Posts tagged with A Poetic License

Rio, The Happiest City? No Surprise There

“My Soul Sings/I See Rio de Janeiro I miss it so much/ Rio, your sea, endless beaches/Rio, you were made for me” Antonio Carlos Jobim,


I can't say that I was surprised when I heard that Rio de Janeiro was voted “the world's happiest city” by Forbes Magazine earlier this week (runner-ups including Sydney, Barcelona and San Francisco). From what I've seen from my various visits to the former Brazilian capital, there is a certain feeling of happiness that comes from that town. It is little wonder that Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote so fondly about it in songs like “Corcovado” and “Samba do Aviao.” Rio de Janeiro is really a wondrous city, not only because of its natural beauty, but also due to their friendly, amiable inhabitants.

Just last May, my wife and I took a two-week vacation to Brazil, and spent the first half of that in Rio. In addition to checking out the usual tourists spots, we were also able to check out some of the music spots there, and also made a few friends at a boteco (corner bar) close to our hotel , where between several glasses of beer we were able to chat with the locals about life there.

Through those conversations, we could feel that in spite of the crime, poverty and political corruption and other problems that afflict the nation, Cariocas (as we call the people from Rio) are really content with their lives in a way that is unimaginable to Americans.

The first thing you get there is the weather: temperatures are always mild, and unlike Florida, there are no hurricanes or any other natural disasters to speak of. And the city has a pretty reliable public transportation system. And of course there are the miles and miles of beautiful beaches. I remember that on our first day there, we went on a stroll after drinking cafezinho (espresso-like coffee) at a nearby food stand. We walked about half of the extension of Copacabana beach, stopping every now and then for a chopp (draft beer) at one of the many food kiosks located near the sand.

There is also the Carnaval, when for four days revelers throw their cares to the wind and enjoy the never-ending samba parties, lazy mornings and pretty much everything else the city has to offer.

Who wouldn't be happy with that?

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New York Celebrates Brazil on Labor Day

The 25th Anniversary of Brazilian Day in New York

by Ernest Barteldes

Sunday, September 6 W 46th Street and 6th Ave. 12-6 PM http://www.brazilianday.com
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Ever since I moved to New York almost nine years ago (though it doesn't seem that long – time really flies), I have looked forward to Labor Day weekend, when the annual Brazilian Day Festival takes place. It is an opportunity to reconnect with the spirit of the country I left behind through its music, food and language.

Among the most memorable moments I can recall was Daniela Mercury (2001), who at the time was touring in support of her crossover pop album Sou de Qualquer Lugar, a disc that broke from the usual Axe music content she'd been doing until then. It was a rainy afternoon, and the crowd was not as numerous as it had been before, and it was great fun. Another was when Ivete Sangalo serenaded the crowd (2003) with a mix of dance-friendly songs and also some tunes that reminded all of us of lazy, sunny days by the beach.

Not all the memories were that great, though. I recall cringing in 2003 when the US National Anthem was interrupted by an unruly crowd who screamed the Brazilian anthem over it – which prompted the event's organizer, Mr. Joao de Matos to take the microphone and admonish the audience, who had to be reminded that they were in American soil after all, and that they owed respect to the nation that had received them so well.

But such incidents were isolated. As I have written in numerous publications in the past, the Brazilians who come to the party are mostly well-behaved. Few arrests (if any) are ever made during the day, and everybody has lots of fun as the day goes on – and also during the various after-parties that take place all around Manhattan – which makes Brazilian Day a must-see festival for those who happen to be in New York that long weekend.

The lineup this time around - the 25th anniversary of the event – includes samba/soul diva Alcione, percussion innovator Carlinhos Brown (who has worked with various big names in the industry both in Brazil and abroad), controversial punk rocker Marcelo D2 and singer Elba Ramalho, one of the principal acts that helped northeastern music reach mainstream radio during the 1980s.

As for myself, I will be skipping Brazilian Day this year. Instead, I will be paying a visit to Cleveland, the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. Their local alternative paper, the Cleveland Scene, has been continuously been publishing my work for quite a long time, and I think it's due time for me to get to know it...

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My Beef with… Well, Beef

At a recent BBQ outing with my wife and a couple of friends, someone I was talking to was surprised by the fact that I don't eat beef. “How do you live?” she asked with a genuine tone of surprise in her voice. What I responded was the same thing I always tell everyone when this kind of topic comes up:

Growing up in Brazil, I frequently attended outdoor parties, and beef was always consumed in large quantities. Not only that, but my parents were very fond of rodizio churrascarias, the countr'ys traditional all-you-can eat restaurant, where countless servings of choice meat cuts are brought to your table until you are, well, bursting.

