I have just come back from Rio de Janeiro and took these pictures. I hope you like them!
Sometimes the internet surprises us. We tried to search a site about Brazilian culture in English and found out that there were very few written by non-Brazilians. There was one heart warming exception: bossanovamusic.com. As the name suggests this is a site dedicated to our favorit style of music. We were happy to find a passionate account of the history of Bossa Nova, articles about its main exponents, interviews with Bossa Nova artists, excerpts of news about Bossa Nova throughout the world, reviews on albums and on related publications, everything done with great quality and care.
We got in touch with the guys and asked them to tell us more about the site. The answer was:
“… Bnovamusic.com is a site run by a group of fans that are passionate about bossa nova and its culture. Wanting to delve in further than just the music we decided we wanted to find blogs and websites and were surprised to find that they are really were few site and blogs that provided bossa nova content, especially for English speakers. Therefore, we decided to take up the responsibility ourselves. Since then we have been fortunate to work alongside very talented artists and other people in the industry. It’s been very rewarding and enjoyable to date and we are very thankful.”
Their site is a sister, or brother, of Lost Samba, in their passion and in taking it upon themselves to promote Brazilian culture in the English-speaking world. Bossanovamusic is an indispensable resource to anyone who wants to know more about the magic of artists like Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and Joao Gilberto. We thoroughly recommend it.
The Hotel Sol de Ipanema faced the beach almost on the corner of Rua Montenegro (which has since been renamed Rua Vinicius de Moraes), and it was a convenient landmark where my friends and I could all meet up at the beach. One Saturday morning, Edu and I were sitting by the sea in front of the hotel when we saw a lanky but toned guy in his forties wearing a crochet thong and playing beach tennis. His presence and his scandalously minuscule bathing attire drew our attention and, after looking at him for some time, Edu turned to me and asked, “Hey, isn’t that Gabeira?”
Edu was referring to Fernando Gabeira, one of the former exiles who had been involved in the 1969 kidnapping in Rio of the American ambassador, Charles Elbrick. In his best-selling autobiography, O que é Isto, Companheiro? (“What is this, Comrade?”), in addition to the insider’s revelations of the mythical world of a so-called “terrorist” organization, Gabeira declared in his book that during those “heroic” days he was actively bisexual, something scandalous for the left and for the right alike. Riding a wave of fame, Gabeira launched an alternative path for opposing the system that he termed the “politics of the body”. What he really meant by this is still debated, but a political statement that seemed to prescribe being true to yourself and engaging in a lot of sex as a path to revolution went down well in Ipanema.
Rio’s beaches had, and still have, an unofficial schedule and a territorial partition that allowed one to say, “Tell me when and where you sun bathe and I will tell you who you are.” At dawn, the fishermen from Copacabana now shared the coast with surfers, yoga and Tai Chi aficionados, while joggers and cyclists paraded on the promenade. Later in the morning, as when I was a child, the ownership of the beach shifted to families, encompassing children, mums, grandmas, nannies, dogs and all other sectors of Brazilian domestic life. Around midday, they went home and from then on the more interesting people who stayed on gave Rio’s beaches sub-divisions further definition.
In Ipanema, there were unofficial spots for bodybuilders, Jiu-Jitsu fighters and yuppies. Other stretches became known as an extension of the gay scene, there was a surfers’ point, an area for the favelados, one for white-collar workers, another for sex professionals (not coincidentally the same as that for tourists), and an area reserved for football players and their groupies. Then there was Posto Nove, the beach outpost attracting followers of 1960s and 70s lifestyles and ideologies.
After the Pier, the surfers point in the early 1970s, had lost its usefullness, trawlers and cranes had done the job of demolishing the structure. From then on the Nove inherited the status of being the beach’s permanent Woodstock, the prime meeting place for artists, musicians, actors and intellectuals – both those already established and also those who never would. With the recent political freedom, came the flags of the newly legalized leftist parties flapping above the beautiful people. Meanwhile the boys from Batista’s improvised bar ran back and forth to serve beer, snacks and the tastiest caiprinhas found on any of Rio’s beaches.
