By Mike Quinn
In 1974, I was managing a record store in Greenwich Village when I discovered Arhoolie’s Roots of Texas-Mexican Border Music. I played this stuff constantly in the store, and one day while reading the extensive notes, I came across the name of the preeminent scholar in the area of border folklore in Texas, Américo Parédes, and learned he was teaching at UT-Austin. That was it. I packed up and moved back to Texas to continue my then-truncated college education. I started a program of study with Dr. Parédes, and enrolled in ethnomusicology courses with Dr. Gerard Béhague, all while working part-time at Discount Records on the Drag. In time I started jamming the bins full with music from all over Latin America, but especially that of Brazil—I had taken a course with Dr. Béhague in the music of Brazil and Argentina which made me a marginally knowledgable buyer for the store’s world music section.
It was during that class with Béhague that I had an epiphany—Brazilian music of the time was far more interesting than that of the USA, and I poured myself into it. I studied Portuguese, bought every Brazilian LP I could find, and then, out of the blue, John Wheat, then host of KUT’s Horizontes, and a customer at the record store, asked me if I would guest host that show during his vacation; that was August of 1978. During those two weeks, I decided to dedicate the Friday programs to the music of Brazil. The phones rang off the hook! So when I took over the show permanently a few weeks later, I made Brazilian Friday a fixture—Fridays then became the most lucrative day during pledge drives, so I knew Brazilian music had a much greater appeal than other Latin musics, at least to the KUT audience.
Ok, back up a bit. There was a student in my Music of Brazil class named Ileana Casanova, a Cuban. In February of 1977, she was the organizer of a small, more or less private, Brazilian Carnaval party that had been passed from organizer to organizer over the years. She rented a carpeted room at Dobie Mall for her party…she had to rent a dance floor! Plus she rented an atrocious sound system which was constantly blowing out. I couldn’t stand it, so I left early. The next week I offered to help her improve the logistics of the 1978 party, an offer she gladly accepted. When I called her in December of ’77 to find out when work would get started on the party, she told me she just didn’t want to do it again. So she agreed that I could go it alone, something I was a bit uneasy about doing. But thanks to the shoving and pleading of Jim “Hawaiian Prince” Hughes, a huge fan of that annual festivity, I decided to forge ahead. Were it not for Prince urging me on, Carnaval would have died on the vine at that point.
I had never done anything like producing a public event, but I soon learned it ain’t brain surgery. I knew two things: 1) Rent a room that already has a dance floor; 2) Rent a room that has a sound system. So I opened the Yellow Pages to the “Nightclubs” listing and the very first name in the listings was The Boondocks on East Fourth Street. I called them and proposed a $400 rental, with me keeping the door proceeds. I went down to look at the place and it was perfect. But the manager/owner proposed that, instead of giving them four hundred bucks, he wanted me to put that money toward advertising on KLBJ-FM, then Austin’s only decent music station, other than KUT—they had not been paying their bills and were cutoff at the station and they just wanted their name on the air in any context. I did as requested and got FIFTY TWO!!!! sixty-second spots. That was the key, and it was something I would have never done otherwise. I had anticipated, at the most, around 400 people. Instead, around 1000 showed up, about 200 over the legal capacity! We turned away at least another hundred or more. The Boondocks sold every drop of alcohol that night, so they allowed us to party until 4:00am! They also had to repaint their dance floor the next week because the one thousand partiers had danced all the paint off the floor! Yes, it was a great party. Oh, tickets were a walloping two bucks!
The following year we clearly needed more space, the obvious choice in those days was the Armadillo World Headquarters. We managed to put a little carnaval band together with the help of Dr. Béhague, so we had live music that year. (The previous party was fueled by cassettes provided by Ms Casanova.) Attendance was about 1800, easily filling the ‘Dillo, and nearly double that of 1978. Tickets a huge three bucks, maybe four! Some guy at the American-Statesman, I think his name was Joe Nick Patoski, wrote a story on the event which appeared the morning of the show. By 11:00 am, tickets were sold out—that story pushed demand over the top, the power of the press, at least in those days. I heard that during the show, tickets were being scalped out front for as much as $25! Quite a hefty mark-up, and a small fortune in 1979.
