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Review: Caetano Veloso

Caetano Veloso with Pedro Sá (guitar), Ricardo Dias Gomes (bass), Marcelo Callado (drums)
(Barbican Hall, July 3rd 2010)

The Brazilian community in the UK has recently been estimated at some 200,000 people. Around four-fifths of them live in London. And, on the evidence of last night’s concert by Caetano Veloso at the Barbican, a lot of them sing, and in tune, too.

Veloso writes tunes which are easy to pick up, normally staying within a fifth. The people behind me were joining in heartily with most of the songs. I discovered that they don’t always know what the songs are called or who wrote them. But Brazilian Portuguese is a language with joyous natural speech rhythms, one just gets carried along with the mood, it’s like a thermal updraft.

Veloso seems to have left most of the vestiges of protest behind in his current repertoire, with the exception of “A basa de Guantanamo,” sung towards the end of the show, which makes its point well with a naggingly insistent monotone.

He is a very trim at 68, and was frolicking and gambolling around the Barbican stage like a bunny-rabbit in spring. He was both enjoying the audience rapport, and knowingly whipping it up with a conspiratorial smile. The latest CD from 2009, Zii e zie (Uncles and Aunts, in Italian, Nonesuch Records) has songs with a soft and sweet centre, and the live concert experience is a crowd-pleaser.

The song Por Quem? (For Whom) is perhaps the most the saccharine-tasting of the lot. It’s an unashamedly romantic slow motion waltz which Veloso makes it harder fro the crowd to join in by singing it entirely in a slightly disembodied falsetto voice. But it’s a different kind of updraft: the canopy over the drum kit looked like a hang glider, the back-projected images were clouds in close-up. Cares and troubles could be safely be left several thousand feet below.

Desde que o Samba é Samba, (in the video above) a Veloso classic was another kind of escapism. Just one man and a guitar in fifties bossa nova. Joao Gilberto, the master, sings this one too. Other songs lean towards classic rock, rap… Veloso as a songwriter is up there with the very best.

There was just one song in English, again with his trademark, hypnotic word repetitions. Maria Bethania, written in 1970 from London and dedicated to his sister, the singer:

Maria Bethânia, please send me a letter
I wish to know things are getting better
Better, better, Beta, Beta, Bethânia

The words are transformed, they become things for the singer to hit, like percussion instrument.

There’s good news: we will all have lots of chances to catch the Brazilian thermal updraft.

The Brazil Festival at the South Bank is just starting and runs till September 5th. Includes Gilberto Gil and Maria Bethania – so Caetano Veloso’s sister is coming here too.

I discovered about the wealth of activity going on from a copy of a wonderful publication. Leros is a lively 132-page magazine targeted at the Brazilian community in London. Page after page of classified advertisements – I could never never imagined there could be so many places in London one could go to for “depilacao” or “imigracao,” or even (possibly though I guess not simultaneously) both.

And if the Brazilian community in London makes gigs with these unique musicians viable, it makes London a happier city for the rest of us to live in. And for that we cannot say “muito obrigado” enough.

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2 replies »

  1. Not everyone liked it. I had a comment from Facebook:

    What a lousy concert! One of the great bossa-nova artists, (we got one token number) why does he feel the need to play lame pop music all night? Guy must be 65, old enough to know better you would of thought.

  2. Yeah!
    London is really buzzing with Brazilian fever at the moment. I've spent quite a bit of time there, especially on the Southbank where there is Project Morrinho and concerts with the likes of Os Mutantes and Gilberto Gil. It's been so nice to get that Brazilian spirit in England!

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