Cultural Spotlight – Carnaval

No one country does the festivities of ‘carnaval’ quite like Brazil. A festival that is just more than ‘Fat Tuesday’, it has become more than a month of celebrations beginning in early February and ending in early March even after ‘Ash Wednesday’ has passed by. The word ‘carnaval’ or ‘carnival’ comes from the Latin word ‘carnelevare’, which means to remove or to raise meat signifying how Roman Catholics would give up meat or poultry during the 40-day period of Lent before the Easter holiday. Because of the significance of Lent and not just for giving up meat but for other earthly pleasures as well, ‘Carnaval’ is a chance to enjoy some of those pleasures before the time of Lent and to revel in both culinary and cultural traditions.

Nowhere are these cultural traditions more proudly represented than in Brazil where the whole country has some form of celebration or observation of the Carnaval holiday. From the state of Pernambuco in the North to Bahia in the Northeast all the way down the Brazilian coastline to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, each year there is an informal competition to see which city can put on the best Carnaval and whose parades are the biggest.

Each city is different regarding how they celebrate Carnaval in Brazil but there are some similarities such as having huge street parades where crowds can dance and march to the bands and drum groups assembled as they go through the city. There are a huge variety of costumes, music styles represented but the most common one would have to be ‘Samba.’ In Brazil, Afro-Brazilian culture is heavily apart of Carnaval celebrations from the music being played to the design of the costumes. There are a number of variations of samba represented and they are all represented in the popular ‘samba schools.’

These small groups of performers sometimes prepare for the whole year before carnaval begins and are competing against each other in the ‘Sambadrome’, which are huge parade grounds and spectator events where these groups are being judged based on a number of factors against other schools. The biggest Sambadromes are in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador along with Sao Paulo and these competitions take places over a period of four nights at the height of the carnaval celebrations. Not only are these groups being judged on their music style and quality but also their coordination, their rhythm, the theme of their performance, and the costumes, which can be quite elaborate and also quite expensive.

While there are different types of samba music involved, there are also lesser known music styles that are represented in Brazilian carnaval. They include ‘Frevo’, which is originally from Recife and Olinda in the state of Pernambuco and ‘Axe’, which is originally from Salvador in the Bahia state which combines different popular Afro-Caribbean music genres together such as calypso, marcha, and reggae. All of these popular music types mentioned have their roots in African cultures and diaspora influences.

In the 19th century, it was quite difficult for Afro-Brazilians to dance, sing, or even parade through the streets of Brazilian cities during Carnaval to express their cultural heritage but today, these forms of song and dance are the heart of the Carnaval celebrations. To put it simply, you cannot have carnaval without samba or costumes or drumlines. In a way, Carnaval is not just a celebration of indulgence and pleasure but of expressing your culture and your heritage. I found Brazilian carnaval to be also about celebrating the diversity and unity of the country itself and how that can bring people together despite past historical injustices.

In order to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil, one does not have to go to a Sambadrome or to march in a formal parade or even wear an elaborate costume. You do have to sing, dance, and even drink or eat a little more than you normally would. The easiest way to celebrate especially as a foreign visitor is to check out some of the ‘blocos’ or block parties. They take place each and every day during Carnaval in different neighborhoods at different times. Each ‘bloco’ has different themes ranging from a celebration of ‘The Beatles’ to ‘R&B and hip hop.’ The blocos can also have ‘electric trios’ which are large trucks with huge sound systems where musicians on top of them sing famous samba or forro tunes to the crowd who often sing along with them as they cruise down an informal parade route.

These ‘electric trio’ trucks or floats can also include drum line groups or instrumental bands who walk down the parade route with these musicians. Each bloco has supporters who have specific shirts or costumes on to represent the theme of the block party as well. The trio truck or float is another symbol of Carnaval in Brazil similar to the block parties themselves, which can last from early in the morning until late at night.

While there is endless debate about where to go to celebrate Carnaval in Brazil, my hunch is that you won’t be disappointed if you go to either Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, or Recife. The great thing about Brazilian carnaval is each city is likely to have a different feel to it as well as different types of music as well as different kinds of blocos represented. Rio de Janeiro’s carnaval is the largest in the world but you may want to go with the carnaval in Salvador to see unique forms of samba and other music styles represented. If you want a somewhat more subdued carnaval experience, going to Sao Paulo may be what you’re looking for.

