Fasten Your Seat Belts

Fasten Your 
Seat Belts

Brazil is the 6th largest film market in the world.
Still, to be a filmmaker in Brazil today is a heroic adventure. By 1990 the share of
domestic movies in the country’s box-office total had fallen to zero with no more than
five films being produced each year. This after a golden period in the ’70s and ’80s, when
Brazilian films were selling up to 50% of all tickets and filmmakers were cranking up 100
new films a year. Finally the national film industry seems to be going through a revival.
The share has grown to 5% and several international prizes are giving new momentum to an
industry that in almost 100 years has more than 2,000 films to show for.
By Brazzil Magazine

If you can’t travel to Brazil and encounter the music firsthand, The Brazilian Sound
by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha can take you on an encyclopedic journey through
samba, bossa nova, MPB (Popular Brazilian Music), jazz, choro, rock, and the new
musical territory on Brazil’s Northeastern and Bahian horizons. This book is a
step-by-step Brazilian music travel guide that fills the information void without
embroiling the reader in highbrowed academic analysis. You can read it all the way
through like a novel or just consult it like a map and find what you want in a hurry.

Originally published by Billboard Books in 1991, The Brazilian Sound sold out
soon after release and quickly established itself as the definitive source of reference on
Brazilian music. Musicians were the first to purchase the book, and they did so
full tilt. You may have never read it, but you’ve seen excerpts paraphrasedif
not plagiarizedin press releases and CD liner notes by reviewers and record
companies. Although the book was easily found in university research libraries, its
unavailability in the marketplace made this "borrowing" easy.

The public’s increasing interest in "world music" and a whirlwind of activity
in Brazilian music has brought with it rumors of an updated second edition. And
many questions have circulated about when the new book would be released and where it
could be purchased. The idea of reviewing this important new work was tempting, but
I’ve asked the authors to speak for themselves and to lead us behind-the-scenes of The
Brazilian Sound.

BrazzilWorking with publishing deadlines while new releases continue to be
issued negates the possibility of ever having a completely updated book on pop music. If
you had more time to work on the second edition, what would you have done? To which
artists or groups would you have allocated more space?

Chris – A book like ours can never be completely up-to-date because you have to
finish everything roughly six months to a year before it’s published. Groups break
up and then get back together. Composers break their partnership with lyricists.
There are always changes that are too late to include. Karnak is one group that we
definitely would have allocated more space to. We were only able to squeeze in a
brief mention of them at the last moment.

Ricardo – I’d say I’m pretty satisfied with the content of the book. Maybe
if we had more space we could have included more on Brazilian instrumental music and on
samba pioneers.

Brazzil The second edition has a much larger chapter on Bahia. Is this
indicative of a trend in Brazilian pop music?

Ricardo – Absolutely. In the last 10 years, artists from Bahia have acquired
a great importance in the Brazilian pop scene. Daniela Mercury, É o Tchan, Companhia do
Pagode, Chiclete com Banana, Banda Eva, Netinho, Olodum, Ara Ketu and others are now
national names.

Brazzil What did you try to do with the new edition?

Chris – We wanted to improve and expand it. We added more historical information in
the sections on samba, choro, and Bahia. There’s updated information on the 1990’s
and profiles of emerging artists like Marisa Monte, Skank, Daniela Mercury, Chico César,
and Carlinhos Brown. The glossary and discography both doubled in size, and the
index is a lot better.

BrazzilWhat do you see as the special strengths of the book?

Ricardo – It reads pretty smoothly, and it’s comprehensive without being boring.

Brazzil How did you like Temple University’s edits?

Ricardo – I got the books last night. I haven’t had the time to go through
the text yet, but both editions are just beautiful. The cover of the paperback
edition is great.

BrazzilWhat need or position do you see The Brazilian Sound fill in
the literary, music, or scholastic world?

Chris – I look at it as an introductory course for gringos, MPB 101, explaining all
the basic genres and introducing the major figures in Brazilian popular music in this
century. I think if someone understands how harmonically rich bossa nova is, or
what Milton Nascimento’s music is all about, or what Uakti is trying to do, for example,
then it can really enhance their appreciation of the music.

