Baden Powell & Vinícius de Moraes- Os Afro Sambas (1966)


Against my better judgment, I'm going to share with you a record that I searched five years for. But let first explain.

I used to be crazy into a fringe hip-hop/keyboard/j-pop/sci-fi duo called Cibo Matto. They rapped about sending pet chickens to college, comparing your ass to a that of a horse, and eating white pepper ice cream, but would make them sound weirdly aggressive or sexual.

When that band split up, one half did her own strange jazz/dance cd and a collaboration with Yoshimi from the Boredoms/OOIOO that they recorded on a mountain in Nara. That's Yuka Honda, and she's as awesome as she is hard to totally "get." She was maybe the brains of the outfit (she is also on again off again with Sean Lennon). The other half (the soul?) of Cibo Matto was Miho Hatori, who went on to make her own equally strange jazz/pop cd that was a concept album about insects in the future carrying secrets between machines and humans. (This is getting way off topic... are you still with me?) Before that, though, Hatori teamed up with Smokey Hormel (who played with Beck and Tom Waits) to release a collection of Brazillian songs (some covers, some self-penned). They followed up with a cd of Baden Powell covers, which really blew me out of the water. Hatori said they were songs that she listened to as a kid so many times that her tape melted in her tape player. Who was this Baden Powell, and what were the Afro Sambas?

Smokey and Miho live, 2005.
I ended up purchasing THIS cd of Os Afros Sambas, which Powell re-recorded in the '90s. Just how bad is the re-recording? Think of how awful Brian Wilson's version of SMiLE feels compared to the original 1967 Beach Boys bootlegs. Now multiply it by 5. Blech. At the time, cds and LPs of the original recording of Os Afro Sambas were selling on eBay for upwards of $100. Way too much for me to spend, and before people like me were "sharing" files like this.

So years later, i was in Tower Records in Japan when I saw this cd. The best part-- in a store where the average cd costs $35 (!!! and Americans think our cds are expensive!!!), this one was selling for 800yen (US $8). After i cleaned up my pants (after sh*tting in them), I promptly purchased it.
Powell and de Moraes

The original Afro Sambas was recorded (apparently) on a TWO track, and it definitely shows in parts. It's rough in spots, not completely balanced. But it has so much soul, the sexiest saxes you've ever heard, enough percussion to light a church on fire, at least four people singing at all times, and this total pagan jubilation. It's absolutely amazing. It contrasts Vinicius' deeper, aged voice with Baden's youthful eagerness, and the playing is dead-on.

Unlike a lot of Samba and Bossa Nova music being churned out in 1966, Os Afro Sambas had lyrics and music that connected to the Afro religion and beats in Brazil. It was very much out of Africa, very pagan, very sensual, and deeply spiritual to listen to (Apparently, Powell changed some of the words on a later recording to be less Afro as he became more of a devout Catholic, which seems like another nail in the coffin for the re-recording). At times, it is jubilant, funky, and dance-able. At others, it is slow, meditative, and pulsating. It still stands as being truly special in a sea of Jobim/Gilberto clones.

Powell had an upbringing in classical guitar training, and he liked to crank out the Bach. This cd is amazing since it combines that reverence for the musical with a reverence for the spiritual, which is much easier said than done.

Easily in my top 10 of all time.

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