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A Cinematic Sensibility

A Cinematic Sensibility

Rich and powerful to the point of arrogance, when it cannot beat the
competition, Globo simply buys it. It has happened time and again. Besides that, Roberto
Marinho, the nonagenarian owner of the conglomerate Globo media empire has become a
kingmaker. Marinho’s backing was instrumental in the victory of Fernando Collor de Mello
for the presidency in 1989 and again in the election of sitting President Fernando
Henrique Cardoso.
By Brazzil Magazine

The morning fog has lifted over picturesque West Hollywood, a neighborhood known
twenty-five years ago as the Swish Alps. Afternoon sunlight squeezes in shafts through the
windows of an upstairs apartment that serves as both living and work space. Following the
directions taped on the front door, I removed my shoes before entering. The furniture is
simple and comfortable—a small dinner table, three chairs, a couch upholstered in
hand painted fabric. Narrow shelves above the stereo bend under their load of books, CD’s,
and percussion instruments. An alto sax rests in its stand. Drums and colored plastic
tubes are cached in corners and a pair of yellow high-tops is strewn on the floor. Coconut
oil is emanating from a tiny kitchen, lacing the ambience inside the office of Yellow
Green Productions, the epicenter of the Brasil Brazil Show.

Resonating through the room is Adriana Calcanhoto’s latest CD. Ana Gazzola, dressed in
a shapeless white T-shirt over baggy white sweatpants, is laughing and naming each tune
that was sampled to create an ingenious sound montage titled "Vamos Comer
Caetano" (Let’s Eat Caetano). She punctuates her speech with body language, short
little dance movements that wordlessly express her delight. Gazzola is from Caxias do Sul,
an hour and thirty minutes by car from Porto Alegre. "They have the best grapes in
Brazil," she tells me, "and the largest celebration of wine, Festa da Uva, every
four years, like the World Cup."

Gazzola started singing in clubs when she was a student of architecture in Porto
Alegre. She worked the club circuit in Rio for ten years, before touring Brazil with piano
player Luis Carlos Vinhas, afterward moving with him to São Paulo. "Rio is really
different from Los Angeles," she tells me. "You perform, a lot! You’ll work a
jazz club every day from Monday to Saturday. In São Paulo, it’s even more intense. You
work three night clubs from Monday to Friday. I’d do the first set from eleven to midnight
at one club, jump into my car, go to the Gardens (district), do another show from 12:30 to
1:30, then get back into my car and go to another club, perform there, and then come back
to the first club to do the night’s final set. That’s the way it works in São Paulo. You
never sleep. I spent two years working like that."

In 1991, after studying English in New York for six months, Gazzola moved to Los
Angeles where she continued performing with a number of ensembles including Lula and
Afro-Brazil. "When I met Lula, it was love at first sight," says Gazzola.
"Singing lambada and samba reggae was a totally different kind of music for
me, because at that time in Brazil, the music from Bahia wasn’t popular. The explosion in axé
music hadn’t happened yet. Nobody in Rio or São Paulo, the cultural centers of the
country, cared anything about axé music before Daniela Mercury. The great
composers weren’t writing songs like that." Later that year, while rehearsing as a
duo with Lula at a friends house, she met Sonia Santos.

Perhaps it’s the ease with which Santos moves, but she seems like a traveler from a
past time when people were simply shorter, and it’s the rest of us who are grotesquely
tall by comparison. She has a natural poise that embodies black dignity and strength. A
consummate professional who has toured internationally and been recognized as an
outstanding vocalist at both the Miden Popular Art Show in Cannes, France (1976) and the
Festival of Popular Arts in Algeria, Africa (1986). Santos has an earthy and wonderfully
vital voice, its extraordinary vibrancy equal to any occasion.

