Thursday, September 6, 2018

Topics for a Summer Night-Part Two

On Sunday night, September 2, 2018, the National Museum of Brazil burned, and with it went great and irreplaceable treasures of the Brazilian people, of their land, their nation, their history, and their culture. Every moment of every day, we lose something of our culture, most obviously when books, works of art, writings, and other works of the heart and mind are destroyed or discarded; less so when a person dies. But for so much to be lost so suddenly and in such a spectacular fashion seems to me an unspeakable tragedy. We can only imagine how the Brazilian people feel, for this is nearer to them than it is to us in America and Europe. But in the big scheme of things, this is our loss, too.

I became acquainted with Brazilian culture by listening to Brazilian music. Bossa nova and samba were everywhere in America in the 1960s and '70s. It was the theme music in movies and television, the background music in malls and shopping centers and on elevators, and in much of what was called adult contemporary or easy listening on the radio. For young people, it was easy to ignore or dismiss. When we were kids, we had a copy of Gary McFarland's Soft Samba Strings. It came from a favorite uncle, and though we listened to it and liked it, I think we had a sense that this was music for an older generation. How little we knew.

I came back to bossa nova and samba almost two decades ago, first by way of Sérgio Mendes and Brasil 66. I hate to say this about an Internet behemoth, but YouTube in recent years has been a godsend. You can hear music now that you would never have heard before. On the other hand, I don't hate to say that a man named José Freitas, who posts Brazilian music by the boatload on YouTube, deserves a medal for his tireless work. Obrigado, Signore Freitas.

One of my favorite Brazilian musicians--one of my heroes really for his devotion to his art-- is the guitarist and composer Baden Powell (1937-2000). If you want to see a work of wonder, watch his nine-minute performance of "Prelude in A Minor" from his later years. And if you want to hear a more popular work, listen to his collaboration with Vinicius de Moraes, Os Afro Sambas, from 1966, that nearly matchless year of popular culture, in which the two are backed by Quarteto em Cy, sisters who sing like angels.

As far as I know, there was never a Brazilian author or artist in Weird Tales, at least in its first several incarnations, that is, up to 1985. There may have been since then, but I don't have an index for the issues published in the period 1988-2014. But in my search for Brazilian weird fiction, fantasy, and science fiction, I begin with a song from Os Afro Sambas, "Canto de Iemanjá," composed by Baden Powell and sung by Vinicius and Quarteto em Cy. Baden Powell was interested in the traditional music of his native land, also, it seems certain, in its traditional culture, for, despite his Anglo name, he was of African descent. His "Canto de Iemanjá" is drawn from the Brazilian, and more distantly, the African goddess whose name is rendered in Portuguese as Iemanjá. She is sometimes depicted as a mermaid, and she is the mother whose children are like fish (I think that means plentiful rather than finny), a protector of women, a symbol of fecundity, also of waters and the ocean sea. The song begins at about the 12:25 mark of Os Afro Sambas. I don't understand the words, yet they speak, drawing the listener on, through the darkness and mist, through which they echo and fade, whisper and call. Iemanjá beckons . . . 

To be continued . . .

This cover for Weird Tales by Virgil Finlay from December 1937 is not of Iemanjá, but it's the closest thing I can find to a woman of the sea. The cover story is "The Sea-Witch" by the enigmatic Nictzin Dyalhis.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment