Sunday Samba #3

Sunday Samba #3 February 14, 2016

A great cinematic introduction to samba is Marcel Camus’ 1959 film Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro).  Though a French production, many of the lead actors are Brazilian, several without any previous acting experience, and most of the film is shot at a well known favela in Rio known as Morro da Babilônia (The Hill of Babylon).  If that name rings a bell, it might be because one the poems written by Elizabeth Bishop during her years in Brazil is about a burglar fleeing the police up Babylon Hill.  The poem, which you can find in its entirety here, begins….

On the fair green hills of Rio
There grows a fearful stain:
The poor who come to Rio
And can’t go home again.

On the hills a million people,
A million sparrows, nest,
Like a confused migration
That’s had to light and rest,

Building its nests, or houses,
Out of nothing at all, or air.
You’d think a breath would end them,
They perch so lightly there.

But they cling and spread like lichen,
And people come and come.
There’s one hill called the Chicken,
And one called Catacomb;

There’s the hill of Kerosene,
And the hill of Skeleton,
The hill of Astonishment,
And the hill of Babylon…

Set in the midst of this confused migration, Camus retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through the lives of three members of a Rio samba school.  For jazz fans many of the songs in the movie will be familiar.  The film debuted during a time of fruitful interaction and collaboration between Brazilian and American jazz musicians and several of the songs in Black Orpheus have become jazz standards.  My favorite song in the movie is Manha de Carnival (Morning of Carnival), sung by the Brazilian songstress Elizete Cardoso.  You can find an english translation of the lyrics here. If the music appeals to you or if you want to purchase the film, check out the links below.

The film

The soundtrack

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