[So I spelled “Brasilian” wrong… At least if we are speaking English, which will prevent this post from ranking high or even popping up in search engines when beginners are searching for data regarding Brazilian music. Which admittedly sucks in a way. Because everyone should know about Brasilian music. The more the better. Brasilian music, like coffee or chocolate or Radiohead or sex or Avatar or God is something that everyone should have a chance to discover and experience and enjoy. It’s that good. It’s that great. That glorious. But Brasilian is actually how the word is spelled. Because the actual name of the country is Brasil. Not Brazil. regardless of what most of us are taught in the English speaking world. I don’t know if we want to go as far as calling that some form of racism or classism or just being careless and selfish, but it’s a dismissive act that we in the West have been guilty of far too many times for far too long when it comes to other countries. We heard “Brazil” so we just decided to call it that. At some point we learned how the people actually spell their country’s name and we never bothered to correct it. It would be akin to finding out that Brasilians call the U.S. the Y.S. by mistake and just never bothered to fix it. It feels demeaning. So, Brasilian it is. Because that’s their name.
On a good note, what we’ll find is that people who have made it at least to the point in their exploration of this glorious country and culture will easily find this post, as they’ll be spelling the name of the country right when they run their search for Brasilian music. But alas this post isn’t just for the already-converted. In fact, I’d prefer it hit the average person who’s always just been curious why every now and then we hear of yet another person who’s going gaga over Brasilian music…. Or better yet, perhaps even people who aren’t even aware of this phenomenon yet. Just to discover how amazing this very special music is. It’s that good.]
So… Where to begin. As some may know, I first got the Brasil bug about 20 years ago. And it hit me hard — in a major way. This is why I recorded and released 3 Brasilian classics on various albums over the last 20 years. I know it may seem a bit cheesy or annoying to the uninitiated, random songs in Portuguese popping up on our albums… You probably skip them. I probably would if i didn’t speak the language. I get it. But let me explain… It’s important. I can easily reflect back on the events and relay them here, though I’m not sure I can adequately explain the near supernatural way it all felt and went down. But I’ll try.
The first Brasilian song I ever heard was “Fio Maravilha” by Jorge Bem Jor. This is going back now over 20 years. Broken Spectacles was just breaking up. I was devastated. I hadn’t yet moved to New York to record Acoustic In New York. I was sort of lost musically for a few months. That breakup was hard. Those guys were my brothers. We had been together for 6 straight years. Lived together. So I was grieving. We all were. Though we weren’t speaking. Each of us holding onto our own personal grudges and resentments.
I was also thoroughly tired of western music — meaning anything pop or rock from America or England or Ireland or Australia. And yeah that included classical or avant garde or jazz or folk… Anything English or Western. Anything remotely “normal”. So i had already abandoned regular tuned guitar playing and was now completely immersed in creating my own open-tuned guitar tunings and writing only in those…. All of the Acoustic In New York album is in an open-tuning of some kind. Back then I pretty much only used my open D9 or a funky open A I came up with, both of which I still use a lot today. So yeah that whole album is either open D9 or open A. Funny now. But true.
I also had completely abandoned listening to anything western or even in English — other people’s music I mean. My answer to the band’s breakup was to still do music and explore and listen to music, but just not western music. So I started buying a ton of different album collections of what we were calling World Music. I just started soaking it all in. It was all so new for me. Music from France and Italy and Spain, Iran and India and Russia and poland, Nigeria and Senegal and Mali etc etc. Pretty much any and every country. Some spoke to me. Some didn’t. But i dug the process of discovery. A whole new world was opened to me that as a band we had explored very little, because we were so focused on “making it”…. We just didn’t have room for “world music”. We were so busy either making music or keeping up with our peers and perceived competitors, all Western music artists.
