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I Had To Leave Brazil in Order To Appreciate Its Music Again

When I relocated to New York from Brazil, I must confess that I wasn’t that interested in the music from that country. Sure, I had a handful of records by Caetano Veloso, Rita Lee and Chico Buarque, but at the time – in October 2000 – my record collection contained more soul, blues, jazz and English rock.

It wasn’t that I didn’t admire the music. Just a few years earlier, I had been in the process of rediscovering bossa nova, a genre that was enjoying a revival in Brazil at the time since the publication of Ruy Castro’s Bossa Nova: The History of the Brazilian Music That Seduced The World.

That and the dedicated efforts of younger musicians like Leila Pinheiro, Rosa Passos  and Caetano Veloso, who kept the genre alive in its native land by constantly  recording and performing songs by Jobim & Co. in their albums and live shows.

At this point I must confess that my own renewed interest in the genre came via my girlfriend at the time (who went on to become my ex-wife), who was so obsessed with the music that she even wrote a dissertation about it for college. 

Anyway, at the time I left Brazil, you couldn’t find much quality music in the radio, especially in Fortaleza, where mass-produced forró, pagode and axé music dominated the airwaves to the point of absurdity.

Some bands even recorded their own version of international hits adapted for their own needs. Last time I was there, I heard their take on a religious song my church band plays during communion – go figure. I had no idea what kind of Brazilian music was being made in other markets.

Sure, I often got to hear some great artists and bands like Djavan, Pato Fu, Paralamas do Sucesso, Skank and Barão Vermelho (all of whom are still active today), but they were an exception to the general rule. I personally couldn’t stand what I heard on the radio there.

When I came back to the US and started writing about music, suddenly I started being exposed to artists I had barely heard about before – cats like Bebel Gilberto, Duduka da Fonseca, CéU, Monica Silva, Trio da Paz, Badi Assad, Anna Caram, The Ipanemas, Ricardo Silveira and countless others.

In the meantime, several other acts I didn’t care for before matured and refined their act so much – Daniela Mercury is one that comes to mind – that I now have their albums in my collection.

What I couldn’t believe was that these artists have a dedicated non-Brazilian fan base outside their own countries, even though some of them are pretty much unknown back home.

Bebel Gilberto was selling out venues in New York and London before she was even taken seriously in Brazil. Heck, I have attended at least ten of her shows over the years, but only recently have I begun hearing Portuguese spoken around me.

In the end, I had to leave Brazil in order to have a renewed appreciation and respect to its music. Today Brazilian CDs dominate my CD rack (yes, I still have those – no way I’m going to trust to have all that stuff as digital files).

I now play in a bossa band and have become more knowledgeable about Brazilian music than I was when I was actually living there. Heck, I even go to the occasional axé show when they come around town.

Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at ebarteldes@yahoo.com.

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