An immigration musicale in the making: The South American way
Jorge Vismara

LOS ANGELES—I’ve been producing The Brazilian Heart Celebration here since 2012. In 2014, the annual show was transformed into a one-night musical because of my desire to speak about what links us all: our humanity. This year, I chose a theme that it is as special as it is timeless: Immigrants.

With a cast of eight female Brazilian singer-songwriters, the 2018 show interweaves poetry, quotes, and stories in English with songs related to different aspects of being an immigrant—an inner one and an outer one.

I believe that talking about immigrants in Brazil and beyond gives the audience an opportunity to reflect about their own ancestors’ path in the U.S.—or anywhere.

We’ll be sharing songs in some of the languages that created Brazil’s melting pot: Portuguese, of course, but also Italian, Japanese, French, Yoruba, Pareci (an indigenous Brazilian tribal language), English, and Spanish.

One of the songs that move me is Caetano Veloso’s Sampa, from the 1970s. Sampa is an ode to the city of São Paulo, in which he describes his political, social, and emotional impressions as an immigrant from Bahia, a state more than a thousand miles north.

He says:

“When I looked at you I didn’t see my face.
I called you bad taste, bad taste, bad taste.
It’s because Narcissus thinks everything is ugly but the mirror.”

Caetano’s insight made me think of the first time I visited New York City. It was too cold, there were too many buildings, and graffiti made the subway look dirty and aggressive. Who was I then? Who am I today?

I answer my question when I sing “Fado Tropical” by Chico Buarque. In it, he paints Brazil as a mixture of plants from Portugal with the arid land of Brazil’s Northeast: Brazil would be a tropical wine made of liqueurs carried in moringas (earthenware jars).

I believe that Brazilians don’t know Brazil, just as Americans don’t know the United States. Proof of this is how surprised Americans are when they see how polarized this country is right now. It’s not so different in Brazil. Many people cannot even imagine actually getting to know each other.

In one of the first scenes of the show we mention that we learned some Indigenous tribal words in school. But now some of us know that there are 276 Indigenous languages in our country, and that makes us think of the enormity of the Brazilian world still unknown to us.

Speaking about native Indigenous people, I wonder if readers might remember this post that appeared on the Internet few years ago:

“The Native American National Council will offer amnesty to 240 million illegal white immigrants living in the United States. After a long debate, they decided to extend a road to citizenship for those illegal white immigrants without criminal records or contagious diseases.”

No doubt we will include this one in the musical.

I can’t help loving the research process of creating every show. This year I discovered that when French singer Edith Piaf was performing at Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro she became a fan of the Brazilian singer Marlene. Their friendship led to Piaf’s inviting her to open her show at the Olympia in Paris.

Since Edith Piaf was also a friend of Marlene Dietrich, it was inevitable that I would encounter this quote from her: “Latins are tenderly enthusiastic. In Brazil, they throw flowers at you. In Argentina, they throw themselves.”

I also found out that many Polish women who fled during World War I ended up working as prostitutes in Rio de Janeiro. One of them became the mother of Jacob do Bandolim, a master of choro music in Brazil, and one of our honorees this year.

What fun to educate myself and create a show! What started in 2012 as just a way of paying homage to historical Brazilian singer-songwriters who were generally unrecognized in the U.S. has become a source of infinite pleasure. This year the script was again written in collaboration with Brazilian actress Mariana Leite, who has been supporting this musical theater adventure for the past four years.

But let me open my heart a little more. After many years as a fisherman working off the coast of Brazil, my Portuguese grandpa and his older sons brought my mom to the state of Amazonas and put her in a boarding school run by Catholic nuns. My mom imagined she’d be a nun herself, but changed her mind when she met my dad, Antonio, in Rio de Janeiro.

Many years after that, I came to California to spend a year with my then-husband. I was lucky. Brazilian music was joyful and attractive. Art sustained me. I danced samba, I sang in clubs, bar mitzvahs, festivals, and did dubbing sessions. My marriage did not succeed, but the creativity in me blossomed. All the bands in which I participated had North American, Latin and European musicians who loved Brazilian music.