One day I’m listening to this World Music collection — and I believe it was one of Putumayo’s (they really deserve all the credit for this World Music explosion that happened in the States in the 90s. They don’t get enough credit for what they accomplished IMHO). And suddenly I hear this song… “Fio Maravilha”. The artist was Jorge Bem Jor. How do you even explain it? That feeling? Well it was very similar to how I felt when I first heard the Beatles. Or Dylan. Or Bowie. Or Kate Bush. I was just totally knocked out. Chills. Electrified. There was something supremely special about this song and this artist. I knew it was deeper than just digging on some new discovery from Italy or France. This was a life-changing moment for me musically and personally. It felt supernatural. I was mesmerized but couldn’t explain WHY. Everyone I played the song for seemed “not that interested”, which I couldn’t understand. Didn’t they hear what I was hearing?
But remember we’re still in pre-internet days here. It existed, but no one’s using it yet. There was no “running a search to look up the song” thing going on yet…. So I had no idea what this song was. I didn’t know what country it came from and i sure as hell couldn’t figure out what language it was. Maybe it was African. I really dug a lot of the African stuff. (More on that in another post perhaps…) But it sounded like the guy was singing in French. So Africa made sense. But i had studied French. It wasn’t French. Some of the words sounded like they were in Spanish. But I spoke Spanish. It was’t Spanish. Italian maybe? I grew up in an Italian household. Definitely not Italian. Damn it. What WAS it?
All I knew was that I must have listened to that song ten to twenty times a day for weeks. Just absolutely fell in love with it. More than all the songs from all the other countries I was listening to (NOTE: there were two exceptions; though they’re off point they’re important to mention: Ali Farka Toure from Mali and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan also became favorites of mine….) One day I meet this girl through the scene. I can’t remember her name. But she had this really round face. I mean like an apple kind of round. Cute. Kind of foreign looking. Nice girl. And she had a peculiar accent. After some talking and hanging I learned that she was from Brasil. And more importantly I learned that Brasil was in South America (not Africa, as some Americans mistakenly believe) and more importantly still I learned that they spoke Portuguese in Brasil. NOT Spanish. Which was HUGE. Because in the States we just always assume that everyone speaks Spanish in “Latin America”… It’s just this assumption that we make. It’s a sincerely crazy notion really, because Brasil is the largest country in South America. (!!!) And they don’t speak Spanish there. But I can’t honestly say I even knew that much at the time.
But whatever. It’s just how we are in the U.S. We lump the whole continent together including Central America, almost as if they’re one big country. Which they’re not. Not even a little bit. It’s a major faux paz.
[I assume this has become a little better since the advent of the internet age… though I’m not sure how many people know where Brasil is or know that they don’t speak Spanish, but rather Portuguese, or are aware of their many cultural accomplishments as a people…]
Eventually I learn from this girl that she KNOWS this song that I am madly in LOVE with, “Fio Maravilha”. Like she KNOWS it knows it. She’s known it all her life. It’s a super famous classic in Brasil. She grew up hearing it on the radio all her life. Mind BLOWN. Wow. Okay. So that’s Portuguese. Portuguese? Man what the fuck is Portuguese? I had no idea what that was…
I really didn’t even ever consider that there were “hit songs” outside of Western music. It just never occurred to me. I guess I just always assumed that the whole world was listening to the same hits and the same artists we were in the States and in the UK. There’s a term for that…. living with blinders on… shallow? living in a bubble? jingoism perhaps? But it’s not important. Suffice it to say I was a kid and just had absolutely no awareness of anything musical much outside of the little world we lived in within the confines of western music… America, England, Ireland, Australia, all of it primarily due to and because of music. (Literature and history of course were a different story. But we’re talking about music here.)
But all that changed when I heard that first Brasilian song. What was even weirder was that this girl also taught me that this song was NOT a beautiful romantic love song to a girl like I assumed it was — it IS a beautiful romantic song, no doubt about it.. And when you hear it, that’s what you just automatically assume it is.. because it’s so poetic and beautiful sounding…. But in reality, “Fio Maravilha” was an homage to a soccer player and a particular goal he scores in one important game. Fio maravilha means “marvelous son” in portuguese. What the fuck? This incredibly gorgeous sonorous song is about soccer??? I must admit i was stupefied at first. I didn’t get it.
