Independent in Rio – Part II

More and more artists are taking control of their own recordings. Rita Peixoto and Carlos Fuchs have taken self-production several steps further.

Daniella Thompson

Singer Rita Peixoto and pianist/arranger/composer Carlos Fuchs, who are a married couple as well as a professional duo, have abandoned their former record label and are producing and distributing their own work. In the process, Carlos has established his own private studio and is now producing a stream of new discs by talented independent musicians.

In this installment, Rita and Carlos discuss their past, present, and future work and their latest disc, Na Minha Cara.

Brazzil—What’s your musical background?

Rita—From a very early age I heard music at home. My parents were great music lovers and listeners. I heard everything: popular Brazilian music, classical music, and popular music of other countries. I started piano lessons even before learning to read. Later, I abandoned the piano studies.

Carlos—Well, I’ve been involved with music as long as I can remember. Of course, I’ve done some other things for a living as well. As you probably know, it’s very difficult to make a decent living out of your musical skills. But I think I can consider my background pretty much being a musical one.

Brazzil—How did you get into performing music?

Rita—When I was fourteen, I began to participate in student festivals. Throughout my school years, until I turned eighteen, I was involved with music, singing at school. A little later, I began to sing professionally. When I was eighteen, the maestro Guio de Moraes, after hearing me in one of those festivals, invited me to record an LP. I made it, but the album wasn’t released. At that period I involved myself definitively with music as a professional. I sang in bars and nightclubs. I also sang at dances for a while.

Carlos—My father is a classical pianist, and his mother was a violinist. Thus, I’ve been listening to classical music since I was a baby. I bought my first popular music album only when I was thirteen. I started music classes at the age of six and piano classes at seven. Never with my dad, of course, for, as you know, santo de casa não faz milagre, [the house-saint never works miracles] or casa de ferreiro, espeto de pau. [in the blacksmith’s house, the skewers are wooden]. However, my grandmother would always sit and study the parts with me.

Brazzil—How did you learn to sing/play?

Rita—I didn’t attend any singing school, since this type of school didn’t exist in Brazil. I began to sing as every other popular singer does: by singing. After many years of professional singing, I took vocal technique classes. This really helped me to know my voice so as to use it more fully—in fact, to know myself better.

Carlos—Well, as I told you, I started my piano classes at the age of seven, with this teacher that taught me for eleven years. She was very important to my understanding of music interpretation. Her name is Salomea Gandelman. I also took some classes with other professors during those years. My will to play popular songs became strong at the age of fifteen, when I started listen to some jazz and MPB all the time.

Brazzil—What were your musical influences?

Rita—As I’ve said, I listened to everything while I was small and have continued adopting this attitude as an adult. I think it’s important to hear everything in order to be able to choose better. Only s/he who has a choice chooses well. Speaking more objectively, I heard great singers like Elis Regina, Ella Fitzgerald, Clara Nunes, Mama Cass, Ângela Maria, Janis Joplin, Edith Piaf, Elizeth Cardoso… The marvelous African-American female singers… All of them, in some fashion, gave me something—a great deal of emotion, certainly, and the desire to become a singer.

Carlos—Of course, I have strong classical influences. I could say Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Ravel, Bach, Pärt, among others. Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Chico Buarque, Edu Lobo, and Tom Jobim are also among my definite influences.

Brazzil—Would you give us an outline of your careers thus far?

Rita—You make me think about this. I find that artistically it’s a very rich career. I’ve been singing professionally for twenty-two years. I’m involved with many musicians, singers, composers, and producers of various tendencies, and with time I come to perceive how good it is to be with all of them. They give me a frame of reference. What’s still missing is the ability to exercise my profession without fear of being penniless (and when I speak of money, I don’t mean millions!).

Carlos—I started my professional career playing live music for theatre, played with some Brazilian artists such as the late Taiguara. During the ’80s I created a band called Régua that, despite not having recorded an album, left a big fan list in Rio and some other towns. It was a totally electronic band. In fact, it began as a duo. I played for some years with the Rio Jazz Orchestra and began this current work back in 1991, recording our first album in 1993 and this one in 1997.

Brazzil—What are your own musical preferences?

Carlos—Good MPB, Jazz, Classical.

Rita—It’s difficult to answer. I hear a lot of current music, but I also continue to listen to the female singers who inspired me. I make a point of listening to new people, Brazilians and from other places, and primarily my friends.

