Music: Blame it on the Bossa Nova

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Brazilian music suffered from the cliches of the Fifties. Now new styles of samba, jazz and even pop are being created out of old traditions. James Maycock sways to the beat.

Mental illness or physical injury were the only two excuses that the Brazilian composer, Dorival Caymmi, would accept from those unmoved by the sensual rhythms of the samba. In Britain, today, the composer would be thrilled at the increasingly corruptive influence of Brazilian music on the English and our notoriously repressed psyche. Astrud Gilberto, Gilberto Gil and Sergio Mendes are, now, no longer the only familiar Brazilian musical names as the likes of Joyce, Azymuth, Jorge Ben, Marcos Valle and Flora Purim ingrain themselves into the public consciousness. The success this year of such jazz-based compilations as Blue Brazil, Volume 2 and Brazilica, Volume 2 reflects a hunger for deeper understanding of the music.

Part of this upsurge of interest in Brazilian music was born out of the acid jazz movement of the early 1990s, when DJs would play 1970s jazz, funk and soul alongside the jazzier strains of Latin and Brazilian music. Joe Davis, the foremost Brazilian DJ in London, who also runs Far Out Recordings, originally became fascinated by the music through Brazilian musicians like Airlo Moreira and Eumir Deodato who performed on the North American jazz records he was playing: "My interest came from knowing that these artists had recorded in America in the 1970s and wondering what the hell they had done in Brazil prior to that."

"The Girl From Ipanema" and the explosion of bossa nova in the early 1960s was both a blessing and a curse for Brazilian music. With its bittersweet, plaintive melodies, acoustic guitars, gentle rhythms and the accompanying, hedonistic images of Rio de Janiero as a playground for the rich and the beautiful, the bossa nova captivated an international audience but also lumbered Brazilian music with this restrictive, two-dimensional fantasy. Yet, the bossa nova, (the "new bump"), was, despite the innovations of musicians such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, a strictly middle-class Brazilian sound and lacked the complex percussive embellishments that characterised the country's music before and after the bossa nova.

The richness of Brazilian music is the result of a fusion of African, Portuguese and indigenous Indian styles. More than three million African slaves were forcibly shipped to Brazil. Their determination to preserve their culture in a foreign land explains the multitude of percussive instruments that exist within Brazilian music. The Portuguese influence manifests itself most obviously in the use of the acoustic guitar as well as in the lyrical, melancholic quality which is deeply embedded in both the samba and the bossa nova.

Evolving since the beginning of the century, the samba was first recorded in 1917 by the Banda Odeon. By the 1920s, samba schools started to appear. It was here that working-class, amateur musicians would gather to create an orchestra built solely out of percussion and drums to create the thunderous sound that characterises the energy of the carnival and intensifies the already sticky heat of Rio de Janiero. During this year's carnival, Joe Davis brought together several of Brazil's finest percussionists to record an album of mesmerising batucada rhythms. Samba De Rua by the Grupo Batuque is the startling result of this meeting.

Also this year, Universal Sound have released a definitive collection of the music recorded in the 1970s by Patete, who plays over 40 different percussion instruments. The album, Berimbau E Percusso, demonstrates how music and life in Brazil are intimately entwined, especially on the song, "Igarape". Here, Papete evokes the magical sound of the tropical rainforest.

After the bossa nova era, all types of Brazilian music were described as MPB which stands for Musica Popular Brasilieri. Samba, Brazilian jazz and even pop- and rock-influenced music fell within this category. But, because of the severe military regime of the late 1960s, all recordings had to be examined by the censors and, in the 1970s, there were two bans on the manufacturing of records.

In 1967, Caetano Velosa and Gilberto Gil ignited the Tropicalia movement whose ambition was to re-evaluate Brazilian music and culture. Themes of freedom and justice surfaced in the lyrics. Unsurprisingly, in 1968, both Gilberto Gil and Caetano Velosa were placed under house arrest before fleeing the country. Other musicians like Elis Regina, Dom Um Romao and Savuca joined this migration to either North America or Europe.

Although Joe Davis describes both 1969 and 1970 as "very bad years ... there were a lot of musicians going missing", the producer, Roberto Quartin, chose to return to Brazil in 1970 after exiling himself in 1968. On his return, he started Quartin Records which released several Brazilian jazz albums to much critical acclaim. Quartin is a fascinating musical document of these recordings and will be released by Far Out Recordings in February, 1998.

Joyce, the stunning singer and guitarist, began her career during these politically tense times. She recorded the song, "Acorda Amor", which was a veiled attack on the Brazilian government but cleverly disguised as a love song and credited to the fictional character, Julinho da Adelaide, who was actually Chico Buarque. This was another devious method of confusing the censors. The Essential Joyce, 1970-1996 is a very thorough retrospective examination of her work from this period up to the present day.

Ironically, the music composed during this turbulent era was some of the most dynamic Brazilian music ever created. Today, Joe Davis laments the economic and cultural domination of North America over Brazil. "New artists are not coming through with the same strength and the same classic qualities as Milton or Gilberto Gil or Marcos Valle." Yet Joe Davis is not only reissuing old albums but is busily recording new work by Marcos Valle, Azymuth and other contemporary Brazilian acts. "Our ambition is to carry on from the 1970s. We're keeping a strong hand on tradition but trying to develop it in the way we think it should sound, rather than recreate the past."

best Brazilian releases of 1997:

Various, `Blue Brazil, Volume 2', EMI Records

Various, `Brazilica, Volume 2', Talkin' Loud Records

Grupo Batuque, `Sumba De Rua', Far Out Recordings

Papete, `Barimbau E Percussao', Universal Sound

Joyce, `The Essential Joyce, 1970-1996', Mr Bongo

Joyce, `Tardes Caricoas', Far Out Recordings

Various, `Quartin', Far Out Recordings (Released 9 February, 1998)