Brazil – where the music never stops

I’m going to quote my friend Randy (aka Sparrow) who said that despite the hardships and the social and political upheavals that the people of Brazil have faced over several centuries, their music keeps going, or is it because of? In that sense, and  also in the sense that day or night, Monday to Sunday, the music does not stop. But more about Sparrow and the music a little later. First, my experience on entering Brazil.

My entry point into Brazil’s music scene is São Paulo, allegedly the music capital of the country. I arrive expecting to hear samba and MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) in every street corner, but instead I find, er, Elvis …

And Jacko (an impressive performance of) …

But after a few dead ends I did find the samba in a bar in the Villa Magdalena neighbourhood of São Paulo – great band with Paula Sanchez and Paolo Serau who are aspiring to revive Broken Samba (Samba do Breque -here is a description in their own words “The style has as its main characteristic a pause in the musical accompaniment for a declamatory intervention of the interpreter. These pauses, known as “breque” – the Brazilian naming for the word “break” – consist of comic narrations about the plot of music, which may be texts previously written by the author, or improvised ones. Suddenly, the interpreter restarts singing her verses and the musical accompaniment comes back to scene, as a sort of challenge between the singer, the band and the people who are listening and dancing.”) ….

(We are discussing how to bring the sounds of Samba do Breque to London. Watch this space. )

And thereafter this area was an abundant source of music, taking in the street samba and connecting with a Brazilian jazz trio playing on the pavement outside a restaurant, and connecting with a jazz guitarist (special Brazilian 7 string guitar) while waiting for a sudden thunderstorm to abate as Emiliano Castro was waiting with his daughter …

If there is anyone who knows of a word in English that means one shop that sells one type of goods, kind of the opposite of a supermarket where one shop sells many types of goods, then I’d love to hear from you. In the absence of that I am going to make up a word – mono-market. This is the best description of the area around Mercado Municipal in downtown São Paulo. There is a store selling only umbrellas, or shoe laces, or a vegetable stall selling only oranges ….. and is more akin to Bhuleshwar in Mumbai, or Chandni Chawk in Delhi than the shopping malls of the western world.

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Like many South Amerian cities, São Paulo reflects an unhappy coexistence of the haves and have-nots, with churches thrown in perhaps to keep a connection between the two – is this urban squalor or urban art – seems a fine line …

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In São Paulo you have to go looking for the music, musicians and industry players … they are there if you search hard enough. In Rio, the music is everywhere, you don’t have to look too hard. I was in the fortunate position of being with my son who is currently working there. So making his Copacabana flat a base, we head to the infamous Bip Bip bar for Tuesday night of chorro (a cross between bossa nova and samba), run by a formidable proprietor for over 50 years – an institution in Rio! You dare not chat while the music is playing or you’ll be at the receiving end of his tirade of abuse! But he served the chillest beer in the city (Brazilians sure know how to serve the coldest beer in the world. And note the #NoCoupInBrazil sign – a sign of the times).

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But before Bip Bip, we headed down to Pedro do Sal – THE place for live samba! Monday nights are usually dead nights for entertainment in most of the South American cities I had visited so far. Not Rio! Mondays and Fridays at Pedro do Sal is when the samba bands form a ‘roda’ or circle – with singing clapping and dancing audiences around them. The resulting atmosphere is electric. Here’s a sample…

Pedro do Sal is the place where samba was born – here the slaves lived in close proximity to the docks and the ships that brought the free people of Africa and turned them into slaves. But the music and spirit of these people remained uncrushed. Today it is a vibrant colourful and magnetic part of Rio, and the soul of samba. The London Jukebox will definitely be bringing the sounds and colours of Pedro do Sal to London (though we can’t promise the Rio weather) – watch this space.

Rio de Janeiro …

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Along with Copacabana, Ipanema, Christ do Redeemer, Escadaria Selarón (vibrant steps created by Chilean born artist Jorge Selarón) and Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain), Pedro do Sal is a must experience part of Rio. It was so good we went there twice!!

On the way to Pedro do Sal, we sample Christmas carols – samba style…

Walk another 200 meters and we stumble upon these guys under the arches at Lapa (incidentally the best place for live music in Rio) …

No trip to Brazil is complete without a visit to the Iguazu falls – the largest waterfall system in the world with between 150 and 300 waterfalls (depending on the water levels and seasons). Words and photos cannot do justice to the staggering size and scale of the falls – we were lucky enough to be there during Xmas so there were less crowds and unparalleled views.

