Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Lost Samba Chapter 06/01 – Football passion in Brazil’s golden days

build up

The year of 1962 was not only the year I was born, it was also the year that the Rolling Stones and the Beatles recorded their first singles, that Fidel Castro was excommunicated by Pope John XXIII, that Adolf Eichmann, the engineer of the holocaust, was executed in Israel, that João Gilberto and Tom Jobim made their American début at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and that Marilyn Monroe died of a drugs overdose.

For Brazil, what marked that year was its second ever World Cup victory. If winning a World Cup electrified “developed” countries, such as Italy, Germany and England, it is hard to imagine the explosion of excitement and sheer joy that Rio de Janeiro experienced. From the shacks in the favelas to the luxury apartments in the Zona Sul, everyone’s ears were firmly glued to their radios, anxiously following the tournament’s final between Brazil and Czechoslovakia. Every move in Chile’s National Stadium produced waves of nervous excitement in every corner of Rio and every goal that Brazil scored triggered a collective delirium.


After the final whistle sealed Brazil’s three to one victory, celebrations took to the streets, continuing into the small hours of the morning. As always the  batucadas, or samba drummings, were the soul of the spontaneous out-of-season carnivals. This unmistakable beat was based on three instruments: the surdo, a large bass drum that marked the rhythm; the caixa, a type of snare drum; and the tamborim, a tiny, shallow, drum that made a loud cracking sound and that was used to lead the music.

The musicians came down from the favelas to show the “asphalt” that the streets also belonged to them and declaring that they were the kings of samba. In their entourage were caramel coloured girls, or mulatas, who shook their magnificent bodies to the rhythm, exposing almost everything long before the appearance of the Brazilian-style bikini. As the celebrations took off, the crowds pushed aside political and social differences and only thought about the goals scored by their football heroes – Garrincha, Didi, Vava and so many others. In their celebratory delirium their hearts only cared about singing their joy out in carnival songs that they all loved and who knows, meeting someone special amidst the partying.


Spontaneous street celebrations.

Eight years later, in 1970, after the disappointing and unimpressive campaign of 1966, Brazil was on its way to Mexico to attempt its third World Cup title. Thanks to television, the entire nation could now actually see their team play live, and, with the help of this new medium, the military regime invested heavily in fermenting a fever of patriotism around football that engulfed the country.

Some villages received their first television set in order to allow their people to watch the tournament. The villagers gathered around these single sets, often in unpaved squares in the middle of the jungle, to become part of the “90 million in action”, as went the team’s official song. Throughout the country, almost every car had a yellow and green ribbon tied to its antenna and every establishment bore at least a flag or a poster of a favourite player, or of the whole team, affixed to a wall. Our street was no exception and joined in the commotion. Residents hung flags from their windows and the more exalted took their time to spread hundreds of small paper banners on wires that they set up crossing from one side of the road to the other.

While at every possible opportunity the media spread pro-regime messages and there were stickers everywhere proclaiming slogans like “Brazil: Love it or leave it” and “God is Brazilian”, few people realized that the team’s coach, João Saldanha, was a committed communist who held meetings of the illegal party in his house. After Saldanha refused to select one of President Medici’s favourite players, Dario – Dadá Maravilha – for his team, and making inconvenient political statements while inspecting the stadia in Mexico, the governing generals ordered that Zagallo, a former star player who had participated in the victorious campaigns of 1958 and 1962, replace the coach.

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Brazil, love it or leave it; a message to the opposition.


National fever: Scrapbook with Brazil’s 1970’s team

Why Fascism isn’t to be feared in Brazil

the blue macaw

In a recent article in IstoÉ magazine, Paulo Moreira Leite expressed concern over the riots that happened in major Brazilian cities in June showing signals of fascist ideas, and representing a threat to democracy in the country.

A demonstrator tries to stop the riot police during one of many protests around Brazil's major cities in Rio de Janeiro

A demonstrator in the riots.

I recently came across a good translation in The New World Lusophone Sousaphone. The original article can be found on Luis Nassif Online.

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Lost Samba – Chapter 05/02 – Mas Que Nada and body surfing


In terms of family, we were not completely isolated in the new country. There was my only Brazilian cousin – Bibi Vogel, the daughter of one of Dad’s distant cousins who had moved to Brazil before the war. Bibi was a well-known popular singer and actress, her fragile looks, with green, sharp eyes, dark lips and a hippy-looking haircut, helped make her a muse of her generation. Her voice was similar to that of Joan Baez and she recorded a couple of successful albums. She also starred in soap operas and played one of the main roles in the Brazilian version of Hair, the counter-cultural musical of the sixties.
In the early 1960s, before her Brazilian rise to fame, Bibi had gone to New York to try her luck with a friend’s bossa nova band. After a year or so, she took a break and returned to Rio. While there, she heard Jorge Ben’s hit “Mas Que Nada” (“oooo… Maria aioooo, oba oba oba…”). Back in New York, Bibi introduced the song to the band, but soon after she left to follow a boyfriend. Sergio Mendes and his Brazil 66 took up Bibi’s suggestion and this move projected them to become the biggest Brazilian international showbiz act since Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz appeared with their “Girl From Ipanema”.

