I was sitting in bar in Ilheus with Rose, one half of the husband-wife team curing Fiona with plants, when I recognised the song the over-amplified bossanova singer (statutory in all Brazilian restaurants) was singing. It was on a old cassette I had from my University time, a compilation of Brazilians classics. Rose told me it was called Leaozihno by Caetano Veloso. She started translating the text and I realized that it was about a boy. The one song I picked out was a gay love song from Brazil’s Paul McCartney (who incidentally has had 2 wives and 3 sons). This seemed to me to be deliciously symbolic of the freedom of affection that I’d experience in Rio, where any desire, in any direction was seen as a wonderful compliment. Anyway it’s a beautiful song – and Caetano has the most beautiful of singing voice and makes Portuguese sound like hummingbird honey. Check out Peter Gast, Allegria Allegria, Queixa which are all tracks by him.
Once I started listening there’s a whole cascade of greats: it’s like discovering a whole parallel history of music in a different language: there’s Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Talking Heads but all from Brazil. And all incredibly poetic. Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil (now the Minister of Culture in Lula’s government), Caetano’s sister Maria Bethania and Elis Regina who were all singing in the Sixties and who mostly still going today (apart from Elis who I think is dead). Or more recently is Maria Rita (who I think is Elis’ daughter – they’re all related the Royalty of Brazilian Pop) and Milton Nascimento who wrote the corking A Festa on Rita’s last album, a song which has the sexy chorus:
Embrace me, crush me,
Wrap me up in your legs
Take me, force me, flip me, bewitch me,
Dress me up in kisses.
Which brings me to the Brazilian love of sex. It’s everywhere and not in the comodified way we see it in the West – on billboards, on TV, in magazines – it’s on people’s bodies, in their looks and and smiles. It’s intoxicating and I have to say – for this frosty Protestant princess, sometimes a little overwhelming. Rio was just too much. Too much beach, too much flirting, too much fucking. I wondered if anyone did anything but sit on the beach, drink in bars, dance, sing and screw. Of course they do – but there is a definite hedonistic tone to most Brazilian conversations. It doesn’t take more than 4 minutes before the conversation comes around to Carnaval – that consumation of Brazilian Hedonism. Be it Salvador or Rio, Carnaval makes Brazilians glow and tremble with joy and pride.
I was sitting in Pelhourihno, the old UNESCO protected centre of Salvador with some class mates eating icecream and around the corner came a 7 piece brass-and-percussion samba band. It was about 6pm on a Wednesday, no particular occasion but things were just warming up. There was another drum-school working up a sweat 50 metres away. In the main square there was a big stage with various bands. Every nook and cranny was filled with music makers. Music is exactly as ubiquitous as sex. When I relaxed into it – a caipirihna helps – I allowed to seep into the music, and just bounce around from place to place, from dance to dance. But it went against all of my Northern European instincts. Dancing for no reason? With strangers? without any obvious end in sight?
In the end all that flirtation and spontaneity took its toll on my little English body. By the time I got back to Rio I had been struck immobile by a crappy stomach and bone-deep fatigue. Probably an ill-judged glass of tap water. Anyway it made me feel distinctly un-sexy – which as I mentioned, is a crime in Rio. I was quite glad to get back to cold, grumpy grey but familiar England this afternoon. Still I have a stack of CDs I can discretely practise being sexy to…