In 1980, the party moved to the Austin City Coliseum and attendance continued to grow. Legal capacity at that venue, at least in the early days, was 3,800. I’m sure at least one or two years, we had 4,000 in there, of course, not all at one time! Well, maybe. Eventually we expanded to two nights to meet demand, but finally the real solution arrived in the form of the Palmer Events Center with a capacity of 7,000. Currently we hover around 5,500 to 6,000, but in 2011, or 2012, we had at least 6,300 in the room. Interestingly, there has never, in my 38 years of hosting this thing, been any sort of major incident, such as fights, accidents, nothing. I doubt any other kind of large event with such a long history could make that claim, especially with a very intoxicated crowd such as mine. I’m knocking on wood as I type this.
The music has gotten much better. For many years we used Susanna Sharpe and Samba Police, but in 2004 I found a great carnaval band in New York composed entirely of Brazilians, all vets of Carnaval in Rio, and they were absolutely fantastic. To conform with the “Buy Local” movement, we’ve brought Susanna and her cops back for a couple of years—crowds are happy to have her back.
And now, we have an amazing performer from Salvador, Bahia, the home of Brazil’s craziest Carnaval celebration: Dandara Odara is an electrifying singer who has been referred to as “The Tina Turner of Brazil”! And if you caught her 2017 Carnaval show in Austin, you would understand why. We are excited to have her back in 2018!
Not coincidentally, a number of other regularly performing Brazilian bands have formed in Austin playing everything from Brazilian funk to the traditional carnaval music of Recife, a town in Brazil’s NE, called maracatú. To me, all these groups help make Austin a unique city in this country, and I’d like to think that I and my little party have had something to do with that. Even Roland Swenson, one of the originators of SXSW recently admitted to me that the success of Carnaval was one of the inspirations that gave him and Louis Meyers the idea to crank up the very first SXSW in 1987. Keep Austin weird, indeed!Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment January 8, 2014
Well, it’s been too long since the last blog entry. But those who have done blogging know how hard it is to keep it up as regularly as one should (no comments on that Freudian slip!).
Carnaval 2014 is February 1, which is just over 3 weeks from now. Preparations are fast and furious at this stage of the game. New and better lights, an amazing show from Austin Samba, and some surprises!
The Austin Samba School has adopted as their 2014 theme the classic, iconic Carnaval film Orfeu Negro/Black Orpheus which is set during Carnaval in Rio, 1958. Great film: you should watch it if you have not seen it, or if you have not seen it recently, a fresh viewing will enhance your enjoyment of the show Austin Samba is preparing. Special guests will include Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro, a fixture on the Rio Carnaval scene since the early 1960s: he was one of the musicians who appeared in the film. In addition, his daughter, Ana Carla Laidley, one of the most respect US-based samba instructors and performers. Will be quite an evening.
If you have not bought tickets, don’t wait too long, we do sell out, particularly our VIP option which are already nearly exhausted. Check the Ticket page via the button at the top of this page to purchase NOW!
As usual, we’ll have a coat check in case the weather turns cold and nasty. Hey, February weather in Austin is always anyone’s guess. Tip the nice folks from The Austin Sunshine Camps who will be staffing the coat check booths.
We have a few special events coming up: Our annual opening warm-up at Speakeasy on Friday, January 17 from 7-9pm featuring live samba drummers and dancers; a special screening of the film Black Orpheus (that film is the theme for this year) at the Alamo Drafthouse (Slaughter Lane) including some very special guests on Thursday, January 30 at 7pm; and a poster signing at El Sol y La Luna with artist Susanna Blanton who has done three Carnaval posters, including this year’s fantastic Black Orpheus-inspired work, date to be announced.
Here is the poster, as always, for sale in our store…the button for that is at the top of the page. It really looks great up close and personal!
Ok, enough for now. Don’t forget: BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW!
More soon…Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment October 23, 2012
Next week, October 30, you will have a very special, very rare chance to see one of the world’s greatest songwriters, singers, performers, thinkers. Just happens he’s from Brazil and his name is Gilberto Gil.
We were almost lucky enough to have him as a special guest at Carnaval 1979, but circumstances just didn’t allow it to happen…for some reason he decided to go back to Bahia to celebrate Carnaval there! A year later your humble SambaMaster spent a lazy Sunday afternoon at Gil’s home in Bahia…a very incredible experience.
