Celebrating the 2nd Anniversary!

Berimbaudrum is now 2 years old!  Like any other toddler, this small entity with a life of its own, is now proving to be challenging, while amazing and lovable at the same time. Unlike the first year, the second year had a stunted growth. Life sometimes can get on the way of doing things even when we think that time is on our side. But the learning has continued. While the quantity of posts were scarcer than the first year, the trials and errors have been pointing to new directions. The 7th of September is also the day when we celebrate the end of more than 300 years of colonial dominance of Portugal over Brazil. It is our Independence Day!

Despite of a series of barriers, Berimbaudrum has managed to keep itself in the radar. The quantity of new music I have been receiving for review is so overwhelming that can be paralysing. Where to start? Which album to review first? How to keep the original ethos? How to avoid turning Berimbaudrum into a machine that just churns reviews after reviews? Those were worries that prooved to be unfounded as the numbers of new visitors have been doubling.

The article about Afunaka is still the most popular in Berimbaudrum, bringing hits with very low bouncing rates almost every day through organic searches. It is followed by the pieces written about Graveola, Milton Nascimento, Babilak Bah, Trem Tan Tan, Makely Ka and Courtney Pine. In web analytics jargon that means that Afunaka’s piece is bringing readers who search for the timeless  Rorogwela lullaby and actually read through the whole article, even though I admit that it is not the best one I have written.

So far, the only complaint I have received was about the use of the iconic image of Carmen Miranda in a collage, in the lines of “there is something about that image that I don’t like” and no further explanations given,  despite my requests. That made me realise that I have never explained the reasons why Carmen Miranda’s image was chosen as the patron of Berimbaudrum. The lady with a tutti-frutti hat is one of the most stereotypical images about Brazilian music. A number of Brazilians hate to be stereotyped in such a flamboyant way. Such stereotype has also overshadowed the brilliance of a great artist who was committed to Brazilian Music and responsible for establishing international collaborations between Brazilian and American Artists, while promoting Samba worldwide.

Carmen Miranda was discovered by Lee Shubert, who after seeing her performance in a Rio’s Cassino in 1939, invited the artist to perform in Broadway. Carmen refused to accept an offer that every artist of her time would dream about, unless Shubet would agreed to hire her band “O Bando da Lua”. Shubert agreed with the hiring, but refused to pay for their travel expenses. The then Brazilian President, Getulio Vargas, saw a propaganda opportunity and decided to sponsor the band’s tickets. Carmen took the sponsorship seriously and committed herself to the duty of representing Brazil abroad, as demonstrated in her departure speech at a press conference: “My dear friends, in New York I’m going to show the rhythm of Brazilian music, the music of our land. I’m afraid and I feel it’s a very big responsibility, but always remember of me, and I will never forget you (…) I want to show what Brazil really is and change the wrong ideas existing in the United States about our country”.

From Broadway, she went to Hollywood and soon became the third most popular personality in the United States. By 1945, she was the highest paid woman in the America. Her carefully stylized image was supposed to be a blend of everything Latin American. The exaggeration was purposeful. In such way, we could say that Carmem Miranda was the precursor of Glam Rock. She was the first Madonna, the first Lady Gaga.

While Miranda mesmerized the American Audience, back home she was ostracized by the Brazilian Upper classes, who clearly demonstrated their racism when criticizing her for having an image that they considered to be “too black”.  They felt aggrieved that instead of singing the washed out and constrained carnival marches of private clubs, she was singing the samba of the streets. For very opposing reasons, she was also criticized in Cuba and Argentina for the hybridization of the Latin American image, and for misrepresenting their culture in her roles in films such as “Down Argentine Way” and “Weekend in Havana”. Carmem was loved and hated by different people for the exactly same reasons. 

After the Second World War, Carmen Miranda’s career declined. It was during the 60s that the Tropicalia movement resurrected her as an icon of Brazilian Music. Caetano Veloso explained in an article written for the New York Times: “For generations of musicians who were adolescents in the second half of the 1950s and became adults at the height of the Brazilian military dictatorship and the international wave of counterculture – my generation, Carmen Miranda was first a cause of both pride and shame, and later, a symbol that inspired the merciless gaze we began to cast upon ourselves. Carmen conquered ‘white’ America as no other South American has done or ever would, in an era when it was enough to be ‘recognizable Latin and Negroid’ in style and aesthetics to attract attention.”

The meaning of Carmen Miranda, the icon, goes beyond the put down criticisms of “tacky” and “camp”. It is ironic. It is insightful and irreverent. In my opinion as a Brazilian, to be ashamed of such icon, is a type of internalized racism – the same internalized racism that eagerly adopted the Anglo-Saxon cultural imposition during the Dictatorship between 1964 and 1984, as if it was superior to our own culture. Carmen Miranda, the artist who inspired the Tropicalists and led them to save Brazilian Music during the 60s, by fusing the foreign influences with traditional Brazilian styles, is a symbol to be more than proud about it. But please don’t confuse this opinion with nationalism. Music is a living art form that does not recognise borders. For this reason, for those who are “uncomfortable” with adopting Carment Miranda as the patron of Berimbaudrum, and asked me to remove the picture, I am delighted to answer (very politely) with the favourite word of a toddler, who luckily hasn’t learn how to swear yet: “NO NO NO NO NO NO and NO………!” And “Viva a Carmen Miranda”! And “Viva” the independence from Cultural Colonialism! 

And to celebrate the second year of Berimbaudrum, nothing better than a clip of Caetano Veloso singing “Tropicalia”.


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