Brasil: Best Live Music of my Life!!

I know I have not been updating my blog lately…since the disaster last spring, to be precise. I’ve considered being a regular blogger…but somehow Facebook has seemed to win out until now. I sense that might be shifting…we’ll see!

In any case, while most of the photos from my incredible monthlong tour through  my partner Sheila’s home country of Brazil are indeed up on my Facebook page, I would like to devote a special post to documenting some of the incredible live music I was able to indulge in during our visit….seriously, probably some of the best music shows I have been fortunate enough to attend—ever.

I’ll start with São Paulo, near  Sheila’s hometown of São Bernardo do Campo (not to mention one of the largest metropolises (metropoli?!) in the world!), which seems to be dotted with amazing live music venues everywhere you look. On our first night in town, our incredibly sweet host Barbara (an old friend of Sheila’s) took us to a live performance of Funk Como le Gusta, an amazing ten-piece Brazilian ensemble that straddles the genres of samba-rock, funk, salsa (and probably more!).  Here they are singing a tune in Spanish with an incredible groove, “Muchaca Fantástica”:

Toward the end of the evening, the band members came down off the stage with their instruments (those small enough to carry 🙂 ) and jammed  right in the midst of  the dancing crowd…totally amazing energy. I would say this was easily the best live show I’ve been to in my life! It was put on by an organization known as SESC whereby students and employees pay a monthly fee and get access to a variety of cultural programs for a very low price. Nice!

Around midnight, after stopping for a snack of salgadinhos (fried yummies) at a local convenience store, we made our way to a cozy little samba bar lovingly referred to as the “quadradinho” (little square box, that’s how small it was!) with live musicians in the house. Again, a totally amazing atmosphere. Here are Sheila, Barbara and our lovely friend Camila samba-ing away…it’s a short clip, and I was trying to keep my filming low-key by not shoving my iPhone in peoples’ faces (!), but it gives a taste of the music and the vibe:

After catching a few hours of sleep back at Barbara’s place, we made our way the next day to a fantastic street fair about an hour’s bus ride outside of São Paulo (err, I’ll check on the name of the town and update later 😉 that apparently happens every Sunday. The market was spread out for blocks and blocks, with lots of crafts, plants, clothes, food, and yes, music! After wandering leisurely around the stalls for awhile, we made our way to a restaurant with outside tables to indulge in some yummy food and beer while enjoying the chilled-out atmosphere. This little live music session was happening right near our table, so of course as soon as I heard this fantastic song, I had to run over and film (!). Great stuff…and I love how the dude at the bottom left of the screen seems to be getting into it as well!

On our last night in the city, Barbara took us to a fantastic little Italian restaurant featuring live jazz musicians. The atmosphere speaks for itself, so here it is:

While much of our trip was about family, friends, food (and more food 😉 ), I also have to admit that I did do a fair bit of groupie-esque show hopping, as I was determined to see my two very favorite Brazilian artists, Ana Carolina and Seu Jorge, performing live during our stay. Ana’s official website had shown no performances happening at all…and it was only *after* arriving in Brazil that I found out that the site was  in fact undergoing a transition, and that she was going to be playing in several cities during our stay! We nearly went to see her perform at the Festival de Inverno (Winter Festival)  in the must-visit northeastern state of Bahia, but realized scheduling would be a bit too tight. I got over this initial disappointment in a big way when I discovered that not only would Ana be playing in Rio the following week, but that the Back 2 Black Festival would be taking place in Rio in the interim… featuring not only Seu Jorge, but also Chaka Khan and Prince! My music angels were on my side here for sure. 🙂

Back 2 Black was held in a now-closed train station that had been converted into an event space for the weekend, and the festival featured a combination of live music performances, DJs, and speakers on various political and cultural issues. The big shocker of the weekend was when Prince suddenly canceled his performance just days beforehand in a one-liner e-mail with no other explanation. While this was a huge insult to fans–particularly since he had top billing for the whole event, with his own separate stage and performance ticket– the rest of the festival was just so fabulous that I found myself not even caring!

Although I’d always wanted to see Chaka perform live, I couldn’t bring myself to pay the insanely high price of tickets in Tokyo.  (For perspective: I can see Brenda Vaughn, who I’d say is just as talented, perform in Tokyo about five times for the same price as seeing Chaka once!). However, being in the second row of her show was actually an even more thrilling experience than I imagined. Here she is, getting real and personal with the audience before giving a stunning performance of Angel. The lighting makes it hard to see her face for a good part of this, but the vocals–pure Chaka–come through great!

And speaking of being high (!), here is Seu Jorge with his band Almaz performing Pai João (My Father John) on the last night of the festival. While his voice is as rich and gorgeous as always, he seemed kind of aggressive and pissed off during his performance. Sheila and I were wondering whether he might have been irritated about the fact that the festival was taking place in his hometown, Rio, surrounded by favelas (where he himself grew up), while the combination of the high ticket price and continuing socioeconomic problems facing black people in Brazil meant that there was a pretty weak representation of black people at the event itself…pretty ironic to say the least given the festival’s ostensible purpose. The lyrics of Pai João focus upon the poverty of the favelas, and actually he sang it again during the encore…perhaps to drive the point home. (Or maybe what we sensed  was just from the weed (!)…hard to say.) In any case, here’s the clip…and a great article where he discusses politics, culture,  music and more can also be read here.

While we unfortunately didn’t make it to the discussion sessions on issues of ecology and communication, we did attend the first evening’s program titled “democratization, non-violence and social media”, where Wael Ghonim was videoed in live from Dubai to talk about the Egyptian revolution and  the potential that it holds in terms of showing the world how to create societies built upon respect, inclusion, and justice. Love that this is now continuing to spread and deepen all around the globe right at this moment…yay! 😀 His talk was absolutely fantastic…while I unfortunately can’t find it on You Tube, here he is via TED.com speaking on similar issues:

Finally, last but oh so most definitely not least, the exquisite Ana Carolina. 🙂 After visiting with close friends for a week in Brasilia and Bauru (and falling in love with our friends Marcio and Junior’s adorable, completely lovingly handcrafted Thai restaurant), we headed back to Rio for one night to pick up our bags that our AirBnB host kindly let us leave at his pad…and to see Ana’s show.

Once again, being so close to such an incredible performer and human being was an amazing experience. Here she is at the end of the show…all of the camera-waving (and bad singing : ) from the folks in the crowd make this a bit of a rough watch, but it all just goes to show what an icon she is (particularly among her lady fans). 😉

And just to make up for the crappy video quality, I’ll throw in Ana and Seu Jorge performing during their incredible joint live show in 2005:

Brazil is an amazing country, and I am so thankful for all of the incredible people I met (including Sheila’s huge lovely family), as well as all of the experiences I was able to have. As Seu Jorge points out in the article linked to above, it is a country that is experiencing huge changes at this moment, with deeply entrenched problems remaining (as anywhere, I guess?), but also with many opportunities now within reach in a way that they weren’t before. This piece gives an interesting take on the Occupy Brazil movement now underway…and I’ll finish this post with a clip from Curitiba Zero Grau, a film that is now screening at the Cinema Brasil Festival in Tokyo that shows the complex intersections between class and race, and how human warmth and connection can help us transcend these divisions.

Obrigada gente!! Até a próxima vez.. ♥

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