The following is the result of an interview conducted about ten years ago, as well as earlier phone conversations with this amazing talent. Check it out, we hope it will convince you to take advantage of Gil’s presence in Austin…his performance will NOT disappoint!
More than Milton Nascimento, more than Gal Costa, more than Caetano Veloso, more than any other Brazilian artist of 35 years ago, Gilberto Gil had the power to lure me into the intoxicating vortex of Brazilian rhythms, textures and words and hold me there. Gil led me to the trough. No, Gil lashed me to the trough, and today, I am still drinking deeply from it.
After some consideration, it seems that, all along, Gil had the gift of coating even the most thought provoking messages—faith in god, his Zen philosophy, his vision of the female side of even the most macho male, the validity of black cultural expression—of coating very heavy stuff with an infectious, addicting, easy-to-swallow variety of musical guises. Even more than Milton, even more than Gal, even more than Caetano.
Gil cast the spell and I was hooked. I learned his language, lived in his country, experienced his culture, played his music religiously on the radio, even made the pilgrimage to his house one Sunday afternoon thirty years ago.
I was a zealot and my friends found me insufferable. I’m sure I heard them say, “Look out, Quinn is coming and he’s carrying that stack of Brazilian records.” Always, the first one off the top of that stack was Gil’s 1977 recording Refavela, a work I still consider to be one of the ten best pop music records ever made anywhere.
For emphasis, I want to repeat that: I’ve been involved with the music biz for 40 years and, in my opinion, Gilberto Gil’s Refavela is one of the ten best pop music records ever made, ANYWHERE!
I remain a zealot.
* * * * *
“I am a performer, a man of music who likes to write songs and translate other people’s songs into my own musical language,” said Gil in a telephone interview.
“What I really like to do is pick up the guitar and play, to write a song and sing it, to incorporate elements from all kinds of music. That’s why I like my [1998 Grammy winning CD] Quanta Live. It’s everything. It’s jazz and samba and reggae and salsa. It’s bossa nova and baião [a dance from Brazil’s northeast]. It’s everything together. That’s what I like.”
In addition to being a musician, Gil sees himself as an entertainer and a teacher.
“What is most important for me in my performances is pleasure. Pleasure for me first. And, if it is pleasurable for me, it will probably be a pleasure for the audience as well.”
Whether he wanted to or not, Gilberto Gil has become a guru for two generations of Brazilians. The spiritual, social and cultural development in his life has been an open book via the lyrics of his songs.
When Gilberto Gil releases a new recording, all of Brazil becomes privy to his current interests and beliefs: eastern religions, social and political injustice, his own awareness of gender ambiguity, the relationship between art and science, birth and rebirth—all manner of personal growth issues are thoroughly examined and described in clever language that is neatly tucked into his complex, yet totally “pleasurable” musical package.
So the question was posed about his work as an ongoing autobiography.
“It is that. Exactly. I like to use songs to transmit my own views of life and to discuss my inner self. I offer people what is universal, what might represent their inner self, by photographing my own interior through my songs. I am what you encounter in my music.
“In my music you will find a large number of references to religion, my vision of life and death, ideas of god, doubts about existence and non-existence, many philosophical concepts. I like to put these ideas into simple language, using simple poetry, so others can understand these very subjective ideas derived from my own search, my own quest.”
This quest began soon after his birth in 1942 in the culturally rich northeastern Brazilian city of Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, a state much lauded in poetry, prose and music by the likes of Dorival Caymmi, Jorge Amado, João Gilberto, Castro Alves and Ary Barroso.
The family moved to the small backlands town of Ituaçu where the young Gil was exposed to the droning 10-string guitars of song-duelers called violeiros in the marketplace, to the emerging tradition-grounded northeastern pop fusion of Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro (broadcast incessantly over tinny loudspeakers in the town square), and to the excitement provided all small children by the rousing cacophony of the small municipal band.
Music was commonplace, but Gil was different.
He was privileged to come from a well-educated family (his father a doctor and his mother a professor) in a country where most people could not read. In addition, Gil himself points out that he was gifted with a predilection for the arts and music.
So the incipient guru felt the call at an early age.
“I was destined by my nature to become an artist. When I was very young, I already felt like an artist. When I was only two or two and a half, I told my mother I was going to become a musician. And by three or four, I was already writing poetry, working with my dreams and my fantasies.
And it was about that time that Gil himself fell under a spell. The spell of João Gilberto’s brand new bossa nova, a spell felt by so many others of his generation, including his principal collaborator over the years, Caetano Veloso.
Gil was soon performing in clubs and on television, while simultaneously earning a degree in business administration in Salvador. His music began to evolve from a mix of the two-step dance music of his native northeast (baião, xaxado, xote, etcetera), with the lilting, syncopated bossa-samba of Gilberto, with straight ahead samba from Rio, and occasional hints of African flavored influences from Salvador.
By the mid-1960s, he left behind the coat and tie of the business world and devoted himself to pursuing a very different path, a path that would lead to a position of national influence, then international prominence.
“My first phase was one of traditional forms. Nothing experimental at all. Caetano and I followed in the tradition of Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro, combining samba with northeastern music. We just continued with what went before, but we created a new pop style by simply using some new tools and a new language, adapting the guitar playing of João Gilberto and Dorival Caymmi to a new context.
“We changed the principal instrument of Gonzaga’s style from the accordion to the guitar. We were saying the same thing, we just used a new instrument.”
His first record was a well-received document of various traditional styles and introduced Gil’s insightful use of language and word play that would continue to be one of his most respected trademarks. For example, a Jorge Ben-like samba about the internet on the aforementioned Quanta Live recording refers to the “infosea” (infomar) and “infotide” (infomaré) instead of “superhighway,” playing off the connection between net and sea, and the Portuguese verb “informar,” meaning “to inform.”
Gil’s songs, at least as recorded by others, were soon topping the charts.
It seems natural with hindsight that even on his early recordings, an experimental side was already starting to appear, foreshadowing the revolutionary Tropicália movement usually credited mainly to Caetano Veloso, and so frequently lauded by the ultra-hip press of the United States, 40 years after the fact.
One tune, “Lunik 9”, mimics a rocket launch through a crescendo composed of alternating musical forms and tempos. Another, “Domingo no Parque” (Sunday in the Park) describes a crime of passion on a Sunday ferris wheel ride: Gil using cinematic techniques of quickly changing images and cuts, almost like the famous shower scene of Psycho, but realized through poetry and music.
With the full-tilt onslaught of the northern hemisphere’s mid-60s musical revolution, influences from outside Brazil were bound to manifest themselves in the work of such astute observers as Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. The Beatles and others, including Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis all had a profound effect.
But these reflections of other concepts represented nothing more than a shift in the approach through which Gil, et al, expressed their innate Brazilian-ness, their raison d’être that was never intended to take a backseat to anything else. Nevertheless, in 1968 when Gil and Veloso added electric guitars to their previously acoustic performance, they were booed off the stage.
Interestingly, through the Tropicália movement and through most of his career, none of Gil’s music reveals any direct influence or mimicry of his extra-Brazilian sources.
“Hendrix and Miles Davis were artists from another world of expression who had a spirit we could identify with. Hendrix worked within a range of technical elements completely different from ours. But I felt very inside, very close to what he did. It was in this sense, the spirit of what he did, that I was inspired, that feeling captured me.
“It’s the same with other influences like rock, jazz, blues, the Beatles. You don’t hear them explicitly in my music, but rather, as more of an atmosphere.”
Eventually audiences came around and embraced these visionaries.
Gil was beginning to emerge as a guru for the young generation of Brazilians quickly tiring of the repressive actions of the ever-strengthening military government. At least that’s what certain paranoid generals believed.
So, in late 1968, both Gil and Veloso were imprisoned on non-existent charges, and by early 1969 were living in exile in London where the stimulation from a boiling music scene reinforced and augmented their abilities to reframe their art in yet even more complex terms.
When Gil returned to Brazil in 1972 with newly honed composing skills and guitar chops, he entered a phase of strong reconnection with his Brazilian roots and suddenly his music took off as never before.
