Tag Archives: Brazil

[171] Dorival Caymmi – Caymmi E Seu Violao

23 Apr

A serviceable voice and some basic finger-picked guitar – not exactly a recipe for excellence. Yet somehow I am entranced from the first.


That Dorival Caymmi’s voice is nothing to write home about, and that his guitar work is simple and understated just means that I am left listening to the whole, rather than the parts. And there is something about this whole.

These recordings are described as songs of the sea, and these Brazilian sounds seem to combine the raw picking and chatting of Folk with the understated emotion of the best crooners. It is an arresting combination, and I am quickly immersed.

It probably helps that I have always lived by a body of water, from the Thames Estuary to the English Channel, from Manhattan’s East River to Lake Surprise. The water flowing towards the sea is in my blood, and I can hear its distant roar even in the quietest of these tunes.

Living near water, I believe, is the reason for my poor sense of direction. I get easily lost without concrete directions, often even in places where I have been many times. But I always know where the nearest large body of water is, so really, how lost could I get. At worst I just head towards the water, at which point I have a solid starting point and I am able to get unlost.

It’s a theory.

Caymmi’s is a “nice” voice, and I use this adjective with enormous intentionality as a lifetime Liberal Arts student who had the word all but beaten out of my vocabulary at an early age for being functionally meaningless. Caymmi carries a tune, but does not leave a listener breathless in the way many great vocalists do.

Again, this sounds like it should be a knock against a guitar and voice recording, but instead I can’t take my ears off of it. The very everyman nature of the whole is captivating – a guy relaxing on his porch, rather than a star on stage or even a busker on the street. It’s like a mere mortal singing Sinatra, and there is something humbling about the result.

I want to learn these lyrics, these tunes, to whistle and hum them as I go about my day. I want to learn Portuguese (albeit in a fanciful I-am-not-really-going-to-learn-Portuguese fashion.)

Caymmi owns these songs in a way that many artists never totally embody their recordings, a result perhaps of him being the sole songwriter credited on all but one of the dozen tracks here.

This album affects me so quickly and so deeply that I immediately explore further, into his earlier Sambas de Caymmi album. These are big band recordings of the bossa nova / samba movement he helped to birth in Brazil, hugely different from the ballads of Caymmi E Seu Violao.

I am just as quickly struck by the fact that I have made a mistake. In the familiar big band swing surrounding, there is nothing here jumping out at me, and I’d rather just be listening to Sinatra. Not to mention that the raw clarity of the later album is missing in this muddy mix.

Tom Moon knew what he was doing when he highlighted the spare, simple side of Caymmi.

Which is what I return to, cutting short my ill advised foray away from the path, back to the wind and the waves and the women by the water.

Next Time: Emmanuel Chabrier – Le Roi Malgre Lui

Owned before blogging? No. (14 of 171 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (23 of 171 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (143 of 171 = 84%)

[167] Cascabulho – Hunger Gives You A Headache

5 Feb

From the very first beat (if you will pardon the easy pun) it is the hectic and insistent percussion that drives everything else on this fascinating album. The irrepressible, unending drums fly along at a healthy clip dragging the vocals and strings into their time and space.  More than anchoring, they actual author the shape of the music.

167 cascabulho

Stylistically we discover a wonderful mix of unbridled joy and angry edge, a juxtaposition of traditional instrumental sounds with touches of modern recording techniques. When a hip hop beat momentarily kicks in my attention is immediately recaptured, recalibrating the whole, making me reconsider what I am listening to.

This is not folk music despite similarities in instrumentation, in some of the endless winding contra-melodies buoying the vocals. It is vibrant and topical and entirely of today’s zeitgeist.

It is quite an achievement.

The call and response quality in the vocals between lead and chorus is hypnotic, and always there are the drums. There’s even a damn solo at the outro of “Clementina De Jesus No Morro Da Conceicao”.

I challenge you to sit still while it plays. I certainly can’t.

