Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the month “June, 2014”

Lost Samba – Chapter 32 – Final Chapter



Some friends went camping in Lumiar, a place similar to Maua. The morning before coming back they went for a swim in the village’s dam. One of the guys saw a small whirlpool challenging him to dive in and to experience how being tossed around felt like. He under-estimated the power behind that mass of still water and was sucked into the piping and drowned.

He was 20 years old and born into a family of diplomats; an exponent of “New Brazil” seduced by a merciless whirlpool that killed him, a striking image. The invisible but immense pressure of water being held back by an artificial mechanism poetically resembled bubble of the sweet life in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro being secured by the military regime. This was like a tragic sign that the end of that era had been sealed.  His body was only retrieved after his influential parents “convinced” the authorities to blast the concrete with dynamite.

As for me, one Saturday night the phone rang as I was about to leave home for a party. It was Mum calling from Teresopolis, Dad had felt ill and had been taken to hospital. The situation was serious and she needed me there, we would have to take turns sleeping with him.

When I arrived, Dad was in bed in a state of confusion; full of tubes everywhere. He seemed ashamed for being unwell and for making us get out of our way. It was mum’s turn that night and after a chat and saying good night I drove back to the house alone. I hadn’t been there for ages and returning there in such uncertain circumstances felt strange.

The next night it was my turn. His mind was starting to go and he had a delirium that he was in the boat where he had almost died of hunger and thirst all those years ago. He did not realize that I was in the room, but after some time he recovered his senses, calmed down and we said good night. At dawn I was woken up by doctors telling me to leave the room. They tried to apply CPR, but their efforts didn’t work; when they allowed me back his eyes were wide open but there was no life in them. The only reaction I could have was to go back outside, sit on the corridor’s floor and cry. It was all over without ever having started, I loved my father and had tons of respect for him, the opposite must have been true but we were never able to communicate our feelings properly to each other.

He had come from a rural Jewish village in the interior of Poland to reverse his destiny and to conquer the tropical jungle but it ended up devouring his dreams and his pain. I felt as helpless and as far away from him as he was from his own father when he was killed in Auschwitz. I was the continuity of his search for a place of sanity in an adverse world.

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We hope you enjoyed the ride – we certainly did!!!

Lost Samba – Chapter 31/02 – Rock from Rio in the Eighties.


Rock and Roll took Rio over by storm. Everyone seemed to have a band, and those who did not wanted to be involved in one way or another. In the middle of this revolution, someone inherited a Radio station in Niteroi and transformed it into the first pure Rock station in town, Radio Flumnense. Now, no one needed to buy records any more to listen to Led Zeppelin, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, the Who, etc… This bonanza was short lived as they were approached by the big record companies demanding royalties. Unable to pay, they resorted to playing exclusively 80’s stuff; despite losing their pirate station aura they became avant-garde and introduced Rio’s youth to what was happening in the local and international rock scene.

Michel, a future work colleague, was an international air steward at the time; during his time off in London and in New York he would buy the latest releases of the latest bands and would deliver them freshly to the station. As these bands were from independent labels and had never been heard in Brazil, they were less of a problem to broadcast. No other station aired that kind of music and playing in their station became the passport to success for all the local bands. Arrepio included, did everything they could for them to play our songs. Radio Fluminense was to be the soundtrack of the eighties and was a phenomenon that will never be repeated.

Charles, the studio owner, started getting us gigs, and with the little money we got from them we started investing in demo tapes in order to who knows, finally get some air space in Radio Fluminense. This lead us to better recording studios where we came across impatient sound engineers despising us behind the glass windows. This new phase made us more aware of what we played and taught us a lot. But in a way the pseudo professionalism in those studios got in the way of us getting the best results. The tracks were recorded separately which made those sessions very different to what we were used to; sometimes the musician would get his part wrong or sometimes the engineer messed up and there were endless repetitions where the essence of the band dissipated into technical details.


Felipe joined the band through a Posto Nove bump in too. Although he was not attached to the Circo Voador he had become a professional actor with an important role in the play “The Twelve Works of Hercules”, that was to be the cradle of many successful careers in the Brazilian acting world. He was dying to be a lead singer in a band and therefore we had an easy job to convince him to become ours. His voice was good, his presence was superb and with him we gained a new dimension; also, his contacts could break us into circles that could make it happen.

The next step was to do his début gig. Through his connections Felipe arranged one in a bar in Ipanema. It was going to the venue’s first Rock gig after decades of quiet nights of Bossa Nova. We set up our gear in the patio with the staff regarding us as barbarians coming in from the steppes; there was no pre-amplifier or sound engineer; just our instruments, borrowed microphones and the power of Charle’s amplifiers. After we had done the sound check in the afternoon he manager came up to greet us. He was apprehensive about the volume and asked us if we could play lower but we answered that because the drums were naturally loud everyone had to be at a similar level.

At night the guests started appearing; as Felipe was doing a minor role in a soap opera at TV Globo there were one or two famous faces and many desirable future starlets appearing in the room. When the hall filled up, we started. In the middle of the second number, I heard a noise in my ear and when I looked around the manager was shouting that we were too loud. I told him again that we could not play lower because of the drums. He went down and after two numbers, he knocked on my shoulder again and told me that there was someone downstairs wanting to talk to me. I replied that I could not talk then. The next thing we saw were six police officers coming up the staircase, taking the plug out of the wall and killing the gig.

The Felipe days were short lived; he signed a contract for a big role in a TV series and gave up his musical career. I went back to the vocals but arguments started to break out, the rest of the band was more concerned about their technique than my over-confident self; Marcos and Melo were still taking private lessons, which for me was very un-rock and-rollish and they did not want to understand that I couldn’t do the same for financial reasons. On the other hand, I took the venture more seriously; I believed that if we found a sound to set us apart from the other bands we could make it big and I was prepared to invest all of my energies. Meanwhile the other guys took the band with a pinch of salt and regarded the band as a fun weekend activity.


 The temple for goths, new romantics, quasi-punks, and other alien creatures was a night club in Copacabana, called Crepúsculo de Cubatão. The name paid homage to Cubatão, an industrial town on the coast of São Paulo state considered the most polluted place in Latin America. It was owned by Ronald Biggs, the famous British train robber, and had everything one would expect from an early eighties venue: the neo-gothic expensive futuristic look with classical overtones, girls and boys dressed up as vampires, a lot of exaggerated make up and no smell of cannabis or hint of heterosexual sex in the air. The ever-crowded door was controlled by a tiny Goth girl protected by two gigantic and un-trendy bouncers. She chose whom she would not let in by pointing at them and pronouncing the death sentence: “she/he looks like a nice guy/girl”.

Strange people started to appear in our lives talking about Post-Modernism and Nietzsche without understanding much of what they were talking about but causing a knowledgeable impression. London had become the new Jerusalem and the British magazines iD and The Face were the new Bibles; in some quarters having a sun tan was seen as a sign of belonging to the Neanderthal age. The irony about the obsession with the London standard was that coming from a semi-British background, I could have prospered big time but I stuck to my coherence and in my mind I was a defeated revolutionary who had stoically not sold out.

There was a fundamental absurdity in what was going on that I could not come to grips with: Rio de Janeiro’s natural settings did not combine with urban themes. The shallowness of the discussions about visual trends in foreign magazines and which bands and artists were free from the seventies aura had nothing to do neither with Rio’s eternal wildness nor with what I thought or intended to be. On the lighter side, it was amusing to see goths and punks walking around in black leather jackets and boots on 40 degree centigrade sunny weekends while everyone else was in their bikinis or trunks going and coming back from the beach. They looked like vampires in search of morgues to shelter in until night when they could come out and take over the city.

The Carioca middle class punks’ were another case of absurdity; the clothes they wore and the places they had to be seen were expensive and had nothing to do with Johnny Rotten screaming “no future” in London between one spit and another. The punk movement was much closer to the people crammed in buses in Sao Paulo’s outskirts and to people like me being sliced up by the economic lawnmower. We were being kicked in the face by a system that had promised a rosier world as we grew up. There was a lot of right wing talk going on about the survival of the fittest but what we saw was the survival of the ones with richer parents.

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The photo is more recent but reflects a bit what Punk in the Zona Sul was about.

Football in Brazil

Football in Brazil

Lost Samba – Chapter 31/01 – Rock and Roll and Brazil’s silent revolution


Brazilian Rock bands of the 80’s

The welcome at home was lukewarm. No one likes defeats, but still my parents were glad to have their son back and not on a risky venture that they never understood. It was also clear that Dad’s days were numbered and I wanted to try to narrow the gulf between us. Lacking better options, when the summer ended I returned to university to continue the economics course. What happened next was predictable. I didn’t belong there anymore; my contemporaries looked down on me, while my new class mates either viewed me as an incomprehensible rebel or dismissed me as an idiot who had fallen behind in his studies. My grades were bad and I hated the unforgiving truth that I’d spent an entire year out, only to return to the exact same point as where I’d left off.

However, life carried on. The healer for my pressures and disappointments was, as always, Ipanema beach and its beautiful community. One Sunday morning at Posto Nove, I bumped into Melo, an ex-class buddy from the Colégio Andrews. Melo had changed from being an introverted, skinny guy into a cool, outgoing young man with long hair. It was obvious that he had also spent plenty of time working out as his muscles were all pumped up. He was proud to tell me that he had learned how to play the guitar. Although he had never belonged to the doidão gang, we agreed to meet up for an electric session at his place after sunset. Melo asked if he could bring along his friend Leonardo, a bass player. I agreed and suggested that we also invite Marcos, a mate from university who played the drums. This was how our band was born. Initially we called ourselves “Papa Clitoris e os Oligofrenicos” (Clitoris eater and the Oligophrenics), but we soon settled on a more acceptable name, “Arrepio”, meaning “goose bumps”, a term used by surfers to describe a state of awe.

Having a band was a definite step up in the rock ‘n roll ranks, as well as being a lot of inexpensive fun and therapeutic. When the music got going, the sense of empowerment was tremendous. All life’s frustrations came storming out with crude aggressiveness from the guitar and through shouts into the microphone.


We began rehearsing at Melo’s place, as it was impossible to meet at mine as the neighbours had signed a petition against the noise. With Melo, however, we could be as loud as we wanted because his parents always travelled on weekends and it seemed that his neighbours weren’t troubled by the roar. We used the apartment’s study as our studio. The room overlooked the Morro do Leme favela, at the end of Copacabana. Down in the shacks, we could hear a punk band rehearsing on the same days as us. When we took a break, they would start, and vice-versa. Their lyrics were those of uneducated people, probably in the equivalent of the language used in British punk. Their anger sounded so naïve that it made us fall about with laughter. I prefer not to think what they made of us.

It didn’t take long for Melo’s neighbours to start to complain too. As in my building, they ended up circulating a petition demanding that we stop playing. This forced us to turn to a regular studio, placing us even deeper into the rock ‘n roll scene. With everyone forming bands, rock was now central for Rio’s youth and rehearsal studios became an extension of the Posto Nove scene. We bumped into the same people we saw every weekend at the beach and between sessions we got to know about the wildest parties, the best drug deals, and joined in the gossip about other bands, both well-established and up-and-coming.

After trying several studios, we ended up adopting one at the Morro de São Carlos favela. This slum was notorious for “belonging” to one of Rio’s most dangerous underworld organizations, the Terceiro Comando. The police only ventured to go up that hill in armoured vehicles and protected by helicopters. Naturally, we were apprehensive as we drove through the unpaved alleys with our expensive gear. When we finally found the studio, it was uneasy to stop the car and get out of it.