I was a young, idealistic, intellectual artist and consciousness explorer who paid NO attention to sports. So this was a very foreign concept to me… to write such a beautiful song about soccer? And then for the song to become a big hit and then a classic. Seriously? What?
Later I would learn the history of Brasil, social, political, cultural etc. and the very important role soccer actually plays in it… It’s a fascinating human story. It is very difficult to fully relay the importance of football in Brasil, and impossible to overstate just how important it is there. Brasil is the all time most winningest country in the world in football/soccer. No one comes close to them. Most World Cups. Most Americas Cups. In the 50s and 60s when the chips were down for them socially and politically they mesmerized the entire world with their championship talent, ability to play and multiple wins in soccer globally. You can watch the footage on YouTube. It’s awe-inspiring how much better they are than everyone else. Like magicians or artists. Pele… Brasilian.
Regardless of the strange subject matter, I quickly became obsessed. There was something so transcendent about this music…. it didn’t matter to me what the song was about. I just wanted to hear more. I started buying anything I could get my hands on that was Brasilian. Compilations mostly. I then heard Caetano Veloso. Jesus this was like hearing McCartney for the first time. (Except in some ways he’s better. In other ways, not. I mean, Sir Paul is Sir Paul…) Everyone knows I have an obsession with Caetano. I consider him one of the few “best of all time”. He’s right up there with John Lennon, Sir Paul, Dylan, Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell, Bowie and The Boss. The song “Caetano” from our Nothing Is Cohesive album is literally me singing the praises of and drooling over how amazing Caetano Veloso is. So yeah… he’s my man.
Then I heard Gilberto Gil. Specifically the song “So Quero Um Xodo”. The melody was light and airy and happy, but sad at the same time. I needed to know what he was talking about. Just had to. I found the translation to English and started reading it. And for whatever reason it just hit me. Hard. Like BAM! By this point two years had passed. My deal with SONY never transpired. The album never came out. I came back to Miami from New York with my tail between my legs, broke, depressed, dejected, and thoroughly disheartened with music as a career. I was 25 years old at the time. i was finished with music. I didn’t write it. Didn’t play it. Didn’t listen to it and wouldn’t let anyone around me listen to it. Almost two years like that. Music made me sad. Really sad. So i just took it out of my life.
Then i heard that song by Gilberto Gil. There was such happiness and freedom in his voice, and yet he was singing about stuff that was so sad… about how hard life is and how lonely he was and how his life would be okay if he could just find someone to love, someone to call honey or dear or sweetheart… I sat there at my desk and started crying. Then balling. Something touched me deeply about the total recklessness and abandonment of the male ego and American strength and ambition that we are raised to put on in the States. There was none of that in Gil’s song. Just a lonely guy, singing happily, almost gleefully, about his grieving and the pains of life and how one day he might find happiness.
Within an hour I got one of my guitars out of the closet where they’d been for almost two years and started to play. And then write. I hadn’t played a guitar or any instrument in all that time. Hadn’t even listened to a song or seen a video. Stayed far away from all of it. But that night I played all night and into the next day. Something had changed. Looking back now, at the whole trip, at everything that’s transpired over the last 20 years, — because I know I’ve been very lucky, things came late for me… but they worked out well, me coming back to it after a two year break… — I guess you could say that it took something very foreign and far removed culturally, musically, lyrically to shake me up and shake me out of my discouragement.
In all the different Brasilian songs I was hearing I kept noticing that there was an inherent poorness in the people, financially speaking… they sang about it… these were not Americans or Europeans… These were not people accustomed to having it all, to being able to buy whatever they want, to buying a house before you’re 30 years old, to having two cars…. And yet they were supernaturally positive, poetic, intellectual, spiritual…. It was uncanny and confusing, but inspiring.