Brazzil—Who are your friends?

Rita—My friends are admirable artists. It’s a privilege to have them always around. They’re a source of inspiration and fun. Mathilda Kóvak, Suely Mesquita, Marcos Sacramento, Paulo Baiano, Antonio Saraiva, Sidon Silva, Paulo Brandão, Rodrigo Campello, all the people of Arranco, Dil Fonseca, Betti Albano…

We have similar ideas and also similar difficulties, and because of that we unite in order to work better. You’ve already heard of this; it’s very difficult to work in music in Brazil, but we’re not going to stop making music, because music is what makes us happy. So we’ve resolved, in our own way, to put into practice what we want to do.

Carlos— My friends are the people I work with. Marcos Sacramento, whom I’ve known since the ’80s, has become one of my best friends. We are currently recording our first joint album. All the songs but one have lyrics by him and music by myself. Antonio Saraiva, a great friend and also a genius. He played saxophone in our first album and has three compositions in our new one. Mathilda Kóvak is one of the most brilliant songwriters in Brazil; we see each other almost every day. She is also my partner, and we have about twenty songs we’ve written together. I’m currently producing her first solo album, which is amazing, considering that more than twenty-five of her songs have been recorded by mainstream artists in Brazil. Suely Mesquita is also a great songwriter and partner. I’m also producing her first solo album. She sings beautifully, too. Dil Fonseca, a great composer and spirit. I’ve known him since the ’80s, too. Just finished his first solo album, which I produced.

Brazzil—What are you planning to do next?

Rita—Disseminate Na Minha Cara as much as possible, with shows here in Brazil and abroad, and create a work situation that will give me autonomy. Carlos and I already have our own studio, and the next step is to distribute all our work in ways that will make us independent of the traditional media. The Internet is one such way.

Carlos—Compose a lot, play and record a lot. Hopefully travel to Europe, North America, and Japan to show our music.

Na Minha Cara track by track

Brazzil—How would you describe the musical evolution from your first disc, Rita Peixoto & Carlos Fuchs, to this one?

Rita—In this second disc, Carlos is more present—as composer, arranger, and interpreter. I would say that our duo is better represented. The repertoire is also an important part of the difference between the two discs. In Na Minha Cara, we selected mostly previously unrecorded songs. As an interpreter, I think it’s important to sing new composers.

Carlos—I didn’t produce Na Minha Cara; this was beautifully done by Paulo Brandão (who also produced our first CD) and Rodrigo Campello. Of course, I was deeply involved in all the arrangements and can consider myself a co-producer. In the case of Na Minha Cara, we had at our disposal a world-class studio, and this made the production a real blue-sky flight.

Brazzil—You open the album with “O Dono da Bola,” a very insistent song with repetitive lyrics and rhythms by a young, previously unrecorded composer.

Rita—Like the good Brazilian that I am, I adore football and always wanted to sing something that talked about this. Football has always been very connected to music here in Brazil. Singers, composers, musicians, and football players have a strong bond, and it’s common to see them together. The great composer Lamartine Babo wrote all the hymns of all the football clubs in Rio de Janeiro.

“O Dono da Bola” talks about someone who can end the game at a certain moment, because he’s the master of the ball, but the other players plead with him to let the ball roll so the game may continue.

Brazzil—It certainly conveys the urgency of the moment on the football field, whereas the second song, “Choro Blue,” is just the opposite; it’s full of the jazzy indolence of malaise.

Rita—Rodrigo [Campello, the composer] showed me this song, and I liked the melody right away. [Antonio] Saraiva’s poetry is visual, cinematographic. I manage to sing and visualize what I’m singing. It’s a song with a scenario. I also liked the mixture of choro with blues. I find that these genres have something in common, which is why the lyrics in English are so natural in this song.

Brazzil—The lyrics are completely hilarious, but your delivery doesn’t betray their tongue-in-cheek aspect, which makes the whole thing work particularly well. It’s Miúcha meets Brecht & Weill: all the clichés of the English language in a song from another culture. Very serious on the surface. Antonio calls it nonsense standards collage. He says that the little he knows about English, he learned from song lyrics.

Next we have the nostalgic instrumental piece “Mira” by Carlos. It begins with a solo piano, develops strings and wind instruments, becomes orchestral, then cascades down to piano for the finale.

Carlos—I wrote this tune during the Carnaval of 1997. It’s named after my late grandmother, who always encouraged me to be a musician, besides being a violinist herself.

