:: These reviews were originally published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


Expatriates, Pt. 1

Some of the most exciting
Brazilian popular music
is being made outside Brazil.

Daniella Thompson

21 February 2002

There are expatriates (Joseph Conrad comes to mind) who absorb the language and culture of their adopted country to such an extent that their origins become undetectable. There are those who throw away their past and start anew, but their previous work is of such moment that it follows them for the rest of their lives and beyond (I’m thinking of Kurt Weill).

Then there are those who continue using the idioms of their motherland wherever they are. At a time when “World” has become an entrenched genre of popular music, those who make popular music find it possible to move to another country or even another continent and continue functioning artistically as they would have at home, had the economic conditions there permitted such functioning.

As a result, some of the most interesting Brazilian popular music is being made in Japan, Europe, or the United States. Two recent examples are the CDs Praia dos Corais by Vasco Debritto, who lives in Japan, and Inverse Universe by Claudia Villela and Ricardo Peixoto, who make their home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Inverse Universe doesn’t reverse the order of the world as much as it opens horizons to expose new ways of looking at the familiar. Villela is a golden-throated singer whose vocal range, timbre, and expressiveness place her on the same rung with Joyce and Leila Pinheiro (in other words, the best Brazil has to offer). Peixoto is a crack string player who shines on 6-, 7-, and 12-string guitars, electric guitar, banjo and cavaquinho. Both Villela and Peixoto are gifted songwriters. Here they lay before us ten tunes, six of them wordless but embellished with Villela’s gorgeous vocalizing. The four songs with lyrics (by Villela) are all in Portuguese, although the liner notes provide English translations. All the tracks receive rich, complex arrangements assisted by a sizeable team of heavy hitters that includes some expatriates (e.g., pianist Marcos Silva), gringos closely tied to Brazilian music (harmonica master Toots Thielemans, clarinetist/saxman Andy Connell, drummer Michael Shapiro), and cariocas (Pedro Luís e A Parede percussionists Sidon Silva and Celso Alvim), among many others.

The songs present a captivating panorama of strangeness and familiarity, mixing idioms from disparate musical genres, including the classic lyrical MPB of “Ima” and “Presença,” the Arab undulations of “Caravana,” the jazzy regional-turned-global sound of “Inverse Universe.” “Falsa Valsa” is an achingly beautiful dialog between guitar and harmonica. Particularly striking is “Brasil com S,” the expatriate’s homage to her native land. It’s fitting that the latter song is also a jazzy tribute to the most famous samba-exaltação (indeed, the most famous Brazilian song)—Ary Barroso’s “Aquarela do Brasil.” The opening line, Luziu/no céu da pátria um clarão, carries the same melody as do the initial notes of “Aquarela,” while the word Luziu, pronounced the Brazilian way, sounds eerily like Brasil. In the third line, Chama o vigário pra benzer recalls Tira a mãe preta do serrado/Bota o rei congo no congado from “Aquarela,” and later on As fontes murmuram que Nanã echo Ary’s Ô, ôi essas fontes murmurantes.

Guitar and wordless vocalizing weave their magic through the jazzily humorous choro “Falando Sozinho” and the longing “Lobisomem.” “Matriz” plucks echoes of Baden Powell’s austere minimalism and blends them into a vocal lullaby, and “In Your Name” ends the disc on an expansive, hopeful note.

Audio samples of all the tunes are available on Claudia Villela & Ricardo Peixoto’s website.

Claudia Villela & Ricardo Peixoto: Inverse Universe
(Independent RP5561; 2001) 47:54 min.

01. Ima (Peixoto/Villela)
02. Caravana (Peixoto/Villela)
03. Presença (Claudia Villela)
04. Inverse Universe (Peixoto/Villela)
05. Falsa Valsa (Ricardo Peixoto)
06. Brasil com S (Claudia Villela)
07. Falando Sozinho (Ricardo Peixoto)
08. Lobisomem (Peixoto/Villela)
09. Matriz (Peixoto/Villela)
10. In Your Name (Peixoto/Villela)


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