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Brazzil - Music - April 2004

Brazil's Paralamas Reinventing Themselves

By the mid-90s, Paralamas had alienated radio listeners and record
buyers in Brazil. Their most ambitious album to date, Severino,
was praised by critics, but the public wasn't interested. The band
tried to find a new public abroad and strategy seemed to work.
The Spanish-language Paralamas was a hit in Latin America.

Ernest Barteldes

During the 1980s, several bands flourished in Brazil following the footsteps of the demise of disco and the rise of ska-influenced bands such as The Police. Once again guitar bands were suddenly back, and the musical world seemed to be up for grabs again—at least for some.

Twenty years later, few musical phenomena from that era remain. Back home, Cyndi Lauper struggles and gets an album of standards out. Duran Duran is back, but only die-hard fans seem to care.

The same goes with most international of the acts of that era, except maybe those musicians who changed alongside the times, such as U2 and others.

One of the few survivors of those days is Brazil's supergroup Paralamas do Sucesso (from the capital city of Brasília), who will be appearing at Manhattan's China Club on April 8th, in Miami on April 10th and in Boston on April 11th.

The Paralamas, composed by guitarist Herbert Vianna, bassist Bi Ribeiro and João Barone, exploded in Brazil in 1983 with their single "Vital e Sua Moto" (Vital and His Motorbike), a song about a former band member whose "metal dream" came true when he could finally afford to buy a high-powered motorcycle.

During the famed Rock in Rio festival in 1985, Paralamas opened to Queen, Simply Red and Iron Maiden, and virtually stole the show with their sharp, reggae-like sound. At that time, their radio hit was "Óculos" (Glasses), a self-mocking song about the fact that wearing glasses made its lead singer look unattractive:

Se as meninas do Leblon não olham mais para mim
Eu uso óculos
E volta e meia eu me vejo com meu carro pela contramão
Eu tô sem óculos
Se eu te disser periga você não acreditar em mim
Eu não nasci de óculos
Eu não era assim não...

The girls in Leblon (Rio) don't care about me
I have my glasses on
And then I end up driving up the wrong way
I don't have my glasses on
If I told you, I think you wouldn't believe me
I wasn't born with glasses
I didn't use to be like this..."

A few years later, the guitarist had corrective eye surgery and no longer needs glasses. As years went by, the band, helmed by Vianna, ventured more and more into experimenting with different sounds.

When one listens to late 80s, early 90s songs as "Lanterna dos Afogados" (Drowned Men's Lantern) and "Cailedoscópio" (Kaleidoscope) can barely recognize the band, except for the almost-out-of-tune vocals performed by its guitarist.

The young boys from Brasília were grown-ups now.

As the band's sound evolved, they added a horn section and keyboards, and the sidemen, João Fera (keys), Eduardo Lyra (percussion), Bidu Cordeiro (trombone) and Monteiro Jr. (sax) have been with the band ever since, although they were never made "official" members of the group.

By the mid-90s, Paralamas had pretty much alienated radio and record buyers. Their most ambitious album to date, the Phil Manzanera-produced Severino, which featured Queen guitarist Brian May on one of the tracks, was praised by critics, but the public wasn't interested in it—and then the band ventured to find a new public abroad.

The strategy seemed to work. The Spanish-language versions of Paralamas' songs collected in the 1992 album Paralamas was well received in Argentina, Paraguay and other Latin American countries, and they scored a major hit with "Dos Margaritas," the Spanish-language version of "Severino" in Argentina.

But it was time to reconnect to the audiences back home, who were not buying their albums but still filled the stadiums wherever they played. The group then released a live album, Vamos Bater Lata (Let's Beat the Can), which included an EP with original music.

Instead of the elaborate, hard-to-follow songs of previous albums, they were back to hummable pop songs, and the album, helped by the massive airplay of their single, "Uma Brasileira" (A Brazilian Woman), co-written with Carlinhos Brown and which featured Brazilian singer Djavan on vocals, quickly went platinum.

The turn of the century saw the release of the live MTV Unplugged album in Brazil, such releases have caused radical changes on one's career), which featured "Que País É Esse" (What Country Is This?), a very critical protest-rock song originally recorded by fellow Brasília-bred band Legião Urbana, whose lead vocalist, Renato Russo, had recently succumbed to AIDS.

The CD went on to win the Latin Grammy for best rock album.

During the Unplugged tour, which sold out at every single venue, the band was further augmented by former Legião Urbana guitarist Dado Villa-Lobos, and that generated a buzz over that specific tour, which Villa-Lobos thought was humorous at the time, since he was simply playing rhythm guitar, switching to lead only when they played "Que País É Esse?"

I remember that tour well, when I joined thousands of revelers in the northeastern town of Fortaleza for the concert there for a rain-soaked but thoroughly enjoyable evening. It was the last show I attended in Brazil before I relocated to New York.

On February, 2001, tragedy struck the band when the light aircraft Vianna was flying spun out of control and plunged into the waters of Angra dos Reis, in Rio de Janeiro. Vianna's wife, English-born Lucy Needham Vianna perished on the crash, while the guitarist was left paralyzed below the waist after a longtime battle for his life.

A few months after the accident, the band resumed rehearsals and late in 2002 they released a new album, Longo Caminho (A Long Way) ,which features songs originally written months prior to Vianna's injury.

The album, which Vianna described as "the album of my rebirth" has sold over 300,000 copies in Brazil, which is a considerable figure for that country.

The band has recently released a new live album, "Uns Dias ao Vivo" (Some Days—Live), which is a celebration of the life and music of the band, which features guests such as Dado Villa-Lobos, guitarist Roberto Frejat, Djavan and others.

The show that we will see in New York will be a mix of songs from the new album (performed solely by the original band members) blended with the band's classic hits with full support of the sidemen.

Paralamas do Sucesso - Appearing on April 08 at The China Club in New York - For more information: http://www.newyorkbrazil.com

Official band site: http://www.osparalamas.com.br

This article appeared originally in The Staten Island Advance.

Ernest Barteldes is an ESL and Portuguese teacher. In addition to that, he is a freelance writer who has regularly been contributing The Greenwich Village Gazette since September 1999. His work has also been published by Brazzil, The Staten Island Advance, The Staten Island Register, The SI Muse, The Villager, GLSSite and other publications. He lives in Staten Island, NY. He can be reached at ebarteldes@yahoo.com

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