Songs such as the carnaval anthem “Aquele Abraço” (actually from 1969), “Expresso 2222”, “Pipoca Moderna” and “Chiclete com Banana” [a Jackson do Pandeiro classic, “Chewing Gum with Banana”: “I’ll only put bebop in my samba when Uncle Sam plays the tamborim/When he plays the tambourine and the bass drum/When he learns that the samba is not rumba/Then I will mix Miami with Copacabana…”] offered folk and traditional songs in fresh clothes that owed more to the old than the new, but still sounded newer than old.
At about the same time Gil began a very open period of self-examination and spiritual exploration. His forays into Zen and other religions were public record through songs such as “Oriente” (Orient/Find Yourself), “Retiros Espirituais” (Spiritual Retreats) and “Refazenda” (Re-Farm, comparing the theme of nature’s rejuvenation with spiritual renewal).
In 1977, Gil traveled to Nigeria to participate in the Festival of Black Art and Culture. This trip awakened his interest in the African roots of his own music, resulting in the now classic LP, Refavela, and a body of work that, while focusing on the richness of African traditions in Bahia, did not ignore the strong African element in samba and even bossa nova.
(Footnote: My early assessment of Refavela as a seminal work is shared by Gil himself: “Refavela was my favorite record. So far it is the album I like the most.”)
At this point, Gil adopted reggae as an important mode of expression that would last till the present. In 1979 he made one of his best selling records, a stunning cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”, and a year later toured Brazil with Jimmy Cliff.
“I put black consciousness into political terms. I worked within the black movement and presented myself to people as a model. Not as an ideal, but as a real person who might help validate people’s roots and culture. I can safely say that my work is of real cultural importance in Brazil.”
Amen. Or, as the Yoruba-based religions of Salvador, Bahia might say it, axê babá.
His efforts in this area have extended to active participation within the government of Salvador, helping to restore some of the city’s black architectural heritage, and supporting the then-emerging Africanization of the city’s carnival groups such as Olodum and Ilé Ayê. And Gil recently produced a documentary film on the oldest Afro-Bahian carnival group, the Filhos de Gandhi.
The 1980s saw Gil mature into more entertainer than sage. He fully admits to putting more emphasis on style over content. But in fact, the weighty content continued. And the style? To this day, no one in Brazil can get an audience moving the way Gil can.
Quanta Live, his 1998 Grammy award winner, is a neat summary of everything that has gone before. There are bossas, some catchy northeastern rhythms, some heavier samba, a couple Marley tunes, and of course, some samba-reggae, the now-ubiquitous Afro-Bahian expression of carnival music. He is particularly proud of the music he is making today, “It’s a fusion of everything, with no real emphasis on one style or another.”
Language games are laced throughout, as are nods to the old masters, Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto. There is a very clever contrasting reference to the first samba ever recorded, “Pelo Telefone” (By The Telephone). The last two lines of “Pela Internet” (By the Internet) quote the music of the first two lines of the old 1917 samba and paraphrase the original lyric: “By telephone, the chief of police called to warn that there is a roulette wheel to play at the Plaza Carioca,” with this new version, “By cellular phone, the Carioca (Rio) chief of police called to warn that there is a video poker game to play at the Plaza Onze.” Get your hands on both tunes and the genius becomes crystal clear.
Quanta Live, his 33rd album, and the earlier studio version, Quanta, are vibrant portraits of an artist in his mature stage, seamless montages of 30 years of assimilation, creation and vision, all presented in that irresistible Gil manner: music that makes you want to dance, that makes you smile, lyrics that make you think.
But most importantly, especially to Gil the entertainer, Quanta Live represents where he is today, or, rather, was in the late ‘90s when it was recorded.
“This was the real thing. I won the Grammy with a record representing was the day it was recorded, and that makes the prize more valid for me, to be recognized for what I really am. In fact, twice as much if I had won with the studio version.
“A Brazilian journalist complained that the record was full of imperfections. And I said, ‘Yes, that’s it. No tricks. That’s me. Gilberto Gil, live, in person.’ ”
Another of Gil’s recent disks is also a live set, but in this case, it’s mostly just Gil and his guitar. Bandadois is a laid back Gil accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, along with his two sons on percussion and bass, working through a survey of many Gil standards.
