The music in Brazil that you play

Ceri Richards, Still Life with Music, 1933


Commentary on Edson Natale's recently released book

Conversation leads to conversation, and when the conversationalist is good, it pays off a lot. This is the case of Edson Natale's surprising book, The music in Brazil that you play.

Obviously, it's a book about Brazilian music. What is less obvious is the way in which the author amends subjects, including precious topics from history, cinema, literature, visual arts, theater, TV, folklore, politics or geography, and not just Brazil.

The result of more than 30 years of research and travel across the country, the result is a volume full of revealing and curious, sometimes unusual, information. You can start a chapter talking about Father Landell de Moura, the Brazilian inventor of radio, go through the Roraima musical movement and list several artists from the Amazon. Or start by remembering the history of Brazilian aviation, go through Agostinho dos Santos, quote the lyrical singer Maria d'Apparecida and talk about racism, narrating the conflicts between Tony Tornado and the military dictatorship.

Provocative titles such as “Women can play the trombone” or “No war is fair” open concise narratives that talk about prejudice and machismo. It features pioneers Chiquinha Gonzaga and Jovita Alves Pedrosa, includes Gilda de Barros, Abbie Conant and Inezita Barroso, introduces former Second World War combatant Pedro Sorongo, a future genius percussionist, and pays homage to Tenório Jr., a Brazilian pianist killed by the Argentine dictatorship.

In another key, it recalls the trip of the surrealist poet Benjamin Péret to Brazil, accompanied by his wife, the Brazilian Elsie Houston, singer and researcher of Brazilian folklore, passes by the black admiral João Cândido, summarizes the militant life of the actress Lélia Abramo and ends by speaking of the mass in honor of Vladimir Herzog, a milestone in recent Brazilian history.

And lively, contemporary characters enter the prose. The composer Maurício Pereira, the guitarist Paulo Freire, the producer and technician Pena Schmidt, the filmmaker Fernando Meirelles or the Pernambuco punk Cannibal, always interspersed with historical figures such as João Pacifico, Patativa do Assaré, Luiz Carlos Prestes, Cego Aderaldo, Dilermando Reis, Lampião and Volta Seca, Zaíra de Oliveira, Osvaldo Pugliese, Moacir Santos or Possidônio Queiroz, the flutist from Piauí who made a point of playing and giving the reception speech for Coluna Prestes when it passed through his city, Oeiras.

The music ends up being a thread and needle with which Edson Natale masterfully stitches together pieces of a multicolored and contrasting Brazil, unequal and unfair in so many moments, but fascinating and creative in many others. Without academic formalism, but with footnotes when necessary, and with bibliographical references duly listed at the end, the book can be defined as a beautiful set of small essays, or chronicles-with-content (if such a classification exists). The best thing is not to try to define it, but to dive into the pleasurable and enriching reading.

Only the edition deserves some repairs, such as the sans serif font and the low-contrast printing, which makes reading difficult in poorly lit environments. Take the book to the beach and enjoy!

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


Edson Natale. The music in Brazil that you play. São Paulo, Editora Paraquedas, 2023, 160 pages. []

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