Aquarela do Brasil draws inspiration from the richness and range of the arts in Latin America’s largest country, to mark the 60th anniversary of the release of João Gilberto’s bossa nova classic “Chega de Saudade”. As the show’s director, Sal Ferreras, points out, the song became a massive international hit, one of a series of major Brazilian cultural achievements in the late ’50s.
“I was talking backstage at a gig with [saxophonist] Tom Keenlyside about the anniversary, and the release a year later of the movie Black Orpheus with a soundtrack of samba and bossa nova, which took one of the top prizes at Cannes,” he says. “The two events had such a profound influence on world music for the rest of time, and I said I’d like to do a show to celebrate the variety of Brazilian music. So I talked to [guitarist and multi-instrumentalist] Celso Machado, to [bassist] Jodi Proznick, [pianist] Miles Black, and Aché Brasil, as well as other collaborators that I’d played with, and proposed to the Vancouver Latin American Cultural Centre that we do something special for the occasion.”
Sequences from Black Orpheus will be projected onto a screen at the back of the stage to enhance the presentation of Aquarela do Brasil, which covers a range of musical genres—not just bossa nova. “I want to show a certain style of samba, new compositions by Celso, and also feature [dance and martial-arts company] Aché Brasil, who are mainly known for capoeira and big-style samba, doing two other things. One is a regional dance from Recife where the Carnaval rhythm is frevo, which is very athletic, and done with little umbrellas. I also asked them to play and dance an Afro-Brazilian style called maracatu which is very popular in many regions. The other pieces are a combination of really lyrical elements of earlier sambas and choros.”
Audiences can also expect some jaw-dropping percussion-playing from the ensemble, which includes Afro-Cuban conga player Israel “Toto” Berriel, tambourine ace Liam MacDonald, Machado, and Ferreras himself. “We’ll be a nine-piece in all, plus Aché Brasil, working either as full ensemble or as subsets, depending on the styles,” says Ferreras. “Some are more intimate, like bossa nova, a very smooth combination of samba, choro, and jazz.
“In the ’40s and ’50s there was a fair bit of travel with American and European jazz artists going down to Rio, and that club scene began to percolate a style infusing the more traditional Brazilian styles with jazz harmony. In the other direction, jazz was infused with the rhythmic complexity and nuance of bossa nova, which was the new cool. At the time, Brazil was becoming a world power, and the centre for fantastic architecture with the building of Brasília [the nation’s capital]. Bossa nova took the great exuberance of Carnaval music from Rio and reduced it to very small, intimate elements for a hip, sophisticated crowd that was a new middle-class. So it has dimensions that are not only musical, but social as well.”
Aquarela do Brasil is at the Vancouver Playhouse next Thursday and Friday (November 8 and 9).