These were people who grew up and lived in “favelas”, which are basically giant projects of tiny little houses made of cardboard and billboard signs and old tires and put together with rope and old used wires and cables…. these were shanty towns. With no running water or electricity, conceptually something that we in the U.S. couldn’t even imagine, and yet their music was so carefree and happy, but also deep, poetic, profound and intellectual. I just couldn’t get it to make sense…
But it felt like i was connecting with something so deeply meaningful to me personally that it could be past life related. I mean, it was that powerful. It tugged at my heart. Sincerely. I felt it in my heart. It was that powerful. And yeah, I’m half English and half Italian. So it should have happened with Italian or English music. But it didn’t. It happened with Brasilian music.
I had to go there. I needed to learn Portuguese so i could get inside of this incredibly beautiful language and really understand firsthand what all the lyrics were about. Why did it sound so good? Why were the lyrics so poetic? I also had to get to know the people and their culture. There was something so different about them. So spiritual. So deep. So not full of shit. So sincere. I also wanted to learn how to play their music. And there was no way I could learn it in the U.S.
So let’s start there. Why IS Brasilian music so great? Something I’ve contemplated a lot lately. At the moment I am attempting to learn how to play the song “Aguas de Marco” by Tom Jobim and Ellis Regina. You know it. Trust me. You’ve heard it a million times. It’s been a hit here in the States too. It’s an old 70s song. It might be the most beautiful song ever written. It’s also one of the most poetic and profound lyrically.
Musically this song is a beast. A monster. On the guitar it’s like a giant roller coaster of a Loch Ness Monster filled with far too many chords, all of them jazz chords that take more than four fingers to form. My first trip to Brasil was in ’98. Stayed there for a few months studying Portuguese at a language school in the mornings and then going to lunch and then studying Brasilian music all afternoon at another school. Crazy, I know. But I was obsessed. I wanted to speak portuguese as fluently as I did English and Spanish and I wanted to be able to play Brasilian music as well as I could play Western music. So i attacked it full on.
But the finer point is that it took me 20 years to even consider ever learning to play this song “Aguas de Marco”, even though I’ve always LOVED it. I just always labeled it “way too difficult”. The last few weeks though, I started listening to it again and casually commented to Princess Little Tree that “I could never learn to play that song. It’s way too complicated….” and she said, “yeah right. You’ll learn it and be playing it by the end of the week like you always do.” In Avatar we call that a White Worm. She shifted me with that comment, delivered as casually as my earlier discouraged remark about it being too difficult to ever play. So I picked up the guitar and started slowly learning it. I’m still in the practicing phase of it…. Slowly getting there. It’s hard. Really hard. But I’m getting there….
And this got me revved up. Because honestly the song really is incredibly difficult. Unless you literally grew up playing jazz your whole life. Which I didn’t. And yeah I have years and years, hell, decades now, of experience playing Brasilian music, but most of the Bossa Nova stuff I have always shied away from because of how challenging it is. But I skipped ahead. Let’s start at what I have lately been calling “reason number one why Brasilian music is so great”:
Reason Number one: When you first hear Brasilian music the first thing you notice is how beautiful it is. How mysterious it sounds. It’s fucking gorgeous to the ear. Sonically everything about it is transcendent. But it’s also completely different sounding than what we’re accustomed to in the West. And there’s a reason for this. They don’t use the same chords that we do. They still use the 12 note do rei mi scale that we do in western music — unlike say India or Mali etc., but the chords they use all come from the earlier Bossa Nova music that came out in the 50s, which was a spin off of american jazz, but their version. You know Bossa Nova. Even if you don’t know you do.
Think of that song “Girl from Ipanema”. That’s probably the worst of the Brasilian songs honestly, but that’s what it took to break Brasilian music into the U.S. Something simple and elementary like that. Truth is, most bossa nova is incredibly complex. In the U.S. Bossa as it’s called is considered jazz. If you major in music in college, you take an entire semester of just Bossa Nova. That’s how big and transformative it was and still is to music.
When you think of Bossa Nova, think of Tom Jobim or Joao Gilberto (who just passed away this week…). Between the two of them they’ve got 20 songs you know but don’t realize are actually Brasilian classics. Bossa Nova was both jazzy and pop at the same time. It wasn’t atonal chaotic free-form improv music like a lot of american jazz. You can easily groove to and sing along with it. But it utilizes jazz chording to create the progressions.