Ricardo -The book gives the reader a comprehensive view of the richness of
Brazilian popular music and places it within the cultural context in which it is created.

Brazzil What prompted you to write a book on Brazilian pop music in the
first place?

Ricardo – I think the idea came through conversations between Chris and me, but he
was the one who took it seriously and made it into a project.

Chris – I had been thinking about it for a long time. Ten years ago there
just weren’t any good books available in English on Brazilian music. There were a
few academic works, but even those were very specialized. Then one night Ricardo
and I were having some beers and decided the timing was right. Billboard Books accepted
the proposal, and we started our research in 1989, with the book coming out in 1991. It
was a tremendous challenge as it was such a vast subject. How would you write about
all the music of the U.S.A. in one book? Brazil is just as rich musically as North

BrazzilHow much research did the first edition involve?

Ricardo – A lot. Interviews, visits to libraries, researching my own
collection of old newspapers and magazines… I’d say it took us more than a
year to collect the material we needed.

Chris – We read a lot of articles, hundreds of press releases, plus the classic
books on Brazilian music in Portuguese by Zuza Homem de Mello, José Tinhorão, and other
major musicologists. Most of it is in our bibliography.

BrazzilHow was the work divided between you two when you wrote the
original book?

Chris – We each had our own chapters to write, and then we added stuff to each
other’s chapters. We did some interviews together Jobim and Milton
but most, separately. It was a good combination as we have different tastes and
perspectives on the music.

Ricardo – And we express-mailed diskettes back and forth a couple of times so
that one could read, comment, and change the other’s work. The final editing before
sending the originals to Billboard was 100% Chris’s.

BrazzilHow do you feel when you find someone has plagiarized your work?

Ricardo – I really don’t know. On one hand, that shows an implicit
recognition of the value of what we’ve done. On the other, I can’t help feeling
intellectually robbed.

BrazzilWhat was the scariest experience you had while working on the book
in Brazil?

Ricardo – I think it was one night when I did something wrong on the computer and I
thought I had lost a whole chapter. I panicked! But I called Chris and he fixed it.

Chris – The prospect of interviewing Xuxa.

BrazzilWhat happened?

Chris – Actually it was for Billboard magazine, not for the book. I
was compelled to interview her because Billboard is mainly concerned with record
sales, and in the late 1980’s Xuxa was the number-one selling recording artist in Brazil,
bigger than Roberto Carlos. So it was an odious obligation as part of covering the
music business. I couldn’t stand her voice or her musicneither could
any adult Brazilian that I knew. But I took a bus way out to the end of Barra da
Tijuca to her mansion. I was kept waiting for an hour in her cavernous living room
and then got fed up and left. Her manager called me up that night to suggest a
dinner with her and Xuxa. But I already had plans with friends, so I declined the dinner
invitation and instead did a quick phone interview with Xuxa, which was not terribly

BrazzilWhich were your favorite interviews?

Ricardo – Tom Jobim and Lobão. With Jobim, Chris and I spent a fantastic
day in his beautiful house at the foot of the Corcovado mountain talking about everything:
music, nature, women, politics… He was a very charismatic, warm guy. But
he was hard to interview, meaning that his answers weren’t always related to the
questions. It was more like a very pleasant conversation than a formal interview.
Lobão impressed me with the liveliness of his ideas and sheer intelligence, a very
funny and witty guy. Lulu Santos and Herbert Vianna impressed me with their
seriousness and intellectual articulation. The interviews with Milton, Lobão, Jobim, Lulu
Santos, and Herbert Vianna really deserve to be published in full.

Chris– I also had a great time talking to Gilberto Gil at the Hollywood
Roosevelt. He was in L.A. to do a show. Unfortunately, his wife wanted to go
shopping on Rodeo Drive and that ended the interview a little earlier than I wanted.

BrazzilAny tough interviews?

Chris – Gal Costa was kind of cold and distant, although she did show me her closet
full of expensive imported scotch whiskey. João Bosco and Djavan were sort of
cryptic and evasive. I wanted to get them to open up about their music, what genres
and influences they were putting together. But maybe they didn’t want to divulge their
secrets; I don’t know. Bezerra da Silva was difficult because I couldn’t understand
the slang from the favela and neither could the middle-class Brazilian record
company people who were there.