Just over a decade ago, I began to abstain from beef (later the same thing with pork), and started feeling much better. No longer did I feel that heavy feeling in my stomach that always came after having a meal. And also, I discovered that there were so many other options on the menu that included poultry, seafood or simply vegetables.

Not that it was easy for people to get it. I recall that ten years ago I made a stop to Sao Paulo, Brazil as I made my way back to Fortaleza after a few weeks in New York and Kansas (this was before I relocated here). I was with a girlfriend at the time who pretty much kept a diet similar to mine, and on the first night my mother invited us to have dinner at a local restaurant. Brazil's biggest city prides itself for being the capital of gastronomy there - in fact, you can find the best of international cuisine in the entire country.

I told my mother that we ate “everything but beef,” and she took us to Avenida Angelica Grill (Av. Angelica, 430 in the fancy neighborhood of Higienopolis), which is considered one of the best steak houses in the entire city. Not that I was complaining – their salad bar is as stupendous as their service is impeccable. But I thought it was a waste to sit there and watch all that beef glide by without even touching it.

When I met my wife Renata, she was a bit surprised about my diet, too. Having come from a culture where beef is part of everyday life (look at a Polish cookbook – how many recipes do NOT have beef in them?). But she got along with it fine – since I'm the cook of the house, I get to do the food shopping. But she does ask for kielbasa every now and then, and of course I oblige.

Today, I still stay away from beef (with the exception of an occasional summer hot dog at Nathan's whenever I go to Coney Island), even though some look at me like I'm crazy at times. I have no problem with other people eating beef in front of me. Just don't ask me to have a piece.

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New York Culture Beat: The Brazilian Film Festival in NY

Not many Latin American films make it to US theaters these days, so it is always with great anticipation that I wait for the Brazilian Film Festival (www.brazilianfilmfestival.com), an ongoing circuit that makes an annual stop in New York, starting at Central Park Summerstage and then on to Lower Manhattan's Tribeca Cinemas.

The festival opens with a live concert by Rio de Janeiro-based Silvia Machete, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who is yet to become a household name either in Brazil or abroad. In previous editions, the Festival showcased more “name” artists like Maria Rita and Margareth Menezes, but this year they apparently went for a change in musical direction.

Following the concert is a screening of “If I Were You 2,” a sequel to a highly successful comedy in which a couple (played by Tony Ramos and Gloria Pires) accidentally get their minds swapped after an electrical storm and as a result learn to understand each others' private worlds better.

Another interesting feature is Budapest, an adaptation from the eponymous novel by Chico Buarque de Hollanda. The plot follows Jose Costa (Leonardo Medeiros) , a ghostwriter who accidentally lands in Hungary during an emergency landing while enroute from Istanbul. Fascinated with the language and culture, he later decides to spend some time there and learn how to speak Hungarian – the one language that – as the narrator explains, “the Devil respects.” Shot on location both in Rio and Budapest and spoken in Portuguese and Hungarian, it is one of the must-sees this time around.

Documentaries are also plentiful during the event. One that has sparked my curiosity is Wandering Heart (Errante Navegante), an account of Caetano Veloso's international tour in support of 2003's English-language CD A Foreign Sound, which received mixed reviews back then and much criticism from more purist Brazilian fans who considered the disc a sell-out.

There are countless shorts included this year (my personal pick being Cleansing of Bomfim from Bahia to New York, about the ritual cleansing of Manhattan's 46th St. before Brazilian Day) in addition to dramas, comedies and various other genres – which just might please the most avid movie fanatic.

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New York Music Beat: The Siren Music Festival, Coney Island July 18

by Ernest Barteldes

Now that the Latin Alternative Music Conference is behind us, it is time to check out another New York music tradition, the Siren Music Festival in Coney Island, a sweaty music event that is currently on its ninth edition with a large day-long showcase of both independent and signed bands who are expected to be breaking through soon – examples of past participants include Baby Loves Disco, Guided By Voices The Donnas, Modest Mouse, The Stills, Death Cab For Cutie and also The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who played the festival shortly before their major-label debut turned them into the neo-punk darlings they went on to become later on. I've been attending this Village Voice-sponsored festival since its second edition (I only missed it in 2007, when I was traveling in Brazil), and for starters let me state that this is not for the faint of heart – you have to walk back and forth between the two stages to catch the different performances – the crowds are huge, bathrooms are hard to come by (the best being at Nathan's Famous facilities on Stillwell Avenue), and of course there is the unwavering heat to deal with. But the Siren Festival is great fun, and there is the opportunity to discover music before it hits the radio stations – call it finding diamonds in the rough. And there are also the countless freebies that you can score there, ranging from CD compilations, T-shirts, energy drinks and of course the ever-present New York City condoms – the mayor does want us to stay safe, I guess.

