Brazil Classics 6: Beleza Tropical 2: Novo! Mais! Melhor!
THE PHILOSOPHY OF SAMBA
Samba, like many other Afro-Latin music forms, propels and ignites the lower body — the hips, the butt, the pelvis, etc. by letting the downbeat “float.” By de-emphasizing the first beat of each measure, a rhythm becomes more sensual and ethereal; one “floats” outside the time and space of earthly existence. Repetition creates a timeless, communal otherworld, a floating ethereal cycle that is both rooted in biological rhythms and in the beyond or the meta-biological.
Any activation of the hips-sex-butt-pelvis relates to the source of all life, the womb. This music is definitely a respectful prayer in honor of the sweet, the feminine, the great mother — the sensuous life-giving aspects of ourselves and our lives — and to the Earth, the mother of us all. To shake your rump is to be environmentally aware.
The songs on this collection go straight to the heart of the matter. The first song by Clara Nunes re-tells a legend concerning two of the Orishas: the African (Yoruba) gods, Iansa and Ogun. Each Orisha embodies three levels of existence at once: 1) a force of nature such as wind, lightning, the earth, or the ocean, 2) a person who once lived on this earth (historical personages much like Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed) and 3) a psychological archetype — perhaps a trickster, a strong woman, or a warrior. In northeastern Brazil the worship of the Orishas is called Candomblé, and it incorporates ritual rhythms that have often been appropriated and secularized in popular songs. One can feel the direct link between the ecstatic release of rhythmically based popular songs and the spirituality that is their roots.
Sub-atomic particle physics shows us that matter is nothing but interlocking rhythms and energies. There is a common respect for the sanctity of the groove.
Although I have chosen many songs that reveal an African influence in their lyrics, one should not get the idea that sambas take only Afro-Brazilian culture as their subjects. One can also be transported by the groove while singing hilarious topical songs such as “S.P.C.” or a classic love song such as “Sufoco.” And, as in all successful popular songs in which the subject is a metaphor, every song is more “about” the attitude than the specifics of what is being said. As an example, in “Olerê Camará,” Alcione asks the Capoeira brothers to “open the circle.” Capoeria is traditionally a male-dominated martial art, dance, musical and philosophical system — choreographed kick-boxing with music. In recent years, women have been brought into the Capoeira Societies, and I suspect the song is as much about redefining women’s changing social roles as it is specifically about being allowed to demonstrate one’s prowess in the Capoeira circle.
“Like all art, it is what it is, but it’s something greater besides.”
MARTINHO DA VILA ON SAMBA
I’m a singer and a composer. Samba is the mainstay of my career — my main success. But I’ve only done five out of 20 albums exclusively of samba. Samba is for dancing and listening to — for getting across a message — but all in a very relaxed way.
Samba, like all popular music, including almost all American and Brazilian music, has African origins. It began with the slaves to lighten the hard labor. In Brazil, it’s always been more relaxed, to liberate energy. The samba emerged through drums and dancing. It evolved in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro and then spread.
I’ve been to New York several times. I like it very much. I’ve sung in Washington and San Francisco. The first time, people thought Brazilian music was only bossa nova, which wasn’t Samba for them, but it is. But samba of the samba schools with mulatto girls and tambourines — the more visual side — is one of the most powerful of feelings. You write a song and it’s sung “dressed up,” with fantasy and fancy dress. It’s a moving theatre with thousands of people. A samba school has about 3,000 members. The great orchestra of 300 or so drummers. An enormous audience of thousands. It’s fantastic…
I don’t analyze the things I do, I just do them. Analysis is something else. But, things always evolve. As you advance, you get experience and put more things in. You know more music. You enrich musically. You meet great musicians. You write sambas with richer melodies. It’s like that — the same motivation as writing a letter.
Samba is fundamental. In other rhythms you only do one kind of dance. But not in samba. It’s much freer. You can dance samba your own way.
M. da Vila
Most of these studio recordings were made over the past 15 years. And, although the samba has been through many styles and stages since the early part of the century (the Brazilian recordings of Carmen Miranda are wonderful), I have chosen songs that represent the form as it lives, breathes, and evolves in the contemporary market place… It survives and adapts despite the onslaught of rock & roll, slick ballad singers, and, now, heavy metal (which, incidentally, is quite popular in Brazil). Some of these songs are associated with the famous carnival samba “schools” in which live versions would be performed during carnival with thousands (!!!) of drummers, dancers and singers. Often the lead singers are the same as those on the studio recordings and, although there are many recordings of these massive displays, the sound does not really survive the transition from street environment to speaker. The radio stations in Rio play the versions found on this album along with songs by the likes of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tracy Chapman, the Housemartins, Bon Jovi, the rock group Paralamas do Sucesso, Roberto Carlos and, recently a new wrinkle from Bahia, the vocal and drum ensembles known as bloco afros.
November 17, 1998