Ricardo – Interviewing musicians can be weird. Some of them can hardly
speak. Questions are answered with a yes, a no, or a mumble.

BrazzilTell me more about the interview with Jobim.

Chris – I was very nervous about meeting Antonio Carlos Jobim for the first time.
It was essential to talk to him, but at the time he had no record contract in Brazil
and no publicist. But people told me to go to the Plataforma (a steak house in
Leblon) in the afternoon and that I’d find him there. So I went there and asked the
maitre d’ if he knew where I could find Tom Jobim. He pointed to a nearby table,
where Jobim was sitting with about five people. I was nervous, but I went
over and introduced myself and told him about my project. He asked me to go sit at
a nearby table and he’d come over in a minute. And he did just that. He put
me at ease right away and we ended up talking for about five hours about many things. Jobim
was eating steak and drinking tiny little glasses of beer. No whiskey because of
his doctor’s orders. But he did indulge in Cuban cigars.

BrazzilWas he having health problems?

Chris – Yes, but I don’t think he really cared too much. He was a dedicated
Bohemian. I found him to be very gracious and down to earth and casual, with his
shirt hanging out. Jobim told a lot of great stories. One was about the
summer he went to Santa Monica Beach with Nelson Riddle and Dorival Caymmi. It was so cold
there for Brazilians that Jobim wouldn’t go in the water and Caymmi wouldn’t even get out
of the car.

He discussed how heartbroken he was with the English lyrics that had been attached to
his famous bossa nova songs. They weren’t at the poetic level of the lyrics written
by Vinícius. Jobim wanted to work with Johnny Mercer, but one of them was with BMI
and the other with ASCAP. In those days you couldn’t mix song-rights of the two
organizations, so he got saddled with some lyricists here who weren’t so great. We
were talking about all this, but this wasn’t even the interview. This was having
some beer and conversation, "bater papo." We scheduled an official
interview for later, and Ricardo and I went up to his house in Rio’s Jardim Botânico
neighborhood. We spent another several hours there with two tape recorders running.
It was fantastic. Our biggest sections in the book were on Jobim and on Milton

BrazzilWhat was Milton like?

Ricardo – Talking to Milton was a surprise. He’s famous here for being shy
and not very talkative. But with us he was very relaxed, and we had a nice, long
conversation about his music and life.

Chris – We met him at an apartment he was using in Rio. He greeted us
wearing his familiar cap and a River Phoenix T-shirt. He was a big fan of the
actor. We talked for hours. His speaking voice was like his singing voice,
remarkable to listen to with incredible tone and resonance.

BrazzilYou describe the effect of Milton Nascimento’s music on the Pat
Metheny Group.

Chris – Yes, Lyle Mays talked at length to me about how blown away he and Metheny
were by Milton’s Clube da Esquina albums. It profoundly affected their
music. Later they worked closely with Naná Vasconcelos and Armando Marçal. We
have quotes from George Duke, Paul Winter, Charlie Byrd, Don Grusin, and Herbie Mann as
well talking about how different Brazilian musicians affected their work.

BrazzilIs that why there is so much coverage of the interplay between
American jazz musicians and Brazilian artists?

Ricardo – I’d say this is important to make the point that Brazilian music has made
an impact on respected musicians. So many elements of Brazilian music have been
absorbed into the vocabulary and language of jazz that it’s necessary to call the public’s
attention to the fact that particular sounds, harmonies, and themes are originally

Chris – I don’t think people here are aware of it, but almost every big pop or
jazz artist in the U.S. has recorded a bossa song. Brazil turns out great
percussionists the way it does soccer players. And largely because of bossa, an
invasion of percussionists began to storm America, with Airto Moreira ultimately being the
most famous. They have appeared now on hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings.
Airto and Flora were on most of the seminal jazz-fusion recordings from Miles to
Weather Report to Return to Forever. The great melodies of artists like Tom Jobim,
Ary Barroso, Milton Nascimento, and Ivan Lins are among the most-recorded in jazz today.
And in the 1990’s, many international jazz musicians have been discovering choro
in a big way, recording covers of tunes by Pixinguinha, Jacó do Bandolim and others. We
didn’t think anyone had ever really documented all this in one place, bringing it all

BrazzilHow do you feel the book was received when it first came out?