There was a tacit understanding between the police and the beach-goers that they didn’t trouble us as long as we didn’t create trouble for them elsewhere on the beach. However, during election campaigns things sometimes changed when traditionalist candidates would push the police to clampdown on pot smokers, but when raids occurred, the crowd would boo them away and arrests were rare.
A typical day at Posto Nove was like being at a club or at a laid-back rock concert. Whether or not we had met before, we would chat between us about women, football and politics, and when the sun grew too hot or if the conversation became boring there was always the sea enticing us. As the day wore on, we took long swims, did some body surfing and played beach tennis. When the sun started to go down people began leaving the beach. By five in the afternoon the oceanfront was much emptier and the atmosphere became more intimate and serene. The milder sun, the afternoon breeze, the peace that came after a day spent in the open air and the beauty of the place and of the people made the Nove a magical spot.
The beach sessions would end with everyone giving the sun a standing ovation as it slowly disappeared over the horizon. After that, we all went our separate ways, normally going home for a nap before heading out to one of the parties or gigs that we had talked about on the beach earlier in the day where our free-spirited, suntanned and youthful carioca tribe would reconvene.
After my fiasco at the British School, the Escola Americana, or E.A., was the only alternative left in which to continue an international education in Rio de Janeiro. That surreal institution had everything one could expect from an American High School: blond and ginger boys and girls speaking English with a nasal accent, a baseball field, an American football team, and the social competition inherent to such an institution. The Rocinha favela, the biggest slum in the world, located on the hill right in front of the school, was a reminder that those massive grounds and those futuristic buildings were a hub for a foreign virus in a foreign land.
The EA’s educational structure was as advanced as its architecture: we built our own curriculum, the courses were with different students in different classrooms, we had a smoking area, the teachers had long hair and we didn’t need to wear a uniform. In a town influenced by the American culture, in terms of coolness, this school was the Olympus of Rio’s youth. The kids who had set the trends for how the middle class was behaving; the ones who had introduced surfing and weed to Ipanema, had studied or were studying at that very school. My classmates were the children of the powerful gringos sent over to overlook the making of “New Brazil” and to make sure that the branch followed the headquarters. This feeling was pretty much internalized in most students and I had to be careful not to absorb their sense of superiority and look down on regular Brazilians.
Most of them weren’t saints and were having the time of their life. They did all the wrong things that the other kids did, but had the added advantage of relying on IBM, or Merck or Shell to intervene on their behalf when things went wrong. This sense of impunity was usually reserved only to the highest ranking families of the land. The school’s elite knew each other well from their parents social circles and excluded those who didn’t belong. With the status of a non-surfer, Brazilian born, and non-muscular son of an elderly Jewish small business owner, I was barred from the ‘“in’” crowd. These were guys with an unblemished American or European pedigree who irradiated self-confidence. Many had long hair, were athletic, and seemed to rock in any physical activity they got into, except for football (for them soccer).
Those kids had a lifestyle that is hard to imagine. To begin with, most of them belonged to the Yacht Club and had boats waiting for them at the marina. They lived in houses, a rarity in Rio even in those days, the ones who lived in flats stayed in the best addresses in town such as the beach front avenues of Ipanema and Leblon, Avenida Vieira Souto and Avenida Delfim Moreira. Whenever I was invited to parties or to hang out after school with any of them, I would think to myself, “So these are people who live here”. My schoolmates had access to gadgets that were science fiction in common households: video games (something that hardly anyone had in those days), imported surf and skateboards, records from any band one could imagine, the best stereo equipment available in the American (not the Brazilian) stores and dreamlike weekend houses in dreamlike locations where they could use their toys.
To add insult to injury, their monthly, dollar-based pocket moneys were probably more than what I received in an entire year, which in its turn was more than the minimum salary. Dad had made a lot of extra money with his stock market move, but next to these people we were poor.
