photo manipulation by nacrowe
zthe harmonic complexity and intoxicating rhythms of BOSSA NOVA are on full display in THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA: BRAZIL, BOSSA NOVA AND THE BEACH (BBC, 2016), q recent documentary recounting the birth, development and dissemination of this unique BRASILIAN phenomena in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
after centuries of colonialism and authoritarian rule, BRASIL in the 1950s found itself with a new leader PRESIDENT JUSCELINO KUBITSCHEK, who promised and delivered on economic expansion and modernization of both industry and infrastructure. BOSSA NOVA became very much domestically the soundtrack to an era of optimism and promise. i can't imagine the pride of being alive during that era, withe PELE and the national team playing like dancers and ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM and JOAO GILBERTO performing at the peak of their powers. it makes me sigh. then again i am completely biased, i was lucky enough to visit RIO DE JANIERO (article linked HERE) back in october 2014. its funny, i even spoke with the same owner of the BOSSA NOVA record store interviewed in this documentary about the cultural dialogue between AFRICA with BRASIL. how SAMBA relates to WEST AFRICAN musical traditions. good to see he is sharing his passion to a wider audience!
part of this film is about recounting the development of the genre and giving due to its originators, middle class SAMBA and WEST COAST JAZZ aficionados like CARLOS LYRA, LUIZ EVA, ROBERTO MENESCAL, SYLVIA TELLES and NARA LEAO ,that lived a charmed, bohemian lifestyle in apartments near COPACABANA BEACH and IPANEMA BEACH. the group circled around muse and gifted singer, NARA LEAO. they took what was a more somber genre and lifted it harmonically. this sound found its way to JAZZ artists like GERRY MULLIGAN and CHARLIE BYRD who initiated a fruitful, mutually beneficial dialogue that created a SAMBA/JAZZ hybrid sound.
sadly, the film also retraces how the style became a stateside fad and how MADISON AVENUE sucked the lifeblood out of such a special gift. the perfect example of such is the legendary track "THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA" which originally had PORTUGUESE lyrics by renowned poet VINICIUS DE MORAES which touchingly spoke of the grace of an unknown woman and the salvation one may find by being in her company. it is incredibly romantic and full of religious sentiment, even referencing the VIRGIN MARY in describing a level of passion and appreciation for such a graceful creature. the AMERICAN version had lyrics "translated" by NORMAN GIMBEL who wrote the lyrics to the HAPPY DAYS theme song. his version just describes a beautiful woman. its vulgar in comparison and a lost opportunity, and of course the biggest hit and cultural touchstone from BRASIL. its just so depressing an apt metaphor for how AMERICAN commerce and by extension society cares little for authenticity and exoticizes the unknown. the amount of products from the early 1960s that bear a BOSSA NOVA tag outlined in the documentary makes this point plain. ugh, so gross.
what is interesting is how ASTRUD GILBERTO, wife of JOAO, rose to prominence from this single. she was not classically trained but carried the tune in a naive manner sans vibrato in a wistful, seductive manner with a slight accent that won over the world. she sang it largely because she was in the room and she spoke english. it was an accident of fate. funny how pop culture works sometimes. second most recorded song of the 20th century. gulp.
and it is that song that has largely defined the image that has been projected on BRASILIAN WOMEN ever since. which is undoubtedly problematic. i remember when working in VENEZUELA talking to BRASILIAN friends who spoke about the fact that the cultural pressure to get plastic surgery was intense, largely based on cues from watching AMERICAN television shows and films. its a death spiral im telling you.
sadly in 1964 a military coup (backed by the UNITED STATES) ended this golden era of optimism and democracy under PRESIDENT KUBITSCHEK. BOSSA NOVA artists were blacklisted from the radio. culturally it was abandoned as quixotic anachronism that didnt fit the new harsh reality of the new oppressive political reality. it was too light and airy.
BOSSA NOVA originator and muse NARA LEAO pointed the way with a more sonically experimental and lyrically aggressive sound that celebrated the roots and underclass of BRASIL which led the way to TROPICALIA. JOBIM and GIBERTO had long since found success in the UNITED STATES, making sophisticated records designed for the middle class, a far cry from the reality back home. JOBIM even collaborated with FRANK SINATRA. BOSSA NOVA in essence became part of global repertoire, a classical music of sorts.
when i visited BRASIL it seemed that they celebrated this form, with several markers in IPANEMA identify residences and clubs that housed the major players of the movement.
great introductory documentary on the BOSSA NOVA. makes me want to go back. not that seduction of the music resembles the reality of the place. i saw a guy rob a bus at gunpoint at noon on a sunday a block away from the famous RIO DE JANEIRO CATHEDRAL. i found the reality much more interesting than the idealization. travel wisely and be careful out there.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
i came across the SÃO PAULO-based INDIE ROCK band CSS in the early 2000s when i was reading culture BRITISH magazines like DAZED AND CONFUSED and SLEAZENATION (remember that one?), both of whom were celebrating the rise of ELECTROCLASH and NO WAVE-inspired INDIE acts on both sides of the pond.