Ricardo – I can only speak about the reaction of Brazilians, and that was very
positive. The general opinion was that is was the only one of its kind and that it
deserved a Portuguese translation with the necessary adaptation for Brazilian readers, of

BrazzilDid Billboard Books do much to promote the first edition?

Chris – We got great reviews, but the marketing people at Billboard Books didn’t
know what to do with it, since they were used to books about the top pop hits of the
1950’s and so on. They didn’t push it, and so it didn’t get into any of the big
chains. Five years later, people were still discovering it in the U.S..
Fortunately, we also had a U.K. edition and an Austrian version. The U.K. edition
sold more than the American book. This time around, with the second edition, the
situation is completely different because of the Internet. You can get the word
out. Someone in Finland or Argentina or Ireland can buy the book from
You don’t even need a bookstore.

Brazzil Where did you two meet?

Ricardo – We were introduced by a common friend that at that time worked for CBS,
now Sony. Chris was in Rio to work on a special supplement on Brazilian music for Billboard
and she suggested that Chris talk to me to exchange ideas on whom to write about.

Brazzil Ricardo, can you tell us a little about the neighborhood you grew
up in?

Ricardo – Up to nine I lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood called Sampaio.
Then I moved to the Tijuca area, where I still live. I’d say Tijuca is bigger and
richer both economically and culturally. Here there are movie theaters, malls, good
schools, and famous morros. My old apartment, where we had caipirinhas
and made tapes, is close to Salgueiro hill where the (samba) school has its headquarters,
but the place where they rehearse is about a mile away. Mangueira, Vila Isabel,
Estácio, and their respective samba schools are also close. Vila Isabel is famous
for its musical tradition. Maracanã Stadium is around too, and as you know, soccer is
culturally very important here.(1)

BrazzilWhat music did you hear in your parents’ home when you were growing

Ricardo – All kinds. My parents used to buy lots of records. They
still do. Traditional samba, folklore, MPB, Dixieland jazz, swing jazz, classical,
R&B, bossa nova, rock’n’roll…

BrazzilChris, you wrote the liner notes for the Sérgio Mendes CD Brasileiro
and for the Milton anthology on the Rhino label. What other writing projects do you have

Chris – I publish an Internet newsletter on laserdisc and DVD called Laser Scans.
And I’m finishing a novel that is a multicultural, satirical sci-fi work, set in
post-America. There’s a lot of Brazilian culture in it.

BrazzilYou have introduced so many people to the music and musicians of
Brazil. How were you introduced to it?

Chris – It happened in several stages. First, I had a Brazilian friend in high
school. I would hear samba and bossa nova at his house, but it didn’t really sink in, not
consciously anyway. Then during college, I listened to a lot of jazz-fusion and
there discovered Flora Purim and Airto Moreira. But I think the most important
event was when I was visiting my brother and heard Milton Nascimento for the first time on
Wayne Shorter’s Native Dancer album. That recording is still one of the
seminal Brazilian-American collaborations. It re-wired my brain musically. After
college I lived in Fortaleza for six months. My friends there introduced me to
João do Vale, Fagner, Egberto Gismonti, Hermeto Pascoal, Elis Regina, Gal Costa and many

I heard repentistas in the town square and some early forms of lambada
blasting out of little record stores. I spent Carnaval partly in Fortaleza where
there were maracatus and caboclinhos, and partly in a beach town called
Aracati where we all went to a club and danced marchas and sambas until dawn. Then
I met Ricardo. He wasn’t a journalist, but he was a veritable compendium of knowledge
about Brazilian music and also about American jazz and rock. He ended up being a
musical consultant on the first articles I did as well as the 32-page "Viva
Brazil" supplement I organized and wrote for Billboard in 1987, which was the
first special section on Brazilian music ever to run in that magazine. I believe it
was the first time anything like that had ever been published in the U.S..

BrazzilHow did your work on Brazilian music fit into Billboard?

