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.


Muito Obrigado Axé: Why Ivete Matters To Me

ivete sangalo, são paulo

Ivete Sangalo performing August 28 at Espaço das Américas

Ivete. How do I begin to describe what this woman has done for me?

I was first introduced to her about ten years ago in college. I happened to see a sign announcing samba classes on Saturdays, and I decided to try it out. One of the songs they played, “Toque de Timbaleiro,” featured her vocals, and it was one of those songs that just goes inside you and takes you prisoner. Days after I first heard it, the percussion combined with her deep voice were still reverberating in my mind. At the end of the semester, my samba class had a party, and one of my instructors played us Ivete’s DVD celebrating her 10 years of career. I decided to look more into her songs and soon my fandom was born.

Her lyrics are happy, her music infectious and her personality absolutely magnetic, which would soon serve me well. Later that year I was diagnosed with an eating disorder (and at the time was undiagnosed with bipolar II). Simply put, she kept me going. In my manic episodes, I would play her music and dance so hard it eventually brought me back. In my depressive episodes, her warm voice commanding everyone to get up was the only thing that gave me motivation.

When I first heard of her, Brazil was foreign to me. I was taking Portuguese in school, but couldn’t understand all of the lyrics. I had to look up what galera and arerê and  meant. (The latter took me awhile to learn that it’s just a shortened version of estou, or I am. I consider it a true testament to my language abilities that I now instinctively say  instead of estou.)

Now it’s ten years later and I just went to her twentieth anniversary concert in Barra Funda. She came out shouting Levanta a mão! and my hands shot up. I ran to the left, I ran to the right, I sang along. Best of all, her show was good. She and her band gave it their all, while being playful and spontaneous.

Towards the end of her (forty-five minute) encore, she asked the audience what they wanted to hear. Someone yelled out “Flores,” and it brought me back, as it was one of the first songs I learned. I was late to the party, but now I could sing along with everyone else.

Taking a bow after nearly three hours of show

Thanking everyone after nearly three hours of show

Ivete has been with me through every phase of my relationship with Brazil as well as myself. She got me moving at my most depressed and calmed me down at my most manic. Her effervescent, joyful spirit is something I aspire to have. And her 20th anniversary concert reminded me: I’ve become well enough to learn the language, move to Brazil and watch her sing. What can I accomplish by the time she hits 30 years?

The video below is not the best quality, but it’s mine, my personal reminder of what makes her so special to me.

Why Are International Shows So Expensive in Brazil?

Rolling Stones in Copacabana Beach

Ok, so this was actually a free concert in Copacabana. But most artists aren’t as generous. Credit: Agência Estado

A few months into my time in São Paulo, I started to look at upcoming concerts. I saw that Tony Bennett was coming, and that the cheapest tickets cost R$500, or 250 U.S. dollars. I know he’s Tony Bennett, but seriously?

I’ve since learned that sticker shock is to be expected when looking at concerts for international artists. Just a sample of upcoming shows and their prices: David Guetta, R$165 to R$355 (72 to 154 USD); Cypress Hill R$80 to R$240 (35 to 104 USD); Summer Break Festival with Dave Matthews Band and Incubus, R$140 to R$650 (61 to 282 USD). These tickets would be a splurge for the average American, but for the average Brazilian, these are a real luxury.

In Brazil, concerts, theater and other cultural events typically have what is called meia entrada (literally half entrance), a half price break for students and seniors reflected in the lowest prices listed. Regular priced tickets are called inteira, or full. According to Matraca Cultural, it’s quite common for people to falsify student IDs, and judging from the prices for international shows, I can see why.

Even Devendra Banhart, who while popular in indie music circles is certainly not as well known as the previously mentioned artists, is charging between R$100 and R$200 (45 to 91 USD) for his upcoming show in São Paulo. Meanwhile tickets for his London show this past June were only £20, or 32 USD.

In comparison, Brazilian singer Ivete Sangalo, arguably the most popular artist in the country, is charging between R$35 and R$90 (16 to 41 USD) for her upcoming 20th anniversary concert in the newly inaugurated Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador. There’s also a luxurious VIP lounge available for R$800 (366 USD), but for the most part, the ticket prices seem much more reasonable and attainable for the average Brazilian.

Outrageous prices for international artists weren’t always the norm, though. In 2010, O Globo examined how ticket prices have risen astronomically in Brazil, attributing the rise to inflation and the increased strength of the dollar compared to the real. For example Rush played Maracanã stadium in 2002, with prices between R$60 and R$80, or about R$110 and R148 (62 and 84 USD) when adjusted for inflation. In 2010 they returned to Brazil with tickets at R$220 to R$500 (124 and 282 USD). With all due respect to Rush, 124 dollars as the cheapest option is ridiculous.

According to Cultura e Mercado, concert producers claim that high taxes and high costs of transporting and renting equipment are to blame for the high ticket prices, and they often fluctuate with the value of the dollar. In addition, because over half of concert tickets are sold at meia entrada prices, producers hike up prices to cover the costs of shows.

International concert agent and promoter Paola Bescher was quoted by Terra saying, “The quantity of shows continues to be strong, but…now it’s more difficult [to sell tickets], they sell more slowly, they sell less.” She emphasizes that the current state is unsustainable. Something will have to change soon because at this rate, it seems doubtful that concert tickets can go any higher and still make a profit.