Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes – Os Afro Sambas/A Vontade
Él/Cherry Red

Poet, career diplomat and bossa nova lyricist Vinicius de Moraes jokingly referred to himself as the blackest white man in Brazil. In the early 1960s, Moraes and guitarist Baden Powell began exploring the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religious tradition centered around Salvador de Bahia, and the various musical forms that are part of it. The two holed up for months with an endless supply of Haig whisky and a bunch of ethnic recordings, to produce 50 or more of Brazil’s best loved songs, which were called Afro-sambas because of their fusion of Rio samba and bossa nova with Bahian “folk” sounds. Their earliest productions can be heard on Powell’s solo guitar plus percussion A Vontade of 1963. It’s a gorgeous, minimal record – Powell is a more expressive, romantic guitarist than say John Fahey’s favorite, Bola Sete, and some of the flourishes border on kitsch, but there’s also a ferocious percussive funk to his sound that is mesmerizing. This last word applies doubly to 1966’s Os Afro Sambas, which consists of a series of songs devoted to various Orixas (deities) of Candomblé. Reacting against the international slickness of bossa nova, Moraes and Powell took a lo-fi approach, with Afro-Brazilian percussionists, horns, the soon to be famous Quarteto Em Cy and a crew of friends and partners providing an impromptu chorus. The sound is gloriously chaotic. Powell and the percussionists face off against each other like drunken snakes writhing in a pit, with the percussionists winning out almost every time. Moraes is a very low key vocalist, but his phrasing is utterly charming as he intones songs of praise to Iemenja, Xango and the other deities, backed by a choir sound that’s part Brazilian church, part jug band and part Gregorian chant. A key precursor to Tropicalia and in its own quiet way as experimental and spiritualized as other key sounds of 1966 like early Velvets or Coltrane’s Ascension: a sacred noise indeed.

Originally published in The Wire, 2008.

Speak Your Mind