Where the songs are passionate...

The bunting has been prepared, the elephants are on standby and the carnival has been brought forward several months. Yes, today is my first anniversary in Brazil. I could write a very long and detailed feature about my recollections and experiences, but I can't be bothered. So instead here is a flippant list of things I miss about the United Kingdom:

Cheddar cheese
Reading the Guardian on a Saturday while listening to Jonathan Ross on Radio 2.
Sky Sports News
Being indoors when it's raining
Second hand record shops
Decent crisps (I'd kill a man for some prawn cocktail)

And here's a list of things that I am particularly enjoying in Brazil:

It being hot, but not too hot, all the time
The architecture in Brasília
6 (so far) different types of banana
Having greatly increased mooching opportunities
Knowing that I am learning a language (although not the painfully slow process of learning itself)
Knowing that, not too far from here, monkeys roam free

Secondly, here's a special blog about the song known by most people as Brazil. It is actually called Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolour Of Brazil) and is considered to be one of Brazil's most patriotic traditional songs. Written by Ary Barroso in 1939, it has been covered by numerous people as you can see below. It's an extremely catchy tune, and has a yearning quality, as if the singer is trapped on the other side of the world, away from his beloved (or adopted) homeland, dreaming of returning to "old Brazil". I'm sure this is something I will identify with in the future, but then so can anyone who is homesick or longing to return to a place they love, whether it's Brazil, Bahrain or Bolton.

The imagery of the song is very evocative without being too specific, mentioning the "amber moon", the twilight and the sun. We know this place is paradise, but we are not sure why. If we want to know we will have to go there for ourselves, and discover it's secrets (which could take a lifetime, it's the fifth biggest country in the world!). I think the images in this song have probably contributed to the stereotypical image of Brazil around the world (by 1945 Brazil had been performed more than two million times on U.S. radio and TV), an image that most countries would die for: hot weather, carnival, beaches, football and beautiful people.

(English lyrics by S.K. “Bob” Russell)

The Brazil that I knew
Where I wandered with you
Lives in my imagination.

Where the songs are passionate,
And a smile has flash in it,
And a kiss has art in it,
For you put your heart in it,
And so I dream of old Brazil

Where hearts were entertaining June,
We stood beneath an amber moon
And softly murmured “someday soon”
We kissed and clung together,
Then tomorrow was another day
The morning found me miles away
With still a million things to say

Now when twilight dims the sky above,
Recalling thrills of our love,
There’s one thing I’m certain of;
Return I will
To old Brazil.

Here are some very fine Brazilian versions:

Gal Costa - Aquarela do Brasil

Catano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Joao Gilberto - Aquarela do Brasil

Elis Regina - Aquarela do Brasil

Tom Jobim - Aquarela do Brasil

The song was used extensively by Terry Gilliam in his film Brazil. Almost the entire film is accompanied by various versions of the song (which is the only reference to Brazil in the whole film), including this one by Kate Bush:

Kate Bush - Brazil

Two more versions:

Django Reindhardt - Brazil

Pink Martini - Brazil

In 1975, the Ritchie Family had a hit with a disco version:

The Ritchie Family - Brazil

In recent years, it has been covered by some better artists (better than the Richie Family you scoff!):

Cornelius - Brazil

Beirut - Brazil

Arcade Fire - Brazil

Of course they all pale in comparison with this masterpiece:

The Vengaboys - To Brazil

For more information go here.


David N said...

Christ, you just ruined - or maybe made - you entire blog with a VengaBoys song. They always remind me of Soccer AM.

Is Brazil a little culturally insecure? I would never have thought so, given the growing global influence it has on popular culture, in particular. But its a colony, I suppose, and has had lots of political and economic problems. Maybe its just that any kind of National anthem or patriotic song sounds a bit like whistling in the dark to me...

jamesinbrasil said...

I loathe patriotism. To paraphrase George Galloway, its a celebration of coincidence. One of the things I like about this song is its vague patriotism. I'm not even sure if it really is patriotic beyond the fact that it is obviously written about the authors homeland. It doesn't have any bombastic saber-rattling bravado about it. It's more wistful than that, as though the singer isn't suggesting that this is the greatest country in the world, as a true patriotic anthem would, but just the place where his heart belongs. It just doesn't have any of the arrogance that I associate with patrotism.

To answer your question, I think Brazil is culturally pretty robust. Of course it suffers from the same US cultural assault as the rest of the world, but the Brazilian music and film industries seem, from my perspective at least, to be thriving. Its very rare to meet a local who doesn't listen to some sort of Brazilian music, and there are normally at least 6 or 7 Brazilian films showing in the cinema at any time. I think the strength of culture (and sport) here actually gives Brazilians confidence and pride when you consider the potential lack of resources.

So did you actually listen to the Vengaboys?

daveysomethingfunny said...

I already had the Arcade Fire one, and though it sounded familiar, had no idea it was a cover.

Makes me want to watch Brazil again now...and spot all the different versions.

jamesinbrasil said...

I may have slightly misled you over the use of the song in the film. It's more of a score in different styles rather than different versions. It is the soundtrack to literally the whole film though, and a re-watching is something I would recommend.

Zoe said...

Why have you got a picture of sharon fruit on your blog....are you trying to pass them off as Caqui?

Marcio said...

hi james. marcio speaking. caqui is not so taste, try jabuticaba or banana nanica! hehehehehe

jamesinbrasil said...

In a land of so many tasty fruits, the caqui (or sharon fruit to my British readers) is the best. Eu gosto de jabuticaba e banana nanica tambem, Marcio!