A Região Nordeste
January 20, 2008 6:11 AM   Subscribe

I will be traveling throughout northeast Brazil for the next two months with this group. What books, movies and music should I read to better grasp the culture and political climate of this region?

I'm immensely excited and have been trying to immerse myself with Brazilian movies, books and music but it seems that southern culture dominates the less developed north. People I have talked to have insisted that the south and the north of Brazil might as well be different countries, due to the differences in thier politics, geography, and demographic and ethnic makeup.

I have been watching Pixote, Black Orpheus, Notícias de uma Guerra Particular and Tropa de Elite. It is easy to find material on urban violence in the favelas but I suspect that this subject won't be particularly relevant to the villages where I will be traveling.

Media about deforestation of the Amazon region is more relevant, but I cant find much that focuses on the result of this development: urban migration to the northeast. Please suggest some media sources for me to read, listen and watch before I leave!
posted by quelindo to Travel & Transportation around Brazil (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: There are plenty of movies set partly or fully in the northeast and/or the Amazon -- Central Station, O Caminho das Nuvens, Me You Them, Lower City, a bunch of Herzog's movies, and on and on and on. Way too many to begin to list here.

If no one has suggested that you read Rebellion in the Backlands and the later War at the End of the World, they are foundational for how people talk about the region.

The MST (landless peasants' movement) plays a big role in the politics of the the poor in that region; the documentaries and books that the MST recommends are listed here.

The music of Zé Ramalho is northeast-centric and politically informed. Again, like with the movies, there is so much that is good that it is hard to know where to start.
posted by Forktine at 6:40 AM on January 20, 2008

Best answer: Great question. Forktine's totally right--it is hard to know where to start.

Let me start with a few books:

Waiting for Rain: The Politics and Poetics of the Drought in Northeast Brazil by Nick Arons (disclosure: he's a friend)

Death Without Weeping: The violence of everyday life in Brazil by Nancy Scheper-Hughes

Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil by Bryan McCann. The chapter on the rise of northeastern regionalism is especially relevant.

Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture by Chris Dunn. The major Tropicália artists (Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé) are from the interior Northeast of Bahia.

Brazil Reader: History, Culture and Politics
This reader is well-organized, with a bunch of short, interesting readings on historical and contemporary topics.

Music in Brazil by John Murphy
This is a readable book on Brazilian music that centers on Recife, the state of Pernambuco, and the Northeast in general.

Feel free to MeFi mail me if you have specific questions.
posted by umbú at 8:24 AM on January 20, 2008

Here are some music links:

Cordel do Fogo Encantado

Chico Science e a Nação Zumbi
Mestre Ambrosio
DJ Dolores

Luiz Gonzaga

Mario de Andrade's Mission of Folklore Research--essentially the Brazilian equivalent to the Lomax field recordings. These recordings from the 1920s and 1930s in the Northeast and North of the country have been very influential.
posted by umbú at 8:40 AM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is so excellent, thanks you two. Should keep me busy for a little while but I'm eager to hear whatever anyone else can recommend as well!
posted by quelindo at 9:32 AM on January 20, 2008

Bye Bye Brasil

Os Sertões (Portuguese Wikipedia, includes link to full text) is the greatest classic of Braziian literature.

Have a great trip!
posted by lukemeister at 10:17 AM on January 20, 2008

The first four music links I have above are the critically-acclaimed pop music that engages with the Northeast region--stuff that Jon Pareles at the New York Times would love. Below are some examples of NE classics and the styles you'll hear on a daily basis:

Forró pé-de-serra (roots forró) This is a classic recording of the kings of baião/forró Dominguinhos and Luiz Gonzaga

Jackson do Pandeiro playing a combination of forró, coco, and samba.

forró that is based on the pé-de-serra model, but adds some instrumentation such as electric bass and drumset. This is Flávio José.

forró estilizado glitzy, almost vegas-style forró with a huge mass audience and a large share of the radio spectrum.

brega. this is syrupy, flashy, cry-in-your-beer music. Reginaldo Rossi is one of the towering figures in the genre. The music starts about 1:10 into this video.

Brazilian pop with a bit of an axé music feel.
posted by umbú at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2008

Please suggest some media sources for me to read, listen and watch before I leave!

You read and watched more than enough already. It is a kind of asking for more books about how to swim. You just have to get into the pool and start. No books will help you. If you don't speak Portuguese then you should use your time to start studying and don't think you can get along with Spanish or English. The fun you can have is somewhat proportional on how much Portuguese you speak. Onother thing: Keep a low profile and if you get robbed then just give your stuff and never try to fight back. Never! (I never got robbed, use common sense).
A few personal hints: It looks like you miss Rio on your trip. What a shame. Fortaleza was very nice but I heard that violence and prostitution has become a problem. People love Salvador/Bahia but I always found it overrated. The same with Recife, the "Venice" of Brazil. A boring city with stinking rivers. Better check out Olinda besides Recife. Porto Seguro (or better Arrail d'adjuda) is a Party town for the young all over the world. If you are into this and if it is a season it may be worth checking it out.

Have the time of your live. ;-)
posted by yoyo_nyc at 11:10 AM on January 20, 2008

Response by poster: yoyo_nyc: I'm not exactly going in order to party. The group I'm working with does art, music, dance and theatre workshops for kids and teens. I think its a good idea to have a grasp of the political and artistic movements in the area where I'll be.
posted by quelindo at 11:27 AM on January 20, 2008

What umbu said. And add to that Mombojo, whose music you can dowload for free on their site. And check out this site if you read portuguese. Oh, and Lenine.

Also, Central Station.
Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol
posted by gauchodaspampas at 11:37 AM on January 20, 2008

Yeah, of course, mombojó. I spaced out and left them off the list.

Not to derail, but I feel like defending Recife. Chico Science and the other mangue bit scene musicians wrote about how Recife was like the mangrove swamp it was built upon: not so impressive looking upon first glance, and maybe even stinky, but just as the mangrove swamp is teeming with biodiversity, Recife is teeming with creative ideas, musically, in other arts, and culturally in general. And even though that scene was over 10 years ago now, and no self-respecting musician there would call themselves 'mangue' now, I think the statement still holds true. It's only boring if you don't know where to go.
posted by umbú at 1:47 PM on January 20, 2008

Come to think of it, speaking of Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, that movie features a sort of Messianic religious leader who is sort of based off the historical figure of Antonio Conselheiro. There is a movie about him and the settlement he started, Canudos, and the resulting war, called either Canudos or Guerra de Canudos. It probably would help to understand Deus e o Diabo... if you see this movie first, and/or read up on Conselheiro. And you should also read a bit about Lampiao too. I should warn you that without some background, Deus e o Diabo... will seem completely nonsensical. Even with some background it will seem completely nonsensical.

Sorry for being lazy and not including proper accents
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:16 PM on January 20, 2008

Response by poster: I'm glad to hear the defense of Recife, I must admit. Thats where I'll be arriving, a few weeks after Carnaval, and spending a few days before we set off.
Thanks for all the recommendations everyone! Now off to the library...
posted by quelindo at 6:50 AM on January 21, 2008

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