Archive | September, 2010


22 Sep

Tropicália is a style of music from Brazil, beginning in the late 60s, when a bunch of art students, writers and local musicians, inspired by the work of modern artists such as Helio Oiticica and progressive theatre (especially Oswald de Andrade‘s O Rei da Vela), decided the time was right for a new musical framework. It was a manifesto written by Oswald de Andrade that would have the biggest effect. Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto), published in 1928, states that Brazil is at its best when it is cannibalising other cultures, taking in their music, art and literature and producing something that is, well, better.

This young group, comprising musicians Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Rogerio Duprat, Os Mutantes (Arnaldo Baptista, Sergio Dias and Rita Lee) and writers Torquato Neto and Capinan, took the manifesto at its word. They mixed popular Brazilian rhythms such as samba and bossa nova (which was an incredibly liberal form at the time) and Northeastern Brazilian rhythms, which is where many of the group were from, with Western pop and rock ‘n’ roll (The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers‘ was a big influence), concrete poetry and a sense that anything was possible.

This was typified by Os Mutantes, who through their ingenious home-made amps and effects had created a sound that was unlike anything else. Early performances of the music were at talent contest and pop music competitions (very popular in Brazil) where Veloso and Gil would perform, backed by Os Mutantes and other musicians, such as Pepeu Gomes who would later become a key member of Os Novos Baianos.

The movement really became tangible with the release of Tropicalia: Ou Panis et Circencis in 1968, featuring the entire collective. It was a dynamic mixture of great front-men and women, songwriting that played with form and references in a way Brazil had never encountered before, a collective style and philosophy that made it easy for Brazilian youth to make a connection, and music that really followed no rules. In Veloso and Gil there were two musicians with great love for Brazil’s traditional music forms (who were also prepared to play with those forms), the enthusiasm of Os Mutantes and Tom Zé, always capable of mixing the avant garde with pop in song form, but most important of all was the contribution of Rogerio Duprat.

Duprat was a classically trained composer, well-versed in Europe’s avant garde tendencies. His arrangements add a gravitas and identity to the style of music. All of the classic tropicalia albums carry his trademark. As well as Tropicalia: Ou Panis Et Circencis, he wrote arrangements for Caetano Veloso’s first self-titled album in 1968 (informally known as Tropicalia), Gilberto Gil’s first two self-titled albums (known as Frevo Rasgado (1968) and Cérebro Eletrônico (1969)), the first three Os Mutantes albums (Os Mutantes in 1968, Mutantes in 1969 and Divina Comedia Ou Ando Meio Desligado in 1970) and Gal Costa‘s unbelievably good two albums from 1969; Cinema Olympia and Não Identificado – they are by far the most experimental of the lot.

Later Os Mutantes albums, as well as a good Rita Lee solo album Build Up, carried on the style. Jorge Ben even had a very Tropicalia-twinged effort with his eponymously-titled 1969 effort. However, the movement was largely over. Both Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were asked to leave the country in 1969 by the Brazilian government. They both then spent a number of years in London where they became more aware of folk, rock and reggae music. By the early 70s many of the early collective had dispersed into solo projects, theatre productions and all manner of activities. This, along with the retiring Rogerio Duprat meant that Tropicalia had lost its sound, becoming what is today modern Brazilian pop music, or MPB as it is known in Brazil.

And I think I should leave it there. I only wanted to write an introduction for this video clip, the first part of the BBC’s excellent documentary on Brazilian music; Brasil, Brasil: Tropicalia Revolution. You should be able to find all seven parts in total if you go looking for them on Youtube.

See this post for more information on the tropicalia movement.

The Sheer Size of the Amazon

20 Sep

I’m currently reading Amazon Watershed by George Monbiot. A truly revelatory book I will talk more about once I’ve finished reading it. Before that though I wanted to share a few paragraphs from it which really illustrate its sheer size:

“In the far north-west of Brazil [there is] a tributary [of the Amazon] called the Rio Tiquié, which is a little longer than the River Thames, but narrower in the lower reaches.

The Tiquié flows into the Uaupés, an unremarkable Amazonian river of around three times the length of the Thames. The Uaupés is itself a tributary of the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon. The Rio Negro is the second largest river in the world, with a discharge slightly greater than that of the Mississippi, or greater than all the rivers of Europe combined. When it reaches the main river, having travelled 2400 kilometres from Colombia, the Negro, impressive as it is, adds only 15 per cent to the Amazon’s volume.

During the wet season as much as one fifth of the world’s freshwater may be flowing through the Amazon. Eight hundred kilometres inland it is as wide as the English Channel. In the river’s mouth there is an island larger than Denmark, or twice the size of New Hampshire; and the river’s discharge is visible 300 kilometres out to sea. The Rio Tiquié, a tributary of a tributary of a tributary of the River Amazon, is called a stream by some of the people living there.”

So, pretty big then!

Uruguay to concentrate on hemp production

11 Sep

When I was last in Montevideo (in January and February 2010) I met quite a few Americans who had come to Uruguay in order to make some dollar. Their main objective was real estate, buying cheap land near the cost and building some fancy dan apartments there. For Americans of retirement age it couldn’t really get much better than Uruguay. They have coast aplenty which stays at a pretty decent temperature for the majority of the year, there’s hardly any cars on the roads, the cities are very quiet, meals are cheap and rather large, everything an old couple might want.

