I’m sure you know that Mardi Gras is a week from tomorrow, which means that Carnival is either being celebrated or about to be celebrated in the many parts of the world that observe this wonderful holiday. & of course, if one could pick any place to celebrate Carnival, Brazil would be a great choice.
So this February I’ll be posting videos by one of Brazil’s greatest singers, Gal Costa, a woman whose career has now spanned at least parts of six decades; indeed, it would be difficult to find a North American singer with whom to compare Gal Costa, not simply because of her artistic longevity, but also because of the great range of her work. As a young singer in the 1960s & 70s, she was a central figure in Tropicália or Tropicalismo, a highly innovative movement that combined the popular with the avant-garde & the native Brazilian with the foreign—in fact musically, Tropicália often mingled traditional Brazilian sounds with psychedalia. In addition, the Tropicália movement was political, standing in opposition to the military coup of 1964, which toppled the left wing President João Goulart & his government. As a result, a number of the Tropicália artists were subject to arrest, imprisonment & even torture. Costa’s close friends Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil were both imprisoned & later exiled for a period of time.
Through the years, Costa has explored an array of sounds, from bossa nova, & even full-on North American jazz standards, to rock, various forms of dance music, pop, & traditional Brazilian forms. Obviously, four videos can’t hope to do anything more than give the most cursory idea of a career with such scope. In each case, I’ll also provide a link to another video that may help those who are interested to get a broader idea of Costa’s music. One positive: there are a lot of Gal Costa videos on YouTube—she is a big star in Brazil, & lest we forget, Brazil is both the fifth largest country in area & the fifth most populous in the world.
Today’s song is from early in Costa’s career, & it’s her version of the samba “Trem Das Onze,” or “11:00 pm. Train”by Adoniran Barbosa, an important singer & composer, who used the informal language of the lower class in his lyrics—a big departure in his time, & a departure that obviously appealed to Costa. Wikipedia says this about “Trem Das Onze”:
It is widely considered one of the best Brazilian popular songs ever. In the song, Barbosa portrays in funny lyrics the drama of a lover who lives in a distant and poor suburb of São Paulo called Jaçanã, and who cannot stay longer with his beloved because the last train will be departing soon and his mother cannot sleep until he gets home.
“Trem das Onze” dates to 1964.
The audio in this selection is pretty good, given that it was recorded off Brazilian TV in the early 70s. The video per se is in pretty poor condition, & you can barely see the members of Costa’s band stage left (or the accordionist on stage right.) But Costa’s performance is brilliant, & the audience sing-a-long is not to be missed.
You can also hear Gal Costa’s singing Caetano Veloso’s beautiful “Volta” in a 1973 TV appearance here.
But for now: Enjoy!
Photo of Gal Costa links to its source