When boys of my generation reached puberty, after undergoing the domestic audio-visual introduction, moved on to the age-old Brazilian tradition of being initiated in sex either by a maid or by a professional. From one moment to another, it seemed that everyone except for me and my immediate circle of friends had already done it. As none of us had hot and available domésticas, the only way out were the pros. Given our budgetary limitations, all fingers pointed in the same direction: the infamous Casa Rosa, or the Pink House.
Many fathers took their sons to the important event or at least they sponsored the excursion. This was certainly not to be my case. With Dad in his mid-1970s, sex was not on the cards and it wasn’t a subject of discussion, not even in passing conversation. As far as he was concerned, licentiousness was the preserve of maids and other promiscuous favelados. I never accepted this, but I couldn’t help but inherit something of the idea that sex was intrinsically dirty and that it should be hidden away from polite society. Nevertheless, I was dying to be initiated and saved up for months, scraping together whatever I could for the big day.
Finally we thought that the day had arrived. One Saturday afternoon, my friends and I arranged to meet after lunch, but at the very last moment our trusted guide chickened out. Not only were we all pissed off, but so too was his dad. A few weeks later, we set off alone to the Casa Rosa. We did not know how to get there but when the taxi driver heard “Rua Alice”, he knew exactly the purpose of our excursion. On our way, we discussed whether we should lie and say we were seventeen instead of telling our true age: fourteen. Some of us thought this would bring more respect and would keep us from being thrown out. I was in favour of telling the truth because the lie would make us look even more retarded.
The Casa Rosa was big and seemed to have a faded grandeur. As we approached the house, we noticed a police car parked immediately outside, causing one of the guys want to give up. As we got out of the taxi and entered the building, several policemen were on their way out and greeted us with a reassuring smile. Inside, we sat around a wooden table by the improvised dance floor and waited, the silence only broken by the afternoon samba show coming out of the black and white television under the staircase. Next to the flickering set, there was a counter with two price lists: one for the drinks and another one for the “programs”.
One-by-one, the girls came down for their matinée session. They looked nowhere close to the unobtainable beauties who watered mouths on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana but at least they were younger and better looking than our maids. The madam pointed to us and said:
”It’s time for the children to have milk.”
They selected us, not the other way around, and took us to their rooms. When the action was about to begin, one of the guys knocked his knee against the bed, and from his reaction, we knew it had hurt: we could hear Mauricio jumping around in pain through the thin wooden walls. Meanwhile, the rest of us slipped into a silent and nervous mood without knowing what to do.
My girl was prettier, whiter, thinner and younger than the others. As she took off her clothes and lay next to me, I remembered the porn films. She talked to me and calmed me down, and I began to explore her body. Her naked flesh felt warm, tender and good. The act was as quick as it was disappointing, but I could at least count it as my initiation as a Latin Lover. I was not the first one to appear downstairs, which was a relief. After everyone had paid, we went down the hill making fun of Mauricio’s sore knee and his wounded pride.
No one expects to meet Queen Elizabeth at school in Rio de Janeiro, but here is how the story went.
It was a cloudless November dawn in Copacabana. The city was already in that marvellous time of the year when it prepares for the summer. The first rays of sunshine began to lighten the line of trees bordering Rua Siqueira Campos waking up the street birds, their calls echoing between the buildings, welcoming the orange horizon far-off across the sea. Everything was very calm; down at the beach, waves slid forward and retreated in a soothing rhythm of lengthy splashes. Meanwhile, high up on the twelfth floor of one of the buildings facing that morning choreography, the haze created by the infusion of the sun’s heat and the salty water down below would have embraced my sister and I were it not for the air conditioning in our room. But instead, we were still comfortably tucked in bed, dreaming away.
The alarm clock rang out at six thirty sharp bursting the comforting bubble of sleep. Laziness tried to pretend nothing had happened, but Sarah – my sister, five years older than me – not only turned on her bedside lamp but also made a noise that was impossible to ignore to find her clothes. After this, she went off to take a shower almost ignoring me.
As soon as she opened the door, like an evil cloud in a cartoon film, hot air flooded into our room and the temperature under the blanket became unbearable. Fighting the blinding clarity and the horrible heat a disembodied lazy arm that did not seem to be mine stretched out to switch on the radio lying on the floor beside my bed, a Sharp transistor set, no bigger than a small chocolate-box, made of white plastic and with an aluminium grille covering its weak, tinny-sounding, loudspeaker.
