It is the 23rd century in America. For the first time in
history, Blacks are going to elect one of their own to the presidency of the United
States. The new President decides to divide the country in two: the South for the Blacks
and the North for the Whites. The White majority, however, is not ready to give up its
power and concocts a diabolical plan. This futuristic scenario, which includes plans of
mass expatriation of American Blacks to the Amazon, was written in 1926 by Brazilian
author Monteiro Lobato.

The forests of the Amazon region have been called `the lungs of the world,’ and
with its thousands of tributaries the amazing Amazon River basin covers an area of 2.2
million square miles. That’s a lot of baseball fields. This reviewer likes exaggeration as
much as the next guy, but when the invitation for a press screening of Kieth Merrill’s Amazon
tells us that "the mighty Amazon stretches 48,000 miles" one can’t help but
whistle, considering that the circumference of our planet is merely half that distance. A
misplaced comma can do wonders, unless the Amazon really does begin somewhere between here
and the Moon.

Filmed in the IMAX system, Amazon is a 40-minute docudrama whose narrative is
jerry-rigged around two medicine men, one from Western Civilization and the other from
Bolivia, who embark from different directions on the same quest, which is to discover the
medicinal properties of native plants. Mamani is a Bolivian Callawaya Shaman (so what’s he
doing in Machu Picchu?) who descends from the headwaters of the Amazon while Dr. Mark
Plotkin, a U.S. ethnobotanist who looks like Indiana Jones as played by Tom Waits, has
apparently been delving into the interior from someplace downstream. In this country,
Plotkin is perhaps best known for his book, Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice.

Amazon has impressive aerial views, and its animal photography is first-rate, but
our brief glimpse of the Zoe (pronounced Zo-ee) tribe, accompanied by the explorer Sydney
Possuelo, is surely one of the highlights. This is an aboriginal tribe of about 160 people
which only became known to the outside world in the late 1960s, and whose distinctive
feature—among the adults—is a six or eight inch wooden tube that they wear
through their lower jaw. FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian agency, zealously protects them—or at
least tries to in the face of sometimes-unscrupulous miners, ranchers, and loggers. It
might be noted that in Brazil alone some 90 indigenous tribes have gone extinct since the
turn of the century, and there’s a saying that when a shaman, or medicine man, dies it’s
like a whole library burning down.

Wanting us to draw our own conclusions, the filmmakers have refrained from taking a
pedantic stance. The rain forests of the world are disappearing at an alarming rate, and
the problem—as the novelist John Fowles has repeatedly pointed out—boils down to
overpopulation. How else can we account for mass migration in times of drought and flood?
Ironically, Merrill’s one-page biography mentions that he and his wife have eight
children. What if each of these offspring spawns eight more? There used to be an idea
called ZPG—Zero Population Growth—but no one’s talking much about it these days.

Although Amazon is well photographed and carefully edited, it lacks the grandeur
that seems natural to the subject, something vital that might elevate it above the level
of a TV special. The film’s rather overblown musical score by Alan Williams doesn’t help.
This isn’t to knock the relevancy of such a cinematic endeavor, only to suggest that the
end result is smaller than the screen on which it’s being projected. BW


Originally from Recife, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, musical
director Miguel Kertsman has assembled in Amazônica (Sony Records) an enlightening
collection comprised of traditional pieces, some historical reconstructions, and rounded
it out with a few inspired originals of his own. Kertsman’s intent is to show how
colonial-era northeast Brazil absorbed a bevy of influences—from the Christianity of
the Iberian peninsula to the African cultures of the Yoruba, Bantu, and Gegue—and
handed back to itself a truly unique blend of worldly and otherworldly sounds.

One shouldn’t be misled by the title into thinking that Kertsman has taken us up the
Amazon River with stops in Manaus or Iquitos. No, this isn’t riverport music, and in fact
Pernambuco certainly seems to be the epicenter on this disc, with one of the highlights
being the modinha (`little song’) called "Pernambuco" sung
opera-in-the-jungle style by Julie Cassia. Kertsman, with help from the ensembles
Angaatanamu and Camerata Cantione Antigua, succeeds in his endeavor to show us what the
early stages of the musical melting pot might have been like. His composition, "Aboio
Grande," which concludes Amazônica, is his attempt to synthesize the
tributaries into a gushing stream. An underlying dance of Afro-Brazilian percussion helps
him pull it off. BW

of Love

The modinha, a genre fundamental to Brazilian music, crosses the boundaries between
popular and erudite forms. These urban love songs talk of sighs, of flattering words, and
of refined affairs. In early times, the form was indignantly criticized for its poetry,
which was considered harmful to young ladies who might be deluded by these poisonous
potions of passion.

Much of the previously recorded repertoire suffered from an operatic treatment which
was alien to the form’s spirit and which took away much of the natural grace and
spontaneity of the genre. But with the release of Modinhas Brasileiras: Songs from 19th
Century Brazil on Nimbus Records, this sensuous tradition of Brazilian poetry and song
has been recreated with elegance and feeling.

Andréa Daltro, a singer from Salvador, Bahia, has unequivocally captured the
atmosphere of Brazilian nineteenth century song by avoiding the alien European classical
treatment that these songs have been subject to in the past and has instead brought out
their particular Brazilian charm and allure. Daltro’s voice has an ethereal quality, and
the ensemble arrangements are matchless, but what sticks in your mind long after the CD
stops playing is the poetry.

These love verses have inspired an enchanting set of songs that transcend the ordinary.
They are sensual and real, the outcome of experience. As is customary with all Nimbus CDs,
the packaging includes copious liner notes. You’ll want to add this one to your CD
library. BG

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