Pedro made a pilgrimage to Sounds of the Universe and I followed. He'd come from Barcelona to take this head-trip through sonic culture: to a tardis of a record-store where you can browse through every dimension of time, space and music. With vinyl-flicking fingers we time-warped from Ethiopian Jazz Funk to Ohio's Mid-Western Punk scene; from 90's Chicago house back to 70's Brazilian Tropicalia. Downstairs the journey evolved, as rare books and records transported us beyond this rainy corner of Soho. The shelves read like the travel library of an afro-latin-american aficionado, each book carefully catalogued and wrapped in a plastic record sleeve: Nigeria; New York; New Orleans; Brazil.
There I stopped. Music had born a love-affair with that country for Pedro and I, but it was samba that I'd truly fallen for. As the drizzle drummed grey outside we dusted off a plain-covered book, opening it up to find a cacophony of colour. A classic photo-reportage of the most delirious celebration, at the most spectacular era, in the most hedonistic city on earth: Carnival in Rio
"During Carnival, Rio is not simply beautiful or picturesque or moodily romantic; it is ebullient and delirious; ecstatic and explosive; fantastic and hallucinatory."
Albert Goldman, Carnival in Rio
The book was co-authored by a jet-set crew invited to Rio by one of the city's most notorious party-hosts. Douglas Villiers, the photographer, was a man of many talents: a property-tycoon/treasure-hunter/film-producer and photo-journalist, he was the son of a rag-trader from Golders Green who brought disco and casino to London and an unconventional glamour to everything he did. Villiers and his Swedish model wife, Lena, travelled back and forth to Rio in the 70’s. Bored of socialite parties, the couple took to the streets to photograph Carnival in all its raw and sordid glory. Together with Albert Goldman, the American music-writer and Carioca-lover, they created one hell of a book on the origins, the spectacle and the experience of Carnival in Rio.
The photos are a blur. The writing super-charged. This book seduces with the sticky energy of that city on heat:
Hard-body Latinas clad in nothing but sequins and sweat
Black boys dolled up in ruffles and faceprint
Masked girls tanning in bikinis and garters
Sassy transvestites decked out in glittering platform shoes
Favela queens and baianas, skeletons and hangmen
Bottles, cigarettes and drums
"Carnival is the greatest pyschodrama ever staged."
Albert Goldman, Carnival in Rio
Carnival in Rio knows the city well enough to go beyond the make-up and masquerade of this lavish party. It examines the complex rituals behind the high and low of society, from samba school rehearsal halls to penthouse suites. As the glamour fades, the face-paint smears, and sun-rises on Carnival's final day, the reader finds Rio on a city-wide comedown. The fleeting nature of this celebration with its four-day inversion of social rules: the time when man-becomes-woman; maid-becomes-master; black-becomes-white. By Wednesday the fantasy fizzles out and we're reminded of the melancholy lyrics of the classic samba tune: 'Tristeza nao tem fin, felicidade sim.' 'Sadness has no end, happiness does.'
Music inspires travel, it takes you places. A beat and a lyric comes from the gut but is also a reaction to a context. It's the most heartfelt reflection of a place and its people. Hankering for Brazil? A handful of armchair nomad links with musical connections, designed to take you there:
Carnival In Rio
Many of the best photos are online, but the book is worth tracking down for
its glamorous 70's layout and entertaining essays
Photographs by Douglas and Lena Villers, Text by Albert Goldman
Rio de Janiero: Carnival Under Fire
A brilliantly humourous portrait of the thrill, the vibrance and the violence of Rio
by one of Brazil's greatest music writers
Musica E Letra
64 short and sweet essays in Portuguese on the eternal song and magic words that come together to make Brazilian culture. Plus, as with many Cosac Naify books, the design is unreal!
Na Trilha das Novelas
In Brazil, even the mundane turns dramatic. Through his blog, "Na Trilha das Novelas" Freddie Pellachin takes a critical view of the history of Brazilian TV and society through the fascinating national and international soundtracks of classic telenovelas. My favourite, 'Te Contei?' which tralates as 'Did I tell you?' and centres around high-society cleptomania and double-lives.
Sounds of the Universe
The home of Soul Jazz Records, unearthing forgotten classics and travelling the world to bring you the latest from Jamaica to Japan. A window into other universes through sound.
Uma, duas, tres semanas no Brasil
I've only been to Brazil once, but was so inspired that I captured it all in a book
made with lifelong friend and creative ball of energy, Emily Woollett.
One, two, three weeks in Brazil...