By breaking down the conventional boundaries between music and noise, speech and music, and geographical borders, Hermeto subverts the very idea of a Brazilian nationalistic music. His music attacks the modernist concept of “authentic” Brazilian musical expression. Yet he is enigmatic. His vision is highly personal and unique among Brazilian musicians. He does not deny his Brazilianness, instead celebrating it through his continuing use of sounds and genres culled from the environment of his youth. In his rejection of Geraldo Vandré and Quarteto Novo’s nationalistic ideology, Hermeto signaled that he refused to be defined by outside terminologies, aesthetics, or philosophical constructs. In a Bakhtinian sense, Hermeto’s music acts centrifugally, pulling against the centripetal forces of the culture industry that would have us gloss Brazilian music into a few convenient marketing categories such as: MPB, samba, bossa nova, musicá sertaneja, afoxé, baião and so on. Into this essentialized world steps Hermeto in all his untidy, unrestrained glory, refusing to conform to a single genre or stable musical identity. Hermeto’s anti–essentialism works to subvert the forces of musical–“ideological centralization and unification” (Bakhtin 1981:272), ensuring that “the uninterrupted processes of decentralization and disunification go forward” (ibid.).
For me, the great accomplishment of Hermeto Pascoal is his capacity and willingness to make music with anyone, regardless of their experience or ability. I have witnessed Hermeto organize participatory music making on many occasions, whether it be musicians sitting in with his band, audience participation, or jam sessions at his house or at parties. There is always a feeling of openness, of inclusion. Whether creating a piece with tuned bottles played by New York’s finest studio musicians, or organizing percussion jams with silverware and matchboxes in a restaurant, singing with his birds, creating som da aura pieces from found sources or live animals, Hermeto is a whirlwind of creative activity. His groups have been extensions of, and even members of his family, recreating, as Luiz Neto believes, the extended northeastern family network. His use of kitchen utensils and everyday objects, as another friend pointed out, brings the house to the streets, unifying and laying bare the public and the private worlds. He plays with various tropes of Brazilianness, even denying the existence of a Brazilian music while at the same time demonstrating the vitality of the Brazilian artistic expression.
© 2017. Andrew. M. Connell. All rights reserved