The few friends I made there came with a novelty: they smoked weed. After talking about my tastes and interests it didn’t take long for them to welcome me into their circle and help me discover what the fuss was all about. The first couple of tries were disappointing, but on the third or fourth session, the penny dropped and I realized I was very stoned. The experience was not what I expected, there were no unicorns galloping in front of me nor did everything change into psychedelic colours, it was all about laughing with no apparent reason, and about appreciation of rock music. There was no doubt that the high gave a different dimension to everyday activities; every song we listened to sounded marvellous and had details that I had never noticed before. Perhaps because I was learning how to play the guitar, the state that the smoke induced me into allowed me to identify the different layers of the music and to understand what was in the mind of the musicians when they wrote those parts and performed them. The simplest things: LP and book covers, paintings on the wall, decorative statues and plants, acquired a beauty that I could never have grasped in a normal state. I was soon to discover that maconha was a repellent for girls, but, hey, the chicks at the American School were unobtainable anyway.
From that point onwards, at school, at the beach, at the club and at home, I had an edge: I was doing something illegal. Things and people I had never understood before began to make sense, and belonging to that new club felt great, almost like the conquest of an identity. In my mind, the peers in my other circles were dying to do the same but did not have the “cojones”.
In 1973 there was a major stock market crash due to the sudden increase in the price of Petrol internationally, and, as anywhere else in the world, people who had made easy fortunes suddenly lost everything from one day to another, leading to a major drop in real estate prices. Dad was either clever or lucky enough to have sold his shares just days before the collapse and for us this stroke was like winning the lottery. Having plenty of cash available, my parents were able to buy an apartment in Ipanema, and to move into Rua Nascimento Silva, only a few doors away from the home of Vinicius de Moraes, the acclaimed Bossa Nova poet.
The new address meant an upgrade not only in our social status but also in our lifestyle. Although the flat did not have a verandah as the rented one in Copacabana, the new home was much larger and, more importantly, it was ours. The previous owners had joined two small three bedroom flats into a single unit. At its centre was the kitchen, which separated my parents’ side of the flat from the one where Sarah and I moved into. Now, each of us had our own room with a privacy that was a dream for most kids.
Regardless of the hurricane of social change going on behind closed doors, with the exception of the beach front Avenida Vieira Souto, in terms of architecture and of environment, Ipanema felt like a luxury version of a typical Brazilian coastal city. The streets were calm, airy and lined with lush trees that almost hid the sky. Its buildings were newer than those in Copacabana but were lower and less ostentatious, giving the district a more residential, down to earth feel.
Our new home seemed to bring sudden changes to our lives. To begin with, in what was surely one of the coolest places to live in the entire planet, Sarah and I went from being children to being adolescents, both of us discovering the delights and set backs of that period of life. In second place, my parents finally gave way and bought a television set, perhaps accepting that elegant society considered it strange for their aspirants not to have one. Our new TV immersed us even deeper into the wider Brazilian world. Like anybody else, now we could watch TV Globo’s four different novelas, or soap operas, Brazil’s main cultural product, five days a week. Although I soon got tired of them, in the beginning I was hooked: at six in the evening, there was a novela aimed at youngsters; at seven there was a pre-dinner comedy; at eight there was the big production for the entire family; and at ten, there was a more adult show. All were excellent: censorship had forced the best professionals in the field to work in them, as there was otherwise very little space for independent voices in the entertainment industry. This concentration of talent gave the genre an amazing quality that would help them be hits all over the world.
Due to my Mum’s complete disdain for the medium, she did not want our black-and-white television in the living room but instead it stayed in a spare room next to mine. Every evening at seven Dona Isabel, switched on the set to listen to the soap operas from the kitchen as she prepared dinner and this sound track only ceased when we went to bed. Apart from knowing what went on in the novelas, I could watch football games, sitcoms, films and imported TV series while on Saturday afternoons I could enjoy seeing the latest international bands on Sabado Som. Suddenly I was no longer a complete alien at school.