Although she comes from humble origins, at the age of fourteen Santos was singing with
a group of teens whose parents were literary and art-world celebrities. The band’s leader
was the son of painter, composer, and instrumentalist Heitor dos Prazeres. In 1973, while
working with Maestro Cipó’s band on the television show Flávio Cavalcanti, Santos
won the program’s celebrated talent competition—A Grande Chance. During the late
seventies Santos performed for inmates in prisons throughout Brazil, but the inherent
danger stopped her. Says Santos, "When you work with prisoners, they get absorbed
with you. And when they are released, they look for you. It gets very complicated."
Her list of accomplishments is imposing, indeed, for it includes not only live stage
performances and recordings but also roles in both soap operas and film. She attributes
the funk influences on the Brasil Brazil CD to her work with the legendary Banda
Black Rio, with whom she worked before coming to the United States.

Santos came to New York from Rio in 1990, and appeared on Broadway with the
electrifying Oba Oba company. After two months in New York, the company continued its U.S.
tour—Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. "I had planned to live
in New York, but it was too cold for me," says Santos. "I liked Florida, but it
was a little too wet and too hot, like Rio. Then we came to Los Angeles, and I liked it
right away. The show had to travel to Las Vegas, because of our contract, but L.A. had
taken something from my heart, so I came back here to live."

In 1994, the year of the World Cup, Santos and Gazzola created the Brasil Brazil Show.
Both singers had been working a lot that year with their own groups—Ana Gazzola with
the Brazil Sound Band and Santos with her Obatala Band. But they found that collectively
they could work larger venues and that working together brought them greater personal
satisfaction. Singing Brazilian standards and original tunes from each other’s repertoire,
they gigged every Wednesday at a club called Monsoon. The experience provided them with an
opportunity to hone the skills necessary to co-lead a large ensemble and to work out the
usual lead singer conflicts of ego.

"The way we sing together is different from the way we sing individually,"
says Gazzola. "We each had to let some aspects of our own styles go in order to
invent this third entity. It wasn’t easy to pull it together, but we worked a lot…and
fought! And we haven’t worked much independently since. The Brasil Brazil show sells so
much. It’s so much stronger for both of us that it has been a long time since we’ve
pursued our solo careers. When Sonia was in Brazil, I did a gig at the University at
Riverside by myself, and it was good. But I get so much more from our show together."

"We’ve decided to go 100 percent with Brasil Brazil Show," says Santos.
"Our philosophy is that in five years, maximum, we’ve got to do everything 100
percent. Why not? We’re putting everything out there. We’re going to record another CD at
the end of February—Brasil Brazil 2. It was so great to do the first one.
Let’s have another injection, you know? Let’s do it! Let’s put everything out there and
keep working the festival circuit. There are only two (Brazilian) groups here that have
achieved this—Sérgio Mendes and Flora and Airto. And once they started on this
circuit, they didn’t stop for five years. Right now we’ve got a good thing. Everywhere we
go, people like us and speak well about the show. So, in the next five years we’re going
to do everything 100 percent. Now my thing is Brasil Brazil. I sleep with Brasil Brazil
and I wake up with Brasil Brazil. I do everything and Ana does the same."

Santos and Gazzola understand that many people attending a festival performance are
newcomers to Brazilian music and prefer the firm toehold recognizable tunes give them.
"Of course, there are people who are into specific kinds of music like African and
Cuban," says Gazzola. "But in general, most people in America are unfamiliar
with Brazilian music." Interestingly enough, these same newcomers, accustomed to the
more predictable pattern of responding through simple foot tapping, are the ones who sway
their bodies back and forth in an open response to the rhythm and imagery of the
performance, finding catharsis in the Brasil Brazil Show.

