As I was walking through Vila Madalena last night having still had no luck in finding a place to play my music after four nights in the city, I had a couple of thoughts dominating my mind. One was a phrase and an attitude that Vanessa gave me when she said, “Brazil is an open mic, all you have to do is just go into a bar and they’ll see your guitar and you start playing music.”
The other thought I had as I walked through this vibrant section of town so full of restaurants, bars, boutiques and venues of all kinds, was that it reminded me – musically – more of Istanbul than perhaps any other country on my world travels. There was must blaring from just about every public room, from the popular folk harmonies of several bars, to the sitar music in an oriental restaurant, to the rock of several other venues and the bossa nova in another bar, to the jazz in a place called piano bar, and the happy birthday song being played by a brass band across the street.
It was not quite the wall of sound of certain quarters of Istanbul, but it was a very refreshing approximation to it and like nothing else around the world in my experience. But there is a very key difference to it all, and that has been a theme of my four days here so far on this blog: the open jam, open mic, open arms mentality is not a part of this musical scene in Sao Paulo as it is in Istanbul. In Turkey, it sometimes felt that every bar I passed by the waiters or owners would stretch out their arms when they saw my guitar and they would invite me in to play. Here, each musician, group and bar owner to himself.
I did get stopped by the owner of one bar – the name of which I could not find – who had a couple of fine harmonizing musicians sing pop songs with one of them playing guitar. (I have put a recording of this below.) And he asked if I was a musician, if I was playing somewhere, etc. I decided to have a beer at this place, listen to the music, and hope that maybe I would be invited to play. I was thinking of Vanessa’s suggestion. But no, it never happened, the invitation. And I just did not ultimately feel the vibe was right to propose it.
So I moved on through the area and decided to check out every venue I could find and look for one quiet place I had discovered last year. I headed toward Wisard street, a lively part of Vila Madalena, and as I walked by the tables of the Baia de Guanabara bar spilling out into the street with all the chatter and carousing of the clients drinking and merrymaking, a man at one of the tables reached out to me and asked if he could play my guitar.
It was a table of about eight men, and they were all beseeching me to allow their friend to play. I needed little provocation. Here it was, the beginnings of what would possibly be my own chance to play a few songs, if not in an open mic, then at least…. but wait, Vanessa had said this would happen. Brazil is an open mic. “Just go to a bar and they will see your guitar and ask you to play. It will be your open mic.”
So I opened the guitar case and gave the man the guitar. He sang and played well, but the noise in the bar and the street was so loud it was difficult to hear. It turned out that the men were all in town in order to attend the Formula One race, and that they came from Uruguay, not Brazil.
So he played several songs and they asked me to sit with them, they bought me a beer and then they asked me to play some songs. I started with “Crazy Love” because I thought I could get some volume out of the vocals and guitar despite the street and bar noise. They clapped along on the chorus each time and we managed to get some people to stop by the table to listen. But mostly the event passed as a normal part of the evening at the bar, as if it was normal to play music at a bar table on the sidewalk in the Vila Madalena.
After “Crazy Love,” a bit of further surprising synchronicity occurred when the singer man asked me if I could sing any Cat Stevens, and he said, “Father and Son?” Readers of this blog will know that it is one of the songs I sing regularly, and to usually great response from my listeners. So how incredible was that?
I sang it, did one of my own, called, “Borderline,” and another one or two, and then the man played one or two more of his, and I filmed him below in the darkness and noise. And then they had to leave in order to get up early to go to the race. I finished my beer, and went on through the streets to seek out another venue, but found none – yet I did feel a huge sense of relief that I had indeed finally found a place to play in Brazil, which is, it seems, its own open mic….