The New Orleans-Brazil Jam

    
The New Orleans-Brazil Jam

    For 22 years Katrina Geenen has been hosting "Tudo Bem,"
    a New Orleans’ radio program
    showcasing a variety of Brazilian
    musical styles. In recent years, Geenen focused less on Bahian music
    and
    plays a lot more independent music from Rio and other parts of Brazil.

    by:
    Thea English

    There are many things that are uniquely New Orleans; Dixieland jazz, red beans & rice, and the French Quarter.
    Katrina Geenen is also a New Orleans gem because for 22 years she hosted "Tudo Bem," New Orleans’ only Brazilian radio
    program. She showcases a variety of styles such as
    bossa nova, MPB (Música Popular Brasileira),
    choros, sambas and even a little rock. In addition, her expertise in Brazilian music serves as a history lesson for listeners.

    Geenen’s love for Brazilian music began in her college years. "I heard this song "Mas Que Nada" on the radio when I
    was in my freshman year at University of Texas and I went wow! So, I rushed out and bought the album and around that
    same time I saw the movie Orfeu Negro and I went wow! So, I rushed out and bought the soundtrack." During the early years
    of "Tudo Bem." Geenen hosted the show in the living room of brothers Walter and Jerry Brock in the Treme area of New
    Orleans.

    "At first I pre-recorded them because nobody did their shows live and in order to keep the FCC license, they brought
    the pre-recorded tapes to the transmitter and there was a little cement building underneath it, and they would sit in there for
    ten hours in order to keep the license. You had ten hours a day on the air so they would just bring all the tapes and some
    poor guy would sit there in the cement building and play ten hours worth of tapes. Then we moved to Tipitina’s, but I was
    still pre-recording the shows at that time. I didn’t go live on the air until we moved to our current place. Because Tipitina’s
    had that live music and it was really loud, it was good to pre-record the shows."

    "Tudo Bem" got off to a slow start, but when major labels started doing Brazilian releases in the U.S. in 1985, more
    people started listening. One of her most memorable moments was during singer Milton Nascimento’s first visit to the U.S.. "I
    went to Austin, Texas, and interviewed him in his hotel room. I walk into the room and there’s Milton and I sit down on his bed."

    Geenen had a few drinks prior to the interview. "I was at the bar, the interview happened at eleven in the morning
    and I was so hysterical about it, so I had a couple of quick shots at the bar and of course halfway through the interview I
    forgot some of my questions even though I had written them down. It was pretty exciting."

    Independents’ Turn

    Another memorable moment for Geenen was when she celebrated 20 years on the air by traveling to Rio de Janeiro
    and seeking out independent artists. "We did all those live interview specials from Rio and those were the best, with Ryta de
    Cassia as my co-host and Carlos Fuchs on the controls. I cried during many of those, it was wonderful." In recent years Geenen
    focused less on Bahian music and plays a lot more independent music from Rio and other parts of Brazil.

    "Axé music in Bahia was getting real commercial and all of it was starting to sound the same to me, it was like bubble
    gum music. People started sending me independent CDs, mostly coming out of Rio and I thought, wow! I thought this stuff
    was great and I wanted to know more about it, so I went to Rio and met all the people. These are people who are completely
    outside the commercial music system, so they’re making the music they like to make." The first person Geenen met was Ryta de
    Cassia and she introduced her to other independent artists such as Carlos Fuchs, Suely Mesquita, Matilda Kovak, Paulo
    Baiano and Marcos Sacramento. "What really impressed me about these people was that they helped each other out, it was a
    real community feeling", she said.

    She’s also releasing her CD High and Low, which is produced by Matilda Kovak and Paulo Baiano. She explained
    how the project came about: "I was trying to interview Matilda, but it turned into a party and we were having cocktails and
    having a good time. Ryta and Matilda had both said to me separately, ‘You must be a good singer, you have a great speaking
    voice.’ Everybody’s passing around the guitar and singing. So I remembered some old blues songs, and after a while
    everybody loved it."