As well as real estate though these American entrepeneurs had increasingly taken an interest in the production of hemp and marijuana. It is legal to smoke weed in Uruguay, although it is still illegal to sell it. It’s rather strange how the smell of weed eventually comes to permeate any kind of gathering you’re at, whether in the park, outside a bar or at the carnival, people are smoking it everywhere. If you then factor in that it is legal to buy cannabis in California and that Uruguay has the perfect growing conditions for the drug it is clear to see why they were taking such an interest. It is very possible that if the use of cannabis increased in the US one of the cheapest and easiest places to grow it would be in Uruguay.

I still think this might happen but it seems as if, before we get to that eventuality, Uruguay will instead focus on hemp production, as an alternative to soy beans, which is currently their main export. The quite obvious problem with soybean, as has been largely reported elsewhere is that most of the soy seeds being planted are made by Monsanto, “the evil destroyers of all things good”, as I like to call them. Their soy seeds are specially designed so that they are resistant to their own herbicide Round Up, which kills everything in its path, be it plant or animal. A shot of this stuff would kill a human in a couple of hours. Not a great thing then to put on your fields. The great thing about hemp is that it simply grows without need for any fertiliser or herbicide; it outgrows everything. It seems like it could be the best option for Uruguay, especially as many of their small farmers have started to struggle after damaging their land due to over-use of Round Up. Here’s a little more about hemp:

Industrial hemp, with its fast growth and dense foliage, needs no herbicides to compete with weeds and other plants – it simply outgrows them. This alone would be a massive boon to both the farmers and the ecology of Uruguay. Hemp has proven effective in cleaning pollutants and heavy metals from soil; it is feasible that it could also work for removing agrochemical toxins. Hemp’s composted foliage makes an excellent fertilizer which can replenish vital nutrients in soil, while its deep root system aerates and improves the land. Hemp can actually improve the yields of many other food crops when grown in rotation.

This paragraph was taken from the Marijuana and Cannabis blog, that goes into this whole subject in a lot more depth. You can read about it HERE. The only thing I am still unclear on is exactly how useful hemp is, it’s no good in cooking, but can be used in beauty products such as soap. If anyone knows more ways in which it can be used I would be glad to hear it.

A David Byrne style update on Brazil

10 Sep

When you’re hoping for an update on Brazil with a slightly oft-kilter but ultimately prescient nature you can’t really do much worse than David Byrne. Luckily, he has been writing about Brazil on his blog, which I can handily paste in here. He basically highlights the film “Saudade do Futuro” as one to look out for as well as mentions for Caetano Veloso and CéU. The first of these doesn’t really need any introduction, other than to say he still has it, but CéU maybe does. She is still getting bigger and bigger but yet to really break the US or England yet. She played in London for the second time this summer, and has been popping on all kinds of different albums, including new releases by Herbie Hancock and 3namassa. As Mr Byrne says, it really is only a matter of time before she makes it. Here’s what he had to say in full:

Brasil Update

The other day I watched a Brazilian film called Saudade do Futuro, a documentary about Northeastern musicians in São Paulo. This means the poor Northeast in Brasil, not Northeast as in Connecticut. The film is very poetic — there is almost no voice over, and almost no didactic explanations of what we’re seeing — but those techniques are made unnecessary because the style of music — forró, and especially repentismo — tell the stories of the singers’ harsh lives in the lyrics. The latter style consists of rap/rhyming duels, with the singers also playing pandeiros (tambourines with heads, to us northerners). They describe how they had to leave the Northeast — as Luiz Gonzaga did decades ago — and their struggles to survive in the big city. There’s a lot of humor and innuendo in the lyrics as well. Years ago I went to a forró club in SP and it was lovely — great dancing and live music blasting over a horrific PA system.

The filmmakers intersperse the musical scenes with poetic footage of São Paulo — the stock exchange, the street bustle, the commuter trains — that also have a kind of musicality to them. It all fits together in a way that is lovely but inexplicable.

I saw Caetano Veloso’s show here recently at Terminal 5. He’s touring with a band led by guitarist Pedro Sá. The music from his last two records is minimal and raw — rock with a subtext of samba. Lyrics about relationships gone bad, the US base at Guantanamo and drug addicts. Not exactly feel good stuff — but he manages inevitably to make it enjoyable and even beautiful. His pleasure in performing was infectious. It was the best sound mix I’ve ever heard at Terminal 5.

Sunday night I saw Céu, a singer who is one of the exponents of the kind of electronic-roots hybrids now coming out of Brasil. She does a very contemporary kind of music that’s informed by a myriad of historical (mostly Brazilian) styles. The band was, like Caetano’s, minimal — bass, drums, keyboards, and a guy who played samples by using discs as a DJ might… but in this case he played the discs manually, triggering sounds off his laptop. In the last few years she’s gotten hugely popular — well, everywhere except the USA. I expect that might change soon.

Rare fire hurricane hits Brazil

7 Sep

There are just somethings that are too good not to publish. So when I read about a fire hurricane I really had no choice but to publish it here on the blog. Have a look at this little beastie:

This happened in Araçatuba in Sao Paulo.

I have no idea how one of these gets going, though a few highly-unreliable sources on the web seem to think that it could be when oil gets trapped in a tornado/hurricane and somehow gets ignited. Although quite how any flame could get anywhere near a hurricane without being blown out is beyond me!