Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Planet Sampa

This is what 11 million people looks like.

19 million if you count metro area.

But it could just as easily be 30, 40 million. The whole planet Earth. From up here, you doubt São Paulo ever ends.

Manhattan high-rises sprawling like Los Angeles County. NY vertical x LA horizontal. It's a terrifying equation.

I caught a winter cold in Buenos Aires last weekend, but haven't been able to shake it despite the balmy weather (I'm in the sub-sub-sub-tropics: the Tropic of Capricorn passes somewhere through the north side of the city, maybe 5-10 miles from where I am now). Could be that thick haze hanging above everything. 2:1 car to resident ratio.

A lazy stream of white pollution curling past the reflection of the midday sun on the River Tietê. It stank like some of the filthier parts of Rio I've had the misfortune of ending up in. They also happen to be the banks of the Universidade de São Paulo, considered to be possibly the best university in Latin America.

But that's Sampa for you. Flowers in the midst of the ruins.

The Municipal Theatre, headquarters of the Semana de Arte Moderna '22, a week-long spectacle that announced to Brazilian culture: modernism is here, it's here to stay, and its home is São Paulo. Cariocas will still say that if it doesn't happen in Rio, it doesn't happen (cf the names of their daily newspapers, O Globo and O Jornal do Brasil). But the truth of the matter is that SP is the country's cultural engine (&economic, &industrial, &demographic, &well the list goes on). It's now home to São Paulo Fashion Week and the São Paulo Art Biennial is the second longest-running in the world next to Venice. Rio's enduring tourist mythology may make it the prime candidate for hosting sports events, but the truth of the matter, as much of a Rio partisan as I am, São Paulo breathes Brazilian modernity and visions of the future. This is a city where buildings that date from the 1950s are considered old. Where there are still cranes wedging more construction into already dense areas.

Where the trains still run: the rail infrastructure in Brazil collapsed under the dictatorship, but the Estado de São Paulo still holds theirs together (any & all public transportation always in desperate need here).

Legendary traffic. Once a week, depending on your license plate, you're prohibited from driving. City choked (poisoned? depends who you ask) with cars & people. No wonder the highest per capita helicopter fleet in the world. Skimming the treetops of fear. City of Brazilian zeitgeist: modernism--futurism--hedonism? But always driven by fear. The Brazilian future of the world.

Voices bubbling up from the outskirts. The dreaded "periferia." Racionais MCs -- to speak out is to serve as the voice of reason. Give the helicopter&gates crowd something else to fear.

Racionais MCs - Pânico na Zona Sul

Sparse production, just a running funky bass line. "Justiceiros são chamados por eles mesmos / Matam humilham e dão tiros a esmo / E a polícia não demonstra sequer vontade (Hired killers as they call themselves / Kill, humiliate, and shoot at random / And the police doesn't show any will to stop them)." Guess who opened for Public Enemy when they came to São Paulo?

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At 8/23/2007 7:22 PM, Blogger atp said...

True story: They banned outdoor advertising in Sao Paulo.

At 8/29/2007 1:34 AM, Blogger gregzinho said... strange that I didn't even notice. maybe I'm not paying as much attention to the urban environment as I should be (or I really have been tuning out ads all that time). Rio's chock full of them . . . a lot of the more local ads, especially for events, use this design style that I really enjoy. I've got some pictures to post.


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