Samba for the next millennium won’t be restricted to the borders of
Brazil. Thanks to the Internet, sambistas from around the world have organized
themselves and will form the first International Samba School to Parade in Brazil: Unidos
do Mundo (United of the World). They will parade in Rio’s Sambadrome with the government’s
blessing to help celebrate the 500th year celebration of Brazil’s discovery and
the beginning of a new millennium.
By Brazzil Magazine
A social and cultural phenomenon, Carlinhos Brown is critically aware of the societal
responsibility of a high-profile Bahian artist and is much more complicated a man than
could ever be known from the shallow press releases about him. Brown’s first solo project,
Alfagamabetízado, won my unqualified praise (see "Planetary Minstrel" in
Brazzil September, 1996). Alfagamabetízado had a wonderful
"alienness" about it, and I wrote much about Brown’s spontaneity and breadth of
vision, his talent as a composer, the ascendancy of unexpected textures and ideas as well
as his colorful response to musical problems and challenges.
Restlessly active, Carlinhos Brown is recognized as one of the most influential musical
minds of the day. He has a personality so highly developed, and ideas of such deep
significance, that forming a conscientious appraisal of his work is no easy task. He has
opened himself up to what the people of Bahia feel, what they want, and what they don’t
want. He toils at giving kids a real reason to believe that there is a relevant place for
them in society. The danger for Brown lies not in an affectation of genius or in a false
order of ideas, but rather in a powerful imagination, which he evidently controls with
I anticipated the release of his second CD, much as I had each new album by the Beatles
and each new Miles Davis venture, with the feeling that after listening, music would be
changed forever. But none of the unalloyed artistic power Brown poured into its
predecessor seemed to be salvaged for the conceptual mold of this inorganic collection
called Omelete Man. That wondrous alien spirit, at first keenly critical and so
artistically creative, had been transformed. Here the familiar and the experimental lie
strangely side by side. I started to wonder whether that "alienness" was such an
important quality in a new work and if so, to what extent. Accustomed to giving any new
work a thoroughly objective treatment, I went back and listened.
Before I could condemn Carlinhos Brown for creating a work of frightful excesses and
accumulated commerciality, one that didn’t negotiate every corner smoothly, I found much
that was eminently satisfying. The range of moods was highly individualistic and
enigmatically interconnected. There were arrangements by Eumir Deodato as well as Jaques
Morelenbaum and contributions from, among other luminaries, Luiz Caldas and the choro
group Época de Ouro. Produced by Marisa Monte, the disc is a work of imagination and
subtly shifting colors. Both as a document and a musical reality, Omelete Man marks
a port in the voyage of a visionary.
I spoke with Carlinhos about language, social issues, cinema, education, and music in a
wild stream-of-consciousness encounter that left me feeling like I had just played a game
of soccer where the rules kept changing.
BrazzilWhat are your thoughts on the recent PercPan VI Festival?1
Carlinhos BrownI can’t tell you because I didn’t go. I did participate in the
first one and another a few years ago. PercPan has great possibilities. It’s the greatest
percussion event in the world, of course, after Carnaval where people see more. And it is
the most important event in Bahia. The festival is a huge demonstration. It’s a very big
festival that has great repercussions throughout Brazil. You can’t tell this from outside.
It started very big, but in the beginning we had many more attractions than we have now.
The problem is that we are going through a very big financial crisis, an economic problem,
and that reflects on the festival. But it is good for Brazil anyway and for the percussion
island of Bahia.
BrazzilDo percussion festivals like PercPan help to reduce racism in
C.B.Racism in Brazil is ignorance. What is going to reduce this is education
and being conscious of what it is to be Brazilian. Racism is anchored to the past
everywhere. The problem has been in Brazil for five hundred years, and now politicians
want to fix it in two months, in every aspect, judicially, legislatively, educationally.