Brazzil—A change of pace with “Ouro,” a very modern samba by Saraiva.

Rita—This samba is quite different from others I’ve heard. It has modernity but is also a traditional samba. While I sing the melody it seems that another song is happening behind, but everything combines perfectly.

Brazzil—You follow that with Chico Buarque’s “Não Fala de Maria.”

Rita—Of all the famous Brazilian composers, I always thought Chico Buarque was the greatest genius (my friends are also geniuses, but not as famous). I’ve been listening to Chico’s songs for a long time and perhaps I know his oeuvre well. In my first CD I recorded two of his songs, “Desalento” and “Estação Derradeira.” “Não Fala de Maria” is very moving, and I find that Carlos succeeded in capturing this emotion in the piano arrangement. It’s a love story that ends unhappily.

Brazzil—”Dominus” by Luís Capucho and Marcos Sacramento is a very lyrical and contemplative song.

Rita—I’ve already recorded two Luís Capucho songs, “Maluca” and “Minha Casa É um Céu,” in my first CD; I was the first person to record him. Everything that Luís does attracts my attention. He has a disconcerting poetry, strange to the common hearing, but at the same time very simple. Sacramento brought me this song fifteen days before we began recording the CD and said that I had to sing it. He was right. Dominus means God in Latin. The music talks about our dual being: at times we confound ourselves with this duplicity and don’t know what to do. We desire definite emotions, we resist contradictory sentiments. So we suffer a lot. If we understood our nature, we’d live with more serenity. That’s why we ask God to watch over us.

Carlos—One curious note about this recording: Sacramento sang the melody, but he didn’t (nor did anybody else) have the harmony recorded or written. Since Luís Capucho had suffered a major accident, he couldn’t show us the actual harmony he had composed. So I harmonized the song. Luís said he liked it very much.

Brazzil—”Dominus” is appropriately followed by “Jesus,” composed by Paulo Baiano and Marcos Sacramento. “Jesus” is much more lively and percussive than “Dominus.”

Rita—This partnership of Paulo Baiano and Marcos Sacramento, I always wanted to sing them. The two write beautiful songs. “Jesus” is a man who provokes and enchants.

Brazzil—Baiano describes “Jesus” as a choro that talks of a very special Jesus, beautiful and profane, who emerges wet from the waters to bring us love and joie de vivre. In fact, he’s a human Jesus who can be loved and desired in the most physical and carnal way possible. You’ve decided to follow this Jesus with Super-Woman.

Rita—Mathilda Kóvak wrote the lyrics of “Super-Mulher” for me. Carlos completed the song with gorgeous music. This partnership is happiness! I feel particularly honored to be able to sing it. All women, naturally, like this song very much… And some men become very emotional when they hear it.

Brazzil—In “Europa” Carlos does the singing. It’s a contemplative song with piano, winds, violin, and cello. The lyrics turn Europe into an exotic place, as it might appear to someone from the tropics.

Carlos—This tune was the first of a series of compositions by Marcos Sacramento and myself. As usual, he gave me the lyrics and I had to twist myself to fit the words with a melody. We now have twenty-plus compositions and are preparing an album with about twelve of those.

Brazzil—Next we have the choro “Três em Um.”

Carlos—I love choros! Sidon Silva, our percussionist, said, “This tune seems like three tunes!” So it became three-in-one or “Três em Um.”

Brazzil—And you close with Saraiva’s “Vagabundo,” whose lyrics provide the title for your CD.

Rita—This is, perhaps, the strangest song in the disc. Carlos’ arrangement contributed in the creation of this strangeness—in addition, obviously, to the poetry and music of Saraiva. It was different to sing without notes, to sing `talking.’