I wonder what my coworkers think while this plays, filling the office with South American flair. How does it compare to my steady diet of Dan Reed Network, The Wildhearts, Queen, Billy Joel, my occasional forays into otherwise embarrassing 80s pop? Cascabulho sounds different, but affects me at least as much as my standard listening fare.

As I remember from previous foreign language selections, I find myself curious as to what the songs’ lyrics actually say, but in this case not enough to do anything about finding a translation. The tone is almost chatty, a neighbor shooting the breeze on a street corner – sharing gossip, complaining about prices, discussing the weather.

All in all, the sound makes me want to explore some of the other forro artists that inspired this amazing sound, starting with Jackson do Pandeiro, to whom . . . Hunger is dedicated. So I do, and once more I am unable to sit still as the fluid vocals flow over the dreamy percussion. The pedigree of Cascabulho is obvious, with even songs not directly covered having the recognizable DNA of these earlier recordings. It’s like finding a hidden track at the of an album, only to realize it’s a whole hidden album!

Discovery upon discovery – perhaps the entire goal of my exploring the 1,000.

Next Time: Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Owned before blogging? No (12 of 167 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No (21 of 167 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes (140 of 167 = 84%)

[164] Cartolo – Cartolo

3 Jun

The gentle, graceful, fragile guitar and vocal work of the first track lulls me into a false sense of relaxed security before the samba kicks in in earnest and blows the doors off any possibility of sitting still.


But it’s not the Brazilian sound as I think I know it.

The guitar and percussion is present, but in song after song it is woodwind and occasional brass that takes the lead, the attention, the starring role.  While the mild yet beautiful vocals hold the structure, the beat, it is (depending on the track) flute and sax and trumpet which meanders all over the beach, explores the city, entwines friends and lovers.  These are the instruments which provide the passion, power, precision.

The fact that it is all so unexpected means that I can’t stop listening.

Having recently finished reading my brother’s book Benfica to Brazil an exploration of his time studying the language and culture (and football) of Cartola’s home -I am keenly aware of the lilting, slightly imprecise sound of Brazilian Portuguese he so wonderfully describes.

I see the scenes he wrote about, which Cartola lived and later recorded.

Here is a old fashioned but somehow timeless sound, neither modern nor dated, and always a pleasure to hear, but especially as the temperature climbs into the 80s, letting us know that summer is on its way.

Next Week:  Enrico Caruso – Twenty-one Favorite Arias

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 164 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 164 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (137 of 164 = 84%)

[117] Lo Borges – Lo Borges

3 Jul

Call it the Beatles in Portuguese.


The influence is so clear, so openly acknowledged, and the songs so layered and interesting, it is almost like discovering a brand new Beatles album.

This is how the Fab Four could have evolved if they had visited Brazil instead of India.

If this sounds like  high praise, it is meant as such and is not unwarranted.  There is a post Summer of Love vibe here, a spirit of discovery, an attempt to hold onto innocence that is intoxicating.  And the connection to the sound of the Beatles (and to a lesser extent The Beach Boys) is visceral.

So much so that this almost feels like a Beatles cover album until you realize you have not actually heard these songs before.  The compositions tend toward John-penned story songs, with some of Paul’s ear for melody, and a healthy dose of George’s fiery guitar attack.

It seems that I am unable to evaluate these songs except in terms of The Beatles.

This may not be fair, yet I am struck again and again through these 15 sub-two minute tracks that the comparison is favorable.  How many artists would even dare to be placed head to head, side by side with the biggest musical phenomenon of a generation and more, let alone fare well?

Here is a patchwork album, much like the Side Two medley of Abbey Road, expanded to fill an entire disc, allowing exploration and experimentation without ever wearing out the welcome of a particular sound or idea.

The result is really quite fascinating.

Next Week: Boston – Boston

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 117 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (17 of 117 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (96 of 117 = 82%)

[84] Jorge Ben – Africa / Brasil

14 Nov

This album is a wonderful amalgam.  It is of its time without sounding dated, contains touches of African and South American flair without ever completely leaving its exceptional funk rock roots, and just as you are feeling comfortable with the formula it shows that it still has the power to surprise.