It is important that people want to fix little things in this country, but a problem of
this reach is going to take time . . . the next millennium. When the media doesn’t have
anything to say, it talks about racists. And every time the subject is mentioned in print,
we are pressed by the press. The collective unconscious is trapped. People in music and
with culture are putting people together and asking the press to remove the word, but they
continue to print it. I’d rather you asked me about the merging of people, the juncture,
because every time I mention that word, I’m helping it exist. Every time we say this word,
we are putting it into peoples’ minds, and people like me and others are trying to take it
out of peoples’ minds. I hope we don’t mention this word again in our interview because
our victory is "miscegenated" not separatist.
BrazzilWill the universal language of percussion advance the process of
C.B.It’s in the drums where peace is written. But the whole world has been
preoccupied with deciphering the codes on the Pharaohs’ pyramids because there was gold
inside. People were worried about getting things, immediately. They were worried about
understanding the Earth and the moon and wondering if Mars was red. But they forgot that
all of man’s language was written in the drums. I have a percussive formation. When the
drummer plays he looks crazy, but he is transmitting something. It’s an onomatopoetic
situation. Who is the percussionist? Not anyone but the person who maintains a culture’s
voice. To be more direct, we are in a world that communicates through language. We
understand codes of words, and we have found a dictionary that can hold a couple, but we
don’t understand anything about linguistics. Making not only sound, but a live force of
nature, in the way nature created life, is percussive. Percussion makes all those words
happen. This is how our communication allows us to get in touch with others. Percussion
makes the planet earth the classical one among the other planets of the universe. It’s our
way of communicating, and that’s what interests the extra-terrestrials (laughs).
BrazzilWill the international attention from films like Central do
Brasil and the Grammies of Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil …
C.B.You forgot me. I won the first one, for percussion.
BrazzilYes, but I’m talking about
C.B.You have a short memory. I won a Grammy before those two
disc Brasileiro. I’m not defending myself. I’m defending percussion. Now let’s talk
about Gilberto Gil.
BrazzilI was wondering if you thought the attention from these awards
helps to change the world’s view of Brazil and in turn Brazilian culture? Does it bring
back the image of a country that is often forgotten by the rest of the world?
C.B.I don’t believe that prizes change the profile of anybody in any place.
What changes is the attitude of people who have taken Brazil to the point it is now. This
is what changes. Trophies are schoolboy remnants that still exist in the soul of a mature
adult. I don’t believe that things like that change the image of anything. What changes is
the effort of these people to present the reality of the country, how it is. It was the
strength of Fernanda Montenegro that got the world to recognize us. It was her power that
helped Brazil to be known. It was through her. Her effort forced the world to see us in
one moment. Brazil represented there by Fernanda Montenegro was seen by many eyes as a
very strong, proud presence. And people focused on her effort to show Brazil the way it
is. If there hadn’t been a camera there for Fernanda Montenegro, it would never have
happened, and she was proud of it.
BrazzilBut Brazil had been left out of the cinematic world. Don’t you
think these awards brought attention back to an image of Brazil that many had forgotten?
C.B.I never thought that Brazil was forgotten. The Brazilian people that are
abroad are talking about Brazil, so I never saw Brazil left out. The concept of the
country did not appear again just because of an Oscar or a Grammy. Brazil is lit in the
heart of every expatriated Brazilian who says, "I’m in this country, but I cannot
have my attitude, my behavior, my manners."
BrazzilI’m not talking about Brazilians that live outside Brazil. I’m
talking about the vision of the non-Brazilian public.
C.B.From the point of view of a foreigner, what is changing is that they are
going to the movie theater to watch our films, and they are consuming our music. But this
is an old situation because Brazilian films were watched before. Carmen Miranda, for
example, is responsible. She was the starting point in Hollywood for the vision of Brazil.
