experiencing the world. They, and the bands they listened to, influenced every Brazilian rocker, or indeed every conscientious middle class youngster, from the seventies and the eighties. This was a subculture that took seriously the precept that the everyday life was fake and that the only way to perceive the truth was by experimenting with serious stuff, and that this mission was necessary for bringing mankind back to its healthier origin.

No one laughed at them, the authorities actually feared their strong energy. In the context of a military dictatorship their quest had a revolutionary edge that made them likeable forbidden fruit. Sexuality was also in the mix, and engaging in one’s owns desires and in hallucinogens and was seen as a powerful weapon against the bourgeoisie and the military regime.

If these pursuits are prone to caricatures nowadays it is because the system did everything in its power to diminish what was going on. Ever since there has been a billionaire police repression, as well as public relations campaigns to demonize users and desperate efforts to invalidate anything that appears to represent ideas out of control. The moneymaking machine behind the so-called system also bombarded the youth with products in the form of gigantic and over produced rock bands as well as fashion gadgets. If they were the mother of the more “acceptable” cultural formulas of the eighties, the ideas put forward by guys like Huxley and Timothy Leary were the father.

The right-wing and the left-wing were united in their fight against the opening of the doors of perception. They would not survive in the unknown and could not digest visions that went beyond their books. They did not want eternity happening there and then and didn’t want to hear questions that had never been asked nor answers that had never been answered.

Seen from the Brazilian native’s perspective, these were white men lost in their alienated ways. They were the original mescal and Santo Daime takers, they saw the effects as a sacred that maintained them connected with nature and with the entire existence. Those massacred people knew that the mind, the brain and the consciousness belonged to something bigger and that we, the crazy white men, had lost the connection somewhere in the past.

In our world there were “civilized” musicians who had come close to this indigenous richness such as Egberto Gismonti and Hermeto Paschoal although they had never taken mescal nor had followed Huxley’s path.

Let’s remember that music is an important expression for any society and that in the sixties and the seventies it had reached shamanistic heights in terms of bringing people together and spreading ideas and behaviors. The importance of bands such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin are undeniable, even in our current time just see the video below and think about it.

Such cultural importance was difficult for the big record companies to deal with and they ended up reminding the public that it was money who was boss and not a clearer vision that showed that there is life beyond the big bucks. Their response was the watered down pop bands of the eighties who, despite their quality, were not beyond their masters’ control and who did not question the establishment.

Coming back to Brazil, the bands that sprouted from the new generation took a lot of chemical drugs but represented no cosmic connection. They were part and parcel of the eighties’ Reaganomics and Thatcherism. Their “novelty” was the crude pursuit for fame and success. The industry rushed out to call their predecessors “Rock dinosaurs” and sold the idea that to be “in” you had to reject everything that they were about,

However the “dinosaurs” had reached heights of fame and success that no band of the eighties ever would. Ironically, at least in their origins, they had not been interested solely in money but in walking down the path that thinkers such as Huxley had trailed. The origins of this path shun out of the destroyed civilizations of South America long before anyone had thought about rock or cash on those lovely shores.

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.

How the Samba Got Lost

ImageThe 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.

Lost Samba’s Trailer

An insider view of Brazil

Adam Smith’s Bulldozer


I had just begun at the economics college at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). The first few weeks were festive with class trips, parties and welcome pranks. The classes were great and the subjects were much more interesting than what any of us had ever had in results oriented “cursinhos” that prepared us for the entry exams.
The teacher of Introduction to Economics was in charge of making us feel at home and was the one who took us out on the outings. He was supposedly cool, had participated in the student uprisings in the sixties and gossip went that he had been tortured, although some people said he had spilled the beans and given away people.
The first test was exciting, I had read my first texts in economics theory and was eager to express my opinions. I do not recall exactly what the dissertation was about, but I began it with a sentence (in Portuguese of course) that went something like this:
“Economics is based on the false assumption the people possess things…”
To my surprise the “open-minded” teacher hated this sentence and gave me a low grade and perhaps because of this I lost interest in the course, even though I ended up scraping through my years at the UFRJ and graduating.

It was not until a week ago when I saw the documentary Zeitgeist that I recuperated of my intellectual self-esteem. One of the commentators validated my sentence as he exposed how John Locke opened the doors to considering private property inherent to the human beings, something that Adam Smith, the father of the economics science, has as a basis for his theory. Basically Locke said that holding back the heavenly given surplus is part of the Holy design; Smith took his statement a step further in saying that we are a surplus keeping species and that the Almighty creates an economic equilibrium out of our selfishness by optimizing production and bringing the well being to everyone. In other words everyone’s selfishness ends up making up for a better world due to an “invisible hand”.

This is the intellectual basis of a world that produces the economic disparities that no one needs to go too far to encounter. Of course there are theories that counter this way of thinking and in the days of plenty no one really cares to think much about it, but this way of thinking is the throne on which the fat bankers sit their fat backsides.

Well.. Let’s go to the central question: is selfishness our true nature? Are there proofs that selfishness has been in the center of every society the humans have constructed? I would say that the evidence points to a huge no.

I’ll speak about the Brazilian natives that Adam Smith’s bulldozer almost decimated:

It turns out that the so-called savages have a lot to teach us. Contrary to what my ex-“revolutionary” professor tried to take out of existence, they do not recognize private property. Actually they do not grasp how anyone can consider something their own’s: everything belongs to nature, or to God depending on how you see it. All the objects in a tribe belong to the community, so there is no possibility of theft or quarreling over possessions.

After this important lesson there are more; the natives consider themselves as guardians of their forests. They see themselves as part of their environment, the forests provide them with everything they need so they pay back by veneering their source of livelihood and making sure it will be there to provide them with their needs.

There is more: they have chiefs, who outweigh the others in intelligence and agility but no one in any tribe would ever expect to obey their leader blindly and do things that would go against the interest of their community. A chief is like a captain in a football, or soccer, team: he toils with everyone else but speaks for them when required.

I could go on and on about the superior quality of life that they have when compared to the ninety-nine percent of the people hostages of a way of thinking that is taken as immutable truth.

Years later I am proud to have been scorned upon by someone who took upon himself to teach a pernicious way of thinking. It is a shame that natives do not have their own universities to teach us how to do things. Actually, they don’t need them; their teachings are so obvious that it is hard to believe how people could argue against them. Sometimes simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve…

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