New sounds from the fox’s lair

Carlos Fuchs talks about his studio’s upcoming productions

Dil Fonseca’s Marubá was recorded entirely in my project studio (except the piano cuts, which were done in my dad’s living room). It was my first experience in many years of producing, and especially recording, a full project. I just loved it. In fact, thanks to this project I started to build my home studio and now I’m producing five projects at the same time:

  1. Suely Mesquita’s first solo album. Suely is a composer and has a huge number of partners (including myself) for whom she writes quality lyrics. In some cases she does the music too. Also, she has this unique great voice. We are currently finishing the basic cuts, where we had on most tracks the members of A Parede playing percussion and bass guitar. A Parede is the band of Pedro Luís; last year they released a disc on Dubas/Warner and now they’re in the studio for their second album. It’s been great fun to do this project, since we gave them total freedom to create in the studio and do all those crazy things one wishes to do sometimes but can’t, like playing the microphone stand itself (with the mic attached to it), cigar boxes, and just about anything that comes in mind (or hand).
  2. Paulo Baiano (with Clara Sandroni singing). Also a first album. Baiano is an old friend of ours and an extremely talented composer (sorry, no lyrics). His partnerships include Suely Mesquita, Mathilda Kóvak, Sérgio Natureza, and (among others) last but not least, Marcos Sacramento, with whom he has a long story going way back. This project will show some fifteen beautiful tunes, most with lyrics by Sacramento. We are at this moment finishing the basic instrumental cuts.
  3. Rodrigo Maranhão. Another first solo album. This guy is young. And great! The first song in Na Minha Cara [“O Dono da Bola”] is his; it was also his first composition ever recorded. He can comfortably swing from samba and choro to funk and rap. We have four songs ready and will now try to catch the record labels’ attention before going on. This project is being co-produced by Sidon Silva (who plays percussion in our CD). Pedro Luís is recording Maranhão for his upcoming album.
  4. Mathilda Kóvak’s genius is well-known here through at least twenty-five songs of hers that were recorded by mainstream artists; yet she hasn’t been able to do her own solo disc. Guess what? Here I am again! This is quite a crazy project, for we want to release forty songs through it. So it seems more like a box set than a CD. But she has far too many amazing songs (including a whole bunch in English) to be confined to a single CD. Mathilda is also, along with Sacramento, my most regular songwriting partner. We have more than twenty songs together. This project is still at the early stage, and we’ll need a lot of time to complete it. Rita will be singing here, too.
  5. Carlos Fuchs & Marcos Sacramento. Through this one, I intend to release nine compositions by Marcos and me, in addition to one by myself and another by Mathilda and me. Those are slow-tempo tunes with very dense lyrics and, I could say, sophisticated harmonies. I don’t think this is an `everybody’s gonna like it’ album, but I truly believe it’s going to be gorgeous. At the moment it’s a piano & voice project, with the possibility of becoming a piano, voice & orchestra project if we cut a deal with a record company.

So, as you can see, I’m quite busy right now! But happy too. It’s a privilege to be able to work with such talented people, even if there’s no money in it (for now only, I hope). What’s priceless is the sensation of being like a full-blown factory of good music.

 

Rita Peixoto’s

discography

Solo albums (available through rcconsul@cyberhome.com.br)

 

Rita Peixoto & Carlos Fuchs (CD; 1993)

Independent; LB 015; previously distributed by Leblon Records

 

Rita Peixoto (voice)

Carlos Fuchs (piano & voice)

Lui Coimbra (cellos)

Mário Sève (flutes)

Antonio Saraiva (soprano sax)

Marcos Suzano (percussion)

Arrangements: Carlos Fuchs

 

Tracks

  1. Nos Horizontes do Mundo (Paulinho da Viola)
  2. Réquiem para Mãe Menininha do Gantois (Gilberto Gil)
  3. Maluca (Luís Capucho)
  4. Desalento (Chico Buarque/Vinícius de Moraes)
  5. Do Sorriso da Mulher Nasceram as Flores (Eduardo Souto)
  6. Rolam nos Meus Olhos (Cartola)
  7. Estação Derradeira (Chico Buarque)
  8. Choro pro Zé (Guinga/Aldir Blanc)
  9. Noturna (Guinga/Paulo César Pinheiro)
  10. Minha Casa É um Céu (Luís Capucho)
  11. Do Sorriso da Mulher Nasceram as Flores [vignette] (Eduardo Souto)

 

Na Minha Cara (CD; 1998)

Independent; RC002

 

Rita Peixoto (voice)

Carlos Fuchs (piano & voice)

Antonio Saraiva (voice); Paulo Brandão (electric bass); Rodrigo Campello (electric guitar, 7-string guitar, cavaquinho, percussion); Lui Coimbra (cello); Cecília Mendes (viola); Ricardo Amado (violin); Andréa Ernest Dias (flute); Harold Emert (oboe); José Botelho (clarinet); Paulo Passos (bass clarinet); Philip Doyle (French horn); Vittor Santos (trombone); C.A. (drums); Sidon Silva, Celso Alvim, Léo Leobons & Paulo Muylaert (percussion)