Before Carmen Miranda, I didn’t understand Hollywood, but after, I could. And then I
started paying attention to Ginger Rogers and getting interested in others. The fact that
Fernanda Montenegro was nominated for the Oscar was their luck. Because then we started
paying attention to things we never paid attention to before. Brazilians didn’t connect
with the Oscar before. That Oscar doesn’t look like anything Brazilian. Benigni was
already a big thing in America.2
Brazil’s nobility is attacked by its corruption, its violence, and its lack of
education. But we are a noble people, and the two can be mixed. It’s a form of saying,
"I’m a Brazilian, and I don’t want to divide the laurels. You know why? Because I’m a
baby, and you’ve had a long life. It’s my life now, and if my life interests you, and you
want to hear my story, to increase the index of Brazilian films in the Hollywood system,
which is only a hundred years old, then I am Brazil. I have many stories." I believe
that people like happy stories, and Brazil has many happy stories.
BrazzilWill you be making a film with cartoonist Maurício de Sousa?3
And if so, will you write the sound track music?
C.B.Boy! You are very fast!
BrazzilYeah, I have to play all the positions.
C.B.Well, I’m going lateral then directly to the goal. I will be here
praying, and when the movies find out about Carlinhos Brown Oh, how delicious this
world of dreams! Oh God, what a wonder. I know that I’m an anxious boy, but I also know
that God reserved this destiny for me. The day the world’s cinematographers cover my
music, Brazilian music, there is going to be a cloudburst in the movie industry. I want to
be happy. I want my work to bring me happiness. I want to have my work utilized. I’m
prepared to write this Brazilian sound track. And if I do, it’s not going to be something
that somebody has already done. It won’t be like what the Afro-Cubanos did when
their music got confused with the dramaturgy of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.
In respect to Maurício de Sousa, I am open. I’d love to do it because even the
homeless read Maurício de Sousa. I think he is very original, and Brazilian music is very
original. And we won’t trip. We’ll hit with something like Disney’s Zé Carioca or like
Amigo da Onça (Friend of the Jaguar).4 Did you know that character was
inspired by the composer Lamartine Babo (1904-1963)? That small man with a big forehead
reminds me of the president of the Central Bank. Now things are going to be different. New
faces are going to appear. People who come to Brazil and expect to find a sequence of
similar situations, will discover that we are different. And what talent is in our people
is going to explode.
BrazzilCan you tell me about your percussion school in Salvador?
(PracatumEscola Profissionalizante de Músicos no Candeal)5
C.B.I’m not trying to establish just a school of percussion. I’m working with
a vocational school, but I’m starting with music. I’m not interested in a trendy school in
the Bahian fashion. What I want is a school that will last a millennium. I want a strong
foundation. We have the school and the teachers all set. This is what I believe is the
beginning of education in this country. Even if instruction falls apart, the base is going
to be there for a long time. I believe that the medical system will get to the point
where, a year from now or maybe two hundred years from now, it will realize the need for
this kind of a base.
Today schools are teaching how to have "it," but not how to keep
"it." Schools have to recognize the importance of a vocation. And when that
happens, we are not going to have students who can’t decide what to do when they go to
college. What happens now is that the market dictates what students study. They see
something is good right now, so that’s what they choose to study. But that is not a
vocational decision. The market is fashion, not necessity, and it changes and gets weaker.
Necessity is always here. The person who invests in a pharmacy is correct because he knows
we need pharmacies.
People today have thrown away their shamans and witches and realize we have to go to
doctors, to the pharmacy, that we need medicine. Before we had curandeiros who
would treat people with their teas and roots and herbs. But people are more sophisticated
now and know that they have to go to doctors. That’s why someone who invests in a pharmacy
recognizes that he will have a return.
They used to say that we came from the monkeys, but was this ever observed? Now this
story is only in the comic strips. If schools follow the professor, he decides who the
heroes and who the villains are. How can the professor know everything? Won’t he just be
repeating the same stories he was told? Our books have already taught us Lampião was a
villain, and Antônio Conselheiro was a villain, and Zumbi was a villain too. That’s what
they taught me. But Zumbi gave his blood, and it’s very unfair.
This school has become my teacher. It has taught me many things. And because we are
very serious and nourish and spread the idea, the spirit of improvement, we have become
the teacher of all the other schools around here. The first students I had are already
professional. Now I’m trying to get to the next stage. For this I asked for help from
Pomar, Credicard, USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development), and UNICEF (United
Nations Children’s Fund). I asked everyone for help. I went all over asking with my hat in
my hand. And the reason I did that was because I believe it is selfishness if the entire
society doesn’t participate. Am I wrong to ask for money to make this thing happen?