Chris – Not very well! I had to fight to get every review in, even of people
like Milton Nascimento and Ivan Lins. The editors there in the 1980’s generally
knew nothing about music outside of the English-speaking world. "Viva
Brazil" was a huge struggle. I lobbied hard for it, and it really only
succeeded because of the superhuman efforts of Marv Fisher, a very persistent ad salesman
who now works for Latin music publications.

BrazzilRicardo, is there always pressure on you to have interesting
conversations about Brazilian music with new acquaintances?

Ricardo – I’m not famous on the music scene. I don’t make my living by
writing. I’m a marketing manager during office hours. In the evening I jump
into the nearest phone booth (joking) and change clothes to write my things for PolyGram
and Musicrama.

BrazzilWhich American music reviewers do you read? 

Chris – Bruce Gilman and academic writers like Charles Perrone.

Ricardo – I haven’t had the time to read any lately.

BrazzilAnd Brazilian reviewers?

Chris – Too many to go into. But you can find music reviews from Jornal
do Brasil, Folha de São Paulo, and O Globo on the Web.

Ricardo – One guy that I like is Tárik de Souza.

BrazzilChris, how did you start writing about Brazilian music?

Chris – Back in the States, I was writing about music and film for different
magazines, including Billboard. I loved living in Brazil and wanted to go
back as soon as possible. Luckily, I was able to arrange to write some articles for
Billboard for a special issue they were doing on Latin music in general. So
back I went to Rio for six months in 1984, with the assignments plus borrowed money paying
for my stay. That was about four currency plans ago; it was a lot cheaper for
foreigners then. That’s where I really learned about Brazilian music. Over
the next several years I saw many live performances in Brazil. I saw the Paralamas
playing the Mamute club in Tijuca when they first started out. I went to dozens of
shows by famous MPB stars, pagode samba artists, instrumental music, rock, big
names, obscure groups. Rio de Janeiro is such a wonderful place to hear music. You
can visit a samba school rehearsal or go to so many great, small clubs for live music.

BrazzilWhat’s your take on all the "samba schools" that are
springing up in different cities around the world?

Chris – That’s a very interesting phenomenon and there are many of them in the U.S.
and Europe. The U.K. has about a hundred, although many of these groups are pretty
small. They’re about one percent of the size of Mangueira. It’s impressive when you
go see a Carnaval parade in San Francisco, for example. But it’s still a tiny, tiny
minority of musically adventurous people.

Ricardo – I think that’s great. It proves the excellence of a
musical/cultural manifestation, born in a country still in the process of development,
that became strong enough to cross international borders despite the lack of economic
power of those who create it and keep it alive.

BrazzilYou have watched the pop music scene in Brazil for some time. Where
is it going?

Ricardo – Diversity. That’s where I think it’s going. Brazilian pop
music used to come in waves during which all you could hear was that particular kind of
music. For instance, after the Brazilian rock wave, came the lambada wave,
then the sertanejo, then axé music, then pagode samba. Now
there’s room for everybody. What I also sense is a tendency for new artists to go back to
the Tropicália principles, I mean to mix rootsy Brazilian music elements with pop. Some
of these artists are Chico César and Zeca Baleiro.

Chris – I think the work being done by Marisa Monte, Karnak, and Chico César is
extraordinary. They are basically carrying on the eclectic tradition of the MPB
generation of the 1960’s and 1970’s and expanding it.

BrazzilBrazil’s recording industry is one of the largest in the world. Why
do its recordings occupy such a small place in the marketplace?

Ricardo – If you mean the Brazilian marketplace, I don’t have access to figures
right now, but I’ve read somewhere that 80% of the music sold here is made here.
Brazilians buy much more Brazilian music than music from anywhere else. If you mean the
global marketplace, I think the Portuguese language is the main barrier for world
popularization of MPB.

Chris – Brazilian music does better in countries like Japan, Germany and France.
In the United States, we’re still extremely closed minded in terms of music. And
I’m speaking of the vast majority of Americans who are not from other countries and who do
not speak Spanish. If it’s not in English, forget it. And if it’s not a
style that originated in the U.S. or the U.K., forget it. The one small exception
is reggae, which started in English-speaking Jamaica and was given an extra push by U.K.
pop. Unfortunately, the U.S. population in general is still extremely ignorant
about the rest of the world and not terribly interested in other cultures.