I managed to turn the dial to Radio Globo and, still with my eyes half-open I was in synch with the city’s spirit. This was the favourite station amongst maids, porters and other ordinary people. The presenter, Haroldo de Andrade, had the voice of an opera singer and hosted a show with Roman Catholic and spiritualist overtones, broadcasting news, trivia and interviews with football, samba and soap opera stars. It was interactive, and listeners from all over the city called in to voice their opinions on the issues of the day. During the intervals, Haroldo played jingles and the latest hits, while the station’s astrologer, Alziro Zarur, read out his forecasts with mystical oriental backing music. I was the only one in the family who loved that programme – no one could understand how or why, but I did.
“That junk!” – as my sister referred to my favourite radio programme – was on when she came back from the bathroom wrapped in a towel. Irritated by my laziness, Sarah asserted her seniority by changing the station, switching off the air conditioner and opening the wooden shutters next to her bed. The strong light shattered my delicious morbidity, and it was hard to decide what was more annoying: not being the eldest, having her waking me up so brutally, or simply being obliged to get up so early. Anyway, the cruelty of Sarah’s energy, the hot, humid, air and the early blue sky sealed my fate. I had no choice but to take my turn and get ready for the important day ahead.
There was a pleasant hot breeze out on the veranda when I went out in my pyjamas to take a look at the beach. The day was glorious. We lived on the top floor and I loved to stand there, daydreaming high above the street amongst the plants, the canopies and the hammocks. I had grown up there and this was my playing ground, In the distance, there was the open Atlantic Ocean, while in the opposite direction, at the end of the street, was the Morro do Cantagalo (Singing Rooster Hill), covered with trees that almost hid the favela, or slum, clinging to its slopes.
Sarah stepped onto the veranda to remind me that I could not make myself late. She detailed my to-do list: I had to take a shower, brush my teeth, comb my hair, dress my school uniform impeccably, and put on uncomfortable polished shoes. All of this I hated with a passion.
The maid was already awake and preparing breakfast in the kitchen. Maria had a talkative and well-humoured nature and was always laughing at our gringo habits. She also liked Radio Globo but, in the early morning, in order to get things done in time, she listened to Radio Relógio, the clock station that told the time every second minute after monotonous adverts and useless information. “Did you know? The African rhinoceros has two horns; the bigger one is in front and the smaller one is behind. Did you know?… Beep, beep, beeeep…. Six o’clock, forty-two minutes, and zero seconds…. Beeeep.”
After completing the annoying morning tasks, I was ready to join the family under the canopy on the veranda. We all liked to have breakfast around the plastic folding table Mum always covered with an elegant tablecloth to camouflage its cheapness. In the presence of my Dad, Maria was always serious. When I arrived, there she was wearing her bright uniform that contrasted with her dark skin, being careful not to spill anything and putting on a stern face in order not to allow her playful side to show in front of the man of the house. Maria finished serving our Anglo-tropical breakfast of boiled eggs, hot milk, thick brown bread, porridge, jam, bananas, papaya, freshly squeezed orange juice, honey and butter.
Getulio Vargas was Brazil’s dictator from 1930 to 1945 and reappeared as an elected President in 1951. His influence in the country was immeasurable and is felt until this current day. Besides molding the face of Brazil’s current society and its political establishment, he molded Samba deeply, in a way that very few people suspect.
First of all he appeared in the scene via a coup, and as any dictator of the time and later, he had strong sympathies for Hitler and Mussolini. The far right political “package” included a strong focus on Nationalism and this is where Samba comes in.
Before being “discovered” by politics, Samba was a semi-legal form of music performed in parties/religious sessions in Candomble, the Afro-Brazilian religion, centers. Sambistas were mostly of African/slave descent and poor and their status was close to what rappers were before becoming millionaires, although less aggressive and closer to their roots. Upper classes disdained it and were into classical music or European style romanticism.
When Vargas arrived in Rio de Janeiro he was alien to the “malandragem” and to music in genera, He came from RIo Grande do Sul state, close to Uruguay and Argentina where the Samba and a black community, were almost insistent. With a need to unite the country around him and his development targets, he chose this musical genre as a possible way to bring Brazilians from all classes and all regions of the country together. Samba was to be a catalyst, a nation builder under his regime.
Under his guidance Carnival and Samba were drawn together and the world-famous parades were born. The festival keeps the format until this day: the songs and the themes had to exult Brazil and/or be educational about its history and its geography. They had to be military like parades and, in order to entice the masses and make them participate in big numbers it had to be competition among the several Samba “schools” representing Rio’s several favelas. This was a brilliant idea that worked: the lower classes bought into the illusion of reversing the social order for four days a year when they became the “rulers” of the city, the upper classes became interested in this demonstration of nationalism and it drew national and international attention stimulating tourism. Along with this, it was a clever way to de politicize the Brazilian working class.