    A funny incident occurred when while Geenen looked for Kovak, she felt something on her feet and as she looked
    under the table there was Kovak, kissing her feet and saying ‘You’re the voice for my songs.’ Geenen recorded "A Billion for
    Your Thoughts" for Kovak’s CD in Carlos Fuchs’s studio with him on piano. "A year later, at another party, Carlos is playing
    bits and pieces of the radio shows and then he slips in "A Billion for Your Thoughts" and Baiano’s at this party and he goes
    ‘Oh my God, you’re the voice, I have some songs.’ So he and Matilda got together really quick at the party and said,
    ‘OK,
    Katrina, we’re gonna do a CD and you’re going to sing.’ "

    Not only is Geenen a disc jockey and singer, but she’s also a gifted artist. She graduated from the University of
    Texas with a bachelor of fine arts degree in studio art and in 1999 she held an exhibit called Offerings to the Orixás. Carlos
    Malta, who was in town that day, played the flute at the exhibit. "I’ve been really into the Afro-Brazilian religious belief system
    and there’s no place to see Candomblé around here." Geenen said the exhibit was well-received and that the turnout was
    better than she expected.

    Getting to Know Iemanjá

    Iemanjá is Geenen’s favorite orixá and she explained how she came to embrace her. "Well, when I was in art school, I
    started drawing and painting a picture of a woman in the water up to her waist and she had seaweed in her hair. It was some
    kind of unconscious image that kept coming to me. And then I moved here and a good friend of mine said,
    ‘Katrina that’s a
    mermaid under there.’ At the same time I started finding out about Iemanjá and her feast day on February 2 in Bahia.

    "She was the patroness of the fishermen, sister to the fishes and mother of all the orixás. Then I started going to
    Brazil, hanging out at Candomblé supply stores and going to
    terreiros to see Candomblé. Several different high priestesses
    of Candomblé said, ‘I see Iemanjá standing next to you’ and I got very excited. Finally I was told by a
    pai de santo (Candomblé priest) that Iemanjá was in fact my orixá."

    Geenen is also a good friend of singer Nei Lopes. "I was on a tour of Brazil with this guy named Jess Peters. It was
    an African Heritage Tour and on this tour we went to the only government agency to defend and promote African heritage
    in Brazil, and it was at that meeting that Nei Lopes was there. I spoke with him, we exchanged addresses and we started
    corresponding. He was and still is writing the Brazilian Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora and he needed material so I
    started sending him stuff and he started sending me stuff. He’s been an important friend and connection to me."

    Geenen also has some dislikes about Brazilian music. "I’m not a big Brazilian rock fan although I understand that this
    is important to Brazilian music and I will play some on the radio because people want to hear it and my job is to play
    everything I get my hands on." Geenen has fans from all over the world. In one incident, a Japanese listener who heard some soccer
    songs told her that if there were more soccer there would be less wars. And a listener from Washington D.C. sent Geenen a
    vinyl collection.

    She also shared a funny story about a misunderstanding of American food in Brazil. "My first trip to Brazil was in ’80
    or ’81 and this is Bahia’s first mall. My friend Jorge showed it to me proudly,
    ‘Look, we’re part of the civilized world, we
    have a mall.’ So we went to this little fast food joint and I wanted a cheeseburger. There was the hamburger which was a
    burger with a piece of ham on it. I tried to tell Jorge a hamburger was just a burger and that it didn’t have ham on it. And he
    said, ‘No, no we’re doing it correct.’"

    The New Orleans Jazzfest in 2000 was another memorable time for Geenen because the festival honored Brazil that
    year and artists such as Hermeto Pascoal, Maracatu Nação Pernambuco and Carlos Malta came. Brazil was also celebrating
    its 500th anniversary. "There was really no samba, no
    bossa nova. They were trying to make a connection to Salvador,
    Bahia, north of Brazil and New Orleans. It upset a lot of Brazilians because they said
    ‘How could you be featuring Brazilian
    music and not feature samba?’ "

    Katrina Geenen is a woman who wears many hats: disc jockey, singer, artist and world traveler. She is New Orleans’
    unofficial ambassador to Brazil and her infectious passion for Brazilian music has spread to her listeners and future Brazilianists.
    You can hear "Tudo Bem" on Saturday afternoons from 2-4 p.m. on WWOZ-FM 90.7. For those outside of New Orleans, you
    can listen on the Internet at www.wwoz.org

    Thea English is a mass communications major at Dillard University. She can be reached at
    futurewriter21@yahoo.com

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