The high walls, the barbed wire and the five fierce Rottweilers that protected the sizeable studio and its grounds made it resemble the fortress of a drug lord. The owner was Marcos’ drumming teacher, Charles – pronounced Shaahrlees – a tall guy with blond curly hair extending down into a curly beard that made him resemble an ancient Greek figure. Charles had been the drummer for the legendary godfather of Brazilian funk, Tim Maia and for one of tropicália’s stars, Gal Costa. He welcomed us into the spacious studio that was still smelling of cement. We were the first to ever use the premises, but soon that space was to become one of the most popular rehearsal studios in Rio used by some of the top artists and bands in town, such as Cazuza, Hanoi Hanoi and Azul Limao. Charles never forgot us and continued offering a special price. He was also generous in allowing us to play using the gear that the big boys left behind.

Although we loved the studio and the fun of playing at full blast on professional equipment, getting to Charles’ studio never ceased to be a tense experience. Every time we drove up through the narrow streets the locals suspiciously eyed our car, unsure if we were the police, a rival gang or customers. Charles must have had agreements with both the drug lords and with the police because none of them ever touched us although sometimes he’d phone Marcos telling us not to come because something heavy was going on.


Parallel to the paradox of the elation of having a good band playing my creations at the same time as the situation at home was borderline desperate, Brazil was passing through an important period of its modern history.

The economic disaster and restrictive measures that the IMF imposed on the country in 1983 caused widespread discontent. But what made Brazilians especially angry was that they could not choose their president. The military’s position was that the people were not capable to make this decision and congressional representatives should be left to choose the country’s leader for them. Despite the assurances that at an unspecified point in the future they would concede presidential elections, no one bought that proposal and all democratic forces within the country united to enforce immediate change. The movement took the streets, marching under the slogan “Diretas já!” – Direct elections now!

These gigantic demonstrations took place in cities across Brazil. Following a rally in São Paulo attracting 1.7 million protesters, a rally in Rio drew more than one million people to the streets, the largest political gathering the city had ever seen. A revolution in real time was something to be part of. I squeezed my way through the crowd and climbed up a news kiosk to get a clearer view. As the first speech began, I felt some splashes on my shoulder, I looked back and there was someone peeing from the column next to me. I yelled at the idiot who excused himself and directed the flow to another angle. From then on things only got better, famous actors and artists, leading congressmen and other key political figures came on to the podium and took turns in giving memorable speeches, cheered on by the assembled masses. The rally ended with the entire crowd singing the national anthem, with barely a dry eye, forever imprinting that moment onto the Brazilian collective memory.

Brasília, the capital, was far from the main centres of population so the rulers only saw what was happening on television screens, which gave them a sense of detachment and of immunity from what was taking place on the streets. Their concession was to allow the Congress to nominate a civilian as president, Tancredo Neves, a widely respected figure who had served as a token opposition politician ever since the coup in 1964. The official candidate who they allowed to lose was the unpopular military appointed governor of São Paulo, Paulo Maluf. With Tancredo’s victory, for the first time in over 20 years Brazil was set to inaugurate a civilian as president. However, the president-elect fell seriously sick only weeks before signing in. This drama kept Brazil in suspense: no one knew how serious Tancredo’s medical condition really was, whether he could take office or if some form of conspiracy was taking place. With Tancredo hospitalised and probably in a coma, José Sarney, the vice-presidential candidate, appointed to please segments of the military, took office on 15 March 1985. A little over a month later, Tancredo died.

We were scheduled to perform our first gig on the night that Tancredo was confirmed dead. As a stunned Brazil united in mourning, we sat on the club’s doorsteps in Copacabana hoping for someone to show up. Melo anxiously paced forwards and backwards, only stopping to ask why there was no one there. We patiently explained that Brazil had just lost its rightful president, to which he replied “Really? Of what?”. He was not joking and no one could believe how anyone could be so utterly detached from reality.

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The “Diretas Ja” rally in Rio de Janeiro.

The party for when Brazil was awarded the World Cup in 2007

Who soured the party? What has changed from then to now?


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