Africa / Brasil

Africa / Brasil

Africa / Brasil starts with such a heavy, electric bass driven riff that noone who hears it can hope to sit still – heads bob, toes tap, everybody grooves.  These are the sounds that remind me that Disco doesn’t have to be disposible, that it is  musically grounded in enthralling funk rhythms, guitar sounds, fun.

The “World” designation that Tom Moon goes for here is heard in the intricate drumming, in some of the instrument choices, but there is nothing on show here that would have alienated Top 40 fans in the US when this was released.

It certainly has my attention.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that this ranks up there with any of the best Rock I can think of.

While undeniably “70s sounding”, Jorge Ben’s tunes here do not sound out of date today – so much so that I wonder if these tunes and tones are regularly sampled.  There is a familiarity here that is palpable.  The vocals are warm, the vibe playful and positive, the result joyful.

And all this before hearing “Taj Mahal” – the melody that became Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” . . .

Where Bembeya Jazz National lost focus and outstayed its welcome, Jorge Ben’s shifts into spoken word over the drums and guitar, his whistles and ever changing instrumentation, his never-ending enthusiasm constantly leaves me wanting more.

There really is more amazing music out there than I am ever going to hear in one lifetime.

Next Week:  Salve Regina Gregorian Chant – Benedictine Monks of St Maurice and St Maur

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 84 = 11%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 84 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (68 of 84 = 81%)

Guest Blogger Doron Klemer: Jorge Ben – Africa/Brasil

10 Nov

Time for some more guest post-y goodness, this time from my jet setting brother, coming to you from wherever it is he has woken up and found himself today.  I have often said that Doron is a music fan who blogs about books, while I am a book lover blogging about music . . .


I have been following my brother’s blog of beats since it began, and meant to write a guest blog for some time.  Things kept getting in the way, (work, books, ending up in new countries by mistake, etc), as I watched some of my favourite bands and albums drift by without any comment from me.

And then, a month after I returned from northern Brazil for a prolonged vacation taste-testing caipirinhas and making sure the World Cup took place without (too much) incident, my brother prodded me to maybe write something, and what album was coming up shortly?  Jorge Ben’s 1976 album,  Africa / Brasil.

Since I was, at that very moment, working on a book about visiting both Africa and (South) Brazil, this seemed too good to pass up.

D in Brazil

D in Brazil

I usually immerse myself in a country’s music when I arrive there, as a way to both pick up its language and intonations and also some cultural background.  This time in Salvador de Bahía I somehow never got around to it, a strange state of affairs given that one of the only reasons I ever wanted to learn Portuguese was to be able to sing along to ‘Más Que Nada’ and the Lusitanian Manu Chao tracks I loved so much.

That is to say:  I had no idea who Jorge Ben was/is, (although this record was voted by Brazilian Rolling Stone as being one of the Top 100 Brazilian records of all time), and so here are my unadulterated thoughts on this album as I listened to it for the first time.

Enjoy the ride.

Track 1:  kicks straight in with a jangling rock guitar and shakers, before vocals roll over the top with some Umbabarauma’ing.  I then hear Ben’s voice for the first time, an infectious rising and falling of fun, backed up by a female chorus.  He sings, chants, talks and babbles his way through the opening number: “Joga bola, joga bola…jogador…’  A football fan!  How fitting!  And the song is just fantastic…

Track 2:  Starts slowly and funkily, and tells the story (in Portuguese naturally) of a mystic from 4,000 years ago – not the most obvious subject for a 70’s disco track, and not quite as much fun as the opening tune, but Ben’s voice, cracking on the high notes, is highly listenable.  What’s next, what’s next?

Track 3:  Suddenly, I’m listening to a Portugese-speaking Bob Dylan, with backing music by Serge Gainsbourg.  This is, as it sounds, a very, very good thing.

