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The Brazilian Songs You Must Have on Your Ipod and Desert Island

Brazilian singer Gal Costa

Brazilian singer Gal Costa Years ago I used to listen to a BBC radio programme called "Desert Island Discs" presented by a plummy-voiced Englishman, aptly called Roy Plomley, in which he asked guests to play eight records they would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island.

The program was phenomenally successful and ran for more than 40 years although the success was not due to Plomley who showed absolutely no interest in his guests and asked the exact same questions every week.

Like every listener I made my own mental list although I used to break the rules and imagine my eight favourite pop songs, Scottish songs, classical pieces etc.

The killer question was the final one – if you could only take one piece of music which would it be? Imagine having to face that choice? Apparently, the most popular piece over the decades was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis".

This does not surprise me since it is simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed. At the same time, as most of the guests were English, its unmistakably English sound would have taken them away from their palm-fringed tropical island to the peaceful countryside of England’s green and pleasant land.

Nowadays I can literally go to my own "desert" island – Ilhabella in São Paulo state or the scattering of islets in the Angra region of Rio, for example – and listen to my own favourite music on my Ipod. Thank God, dreary Roy Plomley isn’t around to restrict me in terms of number of pieces or type of music.

I’ve decided to draw up my own list of 10 pieces of Brazilian music which I recommend and hope will be as enjoyable to you as they have been and continue to be to me. The list is purely subjective and not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive.

As far as I can see it’s the norm to download music for nothing in Brazil but if you have to pay a couple of dollars or pounds or euros I guarantee you’ll get your money’s worth.

If not, I will buy you a chopp in a bar or on a beach if you can persuade me that the song was not worth the effort of downloading or buying. You can probably download some videos from Youtube.

Here we go:

1. "Aquarela" by Toquinho. A charming, bittersweet number set to lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. It condenses Brazil like a pea in a pod.

2. "Perdão Você" by Marisa Monte. The clarity of Marisa’s voice is such that the subject matter and the backing music (which is often unworthy of her) don’t matter. She uses her voice and range effortlessly on this song.

3. "Lua de Mel" by Gal Costa. Gal’s voice is a gift from heaven. This may not be her best song but for personal reasons it’s my favourite.

4. "Sol de Liberdade" by Daniela Mercury. I saw her live about 15 years ago and thought she was terrible – just another "here today gone tomorrow" pop singer but she has produced two CDs over the last six or seven years – "Sol da Liberdade" and "Feijão com Arroz" – which make you feel as if you are in the middle of a Carnaval parade. If you play this when the neighbors are around they’ll either complain about the noise or ask to join the party.

5. "Colombina" by Ed Motta. I don’t know how to describe this – pop, soul or jazz – but it’s a fantastic performance by someone who deserves to be better known abroad.

6. "Madalena" by Gilberto Gil. There’s nothing politically correct about this glimpse of poverty in the Northeast as Madelena sits somewhere in the sertão eating dry flour meal. The answer to her misery? Go to the church, light a candle and pray to the saint whose name she bears.

7. "Oração de Mãe Menininha" by D. Ivone Lara. I defy anyone to listen to this classic by Dorival Caymmi and not hear the sound of Africa in the voices of the baianos and the accompanying drums.

8. "Todas as Nossas Senhoras" by Roberto Carlos. I accept that many people are turned off by the "king’s" religious side but I find this a rather touching ballad which highlights the fact that Brazil is still the biggest Catholic country in the world and the cult of the Virgin Mary which is strong here. I was taught at a Catholic school in Glasgow run by brothers from the Marist Order which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary so perhaps that’s why it strikes a chord in me.

9. "Eu So Peço a Deus" by Beth Carvalho and Mercedes Sosa. Another song with a religious and political aspect sung by Beth Carvalho and the Argentinean singer, Mercedes Sosa, at a concert in Rio de Janeiro. How I wish I had been there the night this was sung.

10. "Aquarela do Brasil" by João Gilberto. Last but not least because its sums up the way Brazil used to be seen before the country became synonymous with the destruction of the Amazon, the plight of street children, violence, crime and corruption.

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicações. You can read more by him at his site www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br.

© John Fitzpatrick 2007

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