Before bossa nova, there was baião. This contagious rhythm from the Northeast of Brazil was taken to Hollywood by Carmen Miranda, in the thirties, and later originated forró, one of the most delicious forms of Brazilian dance.
But the huge international success of Tom Jobim and other bossa-nova artists somehow eclipsed baião, that only recently had its world revival, thanks to David Byrne.
If you want to learn about baião - and you should - check this trailer of the new documentary "O Homem que Engarrafava Nuvens" (The Man that Bottled Clouds), that portraits its creator, composer Humberto Teixeira. The videoclip is, unfortunately, only in Portuguese, but you will definitely get the vibe.
Teixeira produced some masterpieces, that became well-known in the voice of his main partner, Luiz Gonzaga, the so-called "King of baião". You may have heard Gonzaga singing "Asa Branca" or "Qui Nem Jiló" or "Adeus Maria Fulô".
The trademark of baião is the use of the sanfona (a type of accordion) and of the zabumba, a drum played with a mallet and a stick, each striking one side.
One curiosity: Teixeira was the father of Denise Dummont, a Brazilian actress that had some success in the US in the eighties, playing in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (1985) and Woody Allen's "Radio Days" (1987).
Iemanjá, Queen of the Seas
Ealier this month, along the Brazilian coast, several hundred thousand people paid their respects to Iemanjá, the queen of the seas, the beautiful orixá (deity) of candomblé, one of the main Afro-Brazilian religions.
Brought to the country by the slaves of yoruba tradition, the cult of Iemanjá (or Yemanja or Janaína) can also be seen in other countries, such as neighboring Uruguay and Cuba.
On Iemanjá Day, February 2, the devouts dress in white and bring to the beach all sorts of gifts for the orishá, such as mirrors and perfume (she is known for her vanity). She also receives flowers and certain dishes, such as fish, rice and a sweet milk pudding.
The offerings are displayed on the sand or taken by boats further into the sea. The next morning, everything is washed back to the sand. People may also jump over seven waves and receive, over their head, a bunch of popcorn, in the candomblé tradition. In Rio, though, the celebration happens around New Year's day.
Iemanjá's figure is somehow related to the cult of Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes (Our Lady of the Navigators) - a representation of Virgin Mary that is celebrated in the same day.
Several orixás have "correspondent" Catholic saints because, during the slavery period, Africans were not allowed to practice their religions and had to find creative ways to keep their faith. Intertwining candomblé and Catholicism was their only option.
Wisdom of the Roads
There is one thing you will find, for sure, when you drive in a Brazilian road: the good humor of truck back bumpers. They frequently sport dirty jokes, religious quotes, song lyrics, love declarations and whatever could brighten the other drivers lives.
Check here some of my favorites:
* Thanks to those who talk on my back. It means I am always ahead
* I exist because I insist
* Don't follow me. I am lost
* Vote for prostitutes, because voting for their children didn't work so well
* I am slow - but ahead of you
* My face is ugly but I am good on the road.
* The flag of Corinthians [popular soccer team] is like deodorant: it is always under the arm.
* If work made you rich, donkeys would be millionaire.
* A secret kept by three people? Only if you kill two of them.
* If breasts were horns, the night would be noisy.
* Mini-skirt is like barbed wire. It encloses the property, but allows the vision.
Brazilian born, French citizen, married to an American, Regina Scharf is the ultimate globetrotter. She graduated in Biology and Journalism from USP (Universidade de São Paulo) and has worked for Folha de S. Paulo, Gazeta Mercantil and Veja magazine as well as Radio France Internationale. Since 2004 she has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the US. She authored or co-authored several books in Portuguese on environmental issues and was honored by the 2002 Reuters-IUCN Press award for Latin America and by the 2004 Prêmio Ethos. You can read more by her at Deep Brazil - www.deepbrazil.com.