Brasil vs Brazil! The 's' vs 'z' Debate

Screen shot 2013-04-01 at 12.27.44 PMThere is a polemical issue in the halls of production at Uma Nota Culture. Is it Brasil with an "s" or Brazil with a "z"?Essentially, in the English language, Brazil is normally and properly spelt with a "z" and in Portuguese it is spelled with an "s." Our resident editor and word form stickler Jonathan Rothman insists that since the accepted form in English is with a "z" then we should stick with this. The argument: if people are to take us seriously in press releases and the media etc., then we have to show we can spell.The more outlandish me thinks this is ridiculous and that language is an living form of expression, and as artists and authors of our own content we have the creative licence to push the accepted conventions in the pursuit of recreating symbolic associations and piqueing the interest of the public. I mean, c'mon, the name of our jam and festival is Uma Nota! I see it as a way of introducing a more worldly forms into the the Anglo camps of cool urban-ness.But what exactly is the origin of this confusion of Brasil vs Brazi? Well, the name Brasil for the country comes from pau-brasil or brazil wood, which used to be the country's main resource for export in early colonial times.BrazilvBrasil.1OK fine, but what about the spelling? This was due to some historical confusion and a lack of (gulp) accepted form. I remember finding a coin once in Belo Horizonte that dated from the 1870s and the wording was "Brazil." How could this be? well after some digging I found some info on the about page of the Brasilia municipality:

The Brazilian Academy of Letters was founded only in 1897; until then, there was not any official institution in Brazil to issue norms on orthograhy (the Academy took over that function); besides, only a small fraction of Brazilian society had access to education.As a consequence, as there was not an "official" or "correct" definition on how to spell it, some people used to write "Brazil", while others used "Brasil."

BrazilvBrasil.2Above: The bill to the left dates back to 1917. Notice the inscription "Republica dos Estados Unidos" at the top, and the "do Brazil" right under it. However, this other bill to the right, printed in 1921, brings the inscription "Republica dos Estados Unidos do Brasil". This confusion lasted until 1945, when Brazil and Portugal met and agreed on the first Orthographic Vocabulary of Portuguese Language; such vocabulary defined the form "Brasil."And there we have it: the Anglo world kept using Brazil with "z" because, , we suppose, that is what they were used to doing.The debate inside Uma Nota Culture, and indeed among all lovers of Brazilian culture (the infamous "brasilphiles") continues.What do you think? Please leave your comments below. 

Uma Nota Festival Review!

Well, after a brief  hiatus on the website content tip ... we are back! We needed a little break before we rev up for a bold new year of cultural production.The Uma Nota Festival 2012 was a big success. The second year saw some major growth in outlook and perspective of the festival. We can say that we took a foray into a bigger scale with our "World Funk" flagship event at Great Hall, featuring three bands! Asiko Afrobeat Ensemble, Mar Aberto SoundSystem, and Sound One all tore it up on the stage and got the dance floor shaking. DJs General Eclectic and Dos Mundos kept the beats moving through the night.This year saw a partnership between the Brazilian Film Festival and Uma Nota Culture. We presented several films at the Royal Cinema. At Revival Bar Sunday night, we presented our festival closing act, direct from Rio de Janeiro, Pedro Luís, fresh with a new album. Our Sunday daytime Community Cultural Fair at the Supermarket in Kensington was a grand success with several workshops, performances and many families enjoying great food and caipirinhas! The friendly crowd was treated to performances by Ruben Esguerra's A New Tradition, Jô Lutério and her roda de samba crew, and Maria Bonita and the Band.We'd like to thank all the festival volunteers, the incredibly talented artists that were featured at the festival and the amazing people who come out to Uma Nota and participate with no pretensions and with eyes, ears and dancing shoes towards a fun time! And ... of course we'd like to thank the sponsors, without whom as the saying goes, there would be no festival! Thanks go to Pitú, ChocoSol, Hansa Language Center and Mellohawk Logistics.Check out some of our pictures.UPDATE: New post: Watch videos from the World Funk flagship event at Great Hall! (Photo: Negin Bahrami)

Tropicalia, transformation and magic

When we first heard tell of a tropicalismo project happening in Toronto, we wanted to know if it was real, and if it would last. Not long after that, Tropicalia, the group of musicians and friends brought together by Brazilian popular music from the '60s and '70s, has opened doors on both sides of the city's music scene. Brazilians with a special spot for the tunes Tropicalia delivers live -- including covers of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Os Mutantes and Os Novos Baianos -- gain a new window into the indie rock, experimental and fresh younger players gaining ground; meanwhile some of the previously unindoctrinated 20somethings begin to discover not only the music of the tropicalia genre, but the pure fun and general beleza of what a Brazilian style live show can be. Their latest gig clocks in just around the group's two-year anniversary and finds the group amid a time of striking change and rebirth. The show is billed as "Tropicalia's last show before like a chrysalis they undergo metamorphosis and emerge from the cocoon with antenna and eye-spotted wings."We put it to to lead singer, borboleta in chief and the band's musa, Amy Medvick, to give us the goods on Tropicalia.[UPDATE: New post January 2013: Os Tropies revive Tropicalia in Toronto (February 2013 weekly residency at The Piston for the release of the group's EP TROPICALIA!)]Building a tropicalia band in Toronto