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Sibelius composed this piece for natural beauty of Finland, but I think it applies to what we see here just as well …

And of course the Cariocas (people from Rio) know how to party. New Year’s Eve in Copacabana beach was no exception. Starting with sipping caipirinhas on the beach, continuing with pisco sours followed by champagne to toast the new year – the beach alive with cariocas in traditional white and sky filling fireworks, I got a small taste of what Rio might be like during carnival time.

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Before heading north and northeast in search of rustic gritty music, I was guided by my guidebook to take in Fiera de São Cristóváo, Rio’s version of northeast food and culture. And we found just that, beautiful swaying sounds of authentic forro. You cannot but tap to or swing a hip to the swaying rhythm of well sung forro.

My resolve to find more forro and northern music was strengthened. So I headed for Salvador, the original landing point of Portuguese ships in Brazil (and a gruelling 35 hour bus journey from Rio!). What I find here is a vibrant energetic community, full of joy-de-vivre.

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And the music scene here was on par with that of Rio. First evening wondering through its colonial centre and I found this guy-  bossa nova I suppose.

Better still, these guys were playing Latin Jazz on the main square – this is Tuesday evening.

Gini, the Italian-who-lives-in-Salvador with the electric guitar who hardly seems to move, is now a friend. Several of his recommendations for gigs and introductions to musicians in the north bore fruit. This little jazzy jam session was one of them, and a treat – totally improvised (you can tell by the shaky start to Herbie Hancock), these guys were really rocking!! This is quite a long video so if you have time it is worth watching for the solo trumpets and sax later in the video…

In between I managed to squeeze in the São Paulo based Alafia (recently showcased in Bogota representing Brazil “funk” or “afro-punk” or “funk-Candomblé” – the term they accept) who were touring in Salvador…

There are more songs from Alafia on The London Jukebox – in South America Spotify playlist.

Some stills from Salvador and the North East …

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Still strolling through the streets of Salvador I find and wander into a cd shop. There I am fortunate enough to meet with the aforementioned Randy (Sparrow), an American-who-lives-in-Salvador and a fountain of knowledge on Brazilian music and musicians. He took me to Hot Dougies Rendezvous (proprietor is Doug Adair who sells American style hot dogs, is a musician in his own right, and has live samba outside his hot dog stand in probably the most historically important part of Brazil (his words), Barra, Salvador, where the Portuguese first landed their ships and cargo of African men and women). A legendary place – here is a sample of the atmosphere (everyone will recognise this piece from the 60s)…

And strolling by the boulevard near the lighthouse at sunset in Salvador, and in the spirit of there being music everywhere, this guy is rocking …

Randy also told me about the festival of the steps in São Braz – back in the day the enslaved Africans wanted to sing songs dedicated to their religion and culture (predominantly Candomblé). The Portuguese catholic church did not permit them to sing inside the church – but they were permitted to outside the church. So they took to cleaning the steps of the church where they were freely allowed to sing!)  … There is little mention of this story on google, the only reference I found was to the ceremony at Church of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim in Salvador. At around the same time, there is an annual festival in São Braz but the ceremony is the same…limpiar (cleaning) of the church steps (there is now a new church in São Braz with no steps as such, but the patio is still washed) followed by samba from Chula de São Braz led by João do Boi, gritty and authentic samba in its original form. João’s grand daughters, Randy, Chula’s manager Castro and the band itself in the below stills…

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And here is how they sound …

Having satiated my appetite for samba I continue my journey heading further north to Fortaleza in search of forro. And I found this on a Monday night (the music really does not stop) …

Through Gini I also met with original musicians in Fortaleza, Roberto (from Chile) and Serau.

A surprising genre of music that I discovered in Fortaleza was Brazilian reggae, a funkier slower sound in Portuguese. Most of the songs I heard were in cabs and performed by local artists and very much underground, the search for published Brazilian reggae therefore continues.

I arrive at Recife hoping to hear forro, but am told that the city is in the throes of carnival preparations so Frevo is the music to catch. Seeing the rehearsals one might have thought the carnival is the next weekend, but it is next month – but these guys take it very seriously, and the city is preparing hard – I went to Orlinda to see the preparations.

I went along to the Frevo museum to understand more about this genre – a wonderful museum with the history of Frevo from 1900 to the present day. Musically this is very much dance music, and a special toe curdling, hopping, sweeping dance, adapted from Capoeira over the decades. Since I will  not be here for the carnival I took stills from the museum’s library (the umbrella is a ruse for hunting spears) …

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Recife itself is a vibrant colourful city – though associated with the original outbreak of the zika virus. It is for good reasons that the northeast is called ‘little Africa’ (with a colonial twist) …

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And the music, like in the rest of Brazil, never stops …

 

Next stop – Buenos Aires. Until then…

 

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