Carnaval in Brazil is not just about coastal cities as there are celebrations that are lower key and smaller in the state of Minas Gerais, located in the interior as well as in smaller cities such as Manaus, Porto Alegre, and Florianopolis. This month-long celebration has something for everyone and while I have celebrated carnaval before a few years ago in Colombia, I have never seen such a unifying event that brings a whole country together as it does in Brazil. If you are expecting to see a lot of tourist sites and enjoy some museums here, you may want to wait until after Carnaval to do just that. Instead, bring your best costume, study up on your Samba moves, and get ready to buy those tickets way in advance if you want to see the Sambadrome in all of its glory when you visit.

Experiencing Carnaval in Brazil is a really unique experience and opportunity that I would recommend to everybody who enjoys dancing, singing, listening to good music, and experience one of the most joyous celebrations in the world.

‘Everything In Its Right Place’ (A Video Retrospective)

It’s hard to really love most music videos today which tend to be shallow and lacking in any original thought. During past decades leading up to the 2000’s, it seems like actual effort and work was put into music videos of songs in order to get on MTV but also to highlight the themes of the song as well as the entire album. There are a number of my favorite artists who produce great music videos including Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, U2, Oasis, Dave Matthews Band, etc.

However, MTV and official music videos are not what they used to be. In an age of instant gratification and live concerts being streamed of the songs you love, it’s hard to appreciate music videos as being part of an increasingly crowded creative marketplace. While official music videos may be dying, creative videos and covers of songs from our favorite artists seem to be on the rise. Considering that music videos are usually for hit singles of certain songs and not for entire albums, there has started to be a movement towards producing independent music videos for songs that never received the official ‘music video’ song treatment.

The rise of YouTube and other video platforms has allowed creative people who are fans of good music to produce their own music videos. While they started out as being kind of cliché or very amateur, they are now becoming very professional and also very related to the lyrics of the song in question. I saw a particular music video of a favorite song of mine featured on YouTube a couple of weeks ago. The song is ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ by Radiohead and it is an excellent song by my favorite band but the one thing that this song never had was its own brilliant music video to go with it.

Because of YouTube, the creative skills of a fan named ‘Capitao Ahab’, which is a pretty fun name in its own right, although I believe the original video creator’s name is Joschka Laukeninks who created it and titled it ‘BACKSTORY.’ It is a now an unofficial music video on the popular video platform that is really well done and professionally shot that has received almost two million views. A video like this would not have existed ten years ago but luckily it does. Part of the reason why this music video is so impactful is that it works so well with the content of this particular Radiohead song.

‘Everything in Its Right Place’ like many of Radiohead’s songs are open to interpretation but it is soothing with its use of synthesizers, digitally manipulated voices, and haunting electronic sounds that sound comforting when you have your headphones on at full blast. The lyric itself of ‘Everything in Its Right Place’ focuses on how to maintain your composure and your levelheadedness as you go through life. The fan music video’s storyline of a baby becoming a boy, a man, and then an elderly man highlights the ups and downs of life and how there are ‘two colors in my head.’

The ‘two colors’ could be interpreted as the good and the bad that you will go through as you go through life’s uncertain and mysterious waters. In particular, the song begins with the oft-repeated lyric of ‘Kid A’, the title of Radiohead’s 2000 album and expresses the experiences of a ‘boy’ as he is born, grows up, matures, and eventually dies. “Yesterday, I woke up sucking on a lemon.” Is also a lyric up to the fan’s interpretation but it implies that life can be sour as well as sweet and that you will have to taste and swallow the bitterness of life if you want to enjoy the sweet part of the fruit.

The music video begins on a hopeful note as a baby boy gains his first steps as he walks through his parents’ house. The sweetness of his childhood is referenced with meeting animals for the first time, having his 6th birthday, going to the beach, and experiencing pure joy at that age. Childhood innocence does not last forever so the boy ends up experiencing his first pains in life including the accidental burning down of his house, fights between his mother and his father, the divorce and exit of his mother from his life, pressures from his father to succeed as he ages into being a teenager.

Learning in school, riding his bicycle, summer days at the swimming pool are some of the joys of teenage life including his first experiences with girls as well with drugs and late nights with friends. Still though, the joys of discovery and youth are balanced out by his struggles with partying too much, getting into rights, being angry at the world and dealing with bad breakups. In one part of the video, the teenager emerges from the pool as a young man ready to take on the world in his 20’s. He thinks his partying days and life as a Bachelor will last forever until he stares at the woman of his dreams on New Year’s Eve and she stares back signaling a new relationship that will change his life.

