Tom’s Music Salon: Brazilian Music vs. Latin Music

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caetanoBrazilian music always gets lumped into the Latin music category when it is so completely different. I see this when I serve each year on the NARAS Grammy Screening Committee, when Latin divisions of record companies put out Brazilian albums that never get any attention from Spanish radio which (mostly) focuses on regional Mexican music, and these are just two examples.

Years ago, Caetano Veloso put out a great CD of boleros (love songs) called “Fina Estampa.”  Sure, he sang in accented Spanish that native speakers might not care for, but the record came out on a major label (Mercury), part of the Polygram conglomerate. Caetano has had a huge following among college stations and aficionados for years —  but this CD went to Spanish stations, which at the time was only interested in Selena or the Fernandes’ dynasty.  No college airplay.  No airplay on Spanish stations.  No sales or nada for Caetano.  The record got buried and forgotten.  Few people came to his concert where he performed these classic old boleros.

brazil-mapLet’s look back in time, way back: In 1494 Pope Alexander VI, knowing that Spain and Portugal were both carving up the new world for their Crowns and would probably be warring with each other, divided up the new world in what is known as the Treaty of Tordesillas.  In what was known of the then-New World, Spain got Central and South America and Portugal got Indian and West Africa.

Brazil was the exception—it went to Portugal.  The Pope did this by measuring out latitudes and longitudes, even though little geographic knowledge existed at the time. And so Brazil, which Caetano called “the great Other,” was surrounded by Spanish territory, spoke another language, and was culturally isolated from the rest of South America.

Spanish-speaking radio has a tight and limited playlist.  Not only Brazilian music, which is still thought of as Latin music, but also albums by the fiery and amazing singer Buika, singing classics by iconic Mexican singer Chavela Vargas — they receive no airplay at all.  And yet the record companies will not service stations like KCRW with these albums.  No airplay on Spanish stations, no service to KCRW. It’s an unfortunate situation that may not change any time soon.

— Tom Schnabel

** Editor’s Note: I asked Tom to shed some light on this topic when I mistakenly called a Brazilian musician a “Latin artist.” You should have seen the look on his face and I’m so glad we have someone with this kind of expertise on board here at KCRW to correct neophytes like myself!

Tom will be teaching another series of music salons where you can learn all types of information about world music and beyond. Everyone who has taken his classes, held at his Venice home, raves about them (include KCRW DJ Anne Litt!). They will be held on six Tuesdays starting June 15 and you can find more information here.