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.



For Better or For Worse

Part of "Calar A Boca Nunca Mais" ("Be Silent Never Again") exhibition at Matilha Cultural

Part of “Calar A Boca Nunca Mais” (“Be Silent Never Again”) exhibition at Matilha Cultural

Today while I was out, I got word that the buses were going on strike and that the metro was shutting down at 6 PM. My class was dismissed early so we could catch the metro in time or figure out a way home. We found out that only some of the buses were on strike, a hopeful sign. I walked all the way down Domingos de Moraes until I reached the bus terminal outside of the Vila Mariana metro station, in hopes I could find a bus that could take me home. The terminal was full of people, more than usual, with some waiting, some making phone calls, some heading up to the taxi stop in front, and many asking each other when or if the bus was coming. I waited awhile but eventually joined the many others who decided to walk it out.

I was a lucky one since my apartment is only a half hour walk away. Not to mention, it’s a relatively safe area with lots of people around, I’m physically able to walk long distances, I didn’t have a lot of things to carry, and I was wearing sneakers. (The very uneven streets here are unkind to any sort of shoes with subpar support.) On the way, the song “Moro no Brasil” by Farofa Carioca came on my iPod shuffle, which I thought was most appropriate. For better or for worse, it’s an interesting time to be living here now.

Moro no Brasil 
Não sei se eu moro muito bem ou muito mal 
Só sei que agora faço parte do país 
A inteligência é fundamental 

I live in Brazil
I don’t know if I live really well or really badly
I only know I’m now a part of the country
Intelligence is fundamental.

Music to Expand Your Consciência Negra

dia da consc negra

November 20th is Dia da Consciência Negra, or Black Awareness Day. It’s a public holiday in several states including São Paulo, but the entire month of November usually sees many cultural activities, discussions and events to commemorate black resistance and talk about current issues important to the black Brazilian community. This date marks the death of Zumbi dos Palmares, a hero of resistance and the last surviving leader of the settlements founded by runaway slaves (quilombos).

The song “Alienação,” or Alienation, by Ilê Aiyê caught my attention, and works well to commemorate this holiday.

  • Se você esta de ofender
    É só chamá-lo de moreno pode crê
    É desrespeito a raça é alienação
    Aqui no Ilê Aiyê a preferência é ser chamado de negãoSe você esta de ofender
    É só chamá-la de morena pode crê
    Você pode até achar que impressiona
    Aqui no Ilê Aiyê a preferência é ser chamada de negona

    A consciência é o motivo principal
    Eu quero muito mais
    Alem de esporte e carnaval, natural.
    Chega de eleger aqueles que tem
    Se o poder é muito bom
    Eu quero poder também

    O sistema tenta desconstruir
    lhe afastar de suas origens
    Pra que você não possa interagir, construir.
    Já passou da hora de acordar
    Assumir sua negritude é vital para prosperar

    Ser negro não questão de pigmentação
    É resistência para ultrapassar a opressão, sem pressão.
    Lutar sempre igualdade e humildade
    Vou subir de Ilê Aiyê
    E mudar toda cidade

  • If you want to offend
    You just need to call him brown, you know
    It’s disrespect to the race, it’s alienation
    Here in Ilê Aiyê he prefers to be called a black man.If you want to offend
    You just need to call her brown, you know.
    You can even believe it makes an impact
    Here in Ilê Aiyê she prefers to be called a black woman.

    Awareness is the main motive
    I want much more
    Than sports and carnival, naturally.
    Stop electing those who have
    If power is so good
    I want power too.

    The system tries to destroy
    Distance you from your origins
    So that you can’t interact, create.
    It’s about time to wake up
    To assume your blackness is vital to prosper.

    Being black is not a question of pigmentation
    It’s resistance to overcome oppression without pressure
    Always fight for equality and humility
    I will rise as Ilê Aiyê
    And change every city.

The song calls for a rejection of the term moreno, a far-reaching term that can mean anything from brown-skinned to having dark hair. Instead Ilê Aiyê embraces the terms negão and negona, which are usually ascribed to dark skinned blacks and can often have a negative subtext to mean large and threatening. The song seeks to reclaim these terms to mean unapologetically black.

It’s also powerful for the song to talk about wanting more than sports and carnival, the few spaces where black Brazilians are featured prominently, whether as soccer stars or samba queens. Instead, the song calls for blacks to rise up and lead politically, instead of depending on those who already have power, or the white elite.

The song’s straightforward, audacious message is on par with Ilê Aiyê’s history. Founded in 1974 as Salvador’s first afro Carnaval group, it was immediately controversial for permitting only black people to participate. (In 2010, they decided to allow others in.) They paraded in Salvador’s carnaval, celebrating different African countries and playing traditional African rhythms, changing the way the city would create music and view its identity. Ilê has grown to be a cultural institution in Salvador with numerous cultural and educational initiatives with the goal of educating, celebrating and empowering black Brazilians.

Zumbi dos Palmares. Feliz Dia da Consciência Negra!

Zumbi. Feliz Dia da Consciência Negra!