Mamão immediately jumps in: “To think that bossa nova is one thing and the samba is another is wrong. No. It all evolves, it’s a mass.” Alex continues, measuredly offering: “Ruy Castro is very cool, but sometimes he doesn’t get it, the musician is always the best one to tell the story.” Kiko goes on to further debunk Castro’s observations, saying: “It is said that bossa nova had a political and social aspect because it is a genre that was born in the rich side of Rio de Janeiro, in the Copacabana flats and so. But there are controversies about this, because the musicians all came from different social classes. Tom Jobim struggled to pay the rent every month. There were others that were very young, Roberto Menescal, Carlos Lyra. Even João Gilberto had some health problems, went back to Bahia, went to Minas, to Rio Grande do Sul. Personally, I don’t think there is a political issue with bossa nova. I believe it’s purely a musical movement. Bossa nova was middle class, but it embraced every class. Samba has this predominance of coming from the favelas, it was born like that — it also has a religious side, candomblé. It started in the beginning of the past century with Donga, João da Baiana, Pixinguinha, until it passed through Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho, with many fantastic black songwriters contributing.”
One of the things I think about almost every day at work is the apparent separation between bossa nova (and psychedelic or funk styles from the 70s) from samba. Why is it that European DJs are drawn to the most popular Brazilian styles rather than digging deeper into samba, pagode, camdomblé, Brazil’s black music that continues to evolve and has continued social relevance? Especially because in addition to all of its social meaning, it’s just really, really good. I’ve had many theories, one being the ‘palatable’ nature of mellow guitar music to the Western ear, another being the idea that white music has historically always had more money behind it, meaning it gets pressed on record and shipped out to the rest of the world more easily. It’s my view that due to this, over the years the external imagination of Brazil has been soundtracked by bossa nova. Perhaps this cultural export is more helpful to a white and upper class government wanting to increase tourism and, as always, oppress the voices of the maltreated black, working class and indigenous people in Brazil. I think there’s a little truth in each of these theories, but I previously failed to consider the role of the inwards-facing Brazilian media. Alex explains how important songwriters that preceded bossa nova, with roots in the favelas, were forgotten: “The most political thing, really, is that the radio stations that existed since the ’20s until 60s/70s failed to recognise songwriters that played roots music there in the favelas — like Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho — they were just forgotten during all those years leading up to bossa nova. Just after bossa nova these songwriters were rescued, like Cartola, who was brought to light by Beth Carvalho [a national treasure samba and pagode singer]. Beth Carvalho wasn’t bossa nova, but was responsible for shining a light on many of those songwriters. I’m explaining this to say that there was a huge separation, yes. Another example, Johnny Alf was homosexual and very discriminated against. Maybe he was the most bossa nova of them all, way before Jobim and everyone else. In 1946 he did ‘Diza’, on the same year that Mamão and I were born. It’s a marvellous composition, and one of the most beautiful songs Azymuth have recorded.” It seems that pre-bossa nova songwriters aren’t the only artists who were forgotten at the hands of a media ridden with vested interest and ignorance. Alex continues: “In Brazil there’s a big separation created by the media, the media never cared for names like Carmen Miranda, Aloysio de Oliveira, they just choose to forget. The media separates what they don’t want or what they don’t understand. With Azymuth is a bit like that, we hold off because they want us to hold off, they don’t want Azymuth to be an example. Many Brazilians don’t know Azymuth, even Kiko didn’t know Azymuth so much.” This points to a pattern evident in many post-colonial countries of one set of musical styles marketed for the people, and an entirely different set marketed to the rest of the world.