Thursday, March 26, 2009

Moro No Brazil

Moro no Brasil posterMoro No Brazil, "I Live in Brazil" (2006) is a documentary musical journey that delves deeply into the heart of Brazil. Finnish writer and director Mika Kaurismaki covers 4000 miles of Brazil's musical terrain looking to discover and expose its musical diversity and richness. It begins in Helsinki, Finland, in 2000, with a bleak scene of a snow-covered city with a lonely Kaurismaki standing outside, wind whipping all around him. The following scene shows an open jeep bouncing through the Brazilian bush under the hot sun, a smiling Kaurismaki in sunglasses and a sleeveless shirt at its wheel. Kaurismaki is in Brazil to make a documentary about samba, from its roots to its modern manifestations in funk and rap. He begins in Pernambuco, in the northeast, the poorest region of Brazil. There the Fulni-o indigenous group shows Kaurismaki the origins of the samba. To them, music is a way of keeping alive their history; all the songs tell of their people's story, from genesis to colonization to the modern era. Many of the Fulni-o mourn the fact that modern "white" Brazilian music replaces the indigenous music in many young people's lives. The Fulni-o's entire social structure is based upon music, something that is demonstrated by the fact that the small village has 14 musical groups. Kaurismaki leaves Pernambuco behind and heads to Caruaru, the capital of forro music. Forro elaborates on the samba of the indigenous people by adding many different wooden percussion instruments as well as flutes, accordions, bells and whistles. There, a young musician Silverio Pessoa tells Kaurismaki of his childhood and how his music is based on growing up in a Brazilian village with his grandmother. He explains that music makes the poor people of the region strong and courageous, and gives them a livelihood. The experience culminates in a big nighttime concert where Silverio and a famous forro singer Jacinto Silva perform a great concert and all the people of Caruaru dance the night away.

On the way to their next stop is Silverio Pessoa's home, where Silverio relives his childhood and the music that permeated every element of his and the other villagers' lives. They stop in a village outside Recife, where the black cultures of the coast have developed Maracatu, which is a secret, mystical song and dance that becomes a profession for those who perform it. The colourful costumes that go with the Maracatu are clearly African-inspired. Kaurismaki and Silverio head into Recife, where they meet Antonio Nobrega, who explains to them the perfect symbiosis of Brazilian music with dance and physical movement. He plays a specific style of samba called the frevo, which incorporates the fiddle and the tambourine. Another character they come across is Ze Neguinho do Coco, who plays the samba do coco, inspired by Africa, the Indians, the forests, and the fisherman of the north Brazilian coast. He makes his money by teaching children, educating them in the essential cultural value of music. The music he plays has given him his name; it defines his identity. When Kaurismaki finally makes his way into the heart of Recife, he interviews a duo of brothers, Caju and Castanha, who play the embolada, which they claim is the basis for all modern rap. They have played together since they were children, improvising all their lyrics from the scenes they see in everyday life. Also in Recife among the favelas (shantytowns) the documentary-maker and Silverio find dancing schools where children learn to sing, dance, and play drums and instruments since they are tiny. One of these is called "Comrades in the Struggle", a group that gives poor children from the shantytowns a sense of solidarity and belonging. The other is Maje Mole, a girls' "ballet" group which rescues young girls engaged in prostitution and drugs and tours them around the country to dance their unique "ballet". In Recife, people are primarily black, and they claim that "Brazil is black".

The next stop is Salvador Bahia, where they sing and dance the Condomble, created by the African slaves who originally populated the city. They are inspired by the African god Orixas, which is a combination of all the different gods that each African brought from his or her tribe back in Africa. In Bahia, the people have mixed their gods, their religions, their influences, and their music. The samba means something different to every person, and through hybridization, is a constantly changing style. Kaurismaki also shows us the Capoeira, the martial-arts dance of Brazil. It is also danced in Rio de Janeiro, the next and final stop of the Finnish director's journey. In Rio, samba is a "state of mind", especially for Walter Alfaiate, a tailor and samba composer whose style is based on love, inspired by all the loves he has had and lost, the experiences that shaped his heart, and the ultimate lack of permanence in love. His protege is Seu Jorge, a young man who began living in the streets of the favelas and was launched into the world of music by Alfaiate and other samba-composers who saw his talent. In Rio, samba educates the young and the old alike. Rio's largest favela is Mongueira, where the people, although poor, keep the samba alive. An old woman, Dona Zelia, sings of her long lost love, her dead husband, and his guitar. The most famous samba school in Rio is here, a huge room full of young men and women with drums, making a resonant, multi-dimensional and energetic sound. Scenes of the Carnival are shown, in all its extravagance and noise. Kaurismaki's last focus is Ivo Meirelles, a young man from Mongueira who has created a funk group, Funk n Lata, with his friends. Instead of leaving the favelas like other successful musicians have done, he sets an example for the people there and remains, embracing his roots and offering music as a positive alternative to drugs and gang violence that are part of everyday life in Mongueira. The film ends with a lovely Brazilian woman singing "Juizo Final at a club in Rio. It is revealed that this club belongs to Kaurismaki, who after his musical journey throughout Brazil decided to remain there and make Brazilian music his life. His club gives opportunities to the numerous Brazilian music acts to showcase their talents and the Brazilian musical tradition.

The focus of this film is the vast diversity of Brazilian music, which reflects exactly the vast diversity of Brazil's people. The indigenous people with their painted faces and their grass skirts, singing and dancing in the jungle, are just as much Brazilians as the more Portuguese mulattoes of Rio or the blacks of Recife. Between these lies a spectrum of ethnic and cultural mixes that produce a dazzling array of musical styles which are expressed both in song and dance. And each region's music has been inspired to varying degrees by these different cultures. This heterogeneity is not only ethnic or musical, however; it is also economic. Highlighted in the film is the great inequality that Brazilians face. Poverty and lack of access to resources and education are portrayed as almost ubiquitous, with scenes of garbage and insecure living conditions in every place. Constant mention of drugs, prostitution, and crime reminds the viewer that life in Brazil is not all music and happiness; people's difficulties are made lighter by music, but suffering is deeply entrenched. Kaurismaki makes a point to highlight the issue of inequality in Brazil.

Samba is in every part of a Brazilian's life. Tiny children sing and dance in the streets, playing instruments with amazing skill for ones so young. Everywhere that music is played, people are listening, watching, dancing, and commenting. Making music is a collaborative process which includes everyone in the community and is a culmination of the region's history. Samba educates the people, many of which cannot get a formal education. It gives people a chance to lift themselves out of suffering, poverty, and crime. It includes every age level, from babies to young people, to the middle aged, to the very very old. No age group is excluded from musical life. In the streets of the favelas, impromptu concerts bring the whole community together to sing and dance at any time of day. It seems the entire country is buzzing with sound, movement, and rhythm; never is there an absence of music. To Kaurismaki, a synonym for Brazil is samba.

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