- Two dazzling albums that illustrate the revolutionary energy of Brazilian music and politics in the '80s.
- What constitutes revolutionary music? Is it the way it sounds? The historical context? From the Velvet Underground combining Brill Building songwriting with La Monte Young's ecstatic drone, to the Stockhausen students who formed Can getting their minds blown by American psychedelic rock, to Phuture rejiggering the Roland TB-303, much of the music we think of as massively influential is recombinant, a product of what the Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso referred to as cultural cannibalism. "The idea of cultural cannibalism fit Tropicalistas like a glove; we were 'eating' the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix," Veloso recalled in his autobiography, Tropical Truth: A Story Of Music And Revolution In Brazil. "We wanted to participate in the worldwide language both to strengthen ourselves as a people and to affirm our originality."
Veloso and Gilberto Gil's participation on Tropicalia, the short-lived yet highly influential late '60s genre, got both musicians jailed and exiled by Artur da Costa e Silva's brutal military dictatorship. (Veloso was later welcomed back as a hero and continues to speak out against demagoguery.) Fernando Falcão, another young Brazilian artist, went further than most in his resistance—he planted a bomb in a pro-regime private school. In 1968, his brother sent him to France, rightfully fearing he'd be jailed for life. Landing in Paris, a city roiled and energized by its own protest movement, Falcão fell in with Jérôme Savary's Grand Magic Circus musical theater company. He then worked with his future father-in-law, the artist François-Xavier Lalanne, to construct sound sculptures like the balauê, a take on the berimbau, a Brazilian single-string musical bow. In 1979, Falcão channeled his turbulent early life and a dizzying mix of influences into a revolutionary yet little-heard album, Memória Das Águas.
I can't overstate how unique Memória Das Águas is. The titular opening track begins with two minutes of ominous noise before unfurling into lush string arrangements on the level of Arthur Verocai's immortal 1972 debut. "Amanhecer Tabajara (À Alceu Valença)," which surfaced on the Outro Tempo compilation, is a murky, Fourth World-style excursion, though Falcão recorded the piece a year before Jon Hassell articulated the concept. These tunes unfold with their own bizarre logic. They combine the percussive prowess of Bahia, the speedy, improvised folk of Northeast Brazil, jazz, prog and European avant-garde traditions like musique concrète. The epic "Revoada" deftly explores each of these strands, ending on a mix of hectic, Brazilian-style percussion and stately orchestral arrangements. On "Solito (Solo De Balauê)," Falcão unleashes the true psychedelic potential of the balauê, hammering on the instrument before introducing a psychotic cut-up of cacophonous voices.
By the time Falcão released Barracas Barrocas, he had moved back to Brazil. Despite brushes with prominences—scoring a Bertolucci film, having a bossa nova star cover one of his songs—he remained obscure. Recorded with the wisdom that comes with experience, the album feels refined compared with the radical Memória Das Águas. The European art pop tradition looms large. "Girandas" recalls Kevin Ayers, while the jazz-rock squalls of "Purundirindas" look back to Soft Machine. Of course, the LP isn't without its bizarre moments, like the operatic dirge "Elas (À Girges Ristum)." Taken as a whole, Falcão's second and final LP reminds me most of Jean-Claude Vannier's L'Enfant Assassin Des Mouches, a record so tough to pin down that Discogs classifies it as "musique concrète, pop rock, prog rock, avantgarde, psychedelic rock, ethereal, special effects, experimental." While it's not as immediately striking as its predecessor, Barracas Barrocas covers a similar expanse, imbuing each genre with a distinctly Brazilian flavour.
In 2017, following the release of Outro Tempo, John Gomez co-produced a São Paulo show featuring musicians from the compilation. The musicians played Falcão's "Amanhecer Tabajara" as an encore; he died in 2002. Following the concert, Falcão's daughter ran up to Gomez in tears, embracing him. That Falcão's music would finally be recognized decades after the fact is startling and bittersweet, descriptors that also apply to Memória Das Águas. Falcão wrote the record in exile, a political dissident immersed in the Parisian avant-garde. Longing for home, he co-opted elements of European art music to affirm the originality of genres native to Bahia, Pernambuco and his home state, Paraíba. It's a radical combination that sounds revolutionary, even in the present.
Memória das Águas
01. Memória Das Águas
02. Amanhecer Tabajara (À Alceu Valença)
03. Ladeira Dos Inocentes
05. Mercado (Gravado No Mercado Tanger)
06. Curimão (Sons Onomatopaicos E Folk Da Guiné)
07. Solito (Solo De Balauê)
08. Danado Cantador (Balauê, Orquestra E Declamação) (À Fagner)
01. As 7 Filhas Da Rainha Sumaia
02. Barracas Barrocas
05. Elas (À Girges Ristum)
06. 7º Cavaleiro
07. Canção Do Exílio
10. Disse Álguem