12 July 2011

Bahia or Bust: PART ONE Beats, Beauty and Brazil

Lots of us, if we are lucky or willing enough to admit it, experience some sort of irrational affection for a place we know nothing about. Just the sound of the name of the place, one photo in an encyclopedia or on a travel poster is like a beacon, a promise. Some put it down to a past life association that manifests in this life in inexplicable ways: Mr. B suffers from a near total lack of direction, but when in Bangkok he always knew exactly where he was on the labyrinthian streets he'd never once visited before. For instance.

Somehow I've managed to write over 70 posts in the last 3 years, without ever once mentioning  my obsession with Brazil. In case you didn't catch that, let me repeat: I am obsessed with Brazil. The music, the food, the lilt and impossible speed of the Portuguese language as spoken there, the flora, the fauna, the culture, the traditions, the history.

My fondness has something to do with the nation's genesis, its cultural heritage of African descendants (the largest African diaspora on earth, twice as many Africans were sent to Brasil in the slave trade than to North America), natives, Portuguese colonizers and European immigrants. That kind of mixed bag is what makes for an intruiging people. And to be shallow, let's face it: Brazilians have a well-deserved reputation for spectacular physical beauty.

Growing up the lone, 100% white-as-Wonder-Bread-girl in junior high, I knew a lot of people of mixed racial background. And they were always, without exception, stunning. Way back then I decided they were God's way of giving his blessing to crossing ethnic and racial boundaries. Brazilian people strike me as an entire nation of living proof that alloys are better than homogeneous populations.

But none of this accounts for my Braziliaphilia as much as  the music. The music came to me via a person of significant influence who lent me a CDBrazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical compiled by David Byrne, Beleza Tropical (click here for a sample with amazing animation), at a rather pivotal time in my personal development -- in the space of one year I went from being an introvert to an extrovert on the Meyers Briggs typology scale. In other words, this album was a part of the soundtrack of my germination into who I wanted to be.

Obsessed with the album as I was, listening to it as much as I did (and being an auditory learner by nature), I'd completely absorbed the melodies, harmonies and lyrics. In Portuguese. Which I don't speak. At the time, I didn't have a car, didn't even know how to drive, but carried a portable version of the album everywhere nonetheless, just in case. I put the cassette in my mother's car stereo one day on a thrift store run, and sang along. And let me tell you, it was no mean feat: as I felt my mother's awe ("How do you know that?") stealing over me it dawned on me that yes, compressing 29 syllables of Portuguese into a bar of music that my entire life I only ever expected to contain 8 beats was a challenge. That's when my vague, general admiration developed into fascination. These Brazilians knew something I didn't. And I wanted the secret.
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 Call for comments: what place has inexplicably called you?

Next up: PART TWO, in which our heroine's Braziliaphilia moves to her feet.

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