Brazil’s Dreamer

Scott Saul in the Boston Review:

ChicobI’m drawn to ponder the singular music of the cuíca, the drum that is no mere drum, as I reflect on the expansive career of Chico Buarque, an intellectual who is no mere intellectual. Arguably Brazil’s most cherished living artist—in 1999 he was voted the country’s “musician of the century” by a Brazilian newsweekly—Buarque remains relatively unknown in the English-speaking world, perhaps because our culture has too little imagination to accommodate a composer-lyricist who is also a playwright and novelist of note, no frame of reference for an artist who has learned equally from Carnival and Kafka, bossa nova and Brecht. In Brazil, his first name is synonymous with works that offer an improbable amalgam of wit and integrity—with a body of music that ranges between self-questioning sambas, lushly melodic love songs, and topical songs circling around the fate of the working poor; with plays that rewrite the Western repertory (Medea, The Threepenny Opera) in a Brazilian key; and with novels that, drawing upon Kafka’s parables of entrapment, marry existential seriousness with a playful affection for exposing the devices of narrative. Faced with an oeuvre that encompasses over 300 songs, four plays, four novels, and a few films to boot, the aspiring Chico-ologist in the United States would do well, ironically, to begin with his fiction, which not only is easier to find in translation but also offers revealing clues about the unforgiving yet dream-like world his art evokes.

More here.