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Another thing is the fact that you don't have to shell out six dollars for your beverage of choice. Delis sell beer for an average price of $ 2.50 (open containers are still illegal on in public, even if brown-bagged or poured into paper cups. The police usually looks the other way as long as revelers behave, but summonses have been given out), and food can be found at affordable prices there. You can also refresh yourself by going for a dip in the ocean – the water is fine at this time of the year, reaching an average temperature of about 60 degrees. The best way to get to the festival is using Public Transportation. You might want to drive, but remember that The Siren Music festival has become the second biggest day on Coney Island (after the Mermaid Parade), so parking can be a daunting task. Subway trains servicing the area are the N,Q,F and D trains. The B64 bus is also a relatively fast option, taking an average of 30 minutes from Bay Ridge – the best option for those coming in from areas like Staten Island. The Siren Music Festival begins at 12 noon, ending at about 9 PM. For information on schedules, band information and pretty much anything else you might want to need, visit their site at http://siren.villagevoice.com/siren

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The Joys of Summer Music

Zap Mama at Summerstage 2007

One thing I love about the warm months of summer is the abundance of free outdoor concerts and festivals that populate the streets and parks at this time. Since I relocated to New York almost nine years ago, I have had the opportunity to enjoy great music, theater and film --- without having to go broke in the process.

My first Summer concert in New York was in July 2001, which turned out to be Celia Cruz's final performance. Already ill with the cancer that would claim her life about a year later, Cruz came on stage with her traditional “Azucar!” scream as the band kicked off the first number. She was visibly frail, but her voice was intact. I also remember that halfway through the set, there was a hailstorm that fell upon us as we ran for cover.

The audience did not know about her illness back then – but it became clear that she was saying goodbye when halfway through “Bemba Colora,” she said: “As I prepare to leave, please, please God, remember my name... and If I die, hell, just bury me right here in Central Park and I want you all here with me. Remember my name: I am Celia Cruz.”

Fortunately for all of us, this statement was recorded and is available on the CD Central Park Summerstage: Live From The Heart of The City,” which came out a couple of years ago, including performances by Burning Spear, Ojos de Brujo, NRBQ and several more.

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Mavis Staples, Central Park Summerstage 2008

There were countless shows I've seen over the years, including Daniela Mercury (at Brazilian Day and Summerstage), Lila Downs (Summerstage, Celebrate Brooklyn), Skank (Brazilian Day, Summerstage), Los Lobos (Summerstage), LadySmith Black Mambazo (World Financial Center), Lulu Santos (Brazilian Day), Thievery Corporation, Cassandra Wilson (Summerstage), Vieux Farka Toure (Summerstage), Chicha Libre (Celebrate Brooklyn)... the list goes on.

I have already begun to attend local concerts this year. For those with a lot of time in their hands, go ahead and look for all those reviews via Google – there are hundreds of those out there.

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The Pitfalls of Facebook

Reading Vanessa Gregoriadis' recent detailed article about Facebook on New York magazine, http://nymag.com/news/features/55878/ I was reminded how powerful social networks have become of late, and the pitfalls that have come with this new form of - let's face it - overexposure.

Last January, I was feeling a little frustrated by the fact that several pitches I'd sent to a number of publications in a certain geographical area had gone unanswered for longer than usual. One afternoon, I ran into a friend and then we had a few drinks together which caused me to lose some of my inhibitions.

Later that day, I made the mistake of logging into my Facebook account, where I left what I will call an off-color remark about what I was feeling at that moment.

Now, I had - like many before me - posted a few silly things on my account status to zero consequence whatsoever. I figured then that what I had written would be laughed at and dismissed as a silly rant. But to my surprise - some people took real offence.

Later that evening, I got a message from one of the editors I've worked with over the years. In it, this individual wrote that "this is not only incredibly immature, it is going to have the exact opposite effect that you intend. "

She added that "Facebook comments (not the appropriate place to try to do business), and so on are not going to get me caught up with e-mails any faster. In fact, they are going to make me want to answer yours, or give you assignments, last. I'm sorry you're frustrated with the speed at which I respond to you, but damaging our working relationship does neither of us any good."

