Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spot the difference: a dispatch from Rio

January 11th, Hammersmith, London. Charity concert in aid of Killing Cancer, five acts headlined by The Who and Jeff Beck, average cost of ticket £100, programme, t-shirt and other slickly produced merchandise, extra.

January 27th Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Charity concert to support relief work in nearby towns devastated by the recent flooding (over 1000 dead, 30,000 homeless, with mediaeval diseases making an unwelcome return amongst survivors), ten top acts covering the gamut of Brazilian popular music. Cost of ticket? Three litres of water or two kilos of rice or flour paid at the door. No t-shirts, programme or ticket stub to collect. I’m lucky enough to be in Brazil for a few weeks and to get to the event - and to compare the two.

One event represented the way of the developed world, the other the developing. One was aimed at longer term investment needs, the other the immediate relief of those affected by natural disaster. The Rio event delivered direct, immediate action; goods to be distributed, no cash to be siphoned off in admin fees. Geldoff would surely approve.

Fundicao Progresso is a 2000 capacity venue under the breathtaking arches that make Rio’s downtown Lapa so exciting, distinctive and memorable. Crowds gather outside mixing with beer-sellers and makeshift food stalls. There’s a slightly chaotic feel to it. And not a ticket tout in sight. The venue is deceivingly big. You enter through a colonial period frontage behind which is a sprawling series of performance spaces. The main stage area is like a Brixton Academy but twice the size and without the sophistication (sic). There’s no seating and the vast majority of the crowd cram in front of the stage, like all Brazilian audiences ready for dance and involvement. It’s packed. There’s no air conditioning, and with summer night temperatures in the late twenties you sweat. Profusely.

The atmosphere is electric. The swaying, pulsating, expectant crowd can’t keep still. A warm-up DJ has them moving. Exotic creatures beside me move their feet and ‘shake their booty’ in the manner only a Brazilian manages. The acoustics are surprisingly good for such a venue with mix and the volume just right. Unusually, the event kicks off almost on time at eighty-thirty, much earlier than is the norm here. First on is crowd-pleasing local hero, Leandro Sapucai. Suddenly your feet take on a life of their own. No point in having seating; no one is going to sit it out.

Various acts follow, each doing a couple of numbers. The styles are eclectic. Although the audience is relatively young they both know and respect the traditional artists so veteran samba queen, Elza Soares, get’s a huge roar. She might be 74, require help walking to stage front but boy, her voice is undiminished! We’re also treated to other legendary artists, crossing genres: Alcione, Sandra de Sa, Jorge Vercilio. Inevitably, being just a few weeks before carnival, the great beats, humorous lyrics and easy to sing-a-long melodies of traditional carnival songs get the crowd really jumping.

The non-Brazilian spectator can tell the relative fame of the act on stage by the number of digital cameras held high during particular performances. From my rear back position the superb Zelia Duncan appears framed by hundreds of tiny screens held aloft. The younger Fernanda Abreu gets the same adulation.

The show climaxes first with George Israel, one of the countries best-known singers and song-writers. He has been the instigator of the event so says a few words. A heart-felt appeal and reminder why we are here is kept short but made poignantly. A few crowd-pleasers and then, graciously, he allows current rock sensation Lenine to wrap it up. This guy is great. But so are all of the acts. They may not be household names outside of Brazil but to the 200 million here they are all deservedly superstars.

It has passed in a flash. Three and a half hours without any pause, with musical styles switching easily between samba, funk, MPB, rap and rock. The exuberant rhythm that dominates Brazilian music has provided continuity. One act introduces the following, and with a shared backing band there’s no time wasted in equipment change or sound-checking.

Dripping with sweat, feet aching but totally exhilarated, I make my way out, leaving most of the audience there to continue the DJ-led party to whatever time. God knows when they sleep here.

Two weeks ago I walked out of the Hammersmith Odeon with the Who’s future on my mind and the intention of buying some more Jeff Beck CDs. I walked out of the Fundicao Progresso, past impressively high mountains of plastic bottles and bags of staple food, intent on giving further help. Charity events should inspire; to everyone’s credit, this one did.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Bruce,
    very nice blog you have, it will surely fill up my my agenda during the next trip to london.
    So here are some hot tips about some Brazilian artists that you should check, cause they might be of your interest:
    Tim Maia (check the Racional LP)
    Cassia Eller (If you liked Z. Duncan, she will turn you on!!)
    Chico Science (also died so early... in my opinion he was the best thing that happened to Brazilian music in the past 30 years!!)
    all the best
    Joao from Santa Clara street...