Probably the reason why the previous owners had sold their Ipanema flat to my parents was that the neighbourhood’s main street gang used the building’s entrance as their base. Although they had a middle class background, they were the bad boys at the top of Ipanema’s food chain who ruled not only the streets, but also the waves with their surfing skills in the hippest part of the beach, the Pier. Now long gone, the Pier was set up for the construction of an enormous pipe to funnel Ipanema’s sewage out into the deep ocean. Because its construction had altered the currents and the seabed, the waves there were amazing and the specialised press ranked that particular point as one of the best places to surf in Latin America. These circumstances would make the Pier produce many of Brazil’s first surf champions. Anyway, the gang’s constant presence in our entrance way brought the 1970s rebellion right to our doorstep. Mum and Dad felt besieged by a bunch of barbarians.
One of the gang members, Pepê, was to become a world champion surfer and hang-glider, and years later his popularity would help him be elected into the city council. His younger and less talented brother, Pipi, was shot after he jumped over the counter to attack the owner of the botequim, or bar, on our corner. One day I was coming home from school when I saw a peroxide-blond surfer sitting motionless on the pavement, waiting for an ambulance with his blood-soaked shirt stuck to his belly. The next morning as I was leaving for school, our building’s porter told me that Pipi had died in hospital.
Whenever there were no waves, the gang hung out on the other side of the street to skateboard on a garage ramp while blasting out Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones from a cassette player. While none of them could understand the poignant lyrics, I could, which made me somehow participate in what was going on as I watched them from our living room’s window like a sick boy watching other children play from a hospital ward. In those afternoons, the songs’ words, together with the smell of cannabis wafted into our flat. Seeing the cigar-sized joint passing from hand to hand among the suntanned surfers was like witnessing a bank robbery from a privileged position. This was the subversive crime that the authorities were warning everyone about on television now that the fear of left wing terrorism had died off.
Anytime I passed in front of that gang, I would hear them comment, “There goes that little wimp”. The most embarrassing moments were when we went by car to the club and the porter had to ask those surfers politely to move aside so that our car could exit the garage. As we left the building, inside was my middle-aged mum wearing a white mini-skirt tennis uniform and me with my skinny legs and my oversized football gear. Because of them, my parents ended up banning surfing at home but those guys pushed me to prove, if only to myself, I was not the wimpy kid they saw. I am still trying.
An extract of the film Garota Dourada shot at the time.
Ipanema entered the world’s consciousness as a dream-like place in the mid-1960s when Frank Sinatra discovered Bossa Nova’s laid-back melodies. However, by the 1970s, Bossa Nova, Frank Sinatra and the positive outlook of the Brazilian society had become something of the past. Living under a dictatorship and recovering from the wounds of democracy’s failed resistance, Ipanema would now take centre-place in the country’s process of digesting the new reality. It would do this with a twist of rock ’n’ roll. Although the neighborhood was the embodiment of the middle class comfort that the so-called “Brazilian economic miracle” had ushered; there was an awareness that the newfound wealth was for a privileged minority and that this status quo was backed by a harsh political clampdown. In the early days following the 1964 coup, Ipanema seemed like an independent republic, an island of critical thought where talented and comparatively wealthy, bohemian artists and intellectuals congregated. Their resistance to the military regime began early when, in 1969, a group of them launched a satirical weekly called O Pasquim. This seminal publication would land many of its contributors in prison for varying lengths of time, but would also position them into the elite of the country’s intelligentsia.
O Pasquim was ahead of its days: not only did it firmly position itself against the military but it also lampooned the bourgeoisie and their values. There were ground-breaking interviews, many of them fuelled by bottles of whisky, with all sorts of football players, artists, politicians, actors and other celebrities. In a time of heavy censorship, they exposed these public figures from previously unexplored angles, encouraging them to talk about their private lives, their views on controversial subjects such as drugs and sex and to confess their sins. They also approached people who the mainstream media ran away from, such as Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva – Brazil’s future president but in the 1970s just a rising leader of the “inconvenient” metalworkers’ union in the outskirts of São Paulo.
