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Day 10: Belém

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Gaby Amarantos, Queen of Technobrega, in one of her dressing rooms.
Michael Palin - BrazilWe eventually find Gaby in a cramped dressing room, entirely surrounded by clothes on rails, shoes on racks and props on shelves. The camera has not lied. Even sitting amongst all this stuff she is a powerful physical presence. Her glance is shrewd and penetrating and a little guarded. As she looks me up and down I feel as if I'm being frisked, and only when she breaks into an unexpectedly warm smile do I feel I've passed the test. I'd expected a younger woman. A starlet. Instead I'm looking at a mother not far short of forty, someone who's seen an awful lot of life already and for whom fame is something that happens to other people.

I ask her if, growing up here in Belém, she'd ever expected to be a national star, featured in magazines and selling out concerts. She turns her big, wide eyes towards me. 'I was born a star,' she replies, without an ounce of conceit. 'We were a samba family. There was music everywhere. I grew up with the sounds of the neighbourhood.' Her mother was a pillar of the local Catholic church, another element in her musical upbringing.

Success didn't fall from the sky. She'd been working and playing for fifteen years before pioneering Technobrega, a fusion of Brega, a style of fairly cheesy romantic songs from the North and North-East, with computers, keyboards and electronic music. Now she's being dubbed the Beyoncé of the Amazon, profiled in Elle and Vogue and in demand in Rio, São Paulo and as far south as Porto Alegre. She remains very proud of her Amazon Indian heritage. It's given her a força, the Force, that self-belief which kept her going and is now exciting the audiences across the country.

'It's like the power of nature,' enthuses Priscila, 'which explodes on stage, and makes everyone fall in love with her.'

Priscila, I have to remind myself, is Gaby's manager, but when we all assemble for a show at the Club do Remo, backing onto the river, I see exactly what she means. A crisp, six-piece backing band warms up the audience – mostly female, early twenties, with more than a smattering of gay men. Gaby strides in like a goddess, wearing hot pants, shiny red high-heeled boots and a tight grey-and-white Lurex bodice. Her already impressive height is emphasized by a plume of feathers and her long hair hangs low down her back. Stomping, shaking and gyrating, she pounds out the numbers with a defiant sexiness that leaves no doubt as to who's in control. The audience dance frantically, single women miming her movements with an electric intensity, flinging themselves about, charged up and released by the rousing imperiousness of her delivery, and the exhilaration of her message.

This is indeed a force of nature at work. She's like a Boadicea for our times. An Amazon warrior reborn.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 10: Belém
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Belém
  • Book page no: 55

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