After all, poor people don’t exist. What exits is poverty, and people are lead to it.
We have projects that look out for people who have nothing. And we try to help by saying
no to slavery. I’m not talking about black slavery. I’m talking about how this life that
we live is a form of slavery. We have to find a future. A lot of people want to help, but
they don’t know how. BNDES (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social) has
been contributing money to the school, and I hope that they don’t stop.
They are a group that pays attention to social areas and has been helping other groups,
not only mine, although I was the first. Their help has been of extreme utility for the
people and for communication within a Brazil that hates the situation with the least
favored people. I am a volunteer, but the people who work with me have salaries. We
recently formed a third sector in the school that is made up of professionals who solicit
money and who are working to translate dreams into the reality of social improvement in
the poor areas.
Today education is changing, and the people of Bahia want solutions. A place that
doesn’t try to improve will never improve. This is a school of research and there is
non-stop research going on in Bahia because we are the ones at risk. If it’s going to
work, Bahia will be the example for all Brazil. We’ll know years from now. People say that
Baianos don’t want anything, and it looks like we are very slow because the ocean is
there, and the ocean is always going to be there. It looks like nobody does anything, but
we are moving a thousand miles an hour. We want a comfortable world for those who come
into the world. For us the world is already comfortable, so let’s use our time wisely!
The human spirit is one with the domain of God. And when we talk about God, we say
there is just one spirit. But no, man has several spirits. Human beings, the ones who are
the fruit of miscegenation, have acutely more spirit. You cannot say that they have just
one spirit. We live and function for each other. People from mixed backgrounds are more
intense. What Bahia doesn’t want in its dictionary is the word or the idea of racism and
the behavior that comes with it. Let’s use our leisure hours wisely to work better. This
is what we are trying to do, and it’s healthy. It’s work and it’s entertainment. We need
education to have fun. With this idea of entertainment for education, the formation of the
organization comes together. And this is what will translate as our Carnaval.
BrazzilWhat was your concept for the new CD, Omelete Man?
C.B.I don’t have a concept. I don’t deal with this. I don’t have the
background to have a concept. I just do it. I love looking for organic forms, for new
things where you don’t think new things exist. My concept was to find what I was looking
for, so I asked Marisa (Monte) to produce. That was my concept. I wanted to do something
with her that she hadn’t done before with other people. Calling a woman to produce was the
best thing that could have happened. Everybody should do this, including calling their
wives to produce because their wives are the ones who know them the best. I called Marisa
because we are two people that understand each other musically. We speak the same
BrazzilMany of the tunes sound as if they were inspired by the music of
the Beatles: "Irará," "Soul by Soul," "Cold Heart." Would
you comment on this?
C.B.No, no, no, no, no, no, no
No, no, no, no, no. I am so sorry. This
beetle came flying out of nowhere. My Beatles are Tim Maia and Renato e Seus Blue Caps,
not the Beatles. I am in Brazil, and I think the Beatles are in another time. To me the
music of the Beatles sounds like Nordeste music. If the Beatles influenced me, I didn’t
realize it because what influenced me first was Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro, all
those musicians that are fashionable now in Brazil, but who I’ve known for years. If the
Beatles influenced me, I didn’t hear.
BrazzilDo you think all the English and the string arrangements on Omelete
Man will surprise any of your axé music fans?
C.B.I don’t know. I’m not interested in surprising axé fans. Axé
is a movement that moves parallel to mine. It’s a movement that feeds on my movement.
"Rapunzel" was a landmark in the axé movement. I wrote it, and Daniela
Mercury sang it. The song exploded all over Brazil, in Portugal, in Europe. But I cannot
say that I make only popular music. I’ve written music for soap operas, for films. I write
songs, but I never write the label. Everybody knows that. Rather than having this axé
thing, I would prefer to have a movement of music in Brazil. Music needs to be modernized.
