POR AÍ

    It is the 23rd century in America. For the first time in
    history, Blacks are going to elect one of their own to the presidency of the United
    States. The new President decides to divide the country in two: the South for the Blacks
    and the North for the Whites. The White majority, however, is not ready to give up its
    power and concocts a diabolical plan. This futuristic scenario, which includes plans of
    mass expatriation of American Blacks to the Amazon, was written in 1926 by Brazilian
    author Monteiro Lobato.

    The forests of the Amazon region have been called `the lungs of the world,’ and
    with its thousands of tributaries the amazing Amazon River basin covers an area of 2.2
    million square miles. That’s a lot of baseball fields. This reviewer likes exaggeration as
    much as the next guy, but when the invitation for a press screening of Kieth Merrill’s Amazon
    tells us that "the mighty Amazon stretches 48,000 miles" one can’t help but
    whistle, considering that the circumference of our planet is merely half that distance. A
    misplaced comma can do wonders, unless the Amazon really does begin somewhere between here
    and the Moon.

    Filmed in the IMAX system, Amazon is a 40-minute docudrama whose narrative is
    jerry-rigged around two medicine men, one from Western Civilization and the other from
    Bolivia, who embark from different directions on the same quest, which is to discover the
    medicinal properties of native plants. Mamani is a Bolivian Callawaya Shaman (so what’s he
    doing in Machu Picchu?) who descends from the headwaters of the Amazon while Dr. Mark
    Plotkin, a U.S. ethnobotanist who looks like Indiana Jones as played by Tom Waits, has
    apparently been delving into the interior from someplace downstream. In this country,
    Plotkin is perhaps best known for his book, Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice.

    Amazon has impressive aerial views, and its animal photography is first-rate, but
    our brief glimpse of the Zoe (pronounced Zo-ee) tribe, accompanied by the explorer Sydney
    Possuelo, is surely one of the highlights. This is an aboriginal tribe of about 160 people
    which only became known to the outside world in the late 1960s, and whose distinctive
    feature—among the adults—is a six or eight inch wooden tube that they wear
    through their lower jaw. FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian agency, zealously protects them—or at
    least tries to in the face of sometimes-unscrupulous miners, ranchers, and loggers. It
    might be noted that in Brazil alone some 90 indigenous tribes have gone extinct since the
    turn of the century, and there’s a saying that when a shaman, or medicine man, dies it’s
    like a whole library burning down.

    Wanting us to draw our own conclusions, the filmmakers have refrained from taking a
    pedantic stance. The rain forests of the world are disappearing at an alarming rate, and
    the problem—as the novelist John Fowles has repeatedly pointed out—boils down to
    overpopulation. How else can we account for mass migration in times of drought and flood?
    Ironically, Merrill’s one-page biography mentions that he and his wife have eight
    children. What if each of these offspring spawns eight more? There used to be an idea
    called ZPG—Zero Population Growth—but no one’s talking much about it these days.

    Although Amazon is well photographed and carefully edited, it lacks the grandeur
    that seems natural to the subject, something vital that might elevate it above the level
    of a TV special. The film’s rather overblown musical score by Alan Williams doesn’t help.
    This isn’t to knock the relevancy of such a cinematic endeavor, only to suggest that the
    end result is smaller than the screen on which it’s being projected. BW


    Originally from Recife, in the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, musical
    director Miguel Kertsman has assembled in Amazônica (Sony Records) an enlightening
    collection comprised of traditional pieces, some historical reconstructions, and rounded
    it out with a few inspired originals of his own. Kertsman’s intent is to show how
    colonial-era northeast Brazil absorbed a bevy of influences—from the Christianity of
    the Iberian peninsula to the African cultures of the Yoruba, Bantu, and Gegue—and
    handed back to itself a truly unique blend of worldly and otherworldly sounds.

    One shouldn’t be misled by the title into thinking that Kertsman has taken us up the
    Amazon River with stops in Manaus or Iquitos. No, this isn’t riverport music, and in fact
    Pernambuco certainly seems to be the epicenter on this disc, with one of the highlights
    being the modinha (`little song’) called "Pernambuco" sung
    opera-in-the-jungle style by Julie Cassia. Kertsman, with help from the ensembles
    Angaatanamu and Camerata Cantione Antigua, succeeds in his endeavor to show us what the
    early stages of the musical melting pot might have been like. His composition, "Aboio
    Grande," which concludes Amazônica, is his attempt to synthesize the
    tributaries into a gushing stream. An underlying dance of Afro-Brazilian percussion helps
    him pull it off. BW

    of Love

    The modinha, a genre fundamental to Brazilian music, crosses the boundaries between
    popular and erudite forms. These urban love songs talk of sighs, of flattering words, and
    of refined affairs. In early times, the form was indignantly criticized for its poetry,
    which was considered harmful to young ladies who might be deluded by these poisonous
    potions of passion.

    Much of the previously recorded repertoire suffered from an operatic treatment which
    was alien to the form’s spirit and which took away much of the natural grace and
    spontaneity of the genre. But with the release of Modinhas Brasileiras: Songs from 19th
    Century Brazil on Nimbus Records, this sensuous tradition of Brazilian poetry and song
    has been recreated with elegance and feeling.

    Andréa Daltro, a singer from Salvador, Bahia, has unequivocally captured the
    atmosphere of Brazilian nineteenth century song by avoiding the alien European classical
    treatment that these songs have been subject to in the past and has instead brought out
    their particular Brazilian charm and allure. Daltro’s voice has an ethereal quality, and
    the ensemble arrangements are matchless, but what sticks in your mind long after the CD
    stops playing is the poetry.

    These love verses have inspired an enchanting set of songs that transcend the ordinary.
    They are sensual and real, the outcome of experience. As is customary with all Nimbus CDs,
    the packaging includes copious liner notes. You’ll want to add this one to your CD
    library. BG

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