I spent the day mourning the passing of the great Gal Costa. Remembering when, and where, I became blessed by her magical music.
Without it a doubt, in the beginning, it was through Gilles “Worldwide” Peterson and Joe “Far Out” Davis’ brilliant, amazing, essential, compilation, Brazilica, Volume II. Curated by these giants of the London jazz dance scene, amongst countless other treasures – Jorge Ben’s Ponta De Lanca Africano, Baden Powell’s Consolacao, … – the album shared two total gems from Gal. Joe was the man behind the “Brazilian Explosion”, finding the originals of these records on trips to Rio, buying them, flying them back to the UK, and then selling them on to DJs, such as Gilles who “broke” them at shindigs such as the seminal Talkin Loud Sunday sessions at Dingwalls in Camden Lock. Tracks like Gal’s Relance and her psyche-shook Tuareg would have the place rocking, and everyone wondering “What the fuck?” The former, an accordion-assisted locked hypnotic repetitive percussive ritual, where the song is more a series of excited shouts. The b-line slyly bumping, the beats false stopping and starting (perhaps inspiring Airto Moreira’s Toque De Cuica). It was lifted from the 1973 LP, India*, which had a sleeve considered so risqué, that the album originally came wrapped in a blue plastic bag. You had to go through Joe go to obtain tunes like these, until, in 1997, they released this comp.
It wasn’t Dingwalls, however, that really hipped me to Brazilian music, and Gal Costa, because by the late-90s I`d dropped out, and pretty much hung up my party pumps. Gone searching, instead, for sobriety and non-drug-assisted transcendence… so I was reinventing myself, subscribing to The Wire – struggling with all kinds of improv – and searching out any recommended releases that might help in this mission. Adding stuff like “100 Records That Set The World On Fire (When No One Was Listening)” to my “Wants” list, which lead me to Tropicália Ou Panis Et Circencis**. It was this piece of vinyl – from 1968 – that really opened me up to the wonderful, musical, world of Brazil.
Gal is there on the cover. A core member of the crew, which also comprises Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, and Tom Ze. Each of them sharing songwriting duties, and, inspired by Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles` Sgt. Pepper, attempting to push Brazil’s state-sanctioned traditional sounds forward. Something that was frowned upon and forbidden by the country’s military dictatorship. Their passion, eventually forcing the “Tropicalia” movement’s main players – Veloso and Gil – into exile, in London. Oh, but I loved Os Mutantes, and have a big soft spot for Gal’s Baby, still. It’s a sparse, strange, but symphonically strung ballad, whose lyrics are a subtly subversive commentary on North America’s influence / interference in Brazil. Viewed as radicals at the time, and reviled by both the right and the left – the Tropicalismo performances / happenings caused riots – but Baby has since become a standard in Gal’s homeland.
In the early 2000s, when everyone was dissecting Daniele Baldelli’s Cosmic Club mixtapes, I discovered a dodgy bootleg called, Electric Funky Afro Sound. This was a slab of shellac that I was particularly happy about, since it contained the hugely sought-after cut, Can’t Be Serious, by the completely un-Google-able Ginny. Among the seven remaining illicit grooves, however, is Gal’s O Gosto Do Amor. Taken from her 1978 album, Água Viva***, the song is another super squeeze-box – squeezed by the legendary Sivuca, no less – smash. Gal riding a slapped-bass, rough Romany tango-tinged, mid-tempo, guaranteed floor-filling giddy-up.
A couple of tracks from Gal’s1976 LP, Gal Canta Caymmi**** could also be found on Daniele’s crazy cassettes. This is a set of pieces produced by Joao Donato, and penned by Dorival Caymmi, one of the godfathers of bossa nova, whose daughter Nana, was another original Tropicalia-ist. Pescaria is pace-y, tongue-twister, a little like a wilder, lairy-ier Joyce Moreno, while O Vento, is slow, chunky, and funky, with a catchy chorus, crafty key changes, and a genius arrangement of flute, brass, and gently strummed guitar. The album also features Sao Salvador, a slinky serenade to Gal’s birthplace.
Another shady series of Cosmic / Afro bootlegs, was Sabor do Brasil. Across six volumes Gal is represented several times, including the bubbling, percolating, synthesized pop of Cabelo, pilfered from her 1990 long-player, Plural.
I guess, though, despite all the Cosmic / Afro vinyl archeology, if had to pick one tune to remember Gal Costa by, then it would be my first, Tuareg*****. A belly-dance of loosely-tuned oud, snake-charming reeds, and chanting. A swinging ode to the nomads of the North Sahara, whose mysterious Middle Eastern mood is broken when Gal bursts into a joyful, Bahia chorus. I don’t think I`d heard anything else quite like it. I don’t think I ever will.
Gal Costa, thank you for the music. Rest In Peace.
* I don’t have a fancy original, Brazilian pressing, but I did pick up the brilliant Mr. Bongo reissue, from a few years back. It Sam’s worthing mentioning that Pontos De Luz on here – where Gal’s complex phrasing is framed by electric jazz and fusion – was arranged by the genius, Arthur Verocai.
** My copy is very likely a bootleg. Purchased from either the Rough Trade in Covent Garden, or Selectadisc, on Berwick Street.
*** I don’t have a copy of this. As far as I can see it’s never been reissued. Somebody needs to – please – fix this.
**** Bought from Croydon’s brilliant, much beloved Beano’s, where I managed to find a fair few Brazilian bits going cheap.
***** I found a copy of this, Gal’s second solo LP, in a 300 yen bin, in Shibuya’s Recofan. I was so happy. It was catch of the day. It was one of those digging moments when my heart nearly stopped. I thought it was a Brazilian OG. Turns out it’s a mid-90s boot. It’s mono though, and sounds marvelous.