I make music in Brazil, and we can say that it’s Brazilian music, but it is part of the
music of the world. Music is trying to have a more international barometer. When you only
create music for Brazil, you risk never being accepted abroad. When we make Brazilian
music, we make music for Brazilians, but when we make music for the world, everybody can
BrazzilWill you reach a wider audience outside Brazil by singing in
C.B.I don’t write in English. I write in broken English, broken Yoruban. The
languages are broken. No, I think you have to communicate; it doesn’t matter which
language you use. If it is English that people understand more now, I’m gonna try. If I
need to express the way Brazilians think, it’s going to be difficult because my English is
limited. I think in Portuguese, but I use some English words. This new language that
people have found to communicate is not an old language like Latin.
A language is a linguistic code, and English is not an extensive language. But English
is the door to the Tower of Babel. Everybody’s started, so let’s go! What’s the best way
of communicating? Let’s communicate! I don’t have an interest in singing in English
because I don’t know it. I don’t speak English. My generation wasn’t prepared. The English
that I learned, I learned on the streets. I know how to ask for a hamburger and to say
thank you very much to the people who receive us very well.
BrazzilThe tunes "Mãe Que Eu Nasci" and "Hino de Santo
Antônio" make connections with Brazilian music from earlier times. How important is
an understanding of these styles to your overall musical concept?
C.B.First of all, music is not from the past. Music is eternal. Your age and
your level of education don’t matter. If the spirit of the music decides to catch you,
it’s going to talk through timenot just for a moment, not just for now. This is the
real inspiration. The music today is what we call self-consuming or commercial music. But
if the composer wrote it with his soul, he gave it an aura. And then the music doesn’t
want to disappear. If we continue to hear music from the past, it’s a sign that in its
sound there are some answers for the future.
BrazzilDo you have any shows planned to celebrate the 450 years of
C.B.We had a show planned, a very beautiful one in Fonte Nova. I would have
liked to extend it throughout Bahia because I don’t think Salvador belongs to Bahia any
more. Salvador now belongs to the world. But they told me that I couldn’t do a show there,
and I had to cancel. It was almost done. I had received money from sponsors and had
invited artists from all over the world to demonstrate ritual folklore. But I was told
that I couldn’t do it there, so I didn’t have a space for the show because in Salvador we
don’t have many places that can seat a lot of people. But we have a stadium, and they say
that a ball and music go together. So let’s take music to the stadium! We are a culture of
the masses. The problem was the money. We had a question mark there. What do you think of
Padre Marcelo? Padre Marcelo is music or he’s a cult?6
BrazzilI know that Marcelo’s celebrations and songs carry messages that
have driven thousands of people back to the Catholic church.
C.B.Padre Marcelo had a show in Fonte Nova, and (sarcastically) then the
light from God came to him. Maybe it’s my opinion, but the church’s objective is to bring
people back. My concept is that God is free and freedom, and I don’t need a cult to reach
God. I hope that religion is a path that leads you to God, but not one that makes people
richer, not a bank. Religion is to help poor people. It’s time for the rich to give, not
to take. The function of religion is to support poor people.
The churches put all those glittery things inside, and then they call to the poor to
come. And when those poor, miserable people come, they are asked to give to the church.
The church reaches everywhere in the world. Clerics are descendants and dissidents. It’s
time for them to think about giving and not taking. They attack candomblé. But the
priest (Marcelo) gets his inspiration, his music, and his movements from candomblé.
I have no religion. I am God. And God was the one that created even the pagan. We need to
put all religions together.
BrazzilHave you learned anything from Chico Buarque?
C.B.We learn all the time from everybody. Before getting to know him and
being part of the family, I had already learned from his music, especially one of the
first songs I played on guitar. The harmony, I learned from him.
BrazzilWhat can we expect to see and hear in the upcoming tour?
C.B.Love, discipline, fun, a lot of happiness.
BrazzilIs there anything I haven’t asked you that you would like to
tell your fans in the United States?
