The Worldmusic Blog (Seckou Kouyate)

Message from Brazil4 - National Samba Day

Tagged with: Samba Bahia Brazil Salvador Pelourinho Mercado Cultural Sinho Ary Barroso Na Baixa do Sapateiro Luis Monteiro de Costa Black Style Chuva de Perereca Tessa Burwood world music pagode

December 2nd was O Dia Nacional do Samba (National Samba Day). I missed it, having just arrived here, and wanted to find out more about it, so I've been doing some research, and asking around. Its origins and motives make an interesting comparison to the Mercado Cultural music festival.

Mercado Cultural is a really interesting concept for a festival – the culmination of a year-round caravan of musicians, producers, managers and cultural representatives from various genres, who travel throughout Brazil and abroad, to perform, discuss and disseminate their work.  The aim is to explore the challenges of maintaining a truly fruitful intercultural dialogue. Beyond race and language, this caravan also unites people across the most obvious, yet nuanced and difficult barrier we face today – the socioeconomic divide.

Here in Brazil, this divide is much more difficult to cross, although in recent years the expanding middle class has begun to link the two uncomfortably coexisting worlds – the very rich minority, and the penniless majority. Sharing music is a fascinating, at times problematic, but ultimately positive method of bringing these worlds together.  Brazil is, after all, synonymous with samba, and samba evolved from the work songs and spirituals sung by African slaves in Bahia.  As I briefly touched on in the previous article, it was the influx of poor Bahian workers into Rio during the late 19th – early 20th century that first brought samba to the ears of well off, white Brazilians.

Sinhô and his contemporaries became the intermediaries between these two cultures, because they were tacitly accepted by both worlds. That said, a good measure of prejudice has always tempered this upper class fascination with samba.  Sinhô's derogatory comments on Bahian people, and his willingness to appropriate their music while taking the credit, polarise the dividing line between Bahia and Rio, rich and poor, black and white, through cold rejection.

But there is another, more subtle and ultimately sinister way to exclude a culture, and that is to exoticise and objectify it. While Sinhô stole from Bahian samba singers and claimed their songs for himself, while openly criticising what he saw as an uncultured and backward Bahian race, his contemporary and neighbour Ary Barroso described a scene of sexual longing between a white woman from Rio and a dark skinned man from Salvador, in a city he had never seen.  "Na Baixa do Sapateiro" is the story of a woman looking for love in Salvador. She meets a dark skinned Bahian man lazing in the shade in Baixa do Sapateiro, and tries unsuccessfully to seduce him.

Now a busy shopping district between Pelourinho, Saude and Barroquinha, Baixa do Sapateiro was, at one time, the home of an Italian shoe manufacturer – hence the name ('sapateiro' means shoemaker).  It's fame spread throughout Brazil when three cinemas ran there simultaneously, and Ary Barroso (who wrote music for film) presumably identified with the area, despite not setting foot in Bahia, let alone Salvador, until years later. Here's a translation of the samba he wrote:

Bahia, happy dark skinned land,
I miss you like mad!
Our Lord of Bomfim,
Find me another man with dark skin
Just the same, just for me.
In Baixa do Sapateiro
I came across one day,
A lazy dark skinned man from Bahia
I asked him for a kiss, he refused
An embrace, and he just smiled
I asked for his hand
He would not give it
And ran away...
Bahia, happy dark skinned land,
I miss you like mad!
Our Lord of Bomfim,
Find me another man with dark skin
Just the same, just for me.

In the 1940s, this samba's fame spread to the ears of a local councillor in Salvador, whose name was Luis Monteiro da Costa. Inspired by the song – or perhaps frustrated, who knows - he founded O Dia Nacional do Samba (National Samba Day.)  This day falls on December 2nd, and was originally only celebrated in Salvador – in recognition of samba's origin. More recently, it became a national holiday, and is now celebrated across Brazil.

Meanwhile, 'Na Baixa do Sapateiro' entered decisively into the Brazilian canon, interpreted by famous singers like Elis Regina and João Gilberto. It is emblematic of a vision of Bahia repeated in Brazilian popular music – that Bahian people are docile, lazy and sexually available.  Although in the case of this samba, the Bahian man refused such advances, there's something sinister in the air here in Salvador. Sex tourism is rife here, and male prostitution is particularly noticable.

