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Brazil's First Openly Gay Singer

By Ernest Barteldes

cazuza1.jpg - 17.18 K Every generation has its poet. In the early eighties, the poet of that decade, Cazuza, emerged with a whole new sound and strange new words which revolutionized rock and roll in Brazil, a country that was about to break free from twenty years of military dictatorship and was hungry for freedom of speech.

The year was 1982. It is difficult, in these days of hurried communications, for some to understand what Brazil was going through. Its citizens saw ugly times when artists and intellectuals were thrown in jail or forced into exile simply for speaking their minds.

Composers played with words to confuse the censors and to assure their songs were released. Three years earlier, military President Joao Figueiredo had announced a total amnesty to those who had, in the days of the military intervention (1964), "conspired against the country."

Not only that, but the press was also freer, and general elections, which hadn't happened for ages, were called during that year.

In those times of changes a new band, Barão Vermelho (Red Baron, named after the famed WW1 fighter pilot) released their debut album. On vocals was Agenor Miranda Araújo Neto, best known for his nickname, Cazuza.

The record had a savage sound not only because of the band but also because of a poor quality Recording. But soon the band garnered thousands of fans, despite of the fact that radio stations refused to play the record.

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One of the songs, "Todo Amor Que Houver Nessa Vida"(All The Love There'd Be In This Life), showcased the amazing lyrical powers of the young composer:

"E ser artista no nosso convívio
Pelo inferno e céu de todo dia
Pra poesia que a gente não vive
Transformar o tédio em melodia
Ser teu pão, ser tua comida
Todo amor que houver nessa vida
E algum veneno anti-monotonia..."

(To be an artist in our midst/Through our everyday heaven and hell/For the poetry we don't live/To transform boredom into melody/Be your bread,your food/All the love there'd be in this life/And some anti-boredom poison...)

The song was hailed by Caetano Veloso, one of Brazil's most important composers and also one of Cazuza's idols. Veloso himself criticized radio stations for not playing the band's songs.

Barão Vermelho

In 1983, the band recorded its second album, which , from Cazuza's point of view, was "overproduced". The highlight of the album was a song of sexual innuendo, "Pro Dia Nascer Feliz"( To Make The Day Start Happy), which was publicly appreciated by Ney Matogrosso ( one of the country's most respected and controversial singers who was for some time Cazuza's lover). The band reached a wider audience and then became a nationwide phenomenon. Even today the band's surviving members perform the song:

Todo dia é dia
E tudo em nome do amor
Essa é a vida que eu quis
Procurando vaga
Uma hora aqui, outra ali
No vai-e-vem dos teus quadris

(Every day is a day for making love/And all in the name of love/This is the life I've wanted/ Finding a space/Sometimes here, sometimes there/ In the movement of your hips)

In 1984, Barao Vermelho released a third album, which was the group's most successful until then. Numerous were the hits, but the sound of the band reflected a more commercial bent than it had.

One of its biggest hits, "Bete Balanço", was composed for a long-forgotten film with the same name. The film, however, lifted the band to national fame, and in January 1985 it participated in one of rock's largest events, the Rock in Rio festival. There, a large number of bands congregated to produce ten days of music. Some of the major attractions of the festival were the late Freddie Mercury's Queen, Al Jarreau, Iron Maiden, AC/DC and others. Barão Vermelho, barely three years old, was making rock and roll history.

Cazuza, however, was not satisfied. Being an only child, he was not at ease sharing the glories of fame with his bandmates. In July of 1985, Cazuza left the band's mike to lead a highly successful but short solo career, while Barao Vermelho flew on their own.

The split was, however, a friendly one, and the songwriting partnership of Cazuza and his former band mates went on. Even today, ten years after his passing, Barao Vermelho guitarist Roberto Frejat occasionally puts music to Cazuza's unreleased poems.

His first album, simply labeled "Cazuza", sounded lighter than most of the band's albums, but nevertheless had the familiar flavor Cazuza and his band.

