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Travel in music: Chapter 13 - 2000, Brazil

2020, the world is in confinement because of a corona virus. I have used this time to reminisce on my past through a musical blog series. They will take you through my peregrinations on this tiny, unique earth, in chronological order. Click on the song, use it as soundtrack, and enjoy!


2000 - Chapter 13 | The following project sent me to Brazil, as if I was chasing summer across the globe. I already knew Rio de Janeiro from a previous visit and, in spite of its glorious natural beauty, the height of expectation dizzied me slightly. I know, it sounds blasé but that is not exactly the case. Rio is just hyped up so much to be the ultimate cool that when you do find out how cool, well, meh, it’s cool (but not much more). Perhaps after all, cool is not really my thing. Do not get me wrong, there were many things I loved. Our apartment, for a start. Smack in the middle of Avenida Atlántica. 360 square meters of freaking penthouse, with a 60 m2 terrace overlooking Copacabana beach complete with a jacuzzi. Cool, right? From this giant terrace of privilege, I could see if there were football players on the beach and join them at a moment’s notice.

Usually late in the evening, I would take the elevator down and cross the street barefoot, wearing nothing but a short, the key to the apartment tied to the waist string. I would play for hours, with random strangers, the way cariocas do it. Wait behind the posts for an opening in a team or for enough fellow players to make up the numbers and challenge the winner. Now, that was cool! I loved those hours chasing a ball in the sand when the famed carioca tolerance took on full meaning. After all, I was not much more than a pasty tourist with decent Portuguese but poor football skills and they were mostly kids descended from the hillside favelas for a bit of public space where they could kick a ball in peace. It never mattered to them. I was down to play, I put in the effort, I was a brother. Beach, the great social equalizer.

On the way back, I would spend a few minutes with the transvestites. They were the same ones, every night. By then, they had given up trying to sell me their bodies so we just exchanged cursory greetings and chewed the fat. ‘Bapo’, they call it. Bizarrely, those moments of random carioca life are the ones I cherished most from that period.

After almost two months in Rio, the project moved to Belo Horizonte. The city did not seduce me much but I loved the state of Minas Gerais and all its exuberantly baroque little mining villages. There must have been many saints to thank for finding so much silver, diamonds and gold. It seemed every ounce extracted from the ground was devoted to adding a golden frieze or a gem-studded chandelier to churches already crumbling under the weight of precious metal. It was tacky and obscene, the way only the church can overdo it, but I was mesmerized nonetheless. It was breathtakingly beautiful (though, reassuringly, not to the point of conversion).

On my previous journey to Brazil, I had found out that forró is more popular than all other genres, that insipidly commercial Axé is all you hear on the radio and that reggae, hip-hop, folk, rock and metal all have their Brazilian cousins well worth a listen. On this trip, though, I focused on what epitomizes Brazil: samba and bossa nova. At an improvised Manu Chao concert, where somehow thousands appeared even though he only announced it the day before (it helped that there was no cover charge – a few sponsors and his cachet for appearing in the Rio Jazz festival the night before financed it all, he declared with glee), I met a girl. Thinking I might impress her, I spoke of my devotion for the greats: Vinícius, Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Elis Regina, Tom Zé, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque, etc., etc. She gave me a gentle look of disdain, whispered: “forget those, Pixinguinha is the father of them all” and vanished. She was right, of course. In spite of her, Caetano’s velours voice will illustrate this chapter. It is partly a nod to my college mate Pedro Teodoro, who insisted I accompany him to a Caetano gig in Brussels years before. Mostly though, it is because he penned those two wise lines: “O samba é o pai do prazer. O samba é o filho da dor” [Samba is the father of pleasure. Samba is the son of pain].

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