By Ernest Barteldes
Brazil Summerfest at Central Park Summerstage
Saturday, July 27, 2019
New York City
On his first Summerstage appearance since the early 90s, Alceu Valença didn’t seem interested in showcasing his own hits but instead to spread the culture of northeastern Brazil, coming on dressed in a “cangaçeiro” (Northeastern Cowboy) hat, starting his set off with “Pagode Russo,” a song originally recorded by the late Luiz Gonzaga that describes a dream situation in which the narrator imagined himself in Moscow, where revelers danced like a “frevo” (A traditional beat from Pernambuco, Brazil) in comparison to the traditional Russian dances.
At 73, he has not lost any of the energy of his younger years, and he kept things on a party-like mode throughout his set, mixing his own hits with older traditional songs – he is a captivating presence, and had the entire audience transfixed for its entirety. His band was incredibly tight – many of his musicians have been with him for over a decade, and they had many improvisational moments that were almost jazz-like, with the bandleader encouraging the musicians to extend their solos as part of the show.
Early in the set, he jokingly talked about political issues in Brazil but quickly distanced himself from them – shortly before his set, a group of drummers did a short set from the bleachers in commemoration of the first anniversary of the assassination of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco , a fierce critic of the impeachment of former president Dilma Rouseff, which is seen by many in Brazil as a far-right coup. Valença was clearly not there to make a political statement of any kind but to share his music to a broader audience, not just the protesters in attendance that were holding signs against the current Brazilian government.
He included several of his classic hits from his long career – among them “Girassol,” (“Sunflower”), a slow ballad with a strong northeastern vibe and also “Coração Bobo” (Foolish Heart), a hit from his eponymous 1980 album. The crowd sang along with many of them, and some people danced to the more up-tempo tunes.
It was a highly memorable set – he is a not only a fantastic songwriter great performer and captivated the audience from start to finish, making this one of the best Brazilian-themed evenings I have had the opportunity to attend.