An immediate hit was "Exagerado", containing a lyric in which the poet exaggerates everything for the affection of his lover. Very poignant were "Codinome Beija-Flor"(Code name: Hummingbird), a slow ballad in which a secret lover grieves the end of an affair:

Eu protegi teu nome por amor
Em um codinome, Beija-flor
Não responda nunca, meu amor (nunca)
Pra qualquer um na rua, Beija-flor
Que só eu que podia
Dentro da tua orelha fria
Dizer segredos de liquidificador ...

(I protected your name for love/By using a code-name, hummingbird/Reply to no one, my love, never/ To anyone in the street- hummingbird/Since only I could say/ Inside your cold ear/Secrets of the blender)

However, the most shocking lyric was, undoubtedly, "Só As Mães São Felizes"(Only Mothers are Happy). The song itself is a tribute to his favorite poets, such as Allen Ginsberg, Rimbaud and especially the Beat writer Jack Kerouac:

Você nunca sonhou
Ser currada por animais
Nem transou com cadáveres?
Nunca traiu teu melhor amigo
Nem quis comer a tua mãe?

Só as mães são felizes...

(Haven't you ever dreamed/of being raped by animals/Nor have you had sex with corpses/Haven't you ever betrayed your best friend/Or wished to have fucked your mother?/Only mothers are happy...)

Cazuza in the studio during the late 1980s

The song was censored and subsequently forbidden for public performances. Not until 1988 did Cazuza perform the song again, once censorship was banned that year. At that time, he fell ill and was subsequently tested for AIDS, which came in negative. At that time, as we all know, tests weren't as precise as they are today. His subsequent album , "Só Se For A Dois"( Only if It's For Two) was a huge hit, and Cazuza was finally recognized as the talent he had.

At that time, however, he already knew he had AIDS. Before starting the "Só se for a dois" tour, he had again fallen ill and had taken a new test. The confirmation of the virus would both transform his life and career.

In October 1987 Cazuza was again hospitalized, so his parents decided to take him to Boston to undergo AIDS treatment. He spent two months there, and on his return he recorded one of his most important works, "Ideologia"(Ideology).

That album contained songs with acid lyrics mostly written during his hospital stay. The title song, co-written with Barao Vermelho guitarist Roberto Frejat, was half apologetic, half accusatory:

O meu prazer
Agora é risco de vida
Meu sex and drugs não tem nenhum rock 'n' roll
Eu vou pagar a conta do analista
Pra nunca mais ter que saber quem sou eu
Pois aquele garoto que ia mudar o mundo
Agora assiste a tudo em cima do muro
Meus heróis morreram de overdose
Meus inimigos estão no poder
Eu quero uma pra viver

(My pleasure is now a risk of life/My sex and drugs have no rock and roll/I will pay the shrink's bill/So I don't ever have to know who I am/ For that kid who was going to change the world/Now watches it full of doubt/My heroes O.D.'d and died/My enemies are now in power/Ideology/I need one to live)

The album, full of criticism, has also a lighter side."Faz Parte do Meu Show"(It's a part of my show), a Bossa-Nova that pays tribute to Vinicius de Morais, Tom Jobim and Others.The lyrics are beautiful:

Confundo as tuas coxas
Com as de outras moças
Te mostro toda a dor
Te faço um filho
Te dou outra vida
Pra te mostrar quem sou
Vago na lua deserta
Das pedras do Arpoador
Digo alô ao inimigo
Encontro um abrigo
No peito do meu traidor

Faz parte do meu show, meu amor

(I mix your thighs with those of other girls/I show you all the pain/ I make you a baby/I give you another life/to show you who I am/ I wander under the empty moon/around the beach's rocks/ I say hello to an enemy/I find comfort / in the bosom of a traitor/It's part of my show, my love)

The cover of the album mixes swastikas, David's star and peace signs, illustrating the confusion of the singer's mind and also to look provocative. On the other side, a picture of a much thinner Cazuza - a result of his illness. By that time, he had already admitted he was gay.

He then went on a successful tour, which had as result packed theaters and increasing sales of "Ideologia" - which reached 500,000 , a high number for local sales.