"We both had good material with our own bands, says Santos, "but we learned
from the Brazilian journalist Nelson Rodrigues who told me at the beginning of my career,
‘Sonia, my dear, success lives in the obvious. Start with something people know, and then
bring in drops of new material.’ Ana and I looked through what we felt was the best
Brazilian music from the ’60’s and ’70’s and then tested these pieces in our shows. We
kept a tune in the band’s book if the audience reaction was ‘WOW!’ For example, ‘Upa
Neguinho’ by Edu Lobo. You remember Elis Regina sang it? The reaction everywhere we sang
that tune was overpowering. And it was the same with ‘Aquarela do Brasil’ and ‘Mais Que
Nada’ and ‘Samba de Verão.’ When we tested ‘Ponteio’ by Edu Lobo, a tune that won the
third MPB festival in 1967, we were playing the Foundation Room, a small room with a
fireplace, upstairs at the House of Blues. It was the first time we played the tune in
public and…WOW! The place exploded. I still feel goose bumps when I think of it. The
audience didn’t know the words, but they understood the feeling.

"We have put a lot of original material on hold," says Santos. "On my
first CD here, I recorded all new material, compositions that I had written with Luiz
Melodia and Tim Maia, all original. And 90 percent of the material on Ana’s solo CD is
original, but the response to the Brasil Brazil Show and the CD has been so much stronger
than either of our solo projects. Much stronger. When we brought a lot of new material
into the show, it was too much information; it alienated the audience. People like tunes
that they know. The only tunes from Ana’s CD that got air play were ‘Manhã de Carnaval’
and ‘Blue Moon.’ Nelson Rodrigues was right! We’ve already tested his words and we know
through our experience with the audience that we’ve got to have tunes that will build the
power of the show, that people can feel. We know we’ve got to have rhythm and movement,
because that’s what builds the power."

"While we are on stage, we keep in mind that we are representing Brazil, says
Gazzola, "that we are the Brazilian team, and that it’s our mission to show the best
of Brazil. It’s an interesting concept—two female vocalists, one black, one white,
representing Brazil. We show capoeira from the North, folkloric dances, lambada,
samba. Each show is a trip to Brazil through music and dance. We’re now working on gaúcho
and indigenous dances." Listening to them describing the show, reminds me of the time
last summer when I was driving down the 405 freeway, and the towering,
impossible-to-ignore electronic billboard for the Hollywood Casino was announcing the
Brasil Brazil Show in flashing kaleidoscopic lights. At the time, I was delighted that
deserving Brazilian talent was mercifully receiving advertising. But certainly there had
been no words of warning that lead me to expect what I heard and saw two months later when
I caught the band at the African Village Festival at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in
Hollywood. I knew immediately, Brasil Brazil Show had it. Their delivery was far ahead of
anything I had heard or seen in terms of impetus and inspiration; any accusations of
rehashing timeworn material became irrelevant in light of the show’s emphasis on rhythm
and rapidly sequenced stage movement.

Few companies are better suited than this co-lead ensemble for connecting with their
audience and delivering live the fervor, enthusiasm, and excitement of popular Brazilian
music, and this was overwhelmingly demonstrated at the Ford. It was a genuinely creative
and immensely professional show that combined phenomenal energy and technique with a deep
and abiding respect for tradition. The group responded vividly to audience reaction, and
when this in turn triggered great excitement and enthusiasm among the spectators, Brasil
Brazil Show became an emotional and musical experience of awesome proportions.

The band was able to stimulate and be stimulated by a crowd that had come to hear music
from Africa. Every solo consistently grabbed audience approval and drew applause. The
percussion section, mature in terms of self-assurance and experience in working together,
remained ardently aflame throughout the performance. There was a constant sense of dynamic
building, everything—structure, feel, interconnected rhythmic patterns—moving up
and through space, bristling until the climax in which individual band members were
introduced.

What is incredible about the Brasil Brazil Show is its power to build a community of
inspiration among the most disparate people. The company appears to have found orientation
and guidance for their stage layout, movement, and imagery in a variety of sources from
the Oba Oba Show to Caetano Veloso’s Livro Band. Santos explains, "In life, you
invent nothing. Everything has already been invented. There is nothing you can
create." Notwithstanding, I’ve seen the show a number of times since the Ford, and
each performance was unique and exhilarating, the ensemble’s propulsive energy escalating
in character and inciting a remarkable atmosphere of audience participation.