You hear these beautiful melodies and chord progressions and they sound just like normal beautiful songs…. You have no idea that underneath it all are these incredibly complex jazz chord structures. You’re just swept away by the beauty of the music…. So you really don’t think about it.
That’s why i needed to go to Brasil and learn it. I tried learning it here in the States and as soon as i looked at one song and how funky the chords were, I was like “What the hell?” I just wasn’t familiar with chords like that. (If you’re a musician, then you know we occasionally use diminished and augmented chords, but only occasionally… 7s and 9s and sus4s a lot…. But the Brasilians take it to a whole other level. They’ll have chords like Gm7(9)(13)/G# and that’s standard… And they use a LOT of flat 5s. -5 or 5- are everywhere. Which are killer on your fingers. Especially when combined with 4s, 6s, 7s, 9s, 13s and different bass notes (another favorite of theirs). And they’ll have the entire song is made up of chords like that. And there will be like 15 to 30 of them in one song and they bounce around them endlessly sometimes all within one verse… It’s total madness. So it’s like learning a whole new language.)
After Bossa Nova, the next generation of Brasilians created a new kind of music which is called MPB, which stands for musica popular Brasileira. This is where you get guys like Caetano, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Milton Nascieamento, Jorge Bem, etc. The new generation. The Tropicalia generation. It’s essentially Bossa as it’s foundation, but with influences from American and English pop and rock like Dylan and the Beatles and Hendrix and then also influences of avant garde from America and Europe mixed in like John Cage or John Cale or Terry Reilly. It’s trippy but it’s eerily accessible music.
MPB is more “pop”, it “sounds” more western, sort of, but again it’s totally unique from western music. Still has that passion, poetry and mystery to it that’s unique to Brasilian music. And that’s because they still composed their songs using those bossa nova jazz chords as their foundation, but also threw in some Western styled chords too. When I say western styled chords, i literally mean the chords that you and I use and take for granted as musicians… C, D, Am, GMaj7, B7, Dmin7, etc. Simple stuff comparatively. But THEY started incorporating more of those into their music for the first time. Specifically to attempt to make their music sound more Western and more pop or rock. And it worked. Jorge Bem Jor is really good at making western styled pop/rock. He occasionally writes songs that really are composed of mostly western chords. But he’s one of the only ones.
So yeah that’s the first thing you notice, that stands out. Like with all music… Just the music itself, the melodies and harmonies and progressions…. the unique beauty of their music. And as explained above, there’s a reason for it. They’re not making music the same way we are. Not at all. Totally different musical components underneath.
Reason Number Two: The sound of the voices and the Portuguese language. The next thing that grabs you are the voices… there’s a purity and a sincerity to the voices in Brasilian music that we rarely hear in the West. Think Radiohead. That kind of vulnerability and pathos. Hell that’s why they’re fucking Radiohead. They lay it all out there. So too do the best Brasilian artists. Then there’s the sound of the language itself. You may not understand a word of what’s being said, but you just know it SOUNDS beautiful.
I explain Portuguese like this. Imagine a sentence in your own language, any sentence, a small one of just a few words. Now imagine it visually, being about three to six inches tall, the letters and words of that sentence. Put it up on a table or counter. Can you see it? Now that’s a sentence in your native language standing up there three to six inches tall. You can see it visually. The Brasilians took Portuguese, one of the five Latin languages (related to French, Italian, Spanish and Romanian), the native language of Portugal — which is actually quite similar to Spanish in many ways… But they flattened and softened it through the centuries.
[Brasilian Portuguese is it’s own language. It’s NOT the same as Portuguese. Literally. Again, not something most people know. But when you go to learn Portuguese, you are asked to make a choice between regular portuguese, as in Portugal, or Brasilian Portuguese, which is formally referred to as Portuguese-BR.]