And his newest, Fé Na Festa, is a return to his forró roots, that Brazilian Northeastern accordion-based fais do do that Gil cut his teeth on as a youngster. The live version of this studio session is even more exciting and worth seeking out: Fé Na Festa Ao Vivo is a HOT record with an expanded set list including many Gil and Northeastern classics.
But he’s not done yet. After a stint as Brazil’s Minister of Culture, Gil has returned to performing. No doubt Gilberto Gil will continue to dazzle and entertain those who choose to pay attention to his ongoing autobiography.
I am certainly glad I chose to pay attention back in the 1970s. I am glad I am paying attention right now.
It’s not too late for you to pay attention also. Your effort will be amply rewarded.Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on You Don’t Want to Miss This Fantastic Brazilian Talent: Gilberto Gil at the PAC September 24, 2012
Well, it’s been a long road, but welcome to our new website! We are extremely proud of our new look which absolutely reflects the feel and ambience of Carnaval in Rio, a party which has been, from the very beginning, the model for our little celebration in Austin.
The site has been reorganized and should be easier for visitors to find the information they are looking for. We’ll be adding and editing over the next few weeks, and we’ll make an effort to keep you informed of new developments in the world of Carnaval, samba, Brazilian music in Austin, etcetera, on a regular basis via this blog. If you have something you’d like to share, email us via the form at the bottom of the page (the “Contact” button) and we’ll try to include it as soon as possible, assuming it is relevant!
We should mention here the folks who put the new site together, the team at Productive Insomnia, Zoe and Mik. Zoe did the phenomenal artwork and tolerated the almost endless back and forth of ideas and sketches we demanded of her! But in the end, she friggin’ nailed it! As someone said, it is very reminiscent of the street art you will find in Rio’s most Carnaval/Samba Crazy neighborhood, Lapa. We are extremely pleased and proud of what Zoe has produced. And the wizard behind the curtain, Mik, labored many long post-midnight hours to get the site to work as smoothly as it does, and helped enormously to clean up our digital act. You can reach the team at www.ProductiveInsomnia.com and Zoe’s artwork can be seen at www.zoematthiessen.com. If you need art or website design services of any sort, please consider these extremely talented folks!
The coming year is our thirty-sixth year to produce Carnaval. Wow! Sometimes it seems like only a few years ago we got this thing going—it has been so much fun, and so rewarding each year when we see a room full of thousands of smiling, no, grinning, faces. Yours included. If you’ve enjoyed the party over the years, share it with your friends, you can even do that painlessly via our FaceBook Fan page which can be accessed here.
We’ve made an effort to improve the celebration each year, but have also made every effort to maintain the basic feel and flow of the event. Our lighting is better, the sound system is better, we’ve done everything in our power (remember, we’re at the mercy of an outside City of Austin contract holder) to make drink lines move more quickly…and, most importantly, the music is markedly improved over the sometimes shaky bands we had the first few years. Kudos to all those who’ve contributed their musical talents over the years to make Carnaval what it is: Larry Crook, John Wheat (he even played the very first year, and is still playing with the Austin Samba School!), Susanna Sharpe, Russ Scanlon, Sergio Santos, Marianne Ebert, Helio Schiavo, Reinaldo Fernandes and Jorgão Silva of Beleza Brasil, and lastly, Robert Patterson and his amazing group of volunteers, Acadêmicos da Ópera, aka The Austin Samba School. Wow, the music is what makes the party and these are just a few of the significant contributors to that end. Party hats off to all of the great musicians we’ve been lucky to find.
I’d like to make a special call-out to the amazing force that helps pull all this together “on the ground” in Austin, the whirlwind energy that makes sure all the ducks are in a row, who organizes all the pre-Carnaval events which warm up city for the big event, who has been invaluable to the Carnaval team for almost ten years, Carnaval’s Assistant Producer Penny Moulder! If you see her in the crowd this February, give her a big “THANK YOU”! And we should congratulate her on her upcoming wedding, coming up this Saturday! Penny, we all love you!
Ok, enough for now.
Enjoy the new site, share it with friends.
See you February 2, 2013, if not sooner!Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged austin, brasileiro, carnaval, music, samba | Comments Off on Welcome to The New Website for Carnaval Brasileiro