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

Why Is Having Willpower Important ?

Willpower is a key trait that has an immense effect on our daily lives. Without its presence, we are often at the whim of short-term pleasure, gratification, and sustenance. However, while it is not a trait that is equally shared among each of us, it can be built up over time by achieving bigger and bigger goals. The key thing with having willpower is that you have to start small and work upwards to really make a big impact in your life. Depending upon what goal or result you are trying to achieve, you have to set your willpower to be in line with that timeline to achieve it.

For example, if I want to become a consistent runner to become healthier, should I start out one day with a five-mile run of less than an hour? No, because it’s not necessary and you’ll often suffer for setting your sights too high. If you’re just starting out with it, it’s best to build up your willpower over time by building up your capacity and your progress. Having long-term willpower takes short-term success and this example is no different really from others.

If I am just starting out with running, I don’t go for five miles at first and almost an hour of running. You want to start small and build up to your final goal of five miles. It may take you a month or two to reach it, but you will be satisfied knowing that you got out of the house and achieved something. Perhaps in the first week, you ran once for ten minutes and it was a little over a mile within your neighborhood. That is something to be proud of! You need that initial spark to keep the flame within you rising over time.

Building up your willpower requires incremental change that is often measured and compared with your results getting better and better over time. After that first week, maybe you run twice the second week and run each time for 15 minutes for 1 ½ miles. Then, by the third and fourth week, you build up to three times a week for about 20 minutes. By the end of the first month, you should get to about the halfway point or more by running a couple of times per week for about a half an hour.

Sometimes, your goals such as running five miles may take a month, three months, or even a year. Everybody is different but having a basic sense of willpower will help launch your goals forward and keep you on a path where you are changing yourself a bit at a time. Thinking yourself as a failure for not reaching your given goal after a few weeks, a month, or even a couple of months is immensely counterproductive. Each week, you want to be making strides to build up your willpower as a muscle that is constantly flexed out to become stronger over time.

Consistency is key for becoming better with willpower and it also comes with exercising restraint. You have to be aware also of the consequences of your actions ahead of time. Eating chocolate ice cream before bed might feel really good in the short-term but you might not be able to fall asleep that easily and wake up the next day feeling hydrated and groggy. You know it feels really good to take out your phone when you’re out with friends to get a small dopamine hit of attention but you know you might be disappointing the people you’re out with and consciously decide to keep that phone in your pocket or purse.

Having good willpower, in my opinion, takes both consistency and awareness. You have to be consistent in building it up over time like you would with your muscles by working out at the gym. The second part is a lot more difficult in that you have to be aware of the consequences of your actions when you fail to exercise your willpower as you would normally. You also should not be too hard on yourself when building up your willpower. There will be times when you fail, when you get discouraged, when you feel like giving up but don’t.

Give yourself time to decompress, to relax, and to think about how you can improve with it. On those days you fail, think consciously about why it is you failed and how you can succeed in the future. You don’t have to be striving to be better 100% of the time with your will but if you can put in more than average effort over time, then you will definitely see positive results. When you commit yourself to a goal, stay at it and realize that consistent action and knowledge of the consequences of doing nothing will help see you forward.

Perhaps most importantly, find those family members and friends willing to support you with whatever you’re going to do. If you have a positive goal for yourself and you want their support, they should definitely be behind you and giving you words of encouragement. If they want to track your progress with you, then they should be able to do so to hold you accountable. Without pressuring you too much or faulting you for coming up short, please make sure that they are behind you for the right reasons. If you want to better yourself in some way and reach your goals by improving your willpower, they should want that for you and not judge you for making that your personal prerogative.

Willpower is important for a number of reasons but the main one is because it is the key to unlocking your full potential. It all starts with your mind and your decision to change something about yourself. Exercising your willpower is definitely like exercising your muscles. You have to do it consistently and with good effort to start achieving noticeable results. You have to be aware of what your final goal is and to strive towards reaching it. Even if you fall short, you can take pride in knowing that you are now better off than you were a few weeks ago, a few months ago, or even a few years ago. You can see that your willpower is improving when you start to see incremental progress in where you are at as opposed to where you were when you started. Each conscious effort we do each day takes some amount of willpower and that is why it is so important to improve upon.

Whether it is going to the gym, having a healthier diet, learning a new language, taking better care of your home or apartment, willpower is a key part of achieving any of these measurable goals. Without exercising your willpower, you will not go anywhere with these practical goals. You have to be willing to sacrifice some short-term pleasures to achieve these long-term results. You may have to cut a few people out of your life as well if they are not supportive of your goals or actively preventing you from reaching them. You also may find that your own identity will change because of your newfound habits but that I believe is a good thing as we cannot stay stagnant throughout our lives and must always be moving forward.