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.