Recommend magnificent people in here (& have them recommend you) and make them/you more discoverable from the far & near corners of the planet!

 

Hello! I'm Sparrow, an American living in Brazil, in the iconic music city of Salvador, Bahia (Brazilians call me "Pardal", that's "Sparrow" in English, hence the appellation). My mission (if one could call it that) is to open the world up to truly magnificent non-commercial musical culture here in Bahia (the Brazilian state of which Salvador is the capital) — musicians for the most part living in or near poverty — this by opening up THE WHOLE WIDE MUSIC WORLD in general. My method is a 21st century twist on the "grapevine telegraph" of pre-Civil War African Americans (who gave us the expression "I heard it through the grapevine")...their system being: somebody tells somebody who tells somebody who tells somebody... OUR system is: somebody recommends somebody who recommends somebody who recommends somebody...

The vine rises from the ground here in Bahia, Brazil, in the quilombo (village founded by runaway slaves) of São Braz (clip 1) where João do Boi (to my left in the photo below), sings, dances and plays with family and friends. It curves and curls this way and that, branching throughout Brazil (clip 2, about samba in the White House! translated lyrics here)...moving on to North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Oz (clip 3, with iridescent Peter Dasent)...

The vine means that, by way of example, Herbie Hancock in Los Angeles (Herbie wrote the forward to our friend Michelle Mercer's bio of Wayne Shorter) can recommend (GRAPEVINE FORWARD >>) João do Boi in Bahia, and João, previously impossible to find, can now be easily discovered in a single jump by anybody getting to Herbie's page from anywhere around the planet. An alternate scenario might be that Herbie recommends a blow-you-away bass player in NYC (Richard Bono), who recommends a singer in Cape Verde (Mayra Andrade), who recommends a documentary filmmaker in Paris (Simon Brook), who recommends a singer in Rio de Janeiro (Marcos Sacramento), who recommends a gypsy guitarist in Belgium (Fapy Lafertin), who recommends a piano player in New Orleans (Tom McDermott), who recommends a writer/journalist also in the Crescent City (Jay Mazza), who recommends (among other people) João do Boi. Who recommends... It's like six degrees of separation applied to music; there's almost always a way and a light is shone on known and unknown alike. Sometimes from cross-town and sometimes from way across the globe.

 

Pardal and Joao in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil


If You Can't Stand the Heat...

 

Brazil is not a European nation. It's not a North American nation. It's not an East Asian nation. It straddles -- jungle and desert and dense urban centers -- both the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. It absorbed over ten times the number of African slaves taken to the United States of America, and much of its aboriginal population was aborbed into the general population-at-large. Its people have lived under oligarchy, plutocracy, dictatorships and massive corruption, with elements of some of these still strongly entrenched here today.

 

But!

 

Brazil has buzz...not the shallow buzz of a fashionable moment...but the deep buzz of a population which in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- the tough slog through life they've been allotted by humanity's dregs-in-fine-linen, have chosen not to simply pull themselves along but to lift their voices in song and their bodies in dance...to eat well and converse well and much and to wring the joy out of the day-to-day happenings and small pleasures of life which are so often set aside or ignored in the European, North American, and East Asian nations.

 

For this Brazil has a genius perhaps unparalled in all other countries and societies, a genius which thrives alongside peeling paint and holes in the streets and roads, under bad organization by the powers-that-be, both civil and governmental, under a constant rain of societal indignities...

 

Which is all to say that if prospective first-time visitors to Brazil are expecting light and orderliness, they will certainly find the light! And the buzz of a people who for generations have responded to privation at many different levels by somehow rising above it all.

 

Raimundo Sodré (below), who had his PolyGram record deal career smashed by Brazil's dictatorship and was forced to flee the country for speaking Truth to Power, put it like this: Onde tem miséria, tem música!: "Where there's misery, there's music!"


Raimundo Sodré of Salvador, Bahia
    Did you know that Brazil has gods (football aside)? In the sense that the Greeks and the Romans did? The Greek and Roman gods were done in by Constantine (first blow) and Theodosius (final blow). The gods of Brazil were born in Africa and arrived in Brazil within the negreiros making the Middle Passage, a voyage which transported not only people, but a culture. There was a great attempt by the Brazilian poobahs to exterminate the gods of Africa in Brazil, but it didn't work.

    And as the Roman emperors moved to extinguish the very real belief in Jupiter, Apollo, Venus, Minerva and the rest, banning the ceremonies to these deities, the Brazilian "authorities" banned the ceremonies devoted to Oxalá, Oxossi, Iansã, Yemanjá and the rest. But like the ultimate futility of the communist stomping-on of Christianity in Russia, Poland, et al, the piety of the Brazilian ruling class was to no avail.

    Now, the Greeks and Romans had statues; magnificent, wondrously conceived, wrought and elaborated statues. The Africans had rhythms, and melodies...magnificent, wondrously conceived, wrought and elaborated rhythms, over which are floated (they aren't attached, per Western music) melodies ranging from inspired to sublime. Some of these rhythms (one in particular) are the basis of Brazilian popular music.

    So as marble adorns Rome, rhythm adorns Brazil...but to carry the analogy further, as the statues have with the passage of time become fewer and farther between, the modernization of Brazilian popular music has left the rhythms fewer and farther between (excepting those in Bahia's houses of candomblé, these houses multiplying greatly in number over the past few decades)...

    But this is Brazil, isn't it? With music everywhere?

    Paulinho da Viola
    Paulinho da Viola - Looks pretty cool to me!

    Yes, and yes, but. Samba and its vertentes are based in polyrhythms. And while one may say that Brazilian music was enriched by the confluence of African rhythm-and-melodies and European melodies-and-harmonies, the rhythmic component was, with the Americanization of the 1950s, and then under the effects of the British invasion of the '60s and the astounding market success of first-world music, impoverished. Speaking frankly, it was dumbed down. Detexturized. Anesthetized. Edge and angle taken out. Soothed and smoothed... Witness the birth of bossa nova and MPB (música popular brasileira)! Yes, there was genius there, but not in the strictly African-derived part of the music...that was old-fashioned, not hip.

    Thank god for unhip people like Paulinho da Viola! Paulinho came of age in the 60s, when Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil went hippie, they celebrating the we-can-do-anything culture with their invention of tropicália, one ear to the sidewalks of San Francisco and the intersection of Haight-Ashbury...

    Paulinho played samba then. He plays samba now. Music. Where somebody sings. And people play instruments. No BS. Paulinho's music was never modern, but it is timeless.

    The great Bobby Sanabria quoted the great Art Blakey as saying that a place where jazz is played is a holy place, Bobby following this up with (addressing his audience from the stage) "So thanks for coming to church!"

    In the spirit of Art Blakey, a place where samba is played is a holy place...and we ain't talkin' 'bout The Girl from Ipanema. Samba, with all the assaults upon its integrity, never left Brazil. To quote again, now the words of the great Nelson Sargento, it agonizes, but it doesn't die. It's even cool now.

    Samba is the local equivalent of those Roman statues.