It’s been that way for a long time and it’s still that way. Those who appreciate
Brazilian and "world music" are a small niche of intelligent, curious people.
Only a handful of Brazilians have sold a lot of records here—mainly Sérgio Mendes
back in the 1960’s, Flora Purim in the 1970’s during the jazz-fusion era, and Sepultura
now. Although the Brazilian press is always reporting how Caetano Veloso or whoever
is a big star here, nothing could be further from truth. Big MPB names can sell out shows
in New York, Boston, or San Francisco, but the audience is mainly Brazilian. However, we
must not forget that what is important is the music itself. Its value does not come
from how many records are sold, despite what Billboard and the L.A. Times
want to emphasize.

Brazzil Are there any Brazilians who you think have a chance of being
commercially popular in the U.S.?

Ricardo – If you mean massive success, something like Madonna or Michael Jackson,
I’d say no. I think that for an artist to become popular in the United States, he
or she has to sing in English and play music Americans are used to. A good example
is the heavy-metal group Sepultura. They’re the best selling Brazilian artists in
the U.S. today. Of course, they play rock and sing in English. Tom Jobim’s
"Garota de Ipanema" is another example. It was a big hit in the 60’s,
sung in English by Astrud Gilberto. Other artists may acquire prestige among music
experts or become cult figures, but will never be really famous. 

Chris – Sepultura fits solidly into the heavy-metal format, although it’s hard
to understand what they’re saying in their apocalyptic frenzy. But I also think
Marisa Monte, the Paralamas, and Karnak could have more success here, if they did more
concerts in North America. As far as I know, they can sing in English or
Portuguese, and they really have an international sound. I don’t know if they
really care, though, about being big over here.

BrazzilIf you could pick ten recordings of MPB to take to a desert island,
which ones would they be?

Ricardo – This is hard. I’m going to mention some that come to my mind right
now. They’re not in order of preference: Chico e Caetano – Juntos ao Vivo,
Gilberto Gil – Refavela, João Gilberto – Chega de Saudade, Egberto
Gismonti – Dança das Cabeças, Titãs – Cabeça Dinossauro, Marisa Monte – Marisa
Monte (the first one), Martinho da Vila – Memórias de um Sargento de Milícias,
Milton Nascimento – Milagre dos Peixes ao Vivo, Novos Baianos – Acabou Chorare,
Jorge Ben e Gilberto Gil – Ogum Xangô, Gal Costa – Fatal, Elis Regina – Falso
Brilhante, Fernanda Abreu – Da Lata .

Chris – My ten favorites are always changing. But right now I’d take João
Bosco’s Gagabirô, Tom Jobim’s Urubu, Marisa Monte’s A Great Noise,
Alceu Valença’s Cavalo de Pau, Paralamas’s Bora Bora, Chico César’s Aos
Vivos, Carlinhos Brown’s Alfagamabetizado, Gilberto Gil’s Acoustic,
Milton Nascimento’s Clube da Esquina 2, and Karnak’s debut album.

BrazzilAny advice for first time writers?

Ricardo – I don’t think I’m qualified for that, but I’d say be objective. Less is
more. When in doubt, take it out.


The Brazilian Sound is available
from the following online sites:

The Brazilian Sound is also available from Tattered Cover Book Store. Telephone: (800)

In Los Angeles, The Brazilian Sound is now on sale at Culture Planet in the
Westside Pavilion. Telephone: (310) 441-9808

1. After college, the first of three grants I received to
research the music of "developing countries" took me to Brazil. Through
Chris’s introduction, Ricardo became my best contact. I will never forget mixing caipirinhas
in Ricardo’s apartment and listening to Ilê Aiyê and Lobão for the first time. Nor
will I forget watching the fireworks over the hills of Mangueira from inside Maracanã
stadium during the Botafogo/Flamengo soccer championship and the insanity of Flamengo’s
celebration afterward—Ricardo explaining that in Brazil you can change your lover,
your religion, your name, even your sex, but never your soccer team.

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: 

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