They date, travel, live together, and the young man eventually proposes to the woman of his dreams. As the video speeds up, so does the aging and life of the man as he gets married, celebrates the birth of his child, and gets ready for middle-aged challenges and prospects. Moving into a house as newlyweds, getting a better job, moving up the corporate ladder, using his new car, traveling for work, going to important meetings, and shuffling along while growing a beard signifies how fast life speeds up the older you become. Sometimes, you’re running so fast that you can’t keep track of who or what you are. In the video, the man still remembers the little blissful moments of carrying his child with his beloved wife, family dinners, and trying to balance work and family until tragedy suddenly strikes.

The hardest part of life is unforeseen tragedies and we hope and pray to never experience any to happen, but this man has the tragic occurrence of seeing his wife and child running towards him across the street only to be hit by a bus and to be taken off life support. The song’s crescendo builds up as the man struggles through grief, longing, and how to move on when he knows he can’t but has to anyway. After the tragedy, what once was promising is now dull and at once he was fast to move through the world, he staggers slowly through it wondering what it is all worth and why keep going? How can one fill the void in their own heart when it was taken out of them and cannot be put back?

We see the man continue with his work, entertaining clients, meeting a new woman and getting married again but there is the lingering sense that it is not what he envisioned his life to be. He can have a child with her, but it won’t be the same as his first true love or bring back his first child. Trying to fill the void with an extramarital affair, fighting with his new wife, jogging and running to keep moving forward to futilely escape from one’s own pre-destined aging are all ways of coping both unhealthily and healthily as you go through middle age to becoming elderly in your later life.

Maybe if he stops running or walking or jogging, he will have to face his own eventual demise and departure from this world or face his memories of losing loved ones or losing his mother. The aged man with gray hairs continues to work, to exercise, to keep up his health by going to the doctor and trying to save his marriage. Some of these battles he will win, and some he will lose although we will never know from such a short video. Eventually, the man is elderly and looking back on his life from his bed and looks to be alone in the world.

However, he does not remember the tragedies that befell him as we all must endure in life sometimes. Instead, he remembers the first time he went to dance at a club, the way he looked at his firstborn child, hugging his beloved first wife, and how she stared at him lovingly on New Year’s Eve and how she stared at him at their wedding and when she gave birth to their child. He remembers the tragedy too but remembers those special moments that made his life truly worth living. You are left wondering after watching this four-minute video of a complicated, yet powerful life filled with tragedy and joy whether it was all worth it for the man. Would he do it again if he knew what was to happen in the future?

If we all knew what was to happen in the future until the end of our days, would we all do it again from the beginning? Would it be worth it even if there is pain, tragedy, and death? Would it be worth the love, joy, and pleasure that we experience as human beings as well? It really is out of our control, but this music video does an excellent job of pondering life’s deepest questions in only four minutes and only with the wistful yet dreamy lyrics of Thom Yorke from Radiohead creating a powerful combination of a great song and a great video. It may not be an original music video from Radiohead but whoever created it did a great job of getting a powerful message across to this 2-million strong audience on life, love, and loss.

If you would like to watch the music video on ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, you can find it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnfPaaMR6Qc

‘BACKSTORY’ Full Video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/245687147

Xochimilco

IMG_2810IMG_2813IMG_2815IMG_2819IMG_2820IMG_2825IMG_2827IMG_2832IMG_2835IMG_2836IMG_2839IMG_2842

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico

Movie Recommendations – Volume II

  1. The Mule (2018)

MV5BMTc1OTc5NzA4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTAzMzE2NjM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

A normal man of the middle class is pushed to his limits and takes serious risks that could backfire on him. This is essentially the premise of legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood’s latest film in which he stars and directs as an octogenarian horticulturist turned drug mule named Earl Stone. Based on true events, this unreliable family man and an even worse husband, Earl has sacrificed his love of flowers for the love of his daughter and wife. More at home on the road with his drinking buddies and colleagues than with his own family members, Earl has spent over thirty years doing what he does best much to the chagrin of those who care about him including his soon to be wed granddaughter.

Earl is faced with the unsettling reality of the crippling economic recession beginning in 2008 and the subsequent rise of eCommerce outlets when his horticulture lifestyle and flower gardens go out of business. All Earl has left is his love of the road, his ability to never get a speeding ticket, and a lot of debt that he’s not sure how to get out of. Earl has the utter misfortune to run into people who are shady yet loaded with cash and Earl, being as desperate as he is to stay afloat economically goes ahead and trusts them anyway despite not knowing about the illicit cargo, he is transporting around the country for them.

