First Festival of Brazilian Music in London [ii]
at Venezuela's Bolivar Hall
And the first night of the First Festival of Brazilian Music (1 November, 2007, 7.30 pm - at Venezuela’s cultural centre in London} exploded with a Big Bang of immense creativity.
Complex Overlaps and overlapping Complexities
As the Chavezian revolutionary Democracy is breaking-up the oligarchy of the South American political elites (with hands in North American pockets), it is simultaneously forging patriotic (not, ‘nationalist’) multi-ethnic cultures typical of the South American continent. And herein is embedded their original power and creative strength. The South American countries, more than ever, shall come out as ‘national’ cultures in harmony with each other, precisely because their genuine historical multi-ethnicity constitutes their common ground, blossoming and expanding, truly globalizing their creative impetus, unlike the racist, mutually destructive, ultra-nationalism fostered by Fascist regimes – like that of the mentally unbalanced (I think – later proved by his suicide in 1954) President Getúlio Vargas. The fascist use of multi-culturalism is a ‘nationalist’ abuse, a form of collective rape of the ethnic group that produces it – like Vargas, suddenly getting the ‘brilliant’ marketing idea of stealing and promoting the African-rooted samba as a Brazilian-national cultural symbol, while perpetuating the White supremacy by treating the poverty-ridden Blacks of the country as Second class-citizens.
Vargas was mad like that; proud to be a Mussolini aficionado (like Mosley's Jew-bashing Black Shirts of Britain), yet he would declare for the Allies in the Second World War, merely because he was annoyed by the hyperactivity of Hitler’s agents in Brazil …
Genuine egalitarian multi-culturalism in South America now given a second life by the Chavezian revolutionary impetus could only emerge in Brazil in the late 19-sixties through the immense efforts of young music-makers warmly known as the Tropicalistas, fighting for creative and societal freedoms, sustained by the masses who were their audiences. Led by Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, after their return from exile in London, these musicians consciously sought out and forged egalitarian respect for the cultural products of all the ethnic groups constituting the tapestry of the Brazilian people, organizing ‘liberational’ music festivals under the general title of Tropicália.
It is almost a divine gift and a privilege in London to be a contemporary witness at the cauldron of creativity of the resurgent multi-ethnic brew being made at the Bolivar Hall. The peoples of South America are all the world’s inhabitants in one – from the Mayas, down to the African slaves, and the ignorantly labeled ‘red Indians’ in between (hugely genocided out of their land by the “Pilgrim Fathers”).
And here is an overlapping complexity a genocidal killer-idiot from the CIA School of Americas could never understand;
In reciprocation for the kindness of lending them the Bolivar Hall, the Brazilians had invited one of … Venezuela’s great music-makers, to switch on the powerful lights for their Brazilian music – an act of practical Socialist brotherhood if ever there was one.
And what an excellent choice of a star musician than Asdrúbal Cheo Hurtado – a grand master of the mandolin, the guitar, the tres, the bandola guayanesa, and double bass, but most of all the cuatro, a toy-like contraption very much emerging as the ‘national’ instrument of the Bolivarian-Chavezian Venezuela.
Cuatro is half a traditional Guitar. Its name meaning ‘4’ in Spanish is thought to refer to its 4 strings, half the number of its mother-instrument. But I think there is a clever little folk-pun on the word meaning a quarter – a quarter-instrument that is really half a size – a complex ‘proletarian’ joke not for the dim-witted US killers. The great Armenian composer Komitas used to say; “Tcharern miyain yerk tchunin” = only evil people lack songs = cannot sing, they cannot produce music. Hitler was Wagner-mad – the Nazis produced some kind of ‘classical’ copy-cat sculpture/architecture, but definitely could not produce a composer!
It is important to note that, of limited technical capacity, the cuatro is obviously a poor man’s guitar, more percussive than melodic. The massively exploited, highly-strung, are forced onto the move continuously, merely to survive, they have no leisure time to sit in a space they can call home (if they had a shack they could call their own) to relax and listen to … Baroque melodies – a dynamic cuatro is more than enough for their needs.
But not for Cheo Hurtado – in his hands, and as evidence of his creative genius – a tribute to the good (not evil) man’s musical genius transcending time and class, the cuatro becomes … all the various instruments Hurtado knows how best to play, including the classical Spanish guitar (of the immortal Andre Segovia).
The cuatro is played with bare fingers (and fist!), not with a plectrum. Hurtado’s Right hand is a miracle of … speed. You have seen nothing like it! His breathtaking percussionist climactic crescendos are a sight to behold, never mind to listen to … The wonder is that his instrument does not break as Hurtado definitely breaks the boundaries of cuatro music.
I missed though in Hurtado’s repertoire a deeper, darker, and a more melodic range in the revolution of the instrument that he is affecting. He should occasionally restrain his technical percussionist wizardry and bring to life the darker tunes of Venezuelan music. There is too much of a revolutionary joy in Hurtado’s music-making, even though his looks do betray a certain existential sadness typical of all deeply creative people. For a sensitive human soul, even the life-enhancing revolutionary joy can never override the emotion of profound tragedy felt at the thought of existential mortality. The display of such melancholy is anwyay technically vital to highlight the spiritual joy portrayed by the other side of the existential coin. Joyous celebration does need the occasional tragic sadness to relieve it.