Arrangements: Carlos Fuchs & Rodrigo Campello (“Choro Blue”)

 

Tracks:

  1. O Dono da Bola (Rodrigo Maranhão)
  2. Choro Blue (Rodrigo Campello)
  3. Mira (Carlos Fuchs)
  4. Ouro (Antonio Saraiva)
  5. Não Fala de Maria (Chico Buarque)
  6. Dominus (Luís Capucho/Marcos Sacramento)
  7. Jesus (Paulo Baiano/Marcos Sacramento)
  8. Super-Mulher (Carlos Fuchs/Mathilda Kóvak)
  9. Europa (Carlos Fuchs/Marcos Sacramento)
  10. Três em Um (Carlos Fuchs)
  11. Vagabundo (Antonio Saraiva)

 

Special participations (solo)

 

Solbambá (CD; 1997)

Independent; 17R05L62

Rodrigo Lessa’s album

 

Track:

Blues para Chet Baker/Solidão (Rodrigo Lessa)

 

Marubá (CD; pre-release)

Dil Fonseca’s debut album

 

Track:

Nau do Amor (Dil Fonseca)

 

Group work (with the vocal group Arranco)

 

Quem É de Sambar (CD; 1997)

Dubas Música/WEA 063018941-2

 

Samba de Cartola (CD; 1998)

Dubas Música/WEA 398423104-2

 

Special participations (with Arranco)

 

Cantoria (CD; 1995)

SACI/CSN 107-727

An album dedicated to the work of the famed lyricist/producer Hermínio Bello de Carvalho on the occasion of his 60th birthday. Also with Ângela Maria, Martinho da Vila, Elba Ramalho, Zezé Gonzaga, Chico Buarque, Zeca Pagodinho, Ney Matogrosso, Nana Caymmi, Maria Bethânia, Paulinho da Viola, Caetano Veloso, and Alcione.

 

Track:

Cantochão (Maurício Carrilho/Hermínio Bello de Carvalho)

 

Grande Tempo (CD; 1995)

Velas 11-V114

Singer/composer Fátima Guedes’ album.

 

Track:

O Dia em Que Faremos Contato (Lenine/Bráulio Tavares)

 

Agô! Pixinguinha 100 Anos (double CD; 1997)

Som Livre 1030-2

A commemorative box set produced by Hermínio Bello de Carvalho in celebration of the legendary composer Pixinguinha’s centenary.

 

Track:

1 x 0 [Um a Zero] (Pixinguinha/Benedito Lacerda/Nelson Ângelo)

 

Aldir Blanc 50 Anos (CD; 1996)

Alma Produções Ltda. Alma/001

The poet/lyricist Aldir Blanc’s retrospective album, celebrating his 50th birthday.

 

Track:

Vim Sambar (João Bosco/Cacaso/Aldir Blanc)

 

Coisa da Antiga (CD; 1998)

Rob Digital RD 014

Família Roitman’s second CD

 

Tracks:

Hora do Adeus (Elton Medeiros/Délcio Carvalho)

A Cabeça (Paulinho de Castro)

Eu Vivia Isolado do Mundo (Alcides da Portela)

Mastruço e Catuaba (Claudio Cartier/Aldir Blanc)

Coisa da Antiga (Wilson Moreira/Nei Lopes)

 

Simpatia 15 Carnavais (CD; 1998)

Simpatia É Quase Amor P0043/98

Rio’s best-known Carnaval bloco marked its 15th anniversary this year with an album featuring the fourteen sambas of the previous years, each sung by a different star. Arranco sang the samba of 1990. Also with João Bosco, Noca da Portela, Moacyr Luz, João Nogueira, Luiz Carlos da Vila, Tânia Machado, Lenine, Elza Soares, Zeca Pagodinho, Beth Carvalho, Walter Alfaiate, Martinho da Vila, and Monarco.

 

Track:

Um Ano Depois (Lenine/Bráulio Tavares)

Songs from

Na Minha Cara

Super-Mulher(Carlos Fuchs/Mathilda Kóvak)

Que bom

que eu não preciso mais

ser uma super-mulher

que eu não preciso mais

escalar o Monte Everest

desbravar o Velho Oeste

vencer o Minotauro, matar o dragão

derrubar o dinossauro.