Picture the sentence of words that you put up on the table in your mind. Now imagine someone coming along taking their hands and flattening all those words and letters till they’re like less than an inch tall. That’s what the Brasilians did to Portuguese. They just flattened all the consonants and vowels… Then they took a warm iron and flattened those words and letters even more, and then they took a steamer and softened them all up till your sentence is no more than a few milometers high…. You can’t even see the words and letters anymore. Because they’ve been so flattened. Which creates the softest most poetic and beautiful language you’ve ever heard.
Sure French is pretty. There’s something really sexy and sensual about speaking French… the way it rolls off your tongue and out of your mouth… You have to deliberately act like you have marbles in your mouth to make it sound authentic. Like you just had dental surgery and you can’t open your mouth…. So too is Italian a beautiful language. It’s so sing-songy and lyrical. It feels like your’re breaking into song or reciting poetry when you speak Italian. It’s fucking gleeful. No matter what you’re actually saying. It’s an incredible feeling actually. Speaking Italian. But each their own. In their own way. None better than the other. As with all languages….
And then there’s Brasilian Portuguese. All the consonants have been softened to the point where they all start to sound the same. There is absolutely no stress, tension or struggle in Portuguese. It’s the polar opposite of Russian or German or any of the Scandinavian languages, which let’s face it, are anything but “soft”. Some languages have more of a “hard” sound to them…. Some are softer. Portuguese is incredibly “soft” sounding. Like being massaged in a hot bath with the lights turned down low…. In portuguese, there’s a lot of the jhuh sound. Half the consonants have it. Or just shhh.
All the R’s have been changed to H’s. Both in the beginning, middle and ending of words. It’s a trip. But it makes for a much softer language than most. Instead of trilling or rolling the R’s at the end of sentences as in Spanish, which is a harder sound to the ear, they’ve turned them into haaahhhh or huuuhhhh. It all makes for a very soft, poetic, euphonious and gorgeous sound to the ears.
Another thing is that they speak, and thus sing, most of the language through the front of their face and their nose. It may sound weird, but if you’ve studied classical singing you know that we’re taught to not sing from our throats but rather through the “mask” of the front of the face and to “throw” about a third to a half of our sound through our nose in order to make for the most beautiful singing. Well…. here’s an entire country full of people who just naturally happen to speak and sing through the “mask” of the front of the face and place about a third to a half of the words through their nose in order to pronounce the language properly. A coincidence? Maybe. But it works. If you’ve studied or speak other languages then you know that some actually require you to deliberately use the back of your throat to speak the language authentically. This is a deliberately hard sound, made hard sounding by the use of the throat and various glottal sounds. Arabic and the Semitic languages come to mind. And again German…
Personally I honestly can’t choose between Italian or Portuguese or French. I believe that all three are equally gorgeous. Depending on the need or goal at hand. But Portuguese… Wow…. There’s just nothing like it. If French is the language of love and Italian is the language of great opera, Portuguese is the language of God and the human soul.
Reason Number Three: After you start getting into Brasilian music you might decide to learn what’s actually being said. In your native language. And this is the next thing that really knocks you on your ass when it comes to Brasilian music. Once you actually start reading what they’re saying… And how they’re saying it. The poetic nature of how they form thoughts is truly profound. Entirely different from how we do it in English or Spanish or French or Italian — the closest might be the French. They’re pop is pretty freaking profound at times actually…..
The Brasilians can literally make a song about a soccer player seem like they’re talking about the second coming of the messiah. And in the song “Fio Maravilha” they do. It’s not JUST a song about a soccer player, see…. It’s a song about the redemption of an entire people who’ve been oppressed for hundreds of years through the magnanimous glory of a supremely gifted artist who is almost deified for his glorious talent on the football field and how grateful the people are for his talents and gifts and the glorious way he plays, for he truly is a gift from heaven, an angel. And that’s the song in a nutshell. It gives you chills. It transcends its subject matter.
