Rue Amelot

Rock, Rebellion And My Misguided Shame Of Brazilian Culture

A South American writer rethinks the soundtrack of his teenage revolution, concluding that his aversion to culturally significant genres was a youthful indiscretion that deprived him of musical riches.

Brazil-born Max Cavalera, frontman of heavy metal band Soulfly
Brazil-born Max Cavalera, frontman of heavy metal band Soulfly
Fred Di Giacomo*

-Essay-

SAO PAULO — The metal world was shocked at the end of January when former Pantera singer and frontman Phil Anselmo gave a crowd the Nazi salute and shouted "White power." The scandal inspired a series of discussions about whether heavy metal is a reactionary, backwards musical genre. It reminded me of an interview with black songwriter and actor Seu Jorge (known for his role in the 2002 film City of God) in which he said that "rock isn't a pro-black genre."

After the interview, many white people challenged his assertion and wanted to show him how rock had been invented by black artists such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and electrified by black guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Some made reference to Bad Brains, the only great black hardcore band, and the rockers of Living Colour to teach Seu Jorge what years of experience had apparently failed to do.

They were wrong, of course. And for most of my life, I was wrong too.

Back when I was a young rebel living in a poor town, thinking I was the lumpenproletariat incarnate for having less dough than my schoolmates, I thought that rock music was the soundtrack of the revolution. The Stones, Nirvana, the Ramones, Rage Against the Machine. Is anything more anti-establishment than rock "n" roll?

Given all of my teenage wisdom, I thought that people who listened to traditional and popular genres such as pagode, axé, sertanejo or funk were ignorant. I'd also decided that white classical music and black jazz that my dad used to listen to at home were an utter drag.

In other words, rock music was a symbol of high culture, elaborate lyrics and musical complexity. I had no doubt that Max Cavalera (former frontman of Brazilian metal band Sepultura) was a better musician than the father of bossa nova, João Gilberto. I had no idea that, translating lyrics from AC/DC or Elvis, I'd be left with something close to carioca funk about "blue suede shoes," "whole lotta" women, picking up girls and other deep philosophical questions for humankind. I also had no idea that playing songs from the Sex Pistols or Green Day was actually a lot easier than a guitar solo from calypso guitarist Chimbinha.

For me, rock music was a form of religion. It was a salvation. Especially punk. It was the closest thing to rap a white youth had. Punk was rock music played by rebellious suburbanites, a perfect soundtrack to my life as a suffering teenager. Before discovering all the Brazilian punk bands I still love, I actually enjoyed the stuff my parents were listening to at home. After that, I considered all popular Brazilian music kitsch, sappy and just outdated.

The rock critics I would keenly read back then thought exactly the same. They used to write that the only good to come out of Brazil were hip hop band Racionais, psychedelic rockers Os Mutantes, and Sepultura. Blasting Caetano Veloso became one of their favorite hobbies in the 1980s, and it's still trendy for some of them. Veloso and Gilberto Gil were "effeminate" and suffered from the added maladies of an accent from the poor Bahia region and crappy sound.

Bossa nova was boring. I used to like manguebeat and Chico Science, but my rock-fan friends hated it. For them, good music was Guns n" Roses, Aerosmith, Metallica, Oasis, Pearl Jam, Offspring. National pop-rock bands (which critics also loathed) such as Legião or Raimundos were tolerated, though only just.

My first resistance to this type of thinking came with an introduction to rap. My rock-fan friends thought Racionais were shit, but I found they were so dope. Rap definitely seemed to be music for black people and rock for whites. The Racionais sang about a black guy "listening to James Brown, all poses' who's asked by his white girlfriend if he has "what? Guns n" Roses?" His answer — "Of course not!" — made it all clearer still.

When I entered university, I discovered that a lot of people also liked manguebeat. I didn't need to be ashamed of my CDs anymore. They even liked the stuff my parents liked: Tim Maia, Jorge Ben, Gilberto Gil â€" all of them black musicians! Hell, they even appreciated Caetano Veloso with his "black power" hair, his feminine demeanor and his "slow" songs.

It suddenly hit me that up until the 1980s, Brazilian pop was full of women, black artists, androgynous people, poor musicians, gays. They would come from all over the country, not just from the rich states of São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul and Rio like the pop-rock bands from the 1980s. Their rhythms weren't limited to rock (although there was a lot of it, funk and soul too) but they also included samba, baião, forró and other traditional genres.

I realized that everything I considered cheesy, awful and old was simply Brazilian. I'd thought that Djavan was a joke when in fact the dude was actually recording with Stevie Wonder. I'd considered bossa nova to be boring trash when it was actually the Brazilian music with the biggest impact abroad, that Caetano Veloso was outdated when the hipsters of the 2000s were rediscovering him. Brazilian rock from the 1980s, on the other hand, went unnoticed overseas, though it was sold to us as revolutionary here. And sincerely, it wasn't exactly modern given the massive influence it drew from 1970s British rock bands.

My thesis here is that 1980s national rock left Brazilian music "whiter" and more "old fashioned." I think it's a process that took place in the pop culture industry as a whole, not just in music. And I'm writing this as someone who still considers himself to be a rock "n" roll fan.

The 1990s generation redeemed national genres, but you can't deny that the "true rocker" nowadays is a guy locked up in his own little world, believing that four chords (or 367 in the case of the band Dream Theater) are enough. And it's pathetic in a country that has as many musical riches as Brazil.

Music is passion, but it's also culture and an industry. Culture is fundamental in creating the identity of a people. It influences self-esteem and all means of communication. The heroes of our childhoods and of our adolescence are actors, singers, athletes. That's why it's important that these "heroes' be of different colors, regions, sexes — so that everybody has somebody to identify with.

I didn't choose to write under my half-Italian name by chance, leaving behind the name of my father, which was too clearly linked to the state of Bahia, Brazil's poorest. It wasn't by chance either that I never let my "non-straight" hair grow when I was young. We all want to feel like we belong, we all want to be accepted and loved. We're all culturally influenced to have prejudice towards our own roots. We're listening to the music that radio stations and television networks play, to the bands that magazines or underground websites recommend. Some bands are "trendy," others aren't. And when these media all press the same button, it's difficult to have a choice that's as "personal" as we think.

Culture is serious in our world. There is such a thing as cultural wars, in which a country tries to influence another, in which countries with expansionist ambitions try to deify a specific culture. That change in 1980s Brazil didn't just happen based on "personal taste." The industry changed, Brazil changed, the middle class changed. And today, it's changed again. Things aren't as simple as they seem.

I love my CDs, I love punk and rock, I put my son to sleep with Sepultura, but I can't deny that Seu Jorge was right and that Phil Anselmo's critics are right too. Rock is now embodied by the white, arrogant, macho, conservative male. And in Brazil, from the 1980s onwards, it made us feel ashamed of our own culture, of our hair, of our accents.

Rock music is great, but it's not the music of the "world's intellectual elites," as we'd like to think. And beyond its little circle of distorted solos and black clothes, there's a whole world of culturally diverse music out there to be discovered.


*Fred Di Giacomo is a Brazilian writer and multimedia journalist.

This is Worldcrunch"s uniquely international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble street in eastern Paris that we call home. Send ideas and suggestions to rueamelot@worldcrunch.com.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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