The dictatorship also launched artists such as Ary Barroso the author of “Aquarela do Brasil” (known abroad as “Brazil”), a song that sings the marvels of the country and other Samba big names such as Dorival Caymmi, and an entire generation of radio stars. These artist were distant to the Candomble “terreiros”; they dressed smart, looked wealthy, spoke like the rich, praised every aspect of their country and, of course, never spoke about social issues.
It’s all about groove and non-groove, a dance of the opposites, groove takes a lead non-groove tries to kill it, when everyone thought the groove was dead it comes back re-invented as something else in another or generation who will tire out and allow non-groove take over again. Opposites need each other to exist, like the two sides of a ladder or of the DNA helix, one force would not be if it were not for the other, like two legs things would move without them.
It is also a dance of life and death, of man and woman, of big and small, of rich and poor, of important and unimportant, of known and unknown, of disgusting and beautiful, of change and of preservation etc.. etc.. etc… Everything cycles, everything flows, everything dances, everything is part of it: the punches and the kisses, the orgasms and the pains, the delirious and the fascists, the police and the criminal, the priest and the rave, the banker and the native. They are all going from nowhere to nowhere and from everywhere to everywhere.
Before being a building the wall was pure matter then the hand of the paid man molded the bricks that were put together to realize the dream of the educated man for someone to live in and a family to blossom. Now the construction stands there, people admire it from the outside while the iPlayer, made in the Far East plays electronic songs in the inside.
The city goes on, the cars pass by and all sorts of people cross the streets. Where do they all come from? What are they thinking? How do they contribute? Why are they here? I am also part of the question, but who cares?
What about the groove? Could people catch it rising up from under the ground? Can anyone hear the song? Does anyone know the cosmic samba?
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 house above was iconic for boys from my generation and from many generations before and after mine.
Inaugurated in the beginning of the last century it was the most famous brothel that Rio de Janeiro has ever had. It was situated on one of the streets that goes up the hills leading to Santa Tereza, rua Alice. This was a very good address when Rio was Brazil’s capital, and for a long time the Pink House was the naughty place where the politicians and the wealthy who lived in the surrounding mansions the went to enjoy paid sex.
In my teens, in the seventies, it had already lost its exclusive aura but had become the most popular place for boys to be initiated in sex in town. Parents took their kids, or went alone, and mentioning rua Alice created a familiar buzz in any male conversation in Rio’s middle class. It was old school: the place had a dance floor downstairs and rooms for all sorts of budgets and tastes upstairs; the girls stayed around the dance floor sitting around tables waiting to be requested.
As time progressed, the pill arrived and relaxed the moral codes regarding girls having to marry as virgins and the Pink House became more and more obsolete.
It continued to function until the early 2000’s when it had become a place for nostalgic frequenters and for people who didn’t have money to pay for the more expensive and younger prostitutes on Avenida Atlantica, Copacabana’s sea promenade.
Currently it is a cultural center and a Samba club, yet it still sits on a special spot in memory lane for most carioca grown up boys.
With a career spanning from the 40’s to the 70’s Adoniran Barbosa was a very different kind of Sambista, way beyond his time.
His life history and his work set him apart from his contemporaries; first of all he was from Sao Paulo, a town that is, and was, considered as infertile ground for quality Samba, due to its strong economy, its urban soul and its great amount of immigrants. Vinicius de Moraes the godfather of Bossa Nova and of Ipanema’s coolness called that town the “grave of Samba”
Adoniran’s real name was Joao Rubinato, the son of an upper middle class Italian immigrant who would never accept the career. A sambista from his social background was something unheard of in the forties and fifties when the door was wide open for kids like him to become rich in the booming Brazil. Yet Adoniran dropped out and despite not having a great voice, after a lot of suffering and effort, he finally made it.
His songs talk about the humble folk insisting in a poetic life way of life despite the harshness of Sao Paulo’s money-making reality. His work was not essentially political, his posture was more like the one of a reporter talking about a world he was not born into but came to discover and love because of his artistic vocation. As most Paulistas he took that suffering in a candid way and with a good dose of good humor.
He died in 1982, but is still held by the the people of Sao Paulo as a representation of their true soul. Below are some of the examples of his work:
With Elis Regina, one of Brazil’s best singers of all times:
Demonios da Groa ( the band that made most of his songs famous) playing Adoniran’s most famous song, Trem das Onze: