My Brazilian Music Loot: Buying Music on Vacation

By Ernest Barteldes

Whenever I travel abroad I make sure to visit the local music stores to search for music  that is not easily available online or  simply to locate some long-lost  musical gem. That was true last year when Renata and I visited Poland and I went on a quest for records by singer Anna Maria Jopek and rock band Bajm, and it was especially true during our last visit to Brazil. The U.S. dollar is on an all-time high these days, which made travel to the country way cheaper than it used to be. Though this is clearly a disadvantage to locals  since it has made travel (and some other services) far more expensive, it was a huge plus for foreign travelers, who get to get a bigger bang for their buck at hotels, restaurants and shops.

Before I even left to Bahia, I’d read that legendary singer Gal Costa was releasing a new album featuring produced by Kassin (of +2) with tunes by Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze, Marisa Monte and younger songwriters like Marcelo Camelo. The release date was the very day I’d arrive in Bahia, so I made a point of purchasing it in her native land. I searched a lot of shops near our hotel with no luck, but was finally able to get it at the Salvador airport during our final hours there.  Since this was a new release it was a little pricey, but in the end it cost about as much as if I had purchased it on iTunes. Gal Estratosferica (Universal Music Brasil) is quite refreshing – she allowed Kassin to “ go nuts”  with the arrangement, and the result is a youthful album that seamlessly blends electronic and organic elements around her voice.  You can read my review published a few weeks back on this blog, written while I was still in Brazil. Once in Fortaleza, Renata and I headed to the nearby Shopping Aldeota, a mall that caters to the residents of the surrounding areas (malls are still a central part of Brazil’s social life and are in every major neighborhood) and when to Lojas Americanas, a discount franchise that is ubiquitous in the country. I immediately headed to the music department and raided the bargain section, where I found some great stuff for as little as $3 (10 Brazilian Reais).

One of the first I picked up was Cazuza’s excellent O Tempo Nao Para,  his only live album released in his lifetime (there was a posthumous live disc with Barao Vermelho that is not really good).

 

Cazuza was the poet of his generation, and he wrote many wonderful songs during his brief career, which ended when AIDS claimed him when he was 34 years old.  The album is cathartic – his voice is clearly hoarse, and he had lost an incredible amount of weight. Unlike other artists of his time, he did not hide his condition, but courageously kept on going until he breathed his last. I am a big fan of Caetano Veloso, and among the finds was his “Best of”  compilation  released in the 90s. It is clearly dated since it contains none of his inspired material from albums like “Livro,”  “Ce”  or “Fina Estampa,”  but it is a pretty concise document of his work up to the late 80s with songs such as “Alegria Alegria,”  “Sampa”  and the weird “Shy Moon,”  an English-language duet with British-born one hit wonder Ritchie.

Years ago you wouldn’t  have caught me dead with an Ivete Sangalo album, but  I have grown to admire the Bahia-born singer, especially after catching her live a handful of times over the years. Sure, she does not have the vocal chops of the likes of Marisa Monte or Gal Costa, but she rocks when playing live.  I made a point of attending her  May 31st concert in Fortaleza, where she paid tribute to Tim Maia alongside emerging R&B singer Criollo, and I am glad I did, because it was truly a memorable performance.

She has great charisma and completely dominates the stage – it is little wonder that she has become the biggest selling artist in Brazil and plays to sold-out stadiums wherever she goes – an example of this is her “Ao Vivo no Maracana,”  captured live at the world’s largest soccer stadium with guest appearances by Alejandro Sanz, Skank’s Samuel Rosa and others – again a stellar performance and a great album to party to.

It’s hard to find a bossa nova album I don’t have these days, but I was glad to get my hands on “Tom – Vinicius – Toquinho – Miucha Gravado ao Vivo no Canecao,”  a 1974 concert featuring bossa co-creators Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Morais alongside guitarist/singer Toquinho and vocalist Miucha (the sister of Chico Buarque and mother of Bebel Gilberto) in an amazing live performance featuring some of the best Brazilian music ever written done by the artists who introduced them to the world.

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Soul Rebels and Lettuce at Central Park Summerstage

DSC_1579

By Ernest Barteldes

Soul Rebels + Lettuce

Central Park Summerstage

Saturday, June 13, 2015

New York, NY

I had assumed the New Orleans ensemble would be closing this afternoon of music at Rumsey Playfield, so I ended up coming a bit late (due to significant subway delays) but was fortunate to have caught the final half of their set, in which they played their brass-heavy music with great ease and fluidity.

Among the highlights of what I was able to hear was an extended, creatively enhanced take on James Brown’s “Get on Up” that included several solos, and closing with Bruno Mars’ “Don’t Believe Me Just Watch” with a stronger blues-tinged feel.

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After a very brief break, Brooklyn-based Lettuce came on stage, kicking off their set with a very funky edge – focus was on the Hammond B-3 and guitars and their fantastic rhythm section with a strong funk-derived sound. At the same time, they stretched some of the tunes into extended jams that sometimes got tired, especially after having been exposed a more organic, soul-driven New Orleans sound.

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One of the highlights of their set, in fact, was when they invited The Soul Rebels to join them. It was then that the big, fat sound the marching band style band joined with the more electric Lettuce merged to get a new life – that allowed both bands to improvise freely and exchange smart riffs from a chemistry developed by touring together.

As the guests left the stage, it really felt like a bit of a lull – Lettuce never again picked up the same energy, and the music seemed to go into a more experimental direction that never really caught fire for me.  They are highly accomplished musicians but their sound just lost something to me – I hope to see them again in different circumstances to change my opinion.

Photo Exhibit: The Ugly Face of Institutionalized Homophobia

Photo Exhibit

“The Condemned: In My Country, My Sexuality

Is a Crime”

Espaço Cultural Correios Fortaleza

Rua Senador Alencar, 38

Fortaleza, Brazil

From May 15 to July 16

Free Admittance

By Ernest Barteldes

With all the advances we have seen in western countries towards gender equality, we might forget that not many LGBT people around the world have enjoyed the same conquests. As attitudes quickly change around us, we must not forget that thousands are still suffering just because they were not born within the expectations of their societies.

In a quiet room inside Fortaleza’s main post office there are pictures of men with their faces covered by their hands, masks or other objects. They cannot show their faces because they are all homosexuals living in countries where being gay is not just something that might be looked down upon – if discovered, they might face not only shame, imprisonment or fines – laws in the books allow them to be killed because of their sexual orientation.

Renata and I stumbled into the show while walking through Fortaleza’s city center – we had been shopping for a few things only found in that area, and then we went in to buy a few stamps. As we were about to leave, we noticed the show and decided to take a look. What we saw was heartbreaking:  along with the pictures were personal statements in Portuguese and English from each individual and the letter of the law for each country – including most of the Middle East and Africa. Surprisingly, there were also pictures of folks from Caribbean nations like the Bahamas and Jamaica, which still have homophobic laws in the books to this day.

The exhibit was curated by French-born Phillipe Castetbon, who published a book on the topic in France in 2010. Using the Internet, he reached out to these people online and asked them to participate in this project, which sought to “create awareness of the horrible threats that many of these gay men and women face through the pictures, from personal statements and by the laws that are still in effect in these countries” according to the brochure handed out at the show

It was heartbreaking to read what these human beings have to go through – to live in hiding and in fear or be forced to leave their own countries because of the imminent danger to their lives. The program for this show also includes a series of panel discussions and lectures to broaden the idea that yes, homophobia is a terrible thing, and it is worse when it had been institutionalized.

Disc Review: Gal Costa/Estratosférica

By Ernest Barteldes

Distorted guitars and rock drums kick off Brazilian singer Gal Costa’s 30th studio album, almost making a statement about the fact that the singer is not staying within the bossa nova comfort zone that she is best known to American audiences. The song, entitled “Sem Medo Nem Esperança” was penned by Antonio Cicero and Arthur Nogueira could be described as visceral and daring.

Costa takes full use of her vocal range, allowing her voice to crack at certain points. On an interview with Brazil’s G1 website, she said that she personally chose the tune to be the opener “because of Antonio Cicero’s lyrics that is really about my moment, it’s fuck-tastic. It’s an autobiographical song, it talks about me – it’s as if I were talking to people. Cicero did something that Caetano Veloso knows how to do well: to write for me, to say what is true for me.”

Gal Costa’s more traditional fans will not be disappointed – unlike her previous disc “Recanto” (Universal Music, 2011); she doesn’t really go into much experimentation. There are some hummable sambas, such as the Mallu-penned lead single “Quando Você Olha Pra Ela,” which has a mellow arrangement that reminds listeners of the material she recorded in the mid-70s after her early Tropicalismo phase. Another great moment is “Amor Se Acalme,” a mellow ballad by Marisa Monte, Arnaldo Antunes and Cezar Mendes.  The tune is quite characteristic of Monte’s work: lots of words crammed in a few bars and then long notes on a single vowel – this is certain to appear on local radio stations in the near future.

Some tunes left my head scratching – “Muita Sorte” has a very nice melody, but the mostly electronic arrangement does not do it justice. The same thing can be said about “Por Baixo,” a Tom Zé composition filled with extraneous sounds behind Gal Costa’s sincere delivery.

On the other hand, there are songs that are amazingly written – “Dez Anjos” is collaboration between Milton Nascimento and young singer-songwriter Criolo (who as of this writing is on a Tim Maia tribute tour with Ivete Sangalo) that is melodically and lyrically beautiful. Also notable is “Espelho d’Agua,” a Marcelo Camelo-Thiago Camelo (who frequently write for Maria Rita) rock ballad that has a well-constructed acoustic arrangement.

“Estratosférica” was produced by Kassim and Moreno Veloso of The +2’s, who gave the album a fresh feel without going too crazy on the arrangements. It is quite accessible, reaching out to younger fans without losing touch with her more classic fans – thus the presence of the bonus track “Ilusão à Toa,” a pre-bossa nova era song by the underrated Johnny Alf that could have been part of 2004’s “Todas as Canções e Eu,” which was dedicated to songs of the 1940s and 50s.

Gal Costa

Estratosférica

Universal Music Brasil

Available for download on Amazon and iTunes.