This project spent a long time as an idea, a fantasy. Between myself, our keyboardist Dave Atkinson, and our most recent addition to the band on drums, Fraser McEvoy, there had been this sharing of Brazilian music of all kinds over a period of several years (and cities!). The music from the tropicalia movement always had a special appeal for each of us, and I think we each had our own fantasies of performing this music, as unlikely and untenable as that seemed at the time. Eventually Dave and I, both living and working as musicians in Toronto, were in a position to start it up for real. We weren’t sure exactly who would come and see us play this obscure style of music, or even who was going to play in the band! But I had a feeling the right people would materialize and they sure enough did, and always have. Shortly after we agreed to make it happen, we found and collected the rest of the original members, including our guitarist Graham Campbell and our percussionist Eric Woolston (we arrived at our current line-up with the later additions of Carlie Howell on bass and Fraser on drums). Though the original idea was just to do a couple of shows for kicks, we did our first gig for a lovely, supportive audience of fellow tropicalia fans — who were singing along to the Portuguese lyrics without understanding a word! It was a very inspiring thing, and from that first show I knew we had hit on something that people were going to respond to, obscurity and foreign-language not withstanding.

Approaching a semi-obscure genre within the Brazilian music universe ... from Toronto

I think both our biggest advantage and disadvantage are one and the same thing— the genre itself, specifically the fact that it is relatively unfamiliar to the general population both in Brazil and Canada. Depending on the venue or event, people who haven’t been exposed to what tropicalismo is all about can be a bit confused by the mix of pysch rock, “Latin” rhythms, Portuguese lyrics and unmitigated wackiness. However, there is a die-hard core of people who love this music and love seeing it played live. With the release of several compilations of the tropicalia classics, the genre is becoming more well known, and the sounds of the music, if not the names, are spreading even further into facets of the popular music scene here in Toronto. We were lucky that we started up at the exact moment when the fans of the style were enough to build an audience, but no one else here was playing this music. And we have watched as enthusiasm for tropicalia has spread throughout our community over the two years we have been playing it.

 Reining in wild, busy musiciansYou know, every band has its challenges but I feel like we have been truly blessed. Musically we have always had the energy and the ability to play this stuff. The personnel has changed a bit over the last two years, but never for lack of talent or love. The only issue has been working with super talented people who are very busy! It can be wild working to hold such a dynamic group of people in one place for very long, but love for the music has kept us together and kept us going no matter how crazy the rest of our lives get, and the musical rewards are never lacking.Covers, purity, singing in Farsi: Tropicalia's take on tropicalia (or tropicalismo)

We started out mostly playing covers. We are definitely not purists, but we tend to stick close to the originals — why fix what’s already uncontrollably awesome? On the other hand, as I spent time learning more of these psychedelic tunes, my writing naturally started to incorporate those sounds. It was only a couple of months before we started bringing in original material, and now we have enough to play a set of only originals if we wanted to, with contributions from myself and our guitar player, Graham Campbell. We have also done a few covers from outside the tropicalia genre, although always bearing a strong relationship to what we are doing. For example, sometimes we play the aptly titled Beck song, Tropicalia, giving our audience something a bit more familiar or accessible that still references our main inspiration. On the other hand, more recently I brought in a song from what I think of as the psychedelic era of Iran, a tune called Mano Tou by legendary Persian singer Googoosh. I had been checking out this whole new genre of music and I started to get the feeling that they had been checking out some Brazilian music. So I thought I would complete the circle, so to speak, and bring in a tune to Tropicalia. Singing in Farsi was a challenge, but a blast— I always love to sink my teeth into a new set of sounds in a new language!

The real thrill of performance

I don’t know if there has been one performance highlight in particular, we have had a lot of great moments, if I don’t say so myself! My favourite moments, however, are always when we have a certain balance in our audience— some people who know and love us well, some who know what we are about and are curious to hear us for the first time, and some who have no idea what they are about to hear. When that balance is there and the energy on stage is right, I can feel the impact of the first notes on the audience, like a shockwave, and I see folks start to get excited. It’s really thrilling when that can happen.

... these days you are more and more likely to see me getting on stage dressed up as Queen Cleopatra or writing tunes about having a love affair with a Caveman. I think it all works in this style… Jorge Ben was writing about the Taj Mahal and desert nomads, the Mutantes about Don Quixote, and Ney Matogrosso was singing about the women of Athens while decked out in feathers and gold. I want us to continue the journey back in time into those fantasy worlds.