Says Santos, "Not many people in a festival audience can understand the Portuguese
lyrics, but they enjoy the melody and connect with the rhythm. And our message is the
groove, our strength is in the rhythm. Everybody understands the groove. We love the idea
of having three percussionists, but it’s a dichotomy, because the tendency of the
percussionist is to overplay—like free soloing on every tune, without regard to the
arrangement. But that is not what we needed, so we had to arrange who was going to play
what and which way. And it was difficult! We had fights at the rehearsals with Casio, Zé,
and Claudinho. We wanted them to play more simply, and they each wanted to play a lot
more. ‘It’s not the idea,’ we told them. ‘The idea is for each one to play a little bit,
but together, so that it sounds big. Why do you want to make it so complicated? We don’t
need that.’ Our guys are tight because Ana and I are unrelenting and because we play every
week, rehearse, go over."

"When I wanted them to play afoxé together," says Gazzola, "I
told Claudinho, ‘You play straight like (sings the part), and keep doing
that—forever. You do that forever, and Casio does (sings the counter part). If you
play it that way, the audience can follow it. They can understand.’ If the guys are just
jamming, the sound will be jumbled and the audience won’t understand. It’s confusion.
Jesus Christ! It was very difficult to have these guys play simply. They wanted to
(parodies percussion cacophony), so we had to figuratively hold their hands. I created an
index of what Claudinho plays, what Casio plays, what Zé Bruno plays. I told them, ‘On
this song you play this, on this song you play that.’ It took a long time to get
there."

"But there is also something else," says Santos. "We are women leading
guys, Brazilian guys, and they are so macho, so proud. And this is the hardest part. They
are resistant. It’s difficult to have them accept our ideas. It’s man’s nature. And, of
course, our nature is to discuss ideas with them and be very patient. The world of music
in general is very macho. Musicians are very macho. You never see regular musicians,
sidemen, who are gay, a drummer or a guitar player. There are, but they are all in the
closet, because the other musicians would tear them apart. Musicians come out of the
closet when they become headliners. But when they are among the side musicians, no. It’s a
very macho world, very macho."

The press packages that Santos and Gazzola send festival promoters exploit this
"disadvantage." Says Gazzola, "I write to them saying, ‘I’ve noticed that
you haven’t had many female vocalists in your festivals and none that were Brazilian. I
think it would be a beautiful thing.’ We’ve got to sell!" And Brasil Brazil Show is
selling. Last year they performed in over a dozen major shows and festivals in locations
as varied as Singapore, Kansas City, and Northern California. Additionally, they performed
for director (Titanic, Aliens, The Terminator) James Cameron’s private New Year’s
Eve party and have already committed to the Syracuse, Toronto, and Live Oak Jazz Festivals
this year.

"Playing festivals is easier, says Gazzola. "We’re targeting festivals now,
because Brasil Brazil is a nine piece band, and we can’t play small clubs. We’ve already
played enough on the club circuit, you know? My whole life I’ve played in clubs—Luna
Park, Lunaria, La Vé Lee, Atlas Supper Club. There are so many things going on beyond the
club scene, and we’re going there. And anyway, the work is the same, the energy is the
same. Why not do the same work for a big festival? It’s better to play for more people.
The more people, the more energy. We get even more excited. But also, we want to pay our
guys what the nice gigs are paying, because we’re proud, that players like Grecco, Rafael,
and Cristiano, who were like boys and students when they started with us, have developed
into men and professionals. A year ago they were like kids, but now, they have big
dreams."

Santos says that festival contractors treat them much better than the small club owners
who, although they know the music is vital for their existence, treat musicians with
little respect. "In Singapore, we were like rock stars! We worked two weeks, doing
two shows a day, each show, 45 minutes. There were over 1000 people at each show. We felt
blessed, because they loved the show. At the Hollywood Park Casino shows, we had more than
1200 people."

