Raimundo Sodre

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Raimundo Sodre's CD Real features popmusic from Bahia
with various roots in Afrobahian music, especially the Chula.

Raimundo Sodre - RealNative of the Bahia region, 'the mother of Brazil', receptacle of multiple traditions of African or European origin, Raimundo Sodre combines this inheritance in music with his personal style and an undeniably universal appeal.

Active on the Brazilian scene since the nineteen-seventies, Raimundo Sodre introduced the chula type of samba into the MPB (Popular Brazilian Music), which is very popular in the hinterland of Bahia. In 1980, with his song A Massa, Raimundo Sodre won the third prize at the MPB Festival in Rio, transmitted live by the Globo television channel. Popular identification with the words and an irresistible rhythm gave the song an immediate impact. This chula, one of the successes the most played on the air, is now recognized as one of the references of the Brazilian music.

“I was born in the Sertão da Bahia, in Ipira, and I grew up in Santo Amaro da Purificação, a small town South-East from Salvador, in what was, in former times, a sugar producing region where a very numerous black population lives. They are descended from the gegê, Yoruba and Angolan nations. It is where the maculelê was born. My mother and my aunt practised the candomblé rituals, and it is with them that, since I was 7, I have learnt to play the three atabaques which give the rhythms of the orixas' call (divinities of African origin).“

Salvador-da-Bahia, the port where the first colonists landed and the first capital of the Portuguese colony, is also the place where numerous cohorts of slaves coming from western Africa disembarked. They brought along their art, their habits and their divinities. The Reconcavo, very fertile land surrounding the Bay-of-all-the-Saints, one of the main sugar cane production centres of the Americas, has given to the country a number of artists and intellectuals. The Sertão, in the Nordeste region, is an agricultural land, which suffers often from severe droughts. The main activities are stock farming and the cultivation of manioc, this essential ingredient in Brazilian cuisine. This region also produced a great number of poets.

Raimundo Sodre grew up listening to music of various origins: samba, xaxado, rock'n'roll, mambo, salsa, baião, broadcast by loudspeakers in the streets of Salvador. He also listened to the music of country-people, the music played by bards and village market singers, the violeros, the music of popular festivals, numerous in Brazil. For this deeply religious people, the occasions to celebrate one saint or another are never missing. These festa de largo, where the profane mixes cheerfully with the religious, punctuate the Brazilian calendar and are particularly well integrated in the Bahianese culture. Such festivals on the town square are an expression of the happiness of the people and manifest the vitality of the popular musical culture.

Raimundo Sodre spent his youth in the company of Jorge Portugal, Roberto Mendes and Marcelo Machado, his most constant musical partners in a small town, which is also the home town of Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethania. His masters are Luiz Gonzaga, Jackson do Pandeiro. He also listened to Ary Lobo, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Gordurinha, Little Richard, Riachão, Balbino do Rojão.... It is certainly them who gave, and still give, him the force and the desire to find his own musical way.

Sodre's music fits into the diversity of traditional Brazilian music, itself a synthesis of various musical forms imported from other countries. The Portuguese brought their nostalgic and melancholic melodies, the Africans their rhythms and their melodies. The fusion of all these styles in Brazil transforms them into a unique blend of music.

Raimundo Sodre's musical language is originally constructed on the tradition of the pure chula: the chula is an individual dance where during guitar solos each dancer improvises. Percussion instruments are then introduced, and this results in a very vivid music with an irresistible swing. A Massa, the first recorded chula, has been followed by many others interpreted by other great artists of the MPB, such as Gal Costa or Maria Bethania.

Raimundo Sodre was literally born in the middle of rhythm and percussion. As he says himself: “On the eve of the day when I was born, my mother danced all night in a candomblé ceremony, until dawn, and I was born at 5 o'clock in the morning.“ In his childhood, religious or profane objects or instruments, everything was a source of rhythm: the corn pounder, the strainer which is used to separate the beans, the manioc mill wheel, the atabaques (sort of congas which are played during the candomblé ceremonies). As most Bahianese percussionists, the first instrument that he learnt was the atabaques which are played with the palm of the hand in the Angolan candomblé, or with drum sticks in the nago worship.

