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Day 63: São Paulo

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Criolo sits in on a Sunday-night jam session in a Grajaú back street.
Michael Palin - BrazilCarolina is back on the Avenida Brasil set tomorrow morning, so she has to set off for the airport. And in doing so misses what turns out to be a great example of what she was talking about.

'Musical Pagode da 27' reads the sign above a strip-lit bar and café, number 27 in an ordinary-looking Grajaú back street. Criolo walks with me down the hill towards it. He's more relaxed now, full of bonhomie as he approaches the group of musicians setting up outside the bar. A blue plastic awning has been pulled tight across the street to protect them from the storms drifting across São Paulo tonight. Every Sunday these musicians, young and old, white and black, get together to play samba at the Pagode. Tonight Criolo is going to sit in with them. It won't be recorded, it won't be filmed. It's just what they do here on Sundays.

Criolo looks bashful as he settles in behind his music stand, in the midst of ten other players, all regulars. The line-up consists of guitars, sax, trumpet, keyboard and a well-stocked percussion section – drums, tambourines and bongos. It takes a while for them to get going and even when they do there are no more than a dozen people standing around. They play softly to start with, the lilting music warming them up, getting them together. The infectiously persistent samba rhythm is irresistible. I break into a smile and my feet start to move around of their own accord.

People wander down from their houses and the crowd begins to grow. The sky is suddenly slashed with jagged lightning. Moments later a crack of thunder sounds, and it's not far away. When the inevitable downpour begins it seems to move the band up a gear, and as the rain swells the plastic tarpaulin, the music takes on a new intensity. Everybody's shimmying about now and when an old black man steps up to the mike there are cheers and applause. He sings softly, urgently, with a delicate swooning swing in the voice. After a couple of numbers he gives way to a portly white man in late middle age who whips up the audience with popular sing-a-long numbers. As the rain hurls itself at the street, there is a great and joyful surrender to the music. I can see why Carolina was so passionate when she talked about the importance of music to the Brazilians. Here in a modest street in the middle of a cloudburst, in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the city, music and song has, for a few hours, made everything all right. Whatever bad things may happen tomorrow, tonight has been very fine. I catch sight of Criolo, 'possibly the most important figure on the Brazilian pop scene', singing along in the back row.
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Criolo sits in on a Sunday-night jam session in a Grajaú back street.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 63: São Paulo
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Paulo
  • Book page no: 266

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  • Music and Film
  • Day 8 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 22 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 88 
  • Pole to Pole