C.B.The only thing I have to say is for people who are going to the show. Go
without makeup! Free! If you don’t like to dance, and don’t like to be wet with your own
sweat, don’t go! It’s not that I want this. It’s that the music is contagious; it will
seize you. When you realize the floor is wet, you won’t know if you are a person or part
of the celebration. And I want to send a special kiss to all the people in Los Angeles.
Please come and introduce yourself because I’m very shy.
Summer Tour Dates Include:
Roxy Theater, Boston, Massachusetts on June 23, 1999
Beacon Theater, New York, New York on June 24, 1999
Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, California on June 26 and 27, 1999
1. Panorama Percussivo Mundial is an annual world percussion festival that takes place
in Salvador. There has been some discussion about bringing it to New York in the year
2. Actor Roberto Benigni won the Oscar for his portrayal of Guido in the film Life
is Beautiful. Benigni is only the second person in Academy history to win an acting
award for a foreign language film.
3. Maurício de Sousa is the cartoonist who appears to be following in the footsteps of
Monteiro Lobato, an author of children’s literature whose style allowed young people to
easily grasp complex facts about the universe.
4. Amigo da Onça (Friend of the Jaguar) was a two-faced character who claimed to be a
friend, but was not what he appeared to be.
5. Vocational School for Musicians in Candeal. There is no literal translation for the
word "pracatum." It is an onomatopoetic word that imitates a percussion pattern.
6. Father Marcelo Rossi is a former physical education teacher turned Catholic priest
that has become a mass communication phenomenon. In 1997, he held a celebration in Morumbi
soccer stadium, where 70,000 followers listened to his sermon while 30,000 waited outside
for a chance to get in. His debut CD, Músicas Para Louvar ao Senhor (Songs to
Praise the Lord), sold more than 3,000,000 copies and carried the word of God to every
quarter in Brazil, the largest Catholic country on Earth. It is worth mentioning that all
the income generated by this CD is given to charity.
The article "Planetary Minstrel" in the September, 1996 issue of Brazzil
can be found on the Web at the following address: http://www.Brazzil.com/mussep96.htm
Many thanks to Mônica Braga Ferreira for her invaluable technical support.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Title………………..Artist ………………Label ………………….Date
Omelete Man …..Carlinhos Brown …EMI …………………..1998
Mãe de Samba ….Timbalada………… Mercury/PolyGram .1997
Livro ………………..Caetano Veloso…. Mercury/PolyGram 1997
Alfagamabetízado Carlinhos Brown ….EMI …………………1996
Roots …………………Sepultura …………..Roadrunner ………..1996
Andei Road …………Timbalada …………Mercury/PolyGram 1995
Rose and Charcoal. Marisa Monte …….Metro Blue ………..1994
Timbalada ……………Timbalada …………Philips/PolyGram …1993
Tropicália 2 ………….Caetano/Gil ……….Elektra/Nonesuch ..1993
Bahia Black (Ritual
Brasileiro ………………Sérgio Mendes…… Elektra ……………..1992
Estrangeiro…………… Caetano Veloso …..Philips/PolyGram ..1989
Caetano …………………Caetano Veloso …..Philips/PolyGram ..1987
Pra onde eu vou agora livre,
Às vezes acredito em mim mas às
Talvez precise de colchão, talvez
Talvez no vigésimo andar, talvez no
Maybe your heart
Where am I going now free,
Sometimes I believe in myself but
Maybe I need a mattress, maybe
Maybe on the twentieth floor, maybe in
Maybe your heart
Mãe Que Eu Nasci
Mãe que nasci
Ajuda a crescer
Dai-me o saber das ilusões
Mother Who Bore Me
(The Right to be Born
Manoel de Jesus Lopes)
Version: Carlinhos Brown
Mother who bore me
Help me to grow
Give me the knowledge of illusions
Hino de Santo Antônio
Rogai por nós
Hymn of Saint Antônio
(Santo Antônio is akin to
Pray for us
Tem peixe aí, não
Olha o cachorro louco
Tem peixe aí, tem
Is there fish there, no
Look at the mad dog
Is there fish there, yeah