Que bom

que eu não preciso mais

conquistar seu coração de ferro

dinamitar suas barreiras

fazer carreira

pra te impressionar.

Que bom

que eu não preciso mais

descobrir a pólvora, a penicilina

um soro uma vacina

que eu não preciso mais inventar

a eletricidade

nem reinventar

a realidade.

Ser só criatura

não ser criador

meu amor,

que aventura comum

ser apenas mais um (que bom)

eu não serei mais

uma super-mulher

serei só o que der

darei o que sou

a quem vier e me quiser.

No Superwoman(English version: Mathilda Kóvak)

I’m glad

That I don’t have to be

A superwoman again

That I don’t have to dive

Into the deep

Or climb the Everest peak

The Old West, the Minotaur

I won’t conquer anymore

I won’t kill either a dragon

Or a dinosaur.

I’m glad

That I don’t have to beat

The beat of your mechanic heart

Explode the concrete of your walls

Recreate the waltz

To impress or make you proud.

I’m glad

That I don’t have to find

A new kind of powder, a new penicillin

A miraculous vaccine

That I don’t have to invent

Electricity

Or to reinvent

Reality.

I’ll be just a creature

Not a Creator

Oh, my love

What a common achievement

To be my own commandment

I’m glad

I’ll never be

A superwoman

I’ll be just a kind of human

I’ll give myself to those

Who can accept

My ordinary goals.

Vagabundo(Antonio Saraiva)

Acordei

o sol na minha cara

cara que mamãe beijou

sol vagabundo nenhum

vagabundo que sou

acordando tarde

antes tarde do que numa

hora certa errada

nada disso era o que eu queria

acordar no susto com esse sol

na minha cara

estilhaços bombas bumbos e

mil gritos de araras

o ruído luminoso alto claro

desse sol na minha cara.

Bum(English version: Antonio Saraiva)

I woke up

the sun in my face

a face that mummy kissed

no bummer sun1

bum that I am

waking up late

better late than at the right

wrong time

none of this was what I wanted

waking with this sun

in my face

shrapnel bombs bass-drums and

a thousand araras2 crying

the luminous noise loud and clear

of this sun in my face.

Notes:

1. a play on the expression cara que

mamãe beijou, vagabundo nenhum

vai passar a mão (a face that mummy

kissed, no bum is going to touch)

2. Arara: a tropical bird

Choro Blue(Rodrigo Campello/Antonio Saraiva)

For sure I’m gonna miss that train

ain’t it bad, and ain’t that a shame

’cause I’m not going anywhere

I’ll sing my song of loneliness,

until these blue days are passed,

when will they go?

maybe in a train that never comes.

I’m sitting here the trains go by,

some arrive, bring me nothing new

I really don’t know if they’re real…

is it a movie or a dream,

or something in between, where I can hide

my distant feelings in the smoke…

how I got here I can’t recall,

it’s so cold down this far ghost town

I think I built this landscape…

with all these trains whistling so loud

and I can hear just the sound from my blue heart

trying to pound silently…

I got no case, just this guitar,

this phrase is filling this bar,

I’ll change the mood

I’ll move the picture for good.

The lights are low, the night’s aglow

the lovers dancing so slow, romance is on…

Slipping thru my fingers notes are floating

’round the couples, spinning planets in my mind…

now I can see the moon on sea,

this ship is leaving Madrid,

or could it be another fake scenery?

I taste a bitter drink and smile,

these bad rhymes have such a style,

how could I know…

There’s a hidden feeling,

there’s a clandestine on me

down on next stop, in the smoke,

on any street of this trip…

That’s what I found in this blue,

Choro blue…

The writer publishes the online magazine of Brazilian music and culture Daniella Thompson on Brazil and the website Musica Brasiliensis, where she can be contacted.