Says Gazzola, "I’ve never seen anything in my life like Reggae on the River. They
flew us there. And when we got there, everything was ‘peace and love.’ The dressing room
was packed with fruit, food, refreshments, coffee, you know? Whatever you wanted. We were
among huge artists like Ziggy Marley. High, high, high level production. They had all the
equipment there already. Eighteen guys on stage putting everything together. The musicians
didn’t have to carry a single thing. We had sent them our stage layout and equipment
requirements, and everything was put together exactly as we had requested. And after all
that, I told the director that I still needed to get reimbursed for the van we took from
the airport. ‘Oh sure,’ he says, ‘do you want cash or check?’ So, we follow him inside a
trailer…Unbelievable! Wall-to-wall computers, Internet, the works, and our check is
coming out of the computer. We had a press conference with twenty reporters, just for the
Brasil Brazil Show. What a production. Amazing!

"And we’re still learning a lot every place we play. When we went to Kansas City
we had planned to do the same show we had done at Hollywood Park, twenty-six people on the
stage. It was the biggest show we’d ever done. But when we got there, we were confronted
with a completely different situation. People in Kansas City are very conservative. You
can feel it in the way they dress and by their haircuts. It’s like you’re in a time warp
and you’ve gone back thirty years. We knew before we left Los Angeles that it was against
the law for the girls to show their butts. We were prepared for that and had designed
little Tarzan outfits to cover their butts, because they couldn’t use bikinis. But there
were other differences we hadn’t expected.

"Right after the first show the manager ran up to us shouting, ‘No, no, no! We’ve
got to change the show!’ The patrons weren’t interested in music; they didn’t care about
jazz or solos. It was all about entertainment, about getting from point A to point B with
the greatest entertainment value. We replanned the second show in the dressing room in
fifteen minutes. We changed the whole show—cut all the solos, made all the numbers
shorter. They wanted to see things moving. After the second show the same guy came up to
us saying, ‘That’s what I want! Terrific!’ They wanted movement. They wanted the capoeira
guys to come in, then the girls, then the singers, then the guys again. There was no time
for solos or musicians. They didn’t want that. And we can’t abuse our audience with
soloing just because we’re musicians and we like it. Not everybody likes that kind of
thing. Now we often cut the guitar and keyboard solos and just use the congas, just
rhythm. People love that. It’s more interesting for them. So, we learned from those people
and from that experience in Kansas City.

"I always tell Sonia, ‘The show was the food; we were just wallpaper,’ because the
people in Kansas City are so fat! So fat! I’ve never seen so many fat people in my life.
They come in and they fill their plates with everything you can imagine and they just sit
there shoveling food into their mouths, occasionally looking up. The first day, I was
like, ‘Jesus Christ!’ I was afraid of how they would react, if they ever did. Wow, what a
contrast! We were doing everything to get them involved, but they weren’t interested in
us. We stayed for two weeks, and little by little we started to notice movement among the
patrons. We know people love to dance and we were passing the spirit on to them. It was so
much fun to see. By the end of our stay, they were forming conga lines. And our whole
group was in total harmony, so tight. When we were picked up at the airport, our friends
said that we looked like we had just come home from a vacation."

I ask them about the screaming I always hear coming from backstage before their shows
and Santos explains that wherever they go, the whole band comes together backstage before
the show to joins hands. They get very close and center their energy. "The guys get
so concentrated. It is so positive for them. We create this bond between us. We’re always
using our talents and working with our differences, so we take a few minutes to
acknowledge that only through positive unity can we generate work on a higher level.
Feelings and emotions, moods and sentiments unite us and give us the courage to fulfill
our dreams. We concentrate on respecting and loving those musicians we have among us, on
maintaining our concentration, energy, and harmony, on keeping our minds clear, and on
doing everything we’ve rehearsed. We give thanks for the opportunity to play together one
more time. It’s amazing! We call it our prayer, and it really adds another level to our
work together and keeps our energy up."

