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Picture this: You're enjoying a nice vacation in Rio, lounging with friends at a jazz club, when the bandleader calls out to you in the audience: ___________ (fill your name in here), come on up, it's been years! "Oh, no, no," you laugh, shooing away the attention with your hand. But the band insists, so you slither your way to the stage in a tight black dress or jeans and an airy cotton dress shirt (whatever makes you feel slick), take the mic, and to the surprise of everyone in the audience, you break into a slow, sultry rendition of "The Girl From Ipanema"— in Portuguese to boot.
If playing the berimbau in a capoeira performance or strumming a seven-stringed guitar on the float of a Brazilian Carnival or just that scenario with you as the acclaimed bossa nova singer summoned to the stage has ever made its way into your imagination, then you might consider putting your fantasies to the test at Hollywood's new Brazilian Music Workshops.
The institution opened its doors last weekend for two months of Saturday workshops, focusing on everything from Brazilian phrasing and vocal enhancement to percussion, keyboard, and stringed instruments, not to mention musicology lectures on the history of Brazilian music. Courses are taught by the region's best Brazilian music experts using music-theory books written by the director himself, renowned Brazilian composer and producer Antonio Adolfo. He's written tunes recorded by well-known international artists such as Ivete Sangalao, Beth Carvalho, Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66, and Herb Alpert. He's recently made several albums of his own: a University of Miami production of traditional Brazilian jazz titled Antonio Adolfo and Carol Saboya Ao Vivo/Live, and Antonio Adolfo Brazil and Brazuka, a funky electronics and hip-hop-infused compilation of Brazilian tunes from the 1960s, due out later this month.
The collaborative workshops are the latest creation of Adolfo, a music teacher who's already spent 32 years operating academies in his native Rio de Janeiro. He now oversees three such schools and 1,500 students back in Rio with his daughters, singers Carol Saboya and Lisa Saboia, along with former student Maria Luiza Gissoni. He'll also run the Broward program for the next two months with his wife, Ana Job. The idea for this latest academy came to him naturally. Two years ago, the artist decided to make his South Florida vacation spot his permanent home, and he couldn't have picked a more fitting community. Florida now boasts more than 200,000 Brazilians, according to Florida's Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce. The increasing popularity of the area's predominantly Latin fusion movement is moving beyond Cuban genres like salsa and timba to incorporate classic Brazilian rhythms.
"All these combinations work well with Brazilian music because it has a very wide spectrum of possibilities," Adolfo notes during a meeting with New Times at the Pembroke Pines home of Brazilian vocalist and singing instructor Beatriz Malnic and her husband, fellow musician Don Wilner. "You see the surges in it with the hip-hop of the Black Eyed Peas; Ceú is doing tremendously well, and Bossacucanova is also very interesting. I think Brazilian music can be in all places just like the way it was combined with jazz years ago."
The workshops take place every Saturday in three classrooms at the Hollywood Partners & Productions studios. Adolfo teaches harmony and ensemble units while Malnic offers voice lessons. Other teachers include Claudio Silva on percussion, Gabriel Vivas on bass, Paulo Carvalho on guitar, with WDNA-FM (88.9)'s Café Brasil host, Gene de Souza, teaching the country's music history. Adolfo plans to give students an opportunity to perform publicly in September, and he hopes to turn the school into a permanent academy in the fall.
The program isn't just for culturally curious outsiders, Adolfo notes. "We're also here for the Brazilians, because many of them don't have contact with our culture," he explains. "I'm going to tell you the truth: International pop music is the most popular among our students," Adolfo says with a bashful smile.
He moves on to more important (and pleasant) subjects like: Why does nearly every jazz record contain one Brazilian-influenced number? What's so quintessential about "The Girl From Ipanema"?
To the first question, Aldolfo notes, "I think it's that feeling that you have in Brazilian music — it's very subtle and very deep. It's the mix of happiness and sadness at the same time that some people try to translate as saudade. That's a word we use a lot in Brazil which means" — he pauses, looking for the right interpretation — "missing someone that you still love, for example."
"Longing," chimes in Malnic.
Longing is precisely what Vinicius de Moraes' "The Girl From Ipanema" succeeds in portraying, expressing joy even though the object of Moraes' admiration doesn't notice him.
"The chants that the Africans used to sing are very sad, and you hear them even in very successful songs like 'The Girl From Ipanema,' which has that [element], that combination which makes Brazilian music very rich," Adolfo adds. Without even looking at the coffee table, his hand reaches instinctively for an African drum. "You see, the first part of the song is very rhythmic. It's very happy, and then you have the second part which is almost like you're crying." He taps the drum, tac-tac-tacaaa-tac-tac-tac-tac-tacaaa-ing it and imitating the same rhythm with his mouth by placing his tongue behind teeth. "In African chanting, it's like they joke the sadness away," he says.
That demo is Malnic's cue to begin a short class on how you actually learn to sing the song. First, she stands by the piano explaining "lower abdominal breathing" by snapping her fingers as she lets the air out of her diaphragm, a melodic "aaaaah" sliding out of her mouth.
"In our first lesson, I sometimes have students lie down on the floor to feel the difference between how they breathe when they're standing up and when they're sleeping," she says. Then she demonstrates the difference between singing with a relaxed jaw and singing with a talking voice. Coordinating the breathing/singing process without thinking usually takes students about two months of weekly classes, provided they bring a tape recorder for later reference and practice at home, she explains.
When she finally breaks into full song — in English for the non-Lusophones — her voice projects dreamily over Adolfo's piano playing, carefully pronouncing the cadence of the opening lyrics.
"Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking/And when she passes, each one she passes goes 'aaaah,' " Malnic sings, sighing contentedly into the last word.
The piano and the vocals shift into slow gear.
"Ooooh, but I watch her so sadly/How can I tell her I love her? ..."
In Brazilian fashion, the melancholy tune ends with Adolfo and Malnic breaking into triumphant laughter, taunting away the pains of unrequited love.
"That's something else that we have to offer," Adolfo says, "not just how to play or how to sing but how to interpret and feel the Brazilian atmosphere... We're not afraid to express our emotions."