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It seems the future never arrives in Brazil What Lies Ahead in Brazil? Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country? Europeans, US, developed country, developing country. Bolsonaro, future B. Michael Rubin For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country is one simple way to measure its economic development. Another way to measure a country's progress is the extent of public education, e.g. how many citizens complete high school. A country's health may be measured by the effectiveness of its healthcare system, for example, life expectancy and infant mortality. With these measurement tools, it's easier to gauge the difference between a country like Brazil and one like the U.S. What's not easy to gauge is how these two countries developed so differently when they were both "discovered" at the same time. In 1492 and 1500 respectively, the U.S. and Brazil fell under the spell of white Europeans for the first time. While the British and Portuguese had the same modus operandi, namely, to exploit their discoveries for whatever they had to offer, not to mention extinguishing the native Americans already living there if they got in the way, the end result turned out significantly different in the U.S. than in Brazil. There are several theories on how/why the U.S. developed at a faster pace than Brazil. The theories originate via contrasting perspectives – from psychology to economics to geography. One of the most popular theories suggests the divergence between the two countries is linked to politics, i.e. the U.S. established a democratic government in 1776, while Brazil's democracy it could be said began only in earnest in the 1980s. This theory states that the Portuguese monarchy, as well as the 19th and 20th century oligarchies that followed it, had no motivation to invest in industrial development or education of the masses. Rather, Brazil was prized for its cheap and plentiful labor to mine the rich soil of its vast land. There is another theory based on collective psychology that says the first U.S. colonizers from England were workaholic Puritans, who avoided dancing and music in place of work and religious devotion. They labored six days a week then spent all of Sunday in church. Meanwhile, the white settlers in Brazil were unambitious criminals who had been freed from prison in Portugal in exchange for settling in Brazil. The Marxist interpretation of why Brazil lags behind the U.S. was best summarized by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, in 1970. Galeano said five hundred years ago the U.S. had the good fortune of bad fortune. What he meant was the natural riches of Brazil – gold, silver, and diamonds – made it ripe for exploitation by western Europe. Whereas in the U.S., lacking such riches, the thirteen colonies were economically insignificant to the British. Instead, U.S. industrialization had official encouragement from England, resulting in early diversification of its exports and rapid development of manufacturing. II Leaving this debate to the historians, let us turn our focus to the future. According to global projections by several economic strategists, what lies ahead for Brazil, the U.S., and the rest of the world is startling. Projections forecast that based on GDP growth, in 2050 the world's largest economy will be China, not the U.S. In third place will be India, and in fourth – Brazil. With the ascendency of three-fourths of the BRIC countries over the next decades, it will be important to reevaluate the terms developed and developing. In thirty years, it may no longer be necessary to accept the label characterized by Nelson Rodrigues's famous phrase "complexo de vira-lata," for Brazil's national inferiority complex. For Brazilians, this future scenario presents glistening hope. A country with stronger economic power would mean the government has greater wealth to expend on infrastructure, crime control, education, healthcare, etc. What many Brazilians are not cognizant of are the pitfalls of economic prosperity. While Brazilians today may be envious of their wealthier northern neighbors, there are some aspects of a developed country's profile that are not worth envying. For example, the U.S. today far exceeds Brazil in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses, and mass shootings. GDP growth and economic projections depend on multiple variables, chief among them the global economic situation and worldwide political stability. A war in the Middle East, for example, can affect oil production and have global ramifications. Political stability within a country is also essential to its economic health. Elected presidents play a crucial role in a country's progress, especially as presidents may differ radically in their worldview. The political paths of the U.S. and Brazil are parallel today. In both countries, we've seen a left-wing regime (Obama/PT) followed by a far-right populist one (Trump/Bolsonaro), surprising many outside observers, and in the U.S. contradicting every political pollster, all of whom predicted a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Brazil, although Bolsonaro was elected by a clear majority, his triumph has created a powerful emotional polarization in the country similar to what is happening in the U.S. Families, friends, and colleagues have split in a love/hate relationship toward the current presidents in the U.S. and Brazil, leaving broken friendships and family ties. Both presidents face enormous challenges to keep their campaign promises. In Brazil, a sluggish economy just recovering from a recession shows no signs of robust GDP growth for at least the next two years. High unemployment continues to devastate the consumer confidence index in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is suffering under his campaign boasts that his Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, has all the answers to fix Brazil's slump. Additionally, there is no end to the destruction caused by corruption in Brazil. Some experts believe corruption to be the main reason why Brazil has one of the world's largest wealth inequality gaps. Political corruption robs government coffers of desperately needed funds for education and