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.