One day I fell in love with a screenwriter and became a citizen of a different country, as my mother also did once. Two things made me decide to become an American citizen: the fact that Brazil accepts dual citizenship, and that I could vote and become part of the community. But I still feel I’m an immigrant. Especially when my English disappears at a crucial moment. My Brazilian friends and I always laugh at our bloopers: kitchen instead of “chicken,” rubber instead of “eraser,” and how hard it is to say “world.”

But there are other things that concern me more. Why is it so difficult to find a doctor who gives you more than ten minutes of attention, and why do they treat each symptom separately, like they forget that everything’s linked? Why do Americans not see that buying guns so easily is linked to the constant massacres? Duh! Also, why do so many people still think Brazilians speak Spanish? Okay, Kátia, chill out!

The truth is, I still confront certain situations like an immigrant. I want to live in the moment, moment by moment, but I still hesitate when faced with something I haven’t done before, something new. To be in the moment is like facing a different culture. We all have two choices: Embrace it or run! I think a healthy melting pot is made of embraces.

In celebration of this, my seventh annual Brazilian Heart celebration, I offer two of my lyrics in English:

Mistureba

I’m the product of
A Portuguese mother
With a beard, wood sandals
Smelling of codfish and onions
Glowing with joy!
My father was one of seven
Who chose a life worth living
Far from the whip of suffering!

I’m the color of jambo fruit [rose apple or Malay plum]
Came into the world on St. John’s Day
With bonfires, canjica [hominy], firecrackers
Love letters, hot air balloons!

My inner flame is so strong
It turned their idea of what
Was best for me to ash!
I stamped my foot and said,
“No! It won’t be like that!
I won’t close my mouth,
Get married, wash and iron!
Money is good! It won’t make me lonely
Who told me to fight? Who told me to pray?
Who told me to make this world a better place
To reflect into my own life?”
Who told me? Who told me?

They speak to me still!  They whisper
Endlessly, hodgepodge in my ears
Hodgepodge in my head, Mistureba!
Hodgepodge in my heart!

 

Tongues

We speak in nguas, in tongues

In sounds that sometimes you cannot understand

Do you know what I mean?

 

Tongue

Young in our desire to change our minimum wage

Our every day rage maybe ignited, by the rifle range,

Or the stock exchange.

 

Change is nothing new to us travelers,

Constantly moving by plane, car or bus

Because of a political fuss

Searching to untie the truss from our bodies

 

Am I making sense?

Is our use of English creating a fence? Or a wall?

Believe me, even if the obstacle is tall,

And bricks stacked so high can enthrall some

 

One day a real united group of drums will play together

And the bubble-wrapped population on that side

Will abide by the voice of consciousness and compassion.

 

In this year’s celebration, eight Brazilian female singer/songwriters recognize International Women’s Day. Performing music inspired by immigrants from Brazil and beyond, they will weave songs, poetry, and stories that recall home. Our thinking can be summed up: “This world needs a magic touch; this is why we’re here making art, to light up the spaces in between cultures.”

The 7th Brazilian Heart Celebration takes place on one night only, Sat., March 3 at 7 pm and 9 pm at the Kelman Theater in the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice, CA 90291.

Featured performers include Ana Gazzola, Clarice Cast, Kátia Moraes, Liz Kinnon, Marcele Berger, Mariana Leite, Nana Nuki, Nando Duarte, Natália Spadini, Sonia Santos, Thalma de Freitas, and special guests.

Parking is complimentary for patrons arriving at least 20 minutes before each performance.

Tickets are available exclusively on Eventbrite in advance and at the door: https://brazilianheart2018.eventbrite.com

Translations and adaptations by Peter Lownds.

— — —

Kátia Moraes began her career in Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s with her band “O Espírito da Coisa.” Since then she has performed and/or recorded with top Brazilian and North American talents. After moving to Los Angeles in 1990, she started lending her voice to films and television for dubbing. She is currently nominated for a 2018 Brazilian International Press Award under two categories: Female Singer and Musical Presentation.


CONTRIBUTOR

Kátia Moraes
Kátia Moraes

Kátia Moraes began her career in Rio de Janeiro in the 1980s with her band “O Espírito da Coisa.” Since then she has performed and/or recorded with top Brazilian and North American talents. After moving to Los Angeles in 1990, she started lending her voice to films and television for dubbing. She is currently nominated for a 2018 Brazilian International Press Award under two categories: Female Singer and Musical Presentation.

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