The Legacy of Queen in Brazil

queen in rock in rio, 1985

January 11, 1985 edition of O Globo newspaper

I’m still starry-eyed after watching QUEEN (all caps necessary) perform at Ginásio do Ibirapuera. There’s always excitement among the audience before the show, but this felt different. There was such fervor and devotion, it felt like a religious experience. When I got inside and saw the curtain with the QUEEN logo, my heart stopped. This is really happening. They’re here. Sure enough, when they came out (exactly one minute after the scheduled time, bless the English) we the audience jumped up and sang along (or more accurately, shouted) to One Vision.

Even two days later, as I waited for them to come out to perform in Rock in Rio, I still felt anxious excitement, even though I was watching them on TV at home. After all, despite other major headliners such as Rod Stewart, Metallica and Elton John, they were undoubtedly the band to commemorate the festival’s 30th anniversary.

QUEEN has an interesting history in Brazil, and in South America in general. In the 2011 documentary Days Of Our Lives, they recalled when they were ready to tour the continent for the first time in the early 80s, they needed to ask permission from the Argentine military dictatorship to perform. The government initially feared it would be a political threat to have so many young people together in one space, but it eventually relented, and in 1981 QUEEN scheduled four dates in three cities. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, they were met by a soldier who would accompany them to the show — and who cleared heavy traffic by shooting a gun into the air. The soccer stadium had a six foot dirty moat around the field to prevent political prisoners from escaping. (Stadiums were commonly used as concentration camps by many Latin American dictatorships.) Rolling Stone reported that the band brought its own artificial turf to cover the moat for the time being.

QUEEN went to São Paulo next, and did two sold-out shows at Morumbi. Brazil was also under a dictatorship at the time, but there’s no word whether the band had to undergo similar security concerns.   By all accounts it was a huge moment. Few international bands considered Brazil as a place to tour regularly, but QUEEN’s success helped pave the way. When they confirmed their presence in Rock in Rio in 1985, other bands followed suit, and the festival became a reality. By then, the dictatorship was coming to a close, and Brazilians were in a place of hope and possibility. The festival’s success, cemented by QUEEN’s performance, signified to the world that Brazil had the needed infrastructure and organization to hold massive shows. South America was officially a necessary destination to tour, and bands started pouring in.

“Vocês querem cantar comigo?” Brian May asked us earnestly, sitting alone on stage, with his guitar in hand. “This is a song written by Freddie, which really, Brazil made famous.” Cheers exploded, as everyone knew he meant Love of My Life, and the iconic moment that made the first Rock and Rio when Freddie Mercury lead the crowd in singing it.

Brian continued, “This is your song.” With the first notes, the audience became a roaring chorus, and once again, the performer didn’t need to sing. And from the look on Brian’s face, it was as powerful for him as it was for us.

 

Nostalgia That’s Not Mine

tim maia

Credit: Sonia D’Almeida

Nivea has been doing a concert series every year where they have a popular artist pay tribute to the great Brazilian artists and give free shows around the country. This year, Ivete Sangalo (who I’ve written about before) and hip hop artist Criolo teamed up to cover soul legend Tim Maia.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to learn about Tim Maia. He’s a difficult figure to miss — his music is ubiquitous in commercials, radio, weekend barbecues, other artists’ set lists. Just like every American knows at least a couple of Michael Jackson songs, every Brazilian can sing a few of Tim Maia’s hits.

He’s an artist with an interesting history. (Wax Poetics published an extensive piece on him a few years back.) He was a rather intense, hard-partying musician who brought black American soul music to Brazil after traveling to the U.S. One of my favorite songs of his, Bom Senso, I thought was a deeply motivating song about the struggles he had faced and overcome until I discovered later he wrote it while immersed in a cult. I realized that in the voiceover parts, which I had previously ignored, he was telling the listener to read Universo em Desencanto, the cult’s holy book. (Fun fact: he sent out copies  to a number of famous musicians. John Lennon wrote him back: “Dear freak, I don’t understand Portuguese. What about LISTEN to this photo?” and enclosed a naked picture of himself.)

Going back to the concert, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of songs I recognized. The crowd was huge (nearing 180 thousand) and the energy from both the people and band was infectious. However as Criolo started a song and a woman gasped, “Aiii!” with delight and shock that he would dare attempt this musical gem (unfamiliar to me), I realized a disconnect I had from the rest. While for the Brazilian crowd, which ranged from old to young, this music made up the soundtrack of their culture, this was relatively new music for me. As much as I can sing every song, read up on the references, go down the YouTube rabbit hole with old videos,  it’s not going to resonate with me the way it will with others. It’s simply not a part of my cultural history. The music you hear growing up, whether you enjoy it or not, has a special significance that later music doesn’t. It’s linked to memories, your formative years, and it will always sound different than something you discovered as an adult.

Don’t get me wrong, I had an incredible time at the show. I simply realized that permeating another culture only goes so far. Although we all squealed like children when the fireworks went off in the end.

 

Ana Tijoux Represents Cultura Independente

ana tijoux

This past Friday French-Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux took the stage at Praça das Artes, and while she repeatedly confessed she spoke “nada, nada, absolutamente nada de portugués,” she had the crowd, including me, enthralled and moving. (It also helped that there were a number of Chileans there.) I only knew a few of her songs beforehand, but her show left me a full-fledged fan. She seemed to have a very focused sort of energy, very calmly spitting out rhymes, but was clearly enjoying herself with her stellar band. Tijoux’s a huge MC in the Latin alternative scene, with her music’s focus perfectly summed up in her newest song “Somos Sur.” Translating to “We Are South,” she explains:

“Somos Sur” is about the importance of resistance, not only in Chile, but around the world. Global resistance movements, whether in Latin America, Africa or the Middle East, are fighting against the same patterns of violence that have repeated themselves throughout history. Which means many of these groups share a similar set of demands. We are asking for a free Palestine just like we’re asking for an independent Wallmapu in Chile, without police control.” (Colorlines)

Tijoux’s free show is one of the many events making up São Paulo’s Mês da Cultura Independente, or Independent Culture Month. Featuring both international and Brazilian artists, there are concerts, theater, films, workshops, exhibitions and much more happening around the city for free or low cost. This weekend there was a screening of classic Brazilian horror movies at Cemitério da Consolação! (It’s a shame Brazil doesn’t really celebrate Halloween.) Find out what else is happening this month at the official site.

ana tijoux