I walk through Terreiro de Jesus in Pelourinho, past the men practicing capoeira in the square and calling out to female tourists.  In Praça da Sé, a leather skinned Italian woman drags a local mixed race guy by the hand into the entrance of a hotel. In Baixa do Sapateiro, I hear music blasting from speakers on a pirate CD salesman's truck: a song from Bahian pagode star Black Style's latest album (eponymous), called "Chuva de Perereca" (‘It’s Raining P**sy’). On the front cover of the CD, Black Style sings to a stadium packed out with screaming female fans. I feel quite embarrassed – more of a prude than I thought  :)

Tessa Burwood for

Message from Brazil 3 - Sunday Afternoon Telly

Tagged with: Brazil World Music Sinho Fala Meu Louro

 This is what a Sunday afternoon in Brazil looks like, through a slightly dodgy gogglebox.  What? This little bird can't always be on the wing, you know what I mean? Plus, if I venture outside in this heat, I may evaporate. Pass the remote.

1) Pastor Jonatas Câmara addresses an enormous congregation at Igreja Evangélica Assembléia de Deus no Amazonas ["The Assembly of God Evangelical Church in Amazonas"], on their very own TV channel.  In defence of  'o dízimo' (an obligatory payment to the church of ten percent of each worshipper's salary), the charismatic Evangelist preacher affirms, "I don't need your money, God doesn't need your money, but we need it for His Work."

On the church's plans for a new mission across the Atlantic:  "Europe is preparing itself for the Antichrist's new global governance. As incredible as it may seem, we are taking God's work to the fallen kingdom that once ruled over Africa.  It's interesting to note that, after all those years that Europe spent over in Africa, it is now African missionaries who are taking God's Word to the land of their former aggressors."

He goes on to tell the story of a church he visited in Spain, where a dwindling congregation divided by infighting and lack of resources was "saved" through his intervention, and the adoption of a Cuban missionary.  "Ten years later, I returned to the same church to find they had payed back their crippling debts, had a united congregation of 150, and had sent 56 missionaries to Africa."  Above Pastor Jonatas's head, the word JESUS is emblazoned in red, and at his feet flashes a telephone number for donations to the church.

2) De Volta Ao Passado ["Return to the Past"] (Rede Recorde)

In front of a live studio audience, the nervous and statuesque Katia from Sergipe is reunited with her first love - Emerson (24), who now works as an analyst in Sao Paulo.  They shared a first kiss at the age of 12, under the watchful eye of Emerson's grandmother, and in spite of Katia's strict upbringing. Life led them in separate directions, and now they're reunited thanks to Rede Recorde's Programa do Gugu.  Emerson's reaction to Katia is pretty ambivalent - maybe it's because she's about two feet taller than him (my mum calls it "small man syndrome").

3) Fluminense v Guarani (Globo)

Globo is by far the most watched channel in Brazil and part of Rede Globo, the largest broadcaster in Latin American, and the fourth largest in the world.  Don't ask me about the football, I have no idea what's going on, all I know is there will be no ad breaks, and that the guy downstairs was so gutted by the score (whatever it was), that he had a little cry. Bless.

4) Meanwhile on 1001 Noites, ["1001 Nights"]  it's teleshopping - just what the magpie ordered. The watches are on sale for four payments of £500 or so each, I wonder what it's like at the call centre - with all those rings on the one hand, how do you explain your chosen purchase? Not really my style, so I flick to…

5) De lá pra cá (TVE) A documentary about Sinhô - also known as 'The King of Samba'. Born in Rio in 1888, he was catapulted to fame during carnival of 1920, with his samba "Fala Meu Louro" ["Talk To Me Blondie'].  At a time when music from Bahia accompanied economic migrants in search of work in "the marvellous city", it was common knowledge that Sinho covered as many songs as he penned.

He was openly prejudiced against people from Bahia - famously saying, "I like Bahia - it's up there and I'm down here." This attitude must have seemed pretty rich to the Bahian musicians who complained he stole their tunes.  In the face of constant accusations of plagiarism, Sinhô remained indignant, and quick-witted: "Samba é como passarinho. É de quem pegar" (Samba is like a little bird. It belongs to whoever catches it.)

(6) Talking of which, check out this video: - perhaps a nod to The King of Samba and his equivocal take on cultural appropriation.

Phew, well there you have it - football, faith, love, shopping, culture and a tiny pinch of cynicism on a sticky hot Sunday afternoon in Salvador, and I didn't even have to go outside. I wonder what time the telenovelas* start...

[* 'telenovelas' = soap operas]

Tessa Burwood for