Track 4:  For the first time, the album feels to have gone off the boil a little.  Even a repetitive refrain of ‘Jogador do futebol’ cannot quite keep my interest in this slightly dull track with warbled lyrics.  Next!

Track 5: …and suddenly we’re back in cartoon-music territory.  There’s lots of talking, and it feels like things are getting a bit same-y…  I’m feeling a little disappointed.

Track 6:  Talking of things getting a little samey…  surely I recognise that chorus?  Halfway through this number I reach for the interwebs:  yes indeed, I am listening to Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?  (there’s a pretty simple answer to that questoin, surely?).  It turns out this track is where Rod got his chorus from.  Unfortunately, the song itself is not very good.

Track 7:  Like Manu Chao decades later, there is a running theme throughout all of these songs which, not having learned much in music class at school, I can only describe as the ‘whoopie whoop’ instrument.  This is all over the stripped-down tune ‘Xica da Silva’ (a ‘negra’ as we are told: such epithets are apparently commonplace in South America, even these days, as any football/soccer fans will know if they followed the Luis Suarez saga).  I find the song a little boring.  Next!

Track 8:  The story of Jorge next, and it’s great:  a female backing choir, a gnarly-voiced spoken tale of George who flies, apparently.  Toe-tapping fun is back again!

Track 9:  Things have slowed down a little for another sung/spoken tale of a footballer which gets me interested in the music again, (although I am sick of ‘that’ instrument, whatever it is).  The song is called The Number 10 From Gávea, which I believe is a reference to Zico when he played for Rio team Flamengo, a Brazilian legend and a guy I once stalked at a hotel in Japan when he was their national manager.  True story.  And a sweet song.



Track 10:  Some funky guitar and African drums liven up this upbeat track.  I am flagging, though.  This started out as so much fun, but it’s ending by exhausting me, the aural equivalent of drinking caipirinhas on the beach:  the first half dozen are great, but by the tenth, you are pretty sure you shouldn’t be doing this anymore…

Track 11:  Lots of shouting to start this one, and it doesn’t calm down, which actually gets a little grating after a while.  This is a slow-burning goodbye track, heavy on the sax, fade out to end the album.

And there I am, left with the feeling that it would have been good to listen to this on vinyl so I could just listen to the first side.

Some final thoughts:

-I could feel the Brazilian sun on my face again listening to this, but by the end I felt sunburned.  In my ears.

-This album for a while made me wish I had an afro.

-You should read my bookblog, and read my upcoming book ‘Benfica to Brazil: a year of football.

Owned before blogging? No.
Heard before blogging? No.
Heard of before blogging? Not even.
Recommend? How do I know what you like? Sure, why not, there are some funky tracks, and Portuguese is a gorgeous language, (at least when sung or even spoken by Brazilians: Portuguese spoken by the Portuguese themselves just gives you an idea of how Russian would sound if Russians gave up on pronouncing 80% of the vowels in words). Yes. Let’s go with yes.

Post Script:
I was at my beloved Benfica to see them beat Monaco in a Champions League match days after listening to this album for the first time.  What did I find playing on repeat in my brain throughout the match? “Joga bola jogador…”


Doron is a writer, traveler, tour guide, linguist and (in the interests of full disclosure) the brother of this blog’s author. What, you thought nepotism ended with George W?

Not good enough for England, so tries out for Brazil

Not good enough for England, so tries out for Brazil

Doron was also tempted to put ‘International Man Of Mystery’ on his latest batch of business cards, but decided he wasn’t quite 17 anymore.

He currently resides in Lisbon, Portugal, (since there are no World Cups or Olympics on at the moment), where he gives walking tours of the city to unsuspecting tourists.

He also writes two blogs, one on his book-buying addiction and another on football. This latter has turned into a project to to publish his first (but hopefully not last) book on his travels and adventures following the FIFA World Cup across the globe over the past 16 years, and his newly adopted team Benfica across Europe this year.

The project can be found and funded here.

Doron likes dogs, but does not like squidgy foods.




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