Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “brazilian folk music”

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 Origins of Samba

I stumbled across this precious video showing the music of the Reconcavo Bahiano, in the interior of the state of Bahia. As you will see the people who live there are of mostly of Arfican origin and have kept close their culture, untouched by mainstream commercialism. In a way their lifesyle reminds us of the people living in the hills of Jamaica. The isolation has preserved their culture in a way that can give us an insight of how popular culture was in Brazilian big centers a century ago, at least among the working classes.

Their music is similar to the one that originated Samba in Rio de Janeiro, despite the presence of an electrified mandolin. The rhythm began in Candomble sessions where, in a similar way to what happens in Africa, the music is based on everyone repeating a chorus while the main singer responds and improvises to it. American Gospel music and salsa have the same pattern.

It is not my intention to give a thorough history of Samba here, but in Rio de Janeiro the Samba we know originated from similar sessions as the ones in the video about. The genre was brought by afro-brazilian immigrants from the state of Bahia. It began as religious gatherings and popularized itself as a way to congregate people around music. After that it took several different avenues, many of which were commercially successful,  and from there it became known all over the world.


Hermeto Pascoal

He is more than a musician this man is a natural phenomenon. He has avoided stardom and has created a ring of musician followers who have refused to become mainstream to live the adventure of playing with “the sorcerer”.

A few have defected to become some of Brazil’s best musicians.

This is what Lost Samba says about him:

“Hermeto was born in the deep interior of Brazil. As he was albino and could not work under the sun with his brothers, he was locked up in a stable where he channelized his fury into music. His long and curly white hair and beard and his strong traces covered by thick glasses gave him the deserved nickname of “the sorcerer”. His band did insane noises, not only with instruments but with objects such as broken bottles, saws and pans but performed valleys of heavenly music.”

Lost Samba is available at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00791OM34

Post Navigation