Daniella Thompson on Brazil

Some of the most exciting Brazilian popular music is being made outside Brazil.

There are expatriates (Joseph Conrad comes to mind) who absorb the language and culture of their adopted country to such an extent that their origins become undetectable. There are those who throw away their past and start a new,but their previous work is of such moment that it follows them for the rest of their lives and beyond (I'm thinking of Kurt Weill).

Then there are those who continue using the idioms of their motherland wherever they are. At a time when "World" has become an entrenched genre of popular music, those who make popular music find it possible to move to another country or even another continent and continue functioning artistically as they would have at home, had the economic conditions there permitted such functioning.

As a result, some of the most interesting Brazilian popular music is being made in Japan, Europe, or the United States. Two recent examples are the CDs Praia dos Corais by Vasco Debritto, who lives in Japan, and Inverse Universe by Claudia Villela and Ricardo Peixoto, who make their home in San Francisco Bay Area.

Expatriates, Pt. 2

From Japan, Vasco Deritto evokes nostalgic images of an ideal Brazil.

Graviola, goiaba, maracuj á estranho balé dança de tangar á
diamantes, chapada, caatinga, sertão
explodindo as minas do meu coração
[from "Pindorama"]

The mines of Vasco Debritto's heart are filled to bursting with the sounds, sights, and tastes of the country he left for good ten years ago. Steeped in Bossa Nova and MPB since his teens, Debritto made the decision to settle in Japan because, says the composer, "it was very complicated doing music in Brazil- especially the kind of music I do."

Praia dos Corais is Deritto's second Japanese album, dedicated to Noel Rosa, Dorival Caymmi, Chico Buarque and Antonio Carlos Jobim. The dedication to the latter is particulary poignant, for Debritto's voice is so similar to Jobim's that one inevitably thinks of the late composer whenever Debritto sings(and he does so in every track). Then there's the album cover, where Vasco in his straw hat and white jacket, posed against sea and trees, is almost a dead ringer for Tom.

Like Tom Jobim before him, Vasco Debritto continues to create very Brazilian music even in foreign parts. These days, his inspiration comes from Oiso, a small town os Sagami Bay that used to be the eighth of fifty-three stations along the historic Tokaido road between Edo e Kioto. As such, Oiso was immortalized in the 19th-century woodblock prints of Hiroshige, and Keisai Eisen,Toyokuni III. No doubt, the beauty of Oiso's sea and wooded hills helps evoke those of Brazil, in a mysterious alchemy of nature and culture.

Thus, conceived in Japan, Praia dos Corais is still a thoroughly Brazilian work. A peculiar attribute of Debritto's music that although his songs are new and original, they sound as familiar as Vinicius and Tom's- not imitation but family members. Bossa Nova and classical MPB fans should delight in them, as I have.

"Pindorama" leads off with a tribute to the natural aspects of Brazil, in lyrics that rhapsodize wild life, clear waters, sun, sky and music. The lovely feminine chorus in Mauricio Maestro's vocal arrangement interwave Vasco's vocals and Fernando Merlino's piano, wafting the listener to an idyllic universe rarely seen since the palmy days of Vinicius and Quarteto em Cy.

Back to the reality: "Por um fio" lands squarely in the poor north, where, despite a gruelling life, people still have the energy to dance a forró and celebrate with a certeza que Deus é um cara bem brasileiro, que nasceu em Belém, o Belém lá do norte, Belém do Pará

"Just look at Me" was inspired by an old article in wich Jobim, talking about the famous 1962 Bossa Nova concert at Camigie Hall, suggested that from then on Brazil would be know not just for its coffee and football. The song adresses that ignorance (and prejudice?) in the voice of a Brazilian man who asks an American woman to dance:

We are not talking'bout bananas
or jungle farmers in bandanas
so I can barely dance a samba
and I have never done the rhumba
I'm just a guy
standing here and
I'm wondering why
you can't see me.

The beautiful bolero "Navegante" tells the story of the internal adventurer who finds himself in deep waters and survives. "Sapateou" is a riotous samba de gafieira, in wich the insolent clarinet, tenor sax, trompet and trombone paint the dancehall scene with great accuracy. "Fiz um Samba" presents the humorous lament of a malandro in love whose inhuman efforts lead only to frustation:

No sertão eu fiz chover
bicho s faltou falar
fiz de tudo; o impossível
mudei o meu modo de trajar
enfeitei o barraco só pra lhe agradar

In a moving duet between Vasco and the marvelous Leticia Carvalho, the ballad "Invenção" expresses the composer's wish that Brazil could be a different country, without violence, corruption, and poverty. Incidentally, Leticia Carvalho is one of the great underutilized talents of Brazil. The only previous disc in which I've heard her is the Guilherme Godoy and Sergio Botto's independent O Samba Sabe o Que Quer (1998), where she sang a memorable duet with Godoy in the samba de breque "A Loura do Backing".

"Já Passa das Duas" is the anti-fossa song. The protagonist, abandoned by his lover, refuses to become despondent, certin that she'll return one day:

Não caio abatido,
nem fico ofegante,
não perco os sentidos
abro mão do calmante
Disfar ço essas horas
relendo Vinícius;
não é assim tão difícil
desligar lá de fora

The tempo picks up in "Ligando para o Bar", a latter-day "Conversa de Botequim"- a sort of Noel Rosa/João Bosco hybrid that produces these hilarious lines:

E se, também puder fazer a gentileza
de botar ali na minha mesa
caneta e papel
que pra que eu arrisque
alguns versinhos pra Bebel

The disc concludes with the tittle song, where the female chorus returnes, as do the image of nature in this call to awakening and growth:

Sai da casca, rompe a terra, grão, o germe;
abre as asas, viramundo, solta o grito;

Although the composer arranged all the tracks, he plays no instruments in any. Most of the accompaniments are anchored by Fernando Merlino( eletric piano), Fernando Carvalho(eletric guitar), Marcelo Mariano(bass) and Pantico Rocha (drums), with additional instruments as required. Guests Romero Lubambo, Ron Carter and Paulo Braga take charge in "Navegante" and (with Nilson Matta replacing Carter) in "Fiz um Samba".

Praia dos Corais is cohesive work made for repeated listening. Audio samples are available on Vasco Debritto's.

Vasco Debritto: Praia dos Corais
(Polystar PJL MTCW-1007; 2001) 37:44 min

All songs by Vasco Debritto

01. Pindorama
02. Por um Fio
03. Just Look at Me(lyrics by Thomas Walker)
04. Navegante
05. Sapateou
06. Fiz um Samba
07. Invenção
08. Já Passa das Duas
09. Ligando para o Bar
10. Praia dos Corais(prologue)
11. Praia dos Corais