In the song “Girl from Ipanema” (and I’m just choosing this song because you know it…. there are much better examples….) the English translation was done by this American hack who completely destroyed the poetic nature of the original portuguese lyrics. To the point where Jobim and Joao Gilberto refused to continue the recording process. They were horrified by the English translation. They called it “shallow and vulgar”. Ultimately it wasn’t their call to make. The American music business machine had already taken over and had them sign over all their rights. So they were stuck with a song that they didn’t like.
BUT if you go back and read an actual transliteration of the lyrics of this song, you’ll see that it’s actually a gorgeous work of brilliant poetry by one of the great poets of Brasil, Vinicius De Moraes, who in Brasil is known as just “Vinicius” (because he transcends that much, no last name required… everyone knows who you’re talking about. Same with Jobim, Gilberto, Joao, Caetano, Jorge, Chico…. These guys have risen to this point of “first name only” status.)
But back to “Girl from Ipanema”. In this song, they start the song off by immediately comparing this mysterious girl of beauty and grace they see stroll by on the beach to the Holy Mother right from the start. TOTALLY different than the shallow “long and tall and dark and lovely” lyrics in the English translation. NONE of that is in the actual song. This American dickweed just made it up because he didn’t speak Portuguese. The original song is pure poetry. Mystery. Profundity. About grace and beauty and honor and heaven and the power of all that and yet how far away it all is. It’s a symbolic statement about something much grander than just a girl on a beach.
Check out the song “Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar”. Jobim and Vinicius wrote that together too. I actually recorded that one…. You might know it. But don’t listen to mine. Listen to Caetano’s version. Or Joao Gilberto’s. Or heck even better listen to Jobim sing it. He wrote it. Gorgeous work of poetry and beauty.
Caetano Veloso is a master of this poetic style. He’ll be appearing to be singing about one thing, but in reality you realize he’s singing about something much bigger, but he keeps swooping in and out of the two to three different arenas like a beautiful poetic bird. He’s a master songwriter. A true poet. A true composer. Check out “Desde que o Samba e Samba”, or “O Leaonzinho” or “Sampa”. All three are classics. Incredible songs. Brilliant songs. Beautiful songs. But precisely because they are also brilliant works of musical art and lyrical poetry.
Earlier today a friend and I were conversing over the phone. Trotsky, You remember him. From the old days, when I used to post in the Diaries almost daily. Yeah we’re still getting on. He’s a brother. Still far left of the farthest left. A lot of times I just let him call and vent. Can’t say I mind. I usually learn something. Plus it’s the decent thing to do. At first we were talking about how fucked up the Bill and Hilary tour recently sponsored by Live Nation was, how no one ended up showing up in LA and they ended up cancelling it. Then the latest Woodstock got cancelled, which he was happy about. Remember, he grew up there. Doesn’t like seeing co-opted for profit and turned into just another hippie fest copy of a hippie fest copy.
Eventually we start talking about what the hell the current zeitgeist even is, and why people would feel the need to put on yet another Woodstock now… As opposed to something more modern and current. I reminded him that there’s actually a pretty decent music festival scene going on right now, like Coachella. It’s not like we “needed” another Woodstock. Which is probably why it got cancelled. But still that question lingered. Just what is the current zeitgeist? Especially creatively. IS there one?
I brought up Netflix and Instagram. As probably the best indicators of what the current zeitgeist of the times is…. At least they’re search lights. In the book We Are the Revolution, back in ’06, where I talk about the coming Age of Personal Expression, I predict this mass rush toward fame and being seen and heard just to be seen and heard that would be coming. Instagram and Facebook and Twitter pretty much enabled and encouraged that. To the point now where it’s cooler to not be a part of it than be a part of it. (I’ve been calling that “The Rush To Privacy” in the past few years… Saw it coming…) But it’s not like we’ve transitioned out of the PErsonal Expression Age yet. WE’re still knee deep in it if you ask me. More than ever. And yeah I do believe we still have a chance of creating some real revolutions from it — as opposed to just creating a bunch of dopey followers and trolls and wannabe pseudo-influencers from it. I know that’s what it appears like at the moment… But there’s still time for real revolution. I sincerely believe that.
