GILBERTO GIL / “Chiclete Com Banana”
It’s springtime. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I’m listening to versions of the Brazilian classic “Chiclete Com Banana” (“Chewing Gum With Bananas”). The song was written by a radio producer, singer and song-writer named Waldeck Macedo, known professionally as Gordurinha. (Which sounds suspiciously like ‘Little Fatty,’ but I could be wrong.) For me, it’s a quintessential ‘happy song.’ The type of music I listen to when I’m feeling really optimistic…or like right now, when I’m just wishing I was. The weightless samba rhythm and wandering melody line of “Chiclete” would lead you to believe that the lyrics are about – oh I don’t know – sunshine and birds. Apparently, it’s a little heavier than that. According to Answers.com:
The emblematic song has…been studied in universities and used as an icon of the cultural relationships between Brazil and abroad, also giving a name to a play by Augusto Boal.Chiclete Com Banana is also the name of a very prolific Brazilian carnival band (as I found out when I was online trying to get more info about the song). And, in the liner notes of a compilation I have named Samba Soul Groove, I found the following excerpt from the lyrics:
I’ll only add be-bop to my samba When Uncle Sam starts playing the ‘tamborim’ When he grabs the tambourine and the bass drum When he understands that samba’s not rumbaApparently, the breezy feel of “Chiclete” hides a serious conversation about musical appropriation and cultural imperialism…which might explain why college professors sometimes include the song in their coursework. But since I speak not a word of Portuguese and “Chiclete” is so damned catchy, for me, it remains a happy song. (How’s that for Yankee appropriation?) My favorite version is Gilberto Gil’s from his 1972 album Expresso 2222. (“Chiclete” is also available on a Gil compilation named The Early Years – from the track listing, it looks like an excellent introduction to some of Gil’s best work.) Expresso was Gil’s first album after returning to Brazil from his exile in England. While each song from Expresso might not be literally happy, the overall vibe of the album is definitely one of lightness and optimism. “Chiclete Com Banana” is a perfect exemplar of Gil’s delight at being back home in Bahia. Gil didn’t choose to remake “Chiclete” at random. The song was originally a hit for the relatively unknown (outside of Brazil) singer and tambourine player Jackson Do Pandeiro who, like Gil, hailed from the Northeastern area of Brazil. When Gil covered “Chiclete,” he was paying tribute to one of his musical heroes, and in later years, Gil would go on to record several other tunes popularized by Jackson. For Jackson’s original hit version of “Chiclete Com Banana,” check out the compilation Novo Millenium. With a running time barely over two minutes and a washed-out, tinny-sounding recording quality, Osmar Milito’s cover of “Chiclete” would seem to be a throwaway. Maybe it is, I don’t know. But it’s also endlessly charming. The high-speed vocals sound like the singers are simultaneously imitating and making fun of ‘bebop’ talk. This version is from Osmar’s 1973 album Nem Paletó, Nem Gravata. Note that the amusingly kitschy, nightclub-ish vibe of this version is light years away from the rough-hewn accordion-and-tambourine sound of the original. Eliane Elias is a pianist and singer who specializes in elegant covers of Brazilian and American tunes. (She sings in both English and Portuguese.) On record at least (I’ve never seen her live) Eliane isn’t usually adventurous enough to be considered jazz, but she’s far more talented a pianist than your average pop instrumentalist. I guess that places her in the range of someone like a Diana Krall – she’s more of a song ‘stylist’ than anything else. In any event, Eliane’s version of “Chiclete” is representative of her style as a whole. If you like what she does with this song, check out the uniformly enjoyable album it comes from 2006’ Around The City. —Mtume ya Salaam Another cover/Another example Ahhhh, Brazilian popular music (MPB). They can make the inconsequential sound momentous and the most profound moments sound like joyous jump ups. The heart of Brazilian music is good old-fashioned African optimism. Regardless of the shit-storms we endure, us come up smiling, laughing, dancing, singing. Full out. Offering beauty to a world gone ugly. No matter how repulsive our conditions, we stoically take the troubles in stride. Chew gum. Taste banana. Step off and go about the beautiful business of being us-selves. The song is semi-attractive to me. I like it best from Tania Maria, that wild (and wonderful) Brazilian piano woman singer. Check her double-CD Happiness for a thoroughly modern version informed by jazz. In ways neither obviously nor thematically related, I also offer another Brazilian ditty sung for our muscial consumption. This emanates from the golden throat of Paula Lima on her new album Sincramente, which I find enjoyable for Paula’s singing but a let down in terms of the quality of the material. Apropos of turning nothing into something, the song I like best is this bi-lingual throwaway called “Let’s Go.” At the oddest moments, like rushing across the street on an amber light, the hook from “Let’s Go” will pop in my head and I find my lips involuntarily intoning the phrase, over and over. We all have ghost songs in our head that serve as emotional gyroscopes, balancing us in the off-kilter moments of life. Mtume, you come up with the darnedest things to write about with respect to the music. It’s Ok though, truly Ok, 'cause like I said, we all have ghosts. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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