I am happy to see the Reader give coverage to Brazilian music. Unfortunately, it must be difficult to fact check when there are few people who speak Portuguese in Chicago. As a Portuguese speaker who lived in Brazil for four years and has interviewed Caetano Veloso, I would like to point out a few problems with both of your Brazilian music pieces on June 11 [Rock, Etc.]:
1. Os Mutantes were not from Bahia, as Mr. Matos implies. They were from Sao Paulo.
2. Carmen Miranda was only “generally looked down upon” by the hypernationalist 2 percent of Brazil’s population that made up the ruling elite during the Vargas administration. This common misconception comes from her song, which (translated to English) was entitled “People Say I’ve Come Back Americanized.” This song went to number one on the Brazilian charts. Every year since the 40s, tens of thousands of people across Brazil have dressed up as Carmen Miranda during carnival.
3. “Baby” by Caetano Veloso was intended to be a satire of the “Americanization” of Brazilian pop culture among middle-class youth, not a “sly embrace of capitalism American style.” If Caetano Veloso had embraced capitalism, he wouldn’t have been tortured and exiled for political subversion by the American-backed military dictatorship.
Note: Matos says he is surprised that Os Mutantes never were subjected to the same level of scrutiny (meaning what, torture?) by the military dictatorship that Veloso and Gilberto Gil were. The reason for this is that Rita Lee was the daughter of an American Dow Chemical executive. The fact that Os Mutantes put a jingle for Shell Oil (“Algo Mais”) on their second album didn’t hurt them in the eyes of the procapitalist military either.
4. Peter Margasak is apparently confused about the difference between MPB, the genre of music that Caetano Veloso has played since his tropicalia days, and samba. Caetano Veloso is not known in Brazil as an “experimental samba” singer.
5. Although “vitamina” can mean vitamin in Portuguese, it is more commonly used in Brazil to mean “milk shake.” The song “Vitamina ser” should probably be translated as “To Be a Milk Shake,” not “Vitamin to Be.”
Note: has Margasak actually listened to the Brazilian musicians he recommends? Daniela Mercury is a watered-down pop singer. Marisa Monte has a nice voice but is a shallow snob (just my opinion).
Michaelangelo Matos replies:
1. My mistake, due to a misreading of the liner notes to the Omplatten reissues.
2. David Toop’s recent book Exotica sketches a very interesting but obviously far-from-complete portrait of Miranda. That’s where I took my impression from, but again I’m happy to take the blame.
3. What I meant, and should have written more clearly, was that Veloso was pointing out capitalism’s absurdities by reiterating advertising cliches. I apologize for the sloppy writing.
And regarding the note: I knew about Rita Lee’s father too–I just didn’t put two and two together. Duh.
Peter Margasak replies:
MPB stands for musica popular brasileira, which I understand to be a blanket term for Brazilian pop that doesn’t fit neatly into any one particular style. This assignation clearly applies to Veloso. Maybe when I referred to the latest records by him and Tom Ze as “experimental sambas” I was being too reductive; samba is merely a part of their spectrum of sound.
All the translations in my piece, including the one for “Vitamina ser,” came from a Brazilian Portuguese speaker, but she apparently wasn’t thinking idiomatically.