Perhaps what we saw in the Donald Trump movement — that did by the way totally demolish and revolutionize the republican party — was real revolution. For some it was at least. If you were on that side of the spectrum. It did have all the markers of it. And perhaps what we’re currently seeing in the democratic party now, with Hilary being ousted for more radical unknown lefties is another form of real revolution. Hope so. More than anything I just hope it leads to real changes. Measurable changes. Positive changes. Lasting changes. That’s what’s important. Revolution for the sheer sake of it is Leninism. It leads to nothing but death and destruction. With no helping. Cuba.
Three days ago I heard the song “Superbacana” by Caetano Veloso for the first time… or at least it was the first time that I “heard” it, really listened to it. It blow me away. It’s off his Tropicalia album, the one that really shook the earth beneath all of Brasil and started the whole Tropicalismo or Tropicalia social and political movement there. (Along with equal contributions from Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes and Tom Ze and Gal Costa and others.
Anyway, I do what I always do. I listen to the song ten to twenty times in a row, analyzing the lyrics and the poetry of the beautifully perfect Portuguese language, still in my opinion the most poetic of them all (and yes, being Italian and speaking Italian and French and Spanish etc. I know what a betrayal that may sound like… but there’s just something transcendent about this language, both in how it sounds to the ear and in how the words and phrases are strung together…. Obviously a subjective thing. I’ll give you that.) I then do a quick translation to English to see if I missed anything. Wow, what a fucking song that is. Simple. Fun. Light-hearted. On the surface. And yet still a Dylanesque social protest song. And the way he spits the lyrics out so fast. Truly genius.
Then I spend three days transcribing the chords, listening to it over and over again. Searching the internet for anyone who has ever transcribed the chords to just get some help with it. But no one has. And this song is 50 years old! I WhatsApp a friend of mine in Brasil to ask him about the song. He tells me “yeah bro, not many people know that song. Not even here in Brasil. It’s only hip with super hip people. It’s not like a popular song, like so many of his….Good luck with that. But I really hope you figure it out, because I can’t wait to hear you sing it with your strong funny Portuguese accent!”
I’m going to include some links below so you can listen to the song on YouTube. Because it’s just that good. Bear in mind, it’s 1967, so it still has elements of that orchestrated pop of the sixties, plus elements of the popular bossa nova style happening in Brasil at the time (think Tom Jobim) and yet it also has this frantic rock ‘n’ roll vibe to it and a sort of folky protest theme to it as well. A very hip tune. The whole Tropicalia album by Caetano is brilliant. A definite must-have.
When you analyze the lyrics, basically Caetano is saying “You all act like you don’t even know I exist, but I believe you’re pretending. Not only do you know I was born, but you also know that I am super fucking cool. (Superbacana literally translates to “super-cool”). And he uses the song to rally against the bourgeois class currently occupying Copacabana and the government with all their big spending on technology and other things that he doesn’t believe help him or the people of the country. But in the end he and his people are still super-cool regardless.
When I first discovered it, it reminded me of the song “ManChildWoman”, the way he’s just overtly bragging, very rock ‘n’ roll swagger… Which I admit I do a lot of from time to time in certain songs… It’s all in fun…. Just to catch a groove and ride it. But after studying the song more, I believe there’s more to Caetano’s “Superbacana” than just empty bragging like “ManChildWoman”. Truly. It’s more Dylan. The bragging is more asserting his existence against an authoritarian regime that refused to acknowledge their existence for so long. It’s a life or death kind of “I believe in me” type of thing. Whereas I was there when I wrote “ManChildWoman” (at least I think I was…as much as I could be considering…) and there was no life or death vibe in my mind. I remember. It was more just “I believe in me mother fucker yeah!” They both have their place. It’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all important. As important as rock ‘n’ roll can be.
I’m still trying to figure it out. Learning the chords. Trying to learn the phrasing of how he spits out those lyrics so fast. It’s a brilliant piece of work.
Anyway, check it out. It’s a hip tune. Truly special.