Battling the heavy hand of the government, O Pasquim was one of the very few remaining independent journalistic voices following the suppression of the mainstream media. Somehow, this publication succeeded in being both humorous and penetrating and the weekly sold solidly right across Brazil. Their contibutors became household names throughout the country and had the effect of making Ipanema a synonym for a free, resistant and happy bohemian zone. This image would be a key to how Brazil would eventually handle its return to democracy.
On the other hand, if one was to leave aside the political void during the early years of the 1970s, with double figure annual growth figures the middle class was by and large content, not only in Rio’s Zona Sul but throughout Brazil. As far as they were concerned, the economy was sailing along nicely and the new prosperity had a very clear impact on middle-class lifestyles. Sales of cars, televisions, Coca-Cola, records, contraceptive pills, electronic gadgets, music and surf magazines, and marijuana all rocketed in Rio.
As the new generations began to enjoy the fruits of prosperity, strange long haired and socially unclassifiable characters started appearing on the streets and, via television, right across the country’s living rooms. In Ipanema, the rock ‘n’ roll spirit was omnipresent and the youth embraced the new genre with conviction, making the neighborhood unique in relation to the rest of Brazil. Groups of hippy-like youngsters walked around with upper class girls who, in what was still mostly a conservative society, looked sexually available, their t-shirts and lack of bras turning heads wherever they passed. Something new was in the air: a feeling that was alive, menacing and with strong sexual overtones.
With Ipanema at the eye of the social hurricane, its teen boys discovered surfing and did what they could to emulate their southern Californian contemporaries. For local residents, something strange happened. There was an uneasy but very real blend of its political edge and a pioneering rock ‘n’ roll way of life. Life was an exciting adventure for young Ipanemenses; in the 1970s the Rio’s youth had not yet split itself up into “tribes”. It was possible to surf in the morning, go to an underground musician’s gig in the evening, then listen to a Led Zeppelin cassette in a car heading to a disco, and finally end the night in the Tijuca forest smoking a joint while listening to Pink Floyd or to an old Caetano Veloso cassete. In people’s minds, worlds, tastes and practices all crossed each other. You belonged to your particular circle of friends and no one ever thought about re-defining himself or herself because of a specific musical trend, or political or ideological movement. Life was like a box of chocolates full of novelties, so why not try all of them? These were circles of privileged young people, a minority with a considerable trend-setting power, who liked to believe they rejected bourgeois values and were unsympathetic towards the military regime.
At the same time, with Copacabana becoming less socially desirable, a new wave of very wealthy people were moving into Ipanema. They would make its beachside promenade Avenida Vieira Souto the most expensive address in the entire country. Its main commercial strip, Avenida Visconde de Pirajá, absorbed the moment and had hippy-looking burger houses, pinball arcades, surf shops and boutiques selling flower-power inspired clothes. Meanwhile, old-style bars scattered along the side streets leading to the beach, attracted an older generation of bohemian left-wingers. With feelings of condescension, amusement and worry, the rich observed all this from the back seats of their chauffeur-driven luxury cars.
Long haired surfers wearing imported Hawaiian trunks and t-shirts took over street corners in this new Brazilian California. In order to look like their North American counterparts, those guys dyed their hair blond with surf wax or peroxide, and overall they seemed healthy, wealthy and wild. Although the intellectuality and the dogmatism of politics put them off, they believed they were resisting the system by doing whatever they felt like doing – mainly drugs, sex, rock and roll and surfing – and by looking the way they wanted to. Ipanema’s girls were part of the second generation to be liberated by the pill and displayed their tasty bodies on the surfers’ turf – the beach – giving birth to the tanga, or the Brazilian G-string bikini.
Back in 1974 my friend Johnnie invited me to go to my first Rock concert of a band that had an English vocalist. The name of the band was Vimana, the English singer was to become a household name in the Eighties, better known as Richie. The guitarist and the drummer would also become mega rock stars in Brazil, Lulu Santos and Lobao respectively. For a twelve year old boy this was thrilling; I had never been to a concert, let alone seen a world class band. Their musical genre was what would become known as Progressive Rock represented by amazing bands such as Pink Floyd, Yes, PFM, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Focus and Genesis. It was not only the sonority of these bands that blew our minds but the technology too; their music was futuristic and was as close to high-tech that a kid of my age living in Rio de Janeiro would ever get to.
The show was not the epiphany I had imagined, in reality, Prog Rock was something that you had to warm up to, if the song wasn’t great one only started to understand/like it at the third or the fourth hearing, although to look good you had to pretend with your friends that you loved it. Vimana only had two exciting songs and the rest had complicated instrumentation which were as distant to my taste as most of the songs in my older sister’s records. The only thing that stayed with me after the gig was a buzz in my ear due to the super loud amplification, however what continued with me for a long time was the venue, the Tereza Rachel Theater, or the Terezao as it would become known.
Vimana went on to form a band with Patrick Moraez, one of the many keyboard players that Yes, one of the Progressive Rock monsters, but the project never went ahead. On the other hand, the Tereza Rachel went on to be the most popular music venue in Rio in the seventies. There was the more traditional and expensive Canecao, with tables and waiters, where the well known mainstream artists presented themselves and more underground theaters that were a bit too rough for upper middle class youngsters and where not all the bands were good. The Terezao was the place to go, and during its five year reign it managed to present the best upcoming artists at a accessible price and retain a counter-cultural aura.
Its stage witnessed the gradual shifted from Rock and Roll to Brazilian (electrified) music and then back to Rock in the eighties. It became so popular that it could not be ignored by the big names of the Brazilian Musical scene such as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Jorge Ben, Tim Maia and Milton Nascimento and even the veteran legend of Northeastern music Luiz Gonzaga. The theater had a wild atmosphere of its own, and communication with the public was always easy for the artists. More than once did I presence them organizing the audience in choirs of men and women, choirs on the left and on the right, choirs upstairs and upstairs and downstairs and choirs whistling and non-whistling in famous songs. It was also a given that the a concert would end up in an out of season carnival with the audience taking the corridors and the stage in a crazy party. The Terezao was like the air escape of the pressure pan created by the suffocating dictatorship; a place where people could be themselves and literally let their hair down.
The audience was like a club; independently of who the artists were or the trend they represented one always bumped into the same faces. The weird thing was that it was in a commercial gallery and it would be strange to see on every weekend that tribe of displaced people gathering in front of the closed shops waiting for the gates to open. In accordance to what happened at the time there were many guys with long hair and dirty clothes, many girls in hippie dresses and a lot of cannabis. There must have been an agreement with the police because there was never one bust inside the theater in its history.
There was an intellectual and aesthetic effervescence in that theater that made everything that was happening pass through it. The best shows were of the newcomers: Alceu Valenca, Fagner, Djavan, Ze Ramalho, Moraes Moreira, who had recently left the Novos Baianos but still played with its legendary guitarist Pepeu Gomes and with Salvador’s Trio Eletricos’ founder’s son, the incredible Armandinho, Joao Bosco and so many others who would become established artists.. There were also the intrumentalist vein; names that would become internationally known in the Jazz scene such as Egberto Gismonti and Nana Vasconcelos and Hermeto Pascoal, would mesmerize Terezao’s audience with their technique and musical erudition. Meanwhile, democratically sharing the theater with these “respectable” artists, were the “dinosaurs” of Brazilian early seventies rock bands like O Terco, Made in Brasil, Bicho da Seda, Casa das Maquinas and of course Rita Lee, the succesful remnant of “Os Mutantes” Brazil’s pioneers in quality rock.
When the new bands of the eighties arrived there were still rock concerts at the Terezao, but with the appearance of new venues and of a new generation, it shrank and ended up becoming a meeting place for an Evangelical church. However for our generation was one of those magical things where who saw it loved it and who didn’t missed out in something amazing. I’m happy to be part of the first group.