Elis Regina and the Zimbo Trio performing “Zambi” in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1965. That’s Amilton Godoy on piano, Luís Chaves on bass and Rubinho Barsotti absolutely wailing on the drums.
The tune is by Edu Lobo with lyrics by the brilliant Vinicius de Moraes, and is about the legendary rebel slave, Zumba Ganga, who ruled a large swathe of inland Brazil during colonial times. This version was recorded in 1965. The military had overthrown the elected government the year before. When Elis sings Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! (Liberdade, Liberdade, Liberdade), the audience explodes in applause, then hushes quickly again. You can almost feel the eyes of the police, watching. At the close of the song the audience, swept along on the drums, erupts again and, with headphones, you can hear cries of viva a democracia! By 1969, though, you wouldn’t dare perform this song in public, and I have to wonder how many in this audience saw the inside of one of Brazil’s military prisons.
Elis Regina and The Zimbo Trio, 1965
Vinicius de Moraes was a lyricist unlike anything in English, his stuff was so extraordinarily literate it read like real poetry, great poetry, with such imagery and feel. Check out this one, a remarkably good translation of Arrastao from the Portuguese, set to an Edu Lobo tune. The version here is Elis Regina’s classic take with the Zimba Trio, recorded live in Sao Paulo in 1965. It is intense and huge sounding yet it is just Elis with an acoustic trio, piano, bass and drums. There was absolutely nothing in American music like this at the time, not in jazz or rock, or in words even. Here below is the lyric, in English, awash in syncretic meaning, the ancient Mediterranean Roman Catholicism and Yoruban candomble intertwined, orishas and saints one and the same in the way the Holy Trinity is one in the same, consubstantial. Hypostatis the scholars described in it late Roman days, in Greek, a concept rejected by the Arians with great slaughter, but is now so embedded in Catholicism that the holies and spirits and gods of other religions become one with Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit, and with the Madonna and the saints and martyrs, and of course Satan and his minions. Thus our narrator here guilelessly prays to Yemanja the goddess of the sea with syncopated piano and rolling drum meter; then to her Catholic side, Saint Barbara, in a melody like the inside of a cathedral, soaring, the notes hanging in the still air. The people go out into the sea in boats and let float candles on tiny rafts and the bay is filled with points of light and the silhouettes of fishermen, and the night air rings with drums and chants and the low mumble of prayers. Yemanja answers, Santa Barbara answers, and the nets are filled with fish and hearts with love. Somehow, Vincinius tells all this in a simple fisherman’s prayer on a night spent trawling, in Portuguese arrastao.
Eh! There are dinghies in the sea
Hey! hey! hey!
They’re trawling today
Eh! Everyone fishing
Enough of the shade, João Continue reading
(I can’t recall what this bio was written for…but I found a draft of it in my files)
Of all the zillions of musicians and singers and artists and songwriters and entertainers I ran into through my LA Weekly columnist gig, Katia is one of my favorites. In fact, I’d say she’s one of my top two very favorites but it might start a catfight. So we’ll just leave it as one of my very very favorites. She’s a helluva singer, an incredible live performer, and even her lyrics in that heavily accented English are wonderful. She is brilliant and intensely intellectual and way smarter than me and I hate saying that. And when a couple years ago she decided for the sheer hell of it to start writing short stories it was infuriating because she was instantaneously so goddamn good at it. In English no less, a language she has yet to master verbally, to say the least. And don’t get me started on her enthusiasm and sincerity. There isn’t a jaded cell in that body of hers.
Not long ago she asked me to help polish up a press release. Her copy was a lugubrious mess, as often happens to people who write fiction when they try to write something as dull as a press release. I whipped it into shape quickly. Not quick enough, though, as she was on my case in a panic the moment she emailed it to me. I said call me if you have any questions. Ring ring, she’s on the phone arguing. Ten minutes later she calls again and fights me on another sentence. Then another call, another sentence. I had planned on going out and here I was spending a Friday night at home trying to teach English to an angry carioca. She argued and argued and argued. I was right on every point, of course–I mean, the English language is what I do–but I had to fight line by line anyway. Not that I wanted to argue. She did. And she gets her way. When at last she was satisfied I swore I’d never do that again. No more writing for Katia. Of course, I had said that before. And will say again next time. She’s a writer, a helluva short story writer. I have a soft spot for writers, especially the crazy ones.
That press release was for her tribute to Elis Regina. Katia is soooo Elis. Her voice. Her vitality. Her vivaciousness and charisma. Her mastery of the gamut of Brazilian music. The high voltage sexuality. Guys swoon. They melt. They have terrific crushes on her and can’t believe I am blessed to know her. They ask me if it would be OK if they emailed her. I laugh. She’s in show biz, man, she loves that kind of attention. Email her. And they do and then tell me that Katia answered, and are thrilled to death.
Ya know…. I probably blurbed her dozens of times in the Weekly. Ran out of adjectives. She’s that good. You don’t run out of adjectives unless they’re good.
She ought to be a super star.