Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Afro Sambas

Baden Powell

When I first started working in a record shop in 1964 (see (High) Street life) I soon discovered the joys of specialist record importer’s catalogues. Good record shops stocked ‘in depth’ in those days, and one of my more pleasurable tasks was to scan the pages of the aforementioned catalogues in search of interesting stock. One such catalogue was produced by a company called ‘Selecta Records’ who were, I think, principally the distribution arm of Decca Records, but they had a fine imports selection and among other things distributed the French Barclay label in the UK. As I observed in a recent posting (French Leave), the French do have an appetite for good music generally and this characteristic manifested itself particularly in the Barclay catalogue in the form of a number African and Brazilian recordings.

At this time I had yet to recognise the passion for Brazilian music that was stirring in me, so I was drawn to the name ‘Baden Powell’ out of sheer curiosity and amusement. When ‘Le Monde Musical de Baden Powell’ arrived in the shop it was with no more than vague interest that I put it on the turntable for a listen but I was hooked from the start. This was guitar playing of the highest order and although some of the tracks were a bit ‘syruped up’ with unnecessary strings, others were sublime. I was particularly taken with a tune called ‘Berimbau’. I didn’t know then what a berimbau was and certainly had no idea that I would ultimately own and play one.

Time passed and my enthusiasm for Brazilian music generally and Baden Powell in particular resulted in an ever growing collection of Brazilian recordings, which went positively nuclear after my first visit to Brazil. My face is extremely well known in many Saõ Paulo CD shops and I rarely return from a Brazil trip with less than 30 albums. Ironically though it was on a regular on-line CD trawl that I first came across ‘Baden Powell – Afro Sambas’ (1991) on the French JSL label.  By this time I was fairly familiar with many of Baden Powell’s compositions and was also aware that amongst the numerous people he had collaborated with in his composing career was Vinicius de Moraes, who had co-written ‘Berimbau’ with him.
Vinicius de Moraes

I noticed that, with the exception of the first tack – ‘Abertura’ (Overture) – which was credited to Baden Powell alone, all the other tracks were co-written with Vinicius. I also noticed that one of the titles was ‘Variações Sobre Berimbau’ (Variations on Berimbau), and that a number of the Candomblé gods or ‘Orishas’ were referenced in the other titles (I knew about these from having visited Salvador and through my reading of the works of Jorge Amado). The disc was duly bought and played and I was, of course, hooked.

 All though my linguistic abilities are poor and my French in particular is only marginally better than Del Boy’s, I was able to ascertain from the sleeve notes that this was a re-recording of the Afro Sambas and that the original had been issued in 1966 but had been unobtainable for quite some time. Furthermore, Vinicius de Moraes, who had died in 1980 and was therefore not a participant in the 1991 recording, had performed on the original. This original recording immediately migrated to the top of my ‘must have’ list, where it was to stay for the next twelve years or so.

A few years after this initial purchase I was on yet another trip to Brazil and searching through the racks in Pops Discos (see Voltarol in Brazil 2010, continued) when I came across a second-hand copy of Afro Sambas performed by Paulo Bellinati and Mônica Salmaso and immediately added it to my haul for that particular day. I think that I had it on the CD player within minutes of returning to my son’s apartment and was immediately seduced by the wonderful voice of Ms Salmaso and the superb guitar playing of Paulo Bellinati as they breathed new life into these songs. I was also beginning to realise that they had not actually been composed to go together as a suite (although they worked well enough in that respect), because the order in which the songs were performed was different to that of Baden Powell’s 1991 recording, one title was omitted and the disc included an original guitar composition by Paulo Bellinati – ‘Cordão de Ouro’ (Golden Cord), which had been grafted on to ‘Berimbau. I subsequently learned that Mônica Salmaso was only twenty four when she recorded this – it was in fact her first CD – although Paulo Bellinati was a seasoned performer who had already made a name for himself. If I’m honest, I think I actually prefer this album to Baden Powell’s re-recording.

So that was that, and I now had another two artists whose recordings were on my ‘must have’ list. Time passed and I began to think that I was very unlikely to find that original recording unless one of my Brazilian friends knew someone that owned a copy but didn’t want it…or maybe I would find a Japanese reissue (surprisingly, there is a very big following for Brazilian music in Japan). And then, a couple of months ago, I learned about an extraordinarily eclectic reissue label called ‘él’. There, lurking in their catalogue alongside such unlikely bedfellows as Becker and Fagan, Brigitte Bardot, Segovia, Chet Atkins and Malcolm Arnold were a number of Brazilian artists and – yes! Result! There it was, the original ‘Os Afro Sambas’ from 1966 which has been reissued with a Baden Powell solo guitar album from 1963 – ‘Á Vontade’ (loosely - ‘Chilling Out’) – on one CD. When my copy arrived I couldn’t wait to play it but was a bit trepidatious. Would it live up to my expectations? I needn’t have worried. His recording is an absolute masterpiece and well worth the long wait.

In his sleeve notes for the original album Vinicius says – “When the young and talented producer Roberto Quartin approached us about recording this album, we agreed that it should be made with maximum creative freedom and minimum commercial interest. We were not interested in producing a well crafted record but instead to be spontaneous in conveying the simple message of our sambas’. In truth, the net results - which utilise as many amateur and semi-pro musicians and singers as they do professional ones – occasionally teeter on the verge of chaos, and yet it is sublime chaos. These performances capture the spirit of their subject matter and at times transport one to the same heights as “…the powerful magic of candomblé baiano ( candomblé as practised in Bahia)…” to quote again from Vinicius. Here's a sample track.

All that remains to be said here is that all three of these albums are worth owning, but if you must choose between them then the original is by far the best. It’s up there in my top twenty recordings of all time – but then again, so is Mônica Salmaso and Paulo Bellinati’s version! Go on - get them all.