As I became a teenager, I was surprised – and slightly amused – to see Bibi semi-naked and covering her breasts on the cover of Status – Brazil’s first Playboy-style magazine. More shockingly, Bibi appeared on posters advertising soft-porn pornochancahada films, chanchadas being the name given to Brazilian, home-grown, mass produced popular musical comedies of the 1950s. Their porno contemporary was a genre that filled cinemas with solitary male members of the lower classes eager to watch actresses showing their breasts in sexual situations. If having a cousin involved in this was strange, to make things even stranger, Bibi’s mum (Dad’s cousin) was the lead singer on the high holidays with our synagogue’s choir.

What was most confusing was that although Bibi’s artistic accomplishments and her image went against everything my parents taught us, they couldn’t help but be proud of her. As with any middle class family, success was more important than virtue. As far as I was concerned, Bibi had a very respectable personality and I always leapt to defend her when my friends came out with rude jokes about her. To me, Bibi was inspiring: if someone in my family could make it artistically, then surely I could too…. though I hasten to add not in the porn industry!

At home, at school and in my parent’s social circles, every one considered me “artistic”; something that I was never sure if people said as a compliment or rather as a polite way of saying that I was hopeless. Anyway, with Mum’s ban on pop music and popular culture, I listened to a lot of classical music and I loved it. The intricate but harmonious music of Johann Sebastian Bach topped my charts, followed closely by the dramatic compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven and by the uplifting melodies of Igor Stravinsky. Music moved me, probably due to a gene running in the family. For decades, my uncle, the composer Sydney Torch, conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, both Mum and Granddad were accomplished piano players, and Grandmother had been a music teacher. More recently, my cousin from Liverpool, Ben Mandelson, was a guitarist, playing with Billy Bragg in the 1980s.

On weekends, I would wake up early to listen to the musical classics and conduct invisible orchestras with my extendable Japanese pen. My parents took note of this passion, and Mum arranged for music lessons. The school’s teacher was a special person. He had come to Rio through a charity linked to the Church of England and was “spastic”; the name commonly given at the time to the disorder cerebral palsy. Although the symptoms were severe, they did not affect his speech or his ability to teach a six-year-old to play the recorder.

After winning the battle to learn my first tune – “Au Claire de la Lune” – the instrument went from being my hated enemy to becoming my best friend. I played wherever and whenever I could, and the sweet sounds of the instrument connected me to something bigger, something that seemed to escape most people’s perceptions of the world around them. Although my school enemies took my discovery of music as a new offence and as a further excuse to attack me, my neighbours, teachers, family and friends seemed to encourage my playing. Even so, after about a year of putting up with my performances, they were all secretly relieved when I swapped the recorder for a quieter, more outdoorsy, passion: body boarding.

After the toddler stage of running with the foam at the water’s edge every morning, I moved on to a polystyrene board and ventured out to where the waves broke. First, I learned how to slide down straight and then how to cut the waves sideways. As my courage grew the size of the waves kept increasing, I also developed my technique and started to belong to the tough guy’s group. The more respectable I became the smaller were the boards I used, until I dismissed boards completely and used only my bare hands with the help of diving fins. Out there, behind the powerful surf and under the hot sun, everything was pure and calm. There was only the vast ocean, the far away buildings and the single expanse of the beach. When the waves rolled in from the far horizon, it was as if they were challenging us. In order to ride them, we would position ourselves in the perfect spot and swim forward at just the right speed until the ocean’s force allowed us to become part of its wall of water. After this, all we had to do was to guide our body ever so slightly to prolong the feelings of bliss as long as possible.

Big waves were the scariest, but also the most fun. At my peak as a bodysurfer, I mastered swells of up to two and a half meters which, viewed from beneath, seemed massive. There was always a point of no return when you could still look down and analyse what you were about to do. At that point, one had to be a bit crazy to continue, but, in ninety percent of cases, the dare was more than worthwhile.


Body surfing in Ipanema

The highlight of body surfing was to be covered by the wave’s tube. This is surely one of the best places to be on this planet: a dynamic cave of water formed by Nature only for a brief moment in time. There was a subliminal, erotic poetry of being in there, as the stiff body slid through the cosmos’s wet tunnel.

That kind of communion with nature was greater than anything I had learned either at home or at school. After the sessions, I walked out of the ocean exhausted, the body energized by the adventures and feeling proud. Riding waves brought me beach respectability, which in turn began to raise questions of why I should step down from such heights. My parents greeted my achievements with apprehension, fearing that I was on the verge of ruining a brilliant future. They saw physicality and daring as altogether dangerous attributes, and riding waves was for the disrespectful, longhaired, hooligans who my parents, and their circle, believed were spoiling Rio.