You are left feeling bad for Earl because despite putting work first all those years and missing time with his loved ones, he partly did it to feed his family and give them a good life even if he was away most of the time. Eastwood who plays Earl in the film is not an innocent lamb and deserves punishment for what he did, but he is simply a manipulated fall guy and another casualty to the endless ‘war on drugs.’ Pursued by federal agents and cartel criminals, Earl ends up between a rock and a hard place and you have to wonder how we can live in a society where an old man such as himself has to resort to be a drug mule in order to get by financially and create a good life for himself and those close to him.

Overall, this is a good movie that I would recommend for its questions about morality, family, and the consequences economic hard times can have and are still a reality for so many people who choose to take illegal means or are forced to do so in order to survive or get by. It’s clear from the movie that crime doesn’t pay but we are left to reckon with the absurdity of an eighty plus year old man needing to work for the cartels in order to thrive economically.

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

once-upon-a-time

It may not be Tarantino’s best but it’s certainly not his worst. With a stellar cast of characters including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, etc., This film does a great job of invoking the nostalgia and uniqueness of Hollywood in its heyday during the late 1960’s. Set in a time when hitchhiking was normal to partake in, hippies were hanging out in ranches, and the Manson family was beginning its reign of terror, Tarantino has an uncanny ability to bring those cultural tenets together to produce a satisfying film.

Between the cars, the outfits, the egos of the actors, you get a real sense of what it must have been like to be in Hollywood during that golden era. Even still, Tarantino as in his other films, likes to put his own spin on history and without revealing too much, the last thirty minutes of this film are among the most satisfying that he has put to the big screen.

It would not be a Tarantino movie without some craziness and shocking moments occurring. One of the best parts of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is the chemistry between Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, a stuntman who does all the dirty work with a smile on his face and Leo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, an actor who is struggling with the notion that his career may be on the downslope.

While the film gets off to a slow start and certain scenes are drawn out way too long, the writing is well-done, the characters are interesting to see develop, and the payoff of the ending is way too satisfying to not recommend this film. Especially if you are a fan of Hollywood history and the era of the 1960’s, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

  1. Blinded by The Light (2019)

blinded_by_the_light_onesheet

Brrrrrruuuuucccceeeeee! Springsteen fans are going to love this film. I know I did and it’s for a couple of reasons. The actors are really likable in this one and the story they’re telling is one as old as time but in a setting and an era that I found pretty compelling. There are some similarities between the coming of age of someone like a Bruce Springsteen and the film’s main character, Javed Khan (played by Viveik Kalra). Even though they are from different countries, different races, and different religious beliefs, there is a universal truth that underlies what Javed and Bruce went through as younger men. Dealing with overprotective or absent fathers, searching for one’s own identity, trying to find true love, and figuring out how to make their dreams come true These are the powerful themes of the film that are timelines across cultures and across borders.

Also timeless is the fight against hatred, bigotry, and intolerance among those who don’t accept others who are different living in their communities. The film is not just about Springsteen’s music and how it relates to a young man’s search for his place in the world but also about a family’s immigrant dream to create a better life for themselves in a community that can be rather cruel and mean at times. Not only is Javed trying to make his dreams come true but his family are also trying to fit in to a town, Luton, where they are minorities, and are discriminated against.

I particularly like how ‘Blinded by The Light’, while it followed the formulaic story of similar films, it has its own identity and its own unique setting and characters that make it a rewarding watch. There are some lessons to be taken from this film beyond just enjoying the music of the Boss. It’s about balancing family responsibilities and your own independence and desires, and also about what your priorities are in life.

Music isn’t everything but it’s the sweet, fulfilling topping that will get you through hard times when things look bleak. That is part of the appeal of Bruce Springsteen’s music and it’s why his music is so powerful and resonant from Asbury Park to Luton and from New York City to London. If you get the chance, see this film even if you don’t like Springsteen. It is more than just a musical and at its core, it’s about the triumph of love over hate and of dreams over despair.