Atabaques, Caxixis, Pandeiros, Congas, Berimbau... Raimundo Sodre perfectly masters all these percussion instruments, they are at the origin of his musical language, stemming from the candomblé and the Bahianese traditional festivals. He is one of the very few musicians to incorporate them in his music as harmonic instruments as such. During each of his performances, percussions play a very important part, himself playing some solo pieces. Together with the Senegalese percussionist Mamour Bà, Sodre has performed several dance and percussion shows in Rio and Salvador: “This work goes back to the roots of Afro-Bahianese music, as a counter reaction to 'commercial' music.“

The cabila, an Angolan twin-rhythm with the samba, is used as a base in his chulas. The rhythmic basis given by the pandeiro reminds one of the pagode, another rhythm very popular in Rio. Sodre also uses the ijeixa, a candomblé rhythm, as in his compositions Pelo sim, pelo não or Da Cor. In other compositions, the candomblé rhythms are played with sticks, as the aluja (rhythm to call the orixa Xango) in Desaforo Desafio, and the ilu' (rhythm to call the orixa Yansan) which terminates La Seine. In some compositions, in which the rhythmic basis is a chula or a samba, another instrument is used to create a different rhythmic mode which is superimposed on the chula or samba.

Baião, xaxado, galope, frevo: these rhythms, which are typical from the Nordeste region, are other paths that he follows without getting lost.

Raimundo Sodre composes music with strong regional influences, but with an extremely original melodic and rhythmic treatment. The harmonies are simple and the rhythms are well defined. His very characteristic and virtuoso right hand goes over the arpeggios, the notes are clear and well detached, the 'swing' is there after the first notes. The guitar is used as harmonic instrument as well as a rhythmic one. “When I compose, it is my right hand that conducts instantly the rhythm. This is fundamental in my work.“

The words of his songs are composed by Jorge Portugal, Marcelo Machado or himself. The words are direct and very often have a double meaning, with an ironic or poetic style. In his lyrics, one reads the daily life of the Brazilian people with its difficulties, the injustice, the destruction of Amazonia and of the forests, the pollution of the rivers, the extinction of the Indian tribes, the domination borne by the women, the racial segregation suffered by the Blacks in Brazil, the worries of the Brazilians in foreign land...

These texts are served by an expressive and well tuned voice, with multiple intonations. Just as he uses his guitar as a rhythmic instrument, Sodre uses also his voice as an additional percussion instrument.

Sodre's first three LPs, A Massa, Coisa de Nêgo and Beijo Moreno, all recorded in the beginning of the eighties, have a very pronounced regional character: in most of the compositions, some rhythms, typical from the Nordeste region, are used, and the instruments are also from the Nordeste region, such as the zabumba (sort of very wide drum), the triangle and the essential accordion.

In 1993, Raimundo Sodre recorded his fourth LP Real. Although ten years had passed, this record showed continuity with the three previous ones, in the sense that his own characteristic style is instantly recognisable. But the mixture is different. The drums are absent, their acoustic space being filled by percussion, thus making the rhythmic collage more apparent. Moreover, new instruments are introduced such as brass, an electric guitar and a twelve strings guitar.

In Maravilha Marginal and La Seine, some electric guitar and twelve strings guitar solos emerge. In a more daring musical style, the rhythms used are chula, yjeixa, samba choro, baião, guanguanco, some of them mixed in the same composition. For example, in Vamos Salvar o Bonde, the impression is of a samba from Rio de Janeiro. But, in fact the bumbo (another sort of big drum) is playing a samba reggae rhythm, and the congas, a guajira, a Cuban rhythm, giving a new result. In the baião, Sina de Cantador, the electric guitar played here with an African sound is placed at the same level as the typical instrument of the baião, the accordion.

This record has a lot of cohesion. The arrangements are without artifice or superfluous effect, and show real maturity. The words are more satirical, a lot of them having a double meaning. In a word, it is a record for people who wish to get off the beaten tracks.

Raimundo Sodre prints the charm and the strength of his native Bahia in his music. His shows combine guitar, dance, percussion and singing. With humour, spontaneity and a sense of improvisation, he intuitively knows how to adapt to his public. His stage presence, his spirited performance and his communicative power erase any language barrier.

If Raimundo Sodre has been influenced by his stay in Europe, it is mainly to the extent that the originality of his roots became even more obvious to him. “I know that traditional Bahianese festivals are gradually disappearing, and I feel very sad for that... It is for this reason that my work is a quest for our roots, our inner truth. It is the artists' duty to keep this memory alive.“

His confessed aim in our continent is to contribute to the knowledge about the music of his country, of which he is an authentic representative. He has a lot of winning cards to play. His music has the flavour of the festas de largo: the best proof of this is that his songs are often played during these festivals: they touch the Brazilian soul. Nevertheless, he has also incorporated other elements in his music, which talk to everyone and transcend the national borders: the appeal of Sodre's swing provokes an undeniable attraction.

More info on Raimundo Sodre - Real