All the Sounds of City of God

 All 
        the Sounds of City of God

The
soundtrack of City of God is a treat. It brings a concise
mini-history of the music of Rio de Janeiro and its evolution over
the years chronicled in the movie’s plot. In the final section of the

album, the music turns a bit darker as the drug war comes to a climax.

by:
Ernest Barteldes

Music from Cidade
de Deus (City of God) original score by Antonio Pinto and Ed Cortes
plus songs by various artists, BMG

The Brazilian film
City of God (an in-your-face film on life and death in a slum of
Rio de Janeiro) is one of those various recent examples of movies that
grow out of word of mouth. Originally released in only a couple of screens
in New York City about four months ago (one being in Queens), its audience
seems to grow continuously.

At a recent screening
in Manhattan, I was delightfully surprised to see it screened to what
was almost a full house (only the front-row seats had not been filled)—something
amazing as far as foreign-language films go—and especially in the
case of a film that didn’t score an Oscar nomination or a win at the Golden
Globes.

As of this writing,
City of God is still playing in three Manhattan theaters.

For music lovers,
the soundtrack of City of God is a treat—not only does it
serve as a great companion to the film, but also it brings a concise mini-history
of the music of Rio de Janeiro and its evolution over the years chronicled
in the movie’s plot.

The score was written
by Antonio Pinto and Ed Cortes, both experienced musicians with some background
on movie soundtracks. Pinto wrote the score for Central Station
and, alongside Cortes, co-wrote the music for Abril Despedaçado
(April in Pieces, Behind the Sun, in the English version).

Their previous works
had featured symphony orchestras—something that Pinto felt would
be wrong for this film. "My previous experience", he wrote on
the album’s liner notes, "had led me to write more epic themes to
be performed by orchestras… none of this would work in City of God.
The first decision I made was not to use this kind of resource, and that
opened a whole universe to me. So we resolved to base the score on songs
that had been popular in Brazil in the 60s and 70s… and thus was the
concept created".

The album opens with
a dialogue from the film in which Lil’ Dice, a relentless murderer, takes
over a drug dealer’s turf, announcing that his new name is Lil’ Zé—a
character that would become the focus of the narrative told by Rocket,
a kid from the slums who escapes a life of crime and eventually becomes
a photographer.

What follows is "Meu
Nome é Zé" (My Name is Zé) a samba-inspired
funk that echoes the music that James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire and
others, which served as inspiration to Brazilian stars of the seventies
such as Tim Maia, Jorge Benjor and Luiz Melodia. The song morphs into
"Vida de Otário"(A Fool’s Life), which basically follows
the same tendency, but with a larger presence of percussive elements of
samba music, which serves as an indication of time passing by in the film,
and as a maker for the evolution of the fusion of the American and Carioca
music that took place at that time.

The original songs
are intertwined with tracks of the years covered in the plot. I specially
enjoyed listening to Cartola’s classic renditions of the self-penned "Preciso
Me Encontrar" ("I Need To Find Myself", remade in the nineties
by Marisa Monte in her début album, M ) and "Alvorada"
("Sunrise"). The latter sounds as an antithesis to theme of
the film: "Sunrise in the morro (a romantic reference to the
slums of Rio)/ how beautiful it is/ no one cries, there is no sadness/
no one feels let down."

Cartola, who passed
away in the early eighties, was a product of the slums of Rio at a time
when most composers wrote songs about the happiness found in their impoverished
lives, where they had little but were at least apparently content with
what they had. There were petty thieves, of course, but nothing like would
happen later, as chronicled in the film.

Two songs that I cringed
at were Raul Seixas’ "Metamorfose Ambulante" (Walking Metamorphosis)
and Hyldon’s "Casinha de Sapê" ("Sape Grass House").
Not that the songs are bad. The problem is that both tunes have been overplayed
(they were huge hits in the mid-70s) there and have become staples of
every night club singer in the country. I guess I just grew tired of them.
For the American listener they will sound as mere curiosities. Maybe the
album’s producers should have picked hits that hadn’t been around as much.

In the final section
of the album, the music turns a bit darker as the drug war comes to a
climax. There is a lot of dramatically played percussion and stark electronic
sounds. Too bad that one of the tracks gives away the film’s ending (no,
I won’t tell you the title) , but then again most people only pick up
the soundtrack after they have seen the film—which unfortunately
was not my case.

A final note of appreciation
goes to the song that plays during the final credits, "Invitation
to Life", which is sung by Seu Jorge, who also co-wrote the song
and plays an important role in the film and features vocalists from Mangueira,
one of Rio’s main samba schools. The lyrics are poignant and leave little
for comment: "This is the city of God/ but God has forgotten to look
after/ the people who are never tired from the beatings they get…"

The soundtrack is
extremely entertaining, and will interest anyone who is into knowing a
little more about the music of that rhythmically rich country.

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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