Finding Your Flow State

What’s one thing that all professional athletes, musicians, artists, writers, and anyone devoted to their craft have in common? They have all achieved a ‘flow state’, which is difficult to relate to unless you are fully immersed in terms of what you are pursuing and truly enjoy what you are doing. The flow state is elusive for most people because they either haven’t found their passion in life or haven’t put the time in yet to get better through consistent practice or play. The flow state is a higher state of being because for a point in time, your concentration is matched with your intensity producing a beautiful result.

When you can put other thoughts or other concerns out of your mind to focus on your craft regardless of what it is, you are utilizing your full potential and will be able to achieve a better result for yourself. To outside observers, the flow state looks nearly impossible to accomplish but when you are devoted to art, to music, to sports, or to writing, the final result is nearly guaranteed because you have put blood, sweat, and tears to produce something meaningful.

To me, the flow state is the most optimal state of mind that you can be in because it requires you to be at your best and to perform at the highest level. It’s requires being in a state of movement and using your body in some way to produce an action. You are putting your energy, your concentration, and your focus into a singular goal and it’s inspiring to those people who get to benefit in some way from what you were able to produce. It’s better to be a doer than to be an observer but it can inspire others to find their flow state when you see them do theirs and to do it extremely well.

For example, I was at a popular Jazz club in Mexico City recently and the headliner was a talented Danish guitarist along with a group of local musicians backing him up on the saxophone, the drums, and the Jazz bass. Every one of them was talented at what they do and were in sync generating a group kind of ‘flow state’ that is even more powerful. The thing with a good Jazz group is that you start to yourself get into the ‘flow’ of enjoying the music and moving your body to the rhythm as well.

As someone who played trumpet for 11 years straight and enjoyed the feeling of togetherness and comradery that playing in a Jazz Ensemble can bring, it is impressive to see a group working well together and nailing their parts to achieve their flow state together. To play a musical instrumently proficiently on your own is tough enough, but to work together with different musicians to produce a catchy tune without making any mistakes is as near to a modern-day miracle as it can get.

Musicians thrive off the energy and the drive of others as well as professional athletes and even politicians. It is much harder to achieve a flow state on your own in the solitude of one’s house especially if your craft requires some sort of public attention. Writers and artists tend to be more introverted on average and don’t need the attention of others to achieve an individual flow state. However, there’s something to be said for achieving a group flow state when you’re cheering on a ruthless dunk from a professional basketball player or listening intently in an arena to a Presidential candidate’s stump speech.

People want to believe in the achievements of others, and I know that we prefer to lift each other up rather than to tear each other down. While it’s beneficial to take part in watching other people reach and show off their flow state, you should be trying to find yours every day. You will get much more satisfaction out of life when you are in that mode where you are merging with your craft whether that’s art, music, writing, sports, etc. While it’s fun to cheer others on and take part in their joy, you should always be trying to create a little bit of your own.

Intense concentration and effort is not easy to achieve, but it is extremely rewarding to put your worries and anxieties aside to focus on a singular goal that you want to achieve. It may take hours, days, weeks, months, and even years to get to where you want to be but there is joy to be found in putting away all distractions and devoting yourself to a craft that you enjoy and are able to put serious time into. Our individual potential will not be able to be achieved unless we are able to reach a flow state relating to a kind of creative or intuitive pursuit.

Do your best to try different activities out and see what you like. If you find an activity or an interest you enjoy, continue to add more time to it and you should start to see results. Don’t start to look for monetary rewards or personal fame to keep you going with this pursuit but you should be doing it for yourself primarily and for your desire to reach that state of flow where you can fully immerse yourself in the activity whatever it may be.

You should find happiness and joy in what you do and become the best that you can be at it. If you can enjoy the activity, you’ll eventually find your ‘flow’ with it and be able to do it effortlessly. While you will have a lot of frustration and stress with practicing and doing the activity, if you like it and find it worthwhile, you won’t mind the downsides when the upsides can produce such an intense ‘flow’ where you are in the zone and are able to produce a beautiful result that others will appreciate. Being able to inspire others to reach their own ‘flow state’ creates its own ripple effect allowing our society to become more creative, intuitive, and productive as a result.

Salzburg

img_3303img_3305img_3307img_3313img_3316img_3318img_3320img_3326img_3331img_3334img_3336img_3339img_3353img_3354img_3371

Camera: Canon PowerShot SX710 HS

Location: Salzburg, Austria

Radiohead @ TD Garden

IMG_0908IMG_0910IMG_0895IMG_0885IMG_0840IMG_0872IMG_0852IMG_0846IMG_0862IMG_0879IMG_0868IMG_0855

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States