what i loved about CSS (who sadly haven't released any new material since 2013 in the wake of member changes) was their decidedly amateurish, carefree danceable sound that was both goofy and infectious. their music is just fun. and their front-woman LOVEFOXXX is joy personified.
definitely check them out.
photos by nacrowe
back in october 2014 i was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit RIO DE JANEIRO during a school break while i was teaching in VENEZUELA. seeing BRASIL was always a goal going back to my days growing in NIGERIA. right before i moved to AFRICA, american schoolmates of mine took VARIG AIRLINES through BRASIL (as opposed to LUFTHANSA through GERMANY) as their connection point to flying out to AFRICA. everyone that had been to SAO PAULO or RIO DE JANEIRO spoke of how similar it was to WEST AFRICA, so i was always curious moving forward.
my time in VENEZUELA found me arriving during the beginning of a historic financial collapse that saw their currency go from 1 USD/6 BOLIVARES to 1 USD/20 BOLIVARES in my first year. the second year i believe it went up to 80. this mean tickets flying in an out of VENEZUELA were cheap. roundtrip tickets to BRASIL costed somewhere around $300 if i remember correctly. just insane. i remember that because i took a 20-minute sightseeing helicopter ride in RIO DE JANEIRO (see bottom photo) that cost more than the flight there and back from CARACAS. again, just ridiculous. and beyond tragic for VENEZUELA. because of this, i ended up going with a colleague from school that was fluent in PORTUGUESE and had visited RIO DE JANEIRO the previous year. much like CARACAS, this was not a place i wanted to be found inadvertently wandering in the wrong neighborhood.
upon arriving we went to the MARACANA, which is the world-famous football stadium where PELE once played. it is basically the MECCA of world football, period. we went on a tour and then learned a game was that afternoon, so we stayed to see FLAMINGO play their SAO PAULO rival. people in the UNITED STATES talk about fans going crazy, but they really have no clue. BRAZILIAN football fans are on another level. the game is just a prologue for whose fans can out passionate the other. drums blaring and people dancing was going on long before the game ever started. next to me stood a grandmother holding her infant granddaughter sawing to the beat. once the game was underway this passion turned to venom as i learned sooooo many PORTUGUESE swear words in a short order, all directed at the referees. "BOHA" was constantly being screamed by this grandmother as she muffled her newborn grandchild's ears. just insanity.
i could go on about all the touristy stuff i did there, but in essence my big takeaway from my time in RIO DE JANEIRO was how much of a microcosm that place is for much of what i saw in LATIN AMERICA in general. there is a real "live in the moment" feel to that place that is certainly palpable. violence always seemed to be around the corner, we even witnessed an armed assailant rob a bus two blocks ahead of us while walking in the financial district one day.
we stayed in an air bnb located in-between both of the iconic beaches, but to our back was a notorious favela that had one street access point that was heavily monitored by BRAZILIAN TROOPS, complete with a tank. there was also a sense of people chasing physical beauty everywhere, which again carried a desperate "live in the moment" feel to it, not unlike what i witnessed in VENEZUELA, COLOMBIA or whole swathes of EASTERN EUROPE. it was intimidated yet sad at the same time to see that.
and that was my take on BRASIL. impossibly beautiful with a kinetic, contagious energy that seems as much about nerves and fear of the future as it is about living life at a phrenetic, unyielding clip.
if interested, more pictures from this trip are available to be viewed HERE.
photo by karl burhop
ok i admit that its more than a little strange to write a profile on yourself. but here i go.
as creative director of DEER GOD i basically have a hand in everything we do that is non-audio. that basically boils down controlling/editing all things visual and written. of course we work as a team and frequently collaborate and take cues from one another, but i more or less take these efforts and produce the final product.
out of the whole team i am probably the last to the party in that i was not involved with audio or video production until a few years ago when i returned from overseas. for the better part of the last decade i was involved with education having taught secondary english abroad at international schools in MYANMAR, JAPAN, VENEZUELA as well as a stint as a peace corps volunteer in ALBANIA. my start as an educator was in NYC where i got my masters at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY and had brief stints teaching at both BROOKLYN TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL (student teacher) and STUYVESANT HIGH SCHOOL (long-term substitute). my bad timing entering the field in the wake of the great recession meant that no new positions were available as older teachers delayed retirement and an effective freeze was put on new hires. thus i had an IVY LEAGUE degree and recommendations from two of the top public high schools in the nation, but no prospects.
so i went and taught overseas.
due to my parents work i spent time overseas growing up in NIGERIA (middle school) and KUWAIT (junior year of high school) and attended high school in both MASSACHUSETTS (NORTHFIELD MOUNT HERMON) and CALIFORNIA (ROCKLIN HIGH SCHOOL). oh yeah, and i was born in SPAIN.
my passion as long as i can remember photography as i would take photos of my travels (somehere around 60+ countries). i think my passion for other cultures and worldviews informed my (brief) teaching career and most definitely is a part of what i bring to my current visual work here at DEER GOD. if interested, check out my photos above.
the rest are linked HERE.