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Photo by Henrique Pinguim.

Lost Samba – Chapter 05 – Part 01 – The British School of Rio de Janeiro.


Happy face second down central row.

As was the case typical for most expatriates in Rio, my parents hovered on the fringes of the upper class society. However, while they lived and worked alongside with what they regarded as their local equals, had similar ambitions and even the same prejudices, they were not members of the same clubs, did not share the same interests nor had the same outlook of life. On the other hand, this local privileged minority never really accepted my parents, but then, they were also not interested in being so. The matter of the fact was that Mum and Dad had no aim in becoming Brazilian, only in living an idyllic life with as little contact with reality as possible. It was my sister and I who would have to do the job of adapting ourselves to the new country. My journey as a foreign leech (my parents’ view) or as a foreign caterpillar striving to become a local butterfly (my view) began at school. The logical choice was the British School. This was an establishment with a proud history of serving generations of expatriate British and Anglo-Brazilian families, fighting – and increasingly losing – the battle of insulating their children from the scourge of Brazilianess.

Most of my schoolmates’ dads were either diplomats or worked for British companies. Unlike my parents, none of them had come to Brazil on an independent existential adventure, nor did any of them share their religion and age. My classmates either knew this or sensed there was something different, and saw me as being in some way different. Freedom from convention awarded me a certain charisma, and that in turn gave me command of the fun both in and out of the classroom. I ruled by consensus and perhaps because of this I made two enemies who directed an incomprehensible unpleasantness at me. Worse still, luck decreed that they seemed to follow me everywhere: their families were members of the same social club, the Paissandú where my family were also members, they had attended the same kindergarten as I had, and they were to be the only others in my class at the British School who would remain in Rio until adulthood.

One of these boys, Nicholas, had been toughened by two older brothers, and despite having an Irish surname he by some means was, and looked, Italian. The other boy, Garreth, looked like the typical cute kid so favoured by advertisers, with blond hair, blue eyes and freckly skin. Despite this, he never smiled, and of the two he was the meanest. Together, they turned everything sour. Out of nowhere, I’d suddenly receive a push, with one of them on all fours behind me, or they would ridicule my jokes and my games. In the classroom, they made a point of competing in anything I did. I would always win in the mental and creative duels but would lose the physical ones, the kinds of confrontations that are the most important for boys. No one liked them but, when fighting became the only option to maintain dignity, everyone else just cowered away and I was forced to stand alone.


Even at a tender age being the vindictive bastard that I was, on one of my birthday parties I invited the entire class except for Nicholas and Garreth. Disgusted at this, a teacher tried to teach me a lesson. On the day of the party, she took me off the school bus and gave me and the other two boys a lift home. On the way, she kept asking me about the party. Although this was embarrassing, it didn’t work: in no way would her plan browbeat me into having them spoil my special day!

Later they took revenge when I invited a class buddy to come to the Paissandú club. In the pool, they tried to drown me. Holding friends under the water was a common enough game but this time the intention was for real, and to survive I had to fight my way up. I went completely berserk, lashing out wildly with kicks and punches and to everyone’s disbelief – including my own – I beat them both up. However, the victory was to be short lived and the situation carried on.


The Payssandu Club in the 1960’s, the natural destination for a British expat family.

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Does the true revolution start in Brazil?


Have you seen this pattern lately? People take the street in protest with no specified leaders in demonstrations against their rulers, all grievances and opposition movements become gelled into an amorphous angry mess, pressure is put on the government to step down. When they do the chaos continues until someone strong with pro-western/American credentials steps in to restore the order.

This happened in less subtle ways in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they got smarter and tried to bring regime change via stirring the masses through social media. With this came the successes of Tunisia and Lybia, now Egypt and perhaps Turkey and of course the tragedy of Syria, not to mention the several attempts to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

In Brazil they tried, but after  the country discovered that the CIA had been spying on several Brazilian public figures and that Uncle Sam had also been interfering in the country’s internal affairs, it looks as if this plan is doomed. Now Brazilians are starting to ask themselves who could be behind the Anonymous mask .

This is a very natural question. How can protests be so well coordinated across the country and indeed around the world in countries that have the common feature of not being not subservient enough to the “world order”? Whoever has a blog knows how hard it is to get oneself noticed online is difficult enough, what could be said about the resources needed to ignite popular and “spontaneous” uprisings using the internet? Not only funding is needed but also powerful brains.

Social media is around to amuse people, to allow them to connect with friends and other leisure activities, it takes a touch of genius to transform such platforms into powerful political instruments, but there is someone out there doing this. Why? What is the agenda? Who is this person? Why should he be anonymous? Is this the answer to the Extremist Muslim on-line Jihad and is there any connection/inspiration?

So many questions, so very few answers. Most Brazilian people have not fallen for the Anonymous ploy, and when such things happen new perspectives and fresh routes open themselves not only for Brazilians but for the world at large. May this shift happen now!!

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