And now for something not completely different : blaming it on Rio for the 2016 Olympics

Aug 3rd, 2016 | By L. Frank Bunting | Category: Countries of the World

[UPDATED AUGUST 4]. Does anyone really think the US presidential campaign of Donald Trump is the only weird thing going on in the global village right now ? Whatever else, the start of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this coming Friday will confirm that this is a bizarre year across the planet.

See, eg : “Is Brazil ready for the Olympics?” ; “Brazil not prepared to handle Olympics” ; “Amidst recession in Brazil, Olympics opening ceremony to ditch opulent traditions” ; “Horrific Pre-Olympics Press Dooms Brazil To Poor Economic Returns From Hosting Games” ; “Rio’s image marred by claims of human rights violations” ; and “Rio athletes, visitors warned: Keep heads above water.”

Then Brazil at the moment, in the midst of hosting the 2016 Olympics, is also in the midst of a rather serious political crisis (bred in part by the above-noted economic recession).

Two items from this past April can add some longer-term depth and perspective here. The first (and more extensive) is Perry Anderson’s “Crisis in Brazil” from the 21 April 2016 issue of the London Review of Books. The second is Uri Friedman’s “The Slow Implosion of Brazilian Politics,” posted on The Atlantic website April 19, 2016.

For me the most immediately distressing of all the negative Brazilian images purveyed by our North American media lately have dealt with major water pollution in and around the vast urban agglomeration of Rio de Janeiro. (As in, again, eg :  “Rio athletes, visitors warned: Keep heads above water.”)

The broader sadness of the deep background is suggested by the opening paragraph from Perry Anderson’s piece this past April : “The BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India, China] are in trouble. For a season the dynamos of international growth while the West was mired in the worst financial crisis and recession since the Depression, they are now the leading source of anxiety in the headquarters of the IMF and the World Bank … Nowhere, however, have economic and political crises fused so explosively as in Brazil, whose streets have in the past year seen more protesters than the rest of the world combined.” (UPDATE AUGUST 4 : And for the very latest political wrinkle  see this brief report from today on the CBC News site : “Brazil Senate committee votes to put president on trial …  Dilma Rousseff alleged to have manipulated government accounts ahead of 2014 re-election.”)

* * * *

Former presidents of Brazil Dilma Rousseff (l) and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (r) at a union convention in São Paulo this past October 2015. More recently Ms Rousseff has been run out of office, some would say, by Brazil’s version of the right-wing conspiracy. PHOTO: NELSON ANTOINE/ASSOCIATED PRESS.

In my own case the sadness of all this is intensified by two particular phenomena in my larger experience of life on planet earth.

The first is a trip to London, England a dozen or so years ago. Near the London School of Economics my travel companion and I bumped into a demonstration of young Brazilians, fervently chanting the name of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lu-la, Lu-la, Lu-la,” etc) — who would serve as Brazil’s impressive progressive president from the start of 2003 to the start of 2011 …

The second is memories much further back in the 1960s, when the fact that Portuguese-speaking Brazil had an interesting and even remarkable cultural life burst upon we ignorant North American youth, with the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Here three old-style long-playing record albums, from 1962, 1964, and 1967 (and all made on the more northerly east coast of the USA — in Washington, DC, New York City, and Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey) capture the most crucial trends, as they appeared in the United States and Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, France Germany, Italy, Sweden, and on and on  …

If you are sad about what has happened to Brazil politically and economically lately — and what this may mean for the Olympics that officially get under way this Friday — one way to chase the blues is to at least quickly sample each of these three 1960s recordings :

(1) The Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd album Jazz Samba, made in the wake of a Charlie Byrd trip to Brazil, first introduced the American audience to what later became a “bossa nova” craze of sorts in the late spring of 1962. Two tunes on this album were by Antonio Carlos Jobim, who had grown up in the beachside neighborhood of Ipanema in  Rio de Janeiro — “Desafinado” and “Samba de Uma Nota Só” (One-Note Samba).  They quickly found their way into the legendary Real Book of jazz and blues standards, still in use today.

Girl from Ipanema in real life.

(2) The Getz and Byrd album (no relation btw to Charlie “Bird” Parker) parted the waters for Brazilian jazz, as it were, in the USA and the anglosphere beyond. But it was a second Getz collaboration, with the Brazilian musician Joao Gilberto (and his then wife Astrud), that brought the ship to shore. Known as Getz/Gilberto , it was recorded in 1963 but not released until 1964. It had Antonio Carlos Jobim on keyboards in the band, as well as a composer of tunes. The absolute big hit from the album, which has echoed down the succeeding ages, is “The Girl from Ipanema” (recalling, one might guess, scenes from Jobim’s youth growing up in this beachside Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood). Another impressive tune is “Corcovado” (or “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”) — with an English lyric by the Canadian-American jazz journalist, Gene Lees (1928–2010), who was born in Hamilton, Ontario and died in Ojai, California.

(3) At last (well, pretty quickly actually) Jobim from Ipanema got to make some recordings of his own in the United States. The most successful is often thought to be Wave from 1967. And the first title track from this album, “Wave,” still has a (deservedly) wide following. Two other Jobim tunes from Wave also made it into a first volume of The Real Book in (ahem) my personal possession (a testament to the benefits of raising children)  — “Look to the Sky” and “Triste.”

The album still has interest even if it remains controversial as well. Here is Chris May at all about jazz in 2011 : “To dismiss it as an ephemeral pop offering—which it frequently has been, because of the strings—rather than a work of merit, is in any case to miss the point: the album was intended, by Jobim anyway, primarily as a showcase for his compositions. And on that level, it is a runaway success. … Mostly, Jobim is heard on piano, playing the tunes and adding short solos, while keeping the bossa beat gently swinging on overdubbed acoustic guitar … As jazz, Wave has no more authenticity than its cover shot suggesting an African giraffe traversing a Brazilian beach, but it remains an elegant and delightful album.”

So … at least take a moment to think about all this, as you listen to reports on what may or may not happen at the Rio Olympics that get under way this Friday. And what this may or may not mean for a world that at least almost all of us everywhere seem to be a part of now?

Astrud Gilberto, Girl from Ipanema singer, on a cold Brazilian day in her youth.

Antonio Carlos (aka “Tom”) Jobim was an early harbinger of the energy and talent in Brazil that needs to be back in the world economy today, in the interests of certainly everyone in North America. (And the African giraffe traversing a Brazilian beach on the cover of Wave may be a more authentic symbol of the future than Mr. May once seemed to think possible.) As believers in President Obama’s audacity of hope, we are also bound to believe such things about Brazil. Even as we equally believe it would be a lot easier to entertain these beliefs, if it weren’t for the implosions of Brazilian politics in the US Year of the Trump, BREXIT and the European Union, Jihadist attacks on France (and Belgium), China in the China Sea, No End in Sight in Syria … and on and on and on.

Brazil's interim president Michel Temer making his first public remarks after the Brazilian Senate voted to impeach president Dilma Rousseff this past May 2016. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters.)

Anyway, what me worry? Up here in the northern woods, I have to go for coffee soon, across from the park, in yet another city on a lake or river. We already have M. Justin Trudeau as our fearless leader, and whatever else, he’s no Donald Trump. As far as the Olympics goes, of course, may the best athletes win, regardless of creed, culture, or ecological origin. (And, as I also mutter quickly in my prayers each night these days, may Canadians be among those who do best as often as possible … “Gens du pays c’est votre tour …  De vous laisser parler d’amour” … And it’s certainly hot this summer … )

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