Feathers and gold: Transformative magic, new directionsWe are about to go through a bit of a transformation… We are working up to the release of our first EP, and with that we are also going to be changing the band name to represent our new direction. Our focus is shifting from being primarily a cover/tribute band to working more on original material. Of course, I don’t think we will ever give up playing our favourite Os Mutantes or Novos Baianos tunes, its way too much fun! But writing in this style is truly exciting and liberating. I feel like there really isn’t any territory that isn’t open to a tropicalista, now more than ever. I’m writing in equal parts English and Portuguese and incorporating anything that inspires me. I have always drawn a lot of inspiration from ancient history and pre-history, and recently I have been looking at ways to work this into my own writing and performance aesthetic. So these days you are more and more likely to see me getting on stage dressed up as Queen Cleopatra or writing tunes about having a love affair with a Caveman. I think it all works in this style… Jorge Ben was writing about the Taj Mahal and desert nomads, the Mutantes about Don Quixote, and Ney Matogrosso was singing about the women of Athens while decked out in feathers and gold. I want us to continue the journey back in time into those fantasy worlds. Tropicalismo is full of transformative magic, expect to see us take full advantage of that!Tropicalia is Amy Medvick, David Atkinson, Graham Campbell, Carlie Howell, Fraser McEvoy, and Eric Woolston.Tropicalia plays the Piston (apparently for the last time as Tropicalia) on Wednesday, August 8 in Toronto[UPDATE: New post January 2013: Os Tropies revive Tropicalia in Toronto (February 2013 weekly residency at The Piston for the release of the group's EP TROPICALIA!)]

Essencia Festival 2012 in São Paulo

Our amiga Gilda Monreal, AKA Fiya, is one of the most progressive and active artists for social justice we know. She works in film, theatre and visual arts, where these days she focuses on graffiti and street art. With connections and projects on the go in Toronto, Montreal and across Latin America, she managed to also help run a giant international hip-hop and street art festival last month in São Paulo. We asked her to tell us all about it, so here's her take. The International Essencia Festival 2012 hit the streets of São Paulo, Brazil this past month. As the Director of International Relations and Multimedia, I was coming into this festival from the outside, from Canada. And I have to admit that I was overwhelmed, in the best way possible, with this festival, and that I'm still trying to assimilate the experience that was Essencia SP 2012. I can definitely say it was one of the most powerful large scale co-creations I have actualized so far with my sister Shalak (Elisa Monreal, Director of Essencia São Paulo 2012), and Brazilian brother-in law Smoky (Bruno Revitte, General Co-ordinator). Thankfully, Shalak got to Brazil earlier and worked her magic in São Paulo, laying the ground work for what would be one of the best experiences we've had.Each year this nomadic hip hop festival moves to a different country, creating a space for international artists to exchange knowledge and experience. Essencia also looks to celebrate the four elements in an effort to raise awareness about our natural resources. This year’s theme was dedicated to Earth, and resulted in a powerful and beautiful ode to Mother Nature. This year united five continents and featured top artists from Australia, Brazil, Chile, Canada, France, Senegal, the Philippines, and the United States.In collaboration with Brazil-based artists and organizations, Essencia put on an intense week of hip hop concerts, b-boy competitions, art gallery exhibitions, youth workshops, and graffiti jams resulting in large scale murals around the city. With over 80 artists and 300 participants, the festival garnered international attention for its artistry, community engagement, and ability to unite international artists to raise awareness on Mother Earth.It is also important to note that Essencia is completely independent, grass roots, and auto financed with our hearts and souls. By hearts and souls, I mean that the Essencia Festival exists because we, the entire Essencia Arts Collective, believe that great things can be born from communities coming together and working to achieve a goal. And every time, Essencia has shown us that it connects with people, inspires them, and comes alive.This year, the one thing we did not predict would happen, and that we are so grateful for, is the impressive number of people in São Paulo who with open arms welcomed the festival. Dozens of artists, organizations, cultural centers, along with hundreds of participants supported, contributed to and helped to make this festival possible.Essencia -- Fiya works on a mural with kidsThis collaborative energy-synergy is what made Essencia come to life. It is also what created a unique space that went beyond a show case of artists, it became a space of connection between artists, communities and youth. In the last couple of days of the festival there were moments where public tears and hugs were shared (of grown men and women), and it became clear that the festival had become more about unity, education, community empowerment, and love.Essencia muralFor the trust, sincerity and energy that each artist and participant gave, we are ever so grateful, it was a gift for us.

The Essencia exhibit is currently being held at the Matilha Cultural Art Gallery, where the art work of 35 international and local artists went on display on April 3, and will remain on display until May 12. The Essencia Art Collective looks forward to bringing the festival back to Canada in 2013!

For further information about Essencia and the exhibition visit: and All photos by Ratão Diniz