This person along with a couple of others also immediately de-friended me and let me know why they'd done it. One of those wrote me that "not getting responses must be extremely frustrating, but being an editor and tackling the escalating demands of that job, while simultaneously dealing with free-lancers who constantly e mail, call, and generally add to the overwhelming feelings of pressure you already might be struggling with, is no picnic either."

Having realized how bad my blunder had been, I sent a direct email with an apology, but it was to no avail. Because of what I'd written (do NOT ask me to repeat it), a three-year working relationship was suddenly over, and has not been restored since. The worst of it was that I was not venting about anyone in particular, but things sadly ended up as they did.

Today, my status updates are pretty innocuous. Having been burned once, I learned that sometimes words you think are harmless can be truly hurtful. I haven't heard from my former friend since that day ,and every attempt of communication since have gone unanswered (I stopped trying after a few times - what is the point?), and although I recognize that what I wrote was wrong, I also think that this prolonged "silent treatment" is a bit over the top.

After all, we all make mistakes.

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On The Nature of Comments

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I saw it as an opportunity to try out the whole blogosphere thing in a low-key kind of way - I had already contributed pieces for different publications around the country - mostly the Miami New Times and The Houston Press, which both have daily blogs on music and the arts.

I was surprised when I got numerous comments on two pieces I wrote here - the first being a note on the arrest of a relative in Lawrence for gun posession, and the second an account of my last trip there in order to attend my grandfather's funeral - that one got a whopping 58 comments (there were more, but I flagged them) in just a few days.

I have since posted other pieces, but those didn't get much of a reaction - maybe because they had little or nothing to do with the city of Lawrence.

Now, I welcome any kind of commentary - especially critical ones. But what I got in some cases was nasty and borderline threat-like. One person went to great lenghts to go through my entire published history - and also my Facebook profile. I had no choice but to flag those posts and have them removed - I felt like I'd been stalked online.

On the other hand, there were also some comments that made me reflect on my own writing - for instance, one individual opposed a remark I'd made - I immediately realized it was inappropriate, and edited the original text in order to make it more palatable. I did more revisions on the same text every time someone pointed out something was unclear or too vague.

Looking at other articles published on the site, I noticed that some comments were completely thoughtless - almost as if the reader had been doing tequila shots before posting - for instance, I saw several posts on a piece on LJWorld that simply made fun of a reader who'd mispelled a couple of words - I mean, what exactly is someone trying to accomplish with that kind of thing?

When I leave a comment somewhere, I try to do something that is worthwhile, that people will react to (agreeing or not) in a positive manner in order to create a dialogue. Apparently, some use the Internet's anonimity shield to create bar brawls - even though they would never do that in real life...

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Bossa Nova Discovery

“I just don't get it,” Karen said as she wondered about her musical tastes. “How can I be so hooked by Bossa Nova while still loving the music of George Michael?”

The year was 1996. Karen and I were sitting at a beachfront restaurant in Fortaleza, a city in northeastern Brazil where we both resided. We had been going out for a few months, and as college students we had very little time on our hands. Whatever chance we got, we would either watch a film on video or hang out at the beach - which would almost always end up with a torrid lovemaking session, a delightful routine that began after about half a year into the relationship.

At the time, neither of us had exactly eclectic musical tastes. I was – and still am - a huge fan of the blues of Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, while she was going through a dedicated phase of discovery of bossa nova and everything that had to do with it, going from the creation of the rhythm in the hands of Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Roberto Menescal and a few others who got together and revolutionized the sound of Brazil, blending the sophistication of cool jazz with the spontaneity of samba and achieving monumental success around the globe.

In Brazil, bossa had been - at first - a little more than a passing fad that was almost on the way out until American guitarist Charlie Byrd toured the country and discovered the beat. Over a quick session with saxophonist Stan Getz they recorded what was to become Samba Jazz, and shortly after came the historic Getz/Gilberto recording that would earn multiple Grammy awards and turn Astrud Gilberto into a star in her own right thanks to the single mix of “The Girl from Ipanema,” which pretty much obliterated Joao Gilberto's Portuguese-language vocals, which made what would be a mildly successful jazz CD into a major hit that resonates to this day.