"I remember one show," says Gazzola, "where I said, ‘Okay, let’s go.’
And Rafael, shouted, ‘You’re not going to do the prayer? Come on! How can we go on stage
without praying.’ He loves that. It produces so much energy. And it’s something that has
really brought us closer together. I really believe that. When we finish the prayer we say
an amen, and then shout Axé Aaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!! (positive energy). Sometimes after that,
we form a circle, like a conga line, and chant, ‘ho, ho, ho, ho, Ho HO HO!’ Louder and
louder. We’re trying to keep this band healthy, like a team. We have been doing this big
circle for one year, ever since we put the new band together, and so far, everyone has
been happy—no misunderstandings, no jealousies…Nobody’s the star. We are all part
of a team."

As the music on the Brasil Brazil CD reflects this unified effort, it speaks for
itself and ought to be allowed to do that without verbal hindrance, so I am not going to
try to annotate each track. Love, humility, and respect are the most important virtues the
CD conveys. I do want to suggest, however, that you listen to how remarkably, subtly, and
organically the band transmutes those tunes whose names you know but may have never heard
in these arrangements. There is also little point of going into details about the band’s
performance here. At the same time, I would like to add that Casio Duarte is just about
every musician’s favorite percussionist and that Grecco Buratto’s scintillating guitar
style is having a swift and noteworthy impact on the L.A. scene. This is a momentous
collaboration of outstanding Brazilian talents who are more than happy to be working
together and whose energy is contagious.

It’s starting to get dark outside. Sonia has placed a beautiful salad on the table, and
I’m more than a little tempted to stay for dinner. Unfortunately, I have to take a rain
check on what promises to be an excellent Brazilian meal, as I’ve been here much longer
than anticipated. I start looking for my shoes but feel the prick of curiosity and ask
Gazzola what the colored plastic tubes in the corner are for. She grabs six, keeps two,
and passes two each to both me and Sonia. The tubes are different lengths and diatonically
tuned. We begin whacking each other’s tubes (à la Gestalt therapy), reacting to each
other, connecting harmonically, interpenetrating, separating, and uniting again in an afoxé
rhythm. I’m laughing like a kid, gasping for air, and thinking that when this energetic
sound track ends, I’ll look for a pair of yellow high-tops.

Visit the Brasil Brazil Show web site at: http://www.brasilbrazilshow.com 

Related sites of interest:
https://www.brazzil.com/musoct96.htm
https://www.brazzil.com/musmay97.htm
 

The CD’s repertoire:

1. Aquarela do Brasil
(Ari Barroso)

2. Mais Que Nada
(Jorge Ben Jor)

3. Garota de Ipanema
(Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes)

4. Cadê Você
(Ana Gazzola)

5. Baião do Tempo
(Gazzola and Santos)

6. A Rã
(João Donato and Caetano Veloso)

7. Lamento Negro
(Humberto Porto and Constantino Silva)

8. Gema
(Caetano Veloso)

9. Menina Dandara
(P. Debetio and P. Resende)

10. Água de Beber
(Tom Jobim)

11. Tico Tico no Fubá
(Zequinha de Abreu)

12. Baixa do Sapateiro
(Ari Barroso)

Selected Discography:

Title Artist Label Release Date  
Brasil Brazil Sonia Santos and Ana Gazzola Yellow Green 1999
Brazilicious Ana Gazzola Pow Records 1997
Sorte Sonia Santos Pow Records 1997
Brasilerinha Sonia Santos Clave/Ariola 1982
Pecado Capital Various Som Livre 1978 (sound track)
Crioula Sonia Santos Som Livre 1977
Bandeira Dois Various Som Livre 1976 (sound track)
Sonia Santos Sonia Santos Som Livre 1975
Nina Various Som Livre 1975 (sound track)
Espigão Various Som Livre 1974 (sound track)
Rebu Various Som Livre 1974 (sound track)

Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received his Masters
degree in music from California Institute of the Arts. He leads the Brazilian jazz
ensemble Axé and plays cuíca for escola de samba MILA. You can reach him through his
e-mail: cuica@interworld.net 

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