The tour climaxed with the release of a live album, "O Tempo Não Para"(Time Waits for No-One), which also became a TV special for Globo TV. The CD opens with a new song, with the album's title. The lyrics show the poet's urgency and pain:

Eu não tenho data pra comemorar
Às vezes os meus dias são de par em par
Procurando agulha no palheiro
Nas noites de frio é melhor nem nascer
Nas de calor, se escolhe: é matar ou morrer
E assim nos tornamos brasileiros
Te chamam de ladrão, de bicha, maconheiro
Transformam o país inteiro num puteiro
Pois assim se ganha mais dinheiro
A tua piscina tá cheia de ratos
Tuas idéias não correspondem aos fatos
O tempo não pára

(I have no date to celebrate/sometimes my days are from pair to pair/Looking for something I can't find/On cold nights you'd better not even be born/On the hot ones, you kill or you die/ And so we become Brazilian/ They say you're a thief,a fag, a junkie/They turn the whole country into a whorehouse/An so they make more money/Your swimming pool is full of rats/ Your ideas do not make sense/Time waits for no-one.)

The tour was a trying one. In the meantime, he finally publicly admitted that he had AIDS (the first Brazilian artist to do so), which came as no surprise to his fans. After his last performance, in Recife, he returned to Rio in a wheelchair, and not giving in to his illness, he began work in a new album, which would be his last, to be named "Burguesia"(Bourgeoise).

He was well aware that his time was limited, so he gave his all into the production of the album. He sang laying on a couch, since he didn't have enough strength to stand up. The result was a double album with aggressive new songs on the first and covers of some of his favorite Brazilian composers, such as Caetano Veloso and Herbert Vianna.

His voice sounded as hoarse as ever, and in some of them his voice is almost inaudible.

Cazuza (left) with his mother and Ezequiel Neves In the words of the producer, Ezequiel Neves, "The recording studio technicians acted horribly. As he sang lying down, the microphones were terribly misplaced, since any day could be the last one and the record might never be released. It was a, to put it bluntly, cruel production. I can only find comparisons in inaudible works of art such as, for example, Ornette Colleman's Double Quartet and Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music."

The cover showed an almost unrecognizable Cazuza: almost skin and bone, and with a tired face. The record is, indeed, a document made by someone who simply would not give in to death, but musically, it is something only for die-hard fans. The title song attacked middle-class values, but, due to its sound, did not become a hit. Critics were, however, respectfully silent, and did not trash the album.

In October 1989, after a four-month alternative treatment in São Paulo,Cazuza for the last time went to Boston, where he was hospitalized until March of the following year. His health was already extremely delicate and at that stage there was not much that could be done. Thus he died, a little later--on the 7th of July, 1990.

Not long after his death, Polygram released yet another album, comprised of leftovers from the mammoth "Burguesia" sessions with some other unreleased songs.

Of course other posthumous releases followed, a couple of tribute albums came out over the years, and some unreleased songs were recorded by numerous singers. More recently, the flamboyant Ney Matogrosso recorded yet another new Cazuza-Frejat song.

Cazuza's legacy is a broad one. His music is still very popular and inspires both new and established artists nationwide. His former band, Barão Vermelho, is still highly active after eighteen years and has just released an MTV-produced ballad album and is presently on tour.

Shortly after Cazuza's death, his mother, Lucinha Araújo, set up an officially registered non-profit organization called the Viva Cazuza society. Their goal is to "direct help in all areas towards the assistence of HIV infected patients". The Viva Cazuza society is maintained by royalties from Cazuza's songs and by donations from anyone willing to help.

The organization accepts donations of medicines, non-perishable foods, cleaning products, clothing and toys. Donations can be sent to :

Rua Pinheiro Machado 39, Laranjeiras Rio de Janeiro-RJ. 22231-090 - Brazil

Money can be deposited to their bank account at:

Banco Bradesco Branch: 0887-7 Account# 26901-8

For further information :
Official website: Telephone (5521) 551-5368
Fax # (5521) 553-0444

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