Coproducer/Director: Guto Barra
Coproducer/Music Director: Béco Dranoff
By Marilyn Ferdinand
If you thought Brazilian music in America started with Carmen Miranda and ended with Antonio Carlos Jobim—not far from my previous belief, though I go as current as Flora Purim and Airto—Beyond Ipanema is just the pulsing primer for you. David Byrne, Devendra Banhart, M.I.A., Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, Seu Jorge, Thievery Corporation, Bebel Gilberto, CSS, and Creed are just some of the artists of the rediscovered past and forward-moving present that Beyond Ipanema presents in the most entertaining lesson you’ll ever have. The film’s short 80-minute run time means you’ll have to pay attention, but filmmakers Barra and Dranoff have a musician’s sense of timing—they know when to add a humorous lick, a rest, a bridge to the driving beat of their survey of Brazilian music from about the 1940s to the present. I’ve retained more from this beautifully composed, highly informed film essay than anyone subject to as many golden moments as I am should.
The film begins by stating a rather startling fact—while other countries are known for exporting raw materials and material goods, Brazil’s major export is not sugar or coffee, but culture. It all started with Carmen Miranda, who is given the credit she deserves for putting Brazil on the map. This woman, who has such camp appeal today, was a huge star in Brazil before she was a hit on Broadway. In her film contracts, she stipulated that she be allowed to sing 1-3 songs, as well as have some spoken lines, in her native Portuguese. Despite the projection of caricature, Miranda, it seems, injected some of the real Brazil into the foreign consciousness.
The Tropicália movement followed in which bossa nova reigned supreme. Tropicália was much more than music, however; it was an entire cultural movement that arose in response to the political repression of the late 1950s and 1960s (cinephiles will recognize cinema novo as part of this movement). The film Black Orpheus won Cannes in 1959, exposing the world to the bossa nova sounds of Jobim and Luiz Bonfá. João Gilberto was also a driving force in the creation of bossa nova; his friendship with jazz musicians Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, who traveled to Rio on a goodwill tour, catalyzed American jazz artists into experimenting with the complex rhythms of bossa nova. In 1964, competing against the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, the album Getz/Gilberto won four Grammys, including album of the year and record of the year for the song “Girl from Ipanema.” The song also launched the singing career of Gilberto’s wife Astrud. This would be the first, but certainly not the last, fusion of Brazilian music with other forms of music.
David Bryne tells of his own discovery of Brazilian music, particularly the eccentric artist Tom Zé, whose career had stalled in Brazil. Zé is the funniest of the many bemused and amusing Brazilians who are interviewed for this film. He holds up his 1975 album Estudando o Samba, the first of his albums Byrne heard, and says it saved his life. Byrne also resurrected the 1970s Brazilian psychedelic band Os Mutantes. Later in the film, Devendra Banhart says he agreed to play at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival because Os Mutantes was scheduled to appear.
DJs, attracted to the Brazilian rhythms, started to sample and mix Brazilian music, creating a new audience for a bossa nova/samba-inflected hip hop. Out of the poor favelas of Rio came favela funk. Artist M.I.A. had just wrapped an album when she heard a favela funk recording. She says she called her producer and said, “Wait, the album’s not finished!” Seu Jorge became the first black Brazilian to gain international fame with his album of David Bowie covers. Now a new Gilberto, João’s daughter Bebel, has embarked on a successful singing career. My fave rave, Flora Purim, appears on camera marvelling at the new sounds and interest in Brazilian music: “I feel like I’m 25 again!”
The wacky owner of the New York record store Tropicália in Furs, Joel Oliveira, does a brisk business with collectors. He gives a Japanese collector in his store a hard time: “Five albums? Is that all you want? You used to buy 100 at a time.” The shopper says the recession is worse in Japan than in the United States. In an aside to the camera, Oliveira confides, “He owns everything else.” Later, we watch him jump for joy when he sells a rare proto Os Mutantes album to a fan in California for $5,000. The happy new owner is shown in the closing credits.
Beyond Ipanema, called a labor of love by Dranoff, who attended the screening, went way beyond my expectations. The soundtrack is more like a sampler, with parts of songs instead of full performances, which was slightly frustrating for a neophyte like me to more contemporary sounds. But it certainly has made me curious to seek this music out, and that is what Dranoff, with his A&R hat on, was certainly driving for. I urge anyone with an interest in Brazil, its music and culture, and the wonderfully original artists who make it to make a point of catching Beyond Ipanema.