Back in the mid-90s, George Michael was still best known for hits like “I Want Your Sex” and “Freedom '90,” and even though it was obvious to many that he was a gay man, some female fans still looked at him with dreamy eyes – his scandalous bathroom arrest (to which he would later respond with the video “Outside”) had not yet happened, and since the release of Listen Without Prejudice he had been enjoying a lot of success around the world despite having an aversion to touring – a characteristic that is too common among Brit musicians (maybe excluding Eric Clapton).

Karen was just as obsessed with George Michael as she was with Bossa Nova – her collection even included his discs with Wham and a handful of hard-to-find bootlegs, which only compared with her carefully guarded CDs of Jobim, Vinicius de Morais, Chico Buarque, Nara Leao, Miucha and others – it was something that she couldn't explain and simply didn't understand, and she was just wondering about it as we relaxed at Biruta, a youth-oriented beach bar we had always favored.

Karen always prized intellectuality over her looks. A tall, dark Brazilian woman with long, black hair,full lips and inquisitive brown eyes, she was the kind of girl who looked down on any woman who used her looks for leverage. To this day, she rarely wears any makeup to work as an effort to tone down any attractiveness that might overshadow her academic training

“ I just don't get it,” she insisted. “George Michael has nothing to do with bossa, and I love his music – is there something wrong with me?”

“I don't think so,” I said in response. “You can have diverse musical tastes, there's nothing wrong about liking more than one style – I mean, look at your relationship with northeastern rhythms – is there any rhyme or reason for that?”

“But at least there is a connection,” she responded with the same kind of vehemence that she used whenever she wanted to prove a point. “Bossa nova was created by Joao Gilberto, who is a northeastern guy, so at least the roots are the same.”

At the time, I didn't have a reply, but now I do: the simple syncopated beat of the forrozeiros (who have since been discovered by international audiences) is the music of the people – bossa is made by virtuosos who read music and have the kind of musical education that is beyond the reach of many of those musicians in Pernambuco or Ceara.

She still couldn't contain herself, and between sips of caipirinha, she would mutter about her musical ambiguity, which was beyond her understanding. As we were leaving for my beat-up 1979 VW, a strange version of “Corcovado” began to play on the restaurant's loudspeakers --- it seemed to be some electronica-inflected, deformed version of the classic tune with a jaded female voice taking the lead. I recall how we shrugged and left, wondering who had committed such an atrocity.

The following morning, I was browsing through a music store in Fortaleza's upper-class midtown area (those were the days before digital downloads came to exist) when I came across an album called Red Hot & Rio, a charity album put together by The Red Hot Organization to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS in Brazil. Among the participants were Chico Science (one of the creators of the Mangue Beat, who sadly passed away a week before the disc came out), Marisa Monte, David Byrne, Milton Nascimento, Sting and others.

Among the surprises on the disc was Everything But The Girl, who turns out was the group who had recorded the version of “Corcovado” that we heard at the beach, and a recording of “Desafinado” in a duet featuring Astrud Gilberto and... George Michael, who had shed his sensual dance chops to sing - in Portuguese, no less – in a soft bossa nova voice.

I could not contain myself, and I immediately purchased the disc and called Karen on the phone. I played the disc, but she could not figure out who the voice belonged to, and tried to guess a few times until she finally gave up. I drove over to her place and handed the disc over to her without the sleeve, and she was as puzzled as ever, until I mentioned our conversation from the day before. She gave me a puzzled look, and as she opened her lips she said, “George Michael?” almost in disbelief. She could not believe that the two musical things she loved the most had – quite unlikely – come together.

The tune was a departure for him. Gone were all the synths and beats – he sang bossa with the same respect that Sinatra gave the genre on his 1967 album with Jobim. He would repeat that approach on Older , Songs From The Last Century (a criminally overlooked disc) and during his MTV Unplugged set – by discovering Brazilian music, he changed the focus of his career (with the cost of losing some of his dance music-loving fans), often flirting with jazz, as heard “How Do You Keep The Music Playing?”, his magical duet with Tony Bennett in 2006. At the time, however, this was almost unheard of. I still remember the look on Karen's face as she spun the song, still unable to register that her favorite singer had gone bossa.

As for myself, Red Hot & Rio was like a gateway into the world of bossa nova, a genre that I was yet to discover and later master. Back then, I did not understand its sensibilities, and the bossa resurgence was still a few years away. Today, Oscar Castro-Neves, Joao Gilberto, Jobim and others have – through their music, at least – become good friends who I rely on from time to time, and who have helped me in my musical path.

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