Ihu – Todos Os Sons

The music utterly alien to our own, like it’s from a different planet. But the cultures of the Amazon were as different from our own as time and geography made possible. If our music and this music held any common roots, it may have been in Africa. The roots of western civilization went one way, the roots of the Amazonian cultures went another. We and they may have been bands of peoples that had not been closely related in tens of thousand of years before they even left Africa. We’ve been so far apart so long this is probably some of the strangest sounding folk music you have ever heard, and we assume ours sounded the same to them when they first heard it. Before the Spanish arrived there were six million people living in the Amazon, in large towns, with expansive farms, canals and road systems. This album, the tunes collected by musicologist Marlui Miranda (an Amazon Indian herself) and transcribed for Brazilian musicians playing on acoustic instruments, is a survey of the music she heard sung and played by members of tribes throughout the Amazonian jungle. It’s a selection what remains of the music of those pre-Columbian cultures. The CD is annotated, with descriptions of the tunes and peoples and meanings. We lose the text on YouTube. All we hear is the beautifully alien melodies. I began with track four here because it is among the most jarring to western ears. I have to say that as a connoisseur of music from about the world and especially field recordings, I was never struck by a selection of music so different as this album, even if it has been scored and played and sung by a lot of Brazilian musicians. What a wonderful world the Amazon must have been before 1492. Within decades Old World diseases swept it like thermonuclear war. The population was reduced by 90%. The tribes that exist are all that remain. It’s a post apocalyptic world. A dozen or so bands yet remain uncontacted. They sings songs like these, oblivious to us, and then when the barrier between them and us is breached they too die, 70%, 80% even 90%. Who knows how many melodies disappear with the dead.

Rosa Passos

Very few people up here know her, but Rosa Passos is I think the finest bossa nova singer I have ever heard. She’s not as musically radical as Joao Gilberto (who invented the genre by reducing sambas to their barest elements–he’d play one song for weeks on end, hour after hour, stoned out of his mind, camped out on various couches till the owners couldn’t take it anymore and sent him packing) but just listen to Rosa’s take. She is just so in the groove here, everything light and precise and shimmering like water, the syncopation hinted at, the raw strident samba down deep in there, shadows of a shadow. Dig the crazy bass lines, almost cuica like, dragging, no one ever walked a bass line in Brazil. Indeed, try walking to her guitar chords and you’d be staggering like a drunk man. We walk with a back beat, but this is propelled by a surdo–that big deep drum beat of the samba, boom, boom, boom–but a surdo reduced to a silent presence by Joao Gilberto. It’s there but you can’t hear it, yet you can’t possibly move along to this stuff without the surdo, every step you’d make is around the surdo, you step around it, bounce off it, shimmy, everything but set a firm footed pace. Walk a straight line to this and you fall right over. There is nothing in our musical culture anything like this, our musics come from different parts of Africa, different parts of Europe. We rock, they sway. We’re on the beat, they’re loosely all around it. We get where we are going faster, they get there eventually. Indeed, Rosa fades off at the end of this cut without having got anywhere at all, just stays lost in the melody as it shifts about, driven by the afternoon breeze. I hit replay and the chords begin again as if they had never stopped at all.