infrastructure, in addition to creating an atmosphere that encourages everyday citizens to underreport income and engage in the shadow economy, thereby sidestepping tax collectors and regulators. "Why should I be honest about reporting my income when nobody else is? The politicians are only going to steal the tax money anyway," one Brazilian doctor told me. While Bolsonaro has promised a housecleaning of corrupt officials, this is a cry Brazilians have heard from every previous administration. In only the first half-year of his presidency, he has made several missteps, such as nominating one of his sons to be the new ambassador to the U.S., despite the congressman's lack of diplomatic credentials. A June poll found that 51 percent of Brazilians now lack confidence in Bolsonaro's leadership. Just this week, Brazil issued regulations that open a fast-track to deport foreigners who are dangerous or have violated the constitution. The rules published on July 26 by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro define a dangerous person as anyone associated with terrorism or organized crime, in addition to football fans with a violent history. Journalists noted that this new regulation had coincidental timing for an American journalist who has come under fire from Moro for publishing private communications of Moro's. Nevertheless, despite overselling his leadership skills, Bolsonaro has made some economic progress. With the help of congressional leader Rodrigo Maia, a bill is moving forward in congress for the restructuring of Brazil's generous pension system. Most Brazilians recognize the long-term value of such a change, which can save the government billions of dollars over the next decade. At merely the possibility of pension reform, outside investors have responded positively, and the São Paulo stock exchange has performed brilliantly, reaching an all-time high earlier this month. In efforts to boost the economy, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes have taken the short-term approach advocated by the Chicago school of economics championed by Milton Friedman, who claimed the key to boosting a slugging economy was to cut government spending. Unfortunately many economists, such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, disagree with this approach. They believe the most effective way to revive a slow economy is exactly the opposite, to spend more money not less. They say the government should be investing money in education and infrastructure projects, which can help put people back to work. Bolsonaro/Guedes have also talked about reducing business bureaucracy and revising the absurdly complex Brazilian tax system, which inhibits foreign and domestic business investment. It remains to be seen whether Bolsonaro has the political acumen to tackle this Godzilla-sized issue. Should Bolsonaro find a way to reform the tax system, the pension system, and curb the most egregious villains of political bribery and kickbacks – a tall order – his efforts could indeed show strong economic results in time for the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, some prominent leaders have already lost faith in Bolsonaro's efforts. The veteran of political/economic affairs, Joaquim Levy, has parted company with the president after being appointed head of the government's powerful development bank, BNDES. Levy and Bolsonaro butted heads over an appointment Levy made of a former employee of Lula's. When neither man refused to back down, Levy resigned his position at BNDES. Many observers believe Bolsonaro's biggest misstep has been his short-term approach to fixing the economy by loosening the laws protecting the Amazon rainforest. He and Guedes believe that by opening up more of the Amazon to logging, mining, and farming, we will see immediate economic stimulation. On July 28, the lead article of The New York Times detailed the vastly increased deforestation in the Amazon taking place under Bolsonaro's leadership. Environmental experts argue that the economic benefits of increased logging and mining in the Amazon are microscopic compared to the long-term damage to the environment. After pressure from European leaders at the recent G-20 meeting to do more to protect the world's largest rainforest, Bolsonaro echoed a patriotic response demanding that no one has the right to an opinion about the Amazon except Brazilians. In retaliation to worldwide criticism, Bolsonaro threatened to follow Trump's example and pull out of the Paris climate accord; however, Bolsonaro was persuaded by cooler heads to retract his threat. To prove who was in control of Brazil's Amazon region, he appointed a federal police officer with strong ties to agribusiness as head of FUNAI, the country's indigenous agency. In a further insult to the world's environmental leaders, not to mention common sense, Paulo Guedes held a news conference on July 25 in Manaus, the largest city in the rainforest, where he declared that since the Amazon forest is known for being the "lungs" of the world, Brazil should charge other countries for all the oxygen the forest produces. Bolsonaro/Guedes also have promised to finish paving BR-319, a controversial highway that cuts through the Amazon forest, linking Manaus to the state of Rondônia and the rest of the country. Inaugurated in 1976, BR-319 was abandoned by federal governments in the 1980s and again in the 1990s as far too costly and risky. Environmentalists believe the highway's completion will seal a death knoll on many indigenous populations by vastly facilitating the growth of the logging and mining industries. Several dozen heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues invaded a Wajãpi village recently in the state of Amapá near the border of French Guiana and fatally stabbed one of the community's leaders. While Brazil's environmental protection policies are desperately lacking these days, not all the news here was bad. On the opening day of the 2019 Pan America Games in Lima, Peru, Brazilian Luisa Baptista, swam, biked, and ran her way to the gold medal in the women's triathlon. The silver medal went to Vittoria Lopes, another Brazilian. B. Michael Rubin is an American writer living in Brazil.

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