Hamilton de Holanda Vasconcelos Neto is the Brazilian master of the mandolin played with a plectrum – a physical disciplinary inhibition (compared to the full hand-use on the cuatro) which Hamilton transcends effortlessly. A Renaissance instrument of limited potential, Hamilton has transformed the mandolin into almost a … Grand Piano! And not only because he has consciously extended its polyphonic potential by adding an extra string (low C) for a total of 10.
Capitalism vs Musical Socialism
Wearing sable tinted Levis, Hamilton walked onto the stage as if from under an American 1930’s Oldsmobile, with his little-mandolin instead of an oil-can – mechanic garage-chic … bolshie towards Hurtado, determined to knock him out in a musical mating game … But something extraordinary happened, of such uniqueness, un-repeatable, that I wish everyone I love was there to have experienced it; Hamilton’s ‘capitalist’ musical aggression was slowly but surely won over by Hurtado’s patient musical … socialism, which caused a massive creative miracle.
When the two petite-instruments finally achieved musical equality and brotherhood, their master music-makers produced such intensely passionate music of such profound humanity and sheer energetic life-force that it left one stunned – incredible crescendos with impossible precision of pitch, and crystal-clarity of musical diction … They shot the audience with rocket-speed (Japanese bullet-trains?) over the moon, in sheer unadulterated existential happiness.
I am certain such culturally mixed-music – Brazilian ‘Portuguese’ with Venezuelan ‘Spanish’ – reflects planetary motion. People usually forget that we live on a planet which turns around the Sun in unimaginable speed every second of a minute, to which is owed our daily life on earth.
Hamilton plays with all of his body and all over the place. Initially, I thought he would even walk all over the audience … Music drips from his music-soaked physique.
Yet this bull of a man in a musical china shop, helped by Hurtado’s musical kindness, could transform himself instantly to a most gentle giant of unusual compassion, all-giving, all-sharing the moment he called his orchestra onto the stage.
And what an orchestra of first-class musicians; André Lopes de Vasconcellos, electric guitar; Daniel Santiago, acoustic guitar; Márcio Bahia, drums; and last but foremost the unexpected co-star to Hamilton’s mandolin is Gabriel Grossi’s chromatic harmonica, rendering the formation of the Band conceptually totally original. Gabriel holds the American prairie-instrument in his mouth perched (like a favela …) a-top a microphone in his left hand, and plays (with the right hand) like a Blues-singer, on a par with Hamilton’s mandolin.
Gabriel Grossi ‘s harmonica sound usually emerges as a lonely voice, as haunting as Modest Mussorgsky’s delicate and highly civilized melody played out of the harsh cacophony of the barbaric nature of a Night on the Bare Mountain (1867), here, in the Hamilton de Holand Quintet surfacing frequently from the oceanic depths imaged by Márcio Bahia’s tympani.
Márcio Bahia, looking like an olive-oiled Turkish wrestler, is a hard-rock Drummer in every sense of the words – I had never heard such petrifying (puns intended!) sounds of cold stone, with heavy-metal hammers, mining massive pieces of musical rock, as if to re-build Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem …
With elaborate rock-band psychedelic stage-lighting, Márcio Bahia could scare the pants off the female members of the audience! He is a one-man rhythmical cement-mixer, holds everything together, and is not even a show-off … He kills you with the power of his stone-age music.
The Hamilton de Holanda Quintet illustrates the remarkable South American revolutionary musical innovation that needs to be urgently globalized – Brazilians and Venezuelans seem uninhibited in orchestrating the most unusual instruments into harmonious ensembles of contrapuntal polyphony.
Endowed with a towering height, Hamilton’s musical fusion with his orchestra is so noble and giving and loving (non-diva like …) that he physically seems to melt away in amongst the average heighted music-makers of his group, although his solo appearance seemed quite the reverse, and rightly so (I am all for the British-style mixed economy actively imitated by the Chinese Communists ...)
There is no doubting Hamilton’s strong egalitarian bond with his musicians, to which was owed the intense beauty of the music created about a large Brazilian animal called the Ant-Eater – Hamilton’s emphasis (in his verbal explanation) on the “little”- ness of the ants was significant and indicative of its ample reflection in the music – a clash of complex contrasting rhythmic patterns woven contrapuntally in harmonies that could explode the cavernous Royal Albert Hall.
Hamilton the Great came to his own yet again for the last encore of the evening – In an act of extraordinary socialist fraternal graciousness, he invited the most civilized Cheo Hurtado back onto the stage to accompany him in a masterly interpretation – a series of wonderful variations on Besame Mucho. It left me in no doubt whatsoever that Hamilton must be a great lover of Johann Sebastian Bach – the Jehovah of all music.
Even if Hamilton himself would belie me, I couldn’t and wouldn’t believe him.
I long to hear one day live, his interpretations of Bach and even perhaps Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart … I would hop on a plane to Brazil for it – provided of course that there won’t be yet another junta burning down the Amazon forests to fatten the American hamburger-eaters.
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