“O mar quando quebra na praia
É bonito, é bonito
O mar... pescador quando sai
Nunca sabe se volta, nem sabe se fica…..”
- "O Mar" by Dorival Caymmi.
The sea, fishing life, dreams of the working class people and the women of his beloved Bahia were a constant fixture in the evocative music of Brazilian singer, songwriter and composer Dorival Caymmi.
Known as one of the founding fathers of Bossa Nova, Caymmi was born on April 30, 1914, in Salvador, the capital of Bahia state. He established himself with the popular song he wrote when he was 16, “O Que É Que a Baiana Tem? ” (“What Is It About Bahian Women?”), which was the hit song in Carmen Miranda’s film Banana-da-Terra (1939). Songs like “Marina”(1944) and “O Samba da Minha Terra”(1941) inspired the greats of Bossa Nova.
Caymmi’s career spanned over 60 years and about 20 albums. But his influence transcended just these quantifiable milestones and found lasting expression in the music of Brazilian greats like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
In an introduction to an anthology of Caymmi’s work, Jobim, wrote: “Dorival is a universal genius. He picked up the guitar and orchestrated the world.”
Brazilian filmmaker Daniela Broitman’s film Dorival Caymmi: The Sounds of Life is a stunning homage to the life of an incredibly talented and charming man who musically infused Brazil with a distinct rhythmic and romantic character befitting its people and landscapes. Sana Rizvi had a chance to speak to Broitman in-depth about her film and musical influences.
As part of the virtualWOMEX Extended Programme, you can watch Dorival Caymmi: The Sounds of Life here between 27 -31 January with your virtualWOMEX account. The film programme also includes the film, On le Temps Pour Nous (Time Is On Our Side)by Senegalese filmmaker Katy Léna Ndiaye.
The most obvious question I suppose, how did this film come to be?How was the seed of the project sown?
Daniela Broitman : In one of the documentary courses I taught, I had a student from Bahia. She worked as a copyright lawyer and wanted to make a film about Dorival Caymmi. She asked me if I wanted to produce it. It was beautiful serendipity!
My grandmother Geny used to sing Caymmi's songs when I was a kid. And we have a photo of my grandfather Jaime, her husband, that looks very much like Caymmi – the moustache, the look, the charm. Caymmi was so familiar to me that I accepted the mission immediately. After a few months, Manu moved back from Rio, where both of us were living, to Bahia. She became the mother of a beautiful girl, and I had to carry the film's project on my shoulders to make it happen. As I immersed myself in Caymmi's universe, I fell in love with him, with his music, his poetry, his way of being. So much so that I ended up also being the director and scriptwriter of the film. Dorival Caymmi conveyed the peace I needed to go through this disturbing period we are living in Brazil.
You have worked in the past with other music-based films- can you talk about your personal interaction with Brazilian music and how it has impacted you and your work?
Daniela Broitman: I made a documentary film called Marcelo Yuka no Caminho das Setas (Marcelo Yuka: Follow the Signs ). Yuka was the drummer and founder of "O Rappa", one of Brazil's most influential bands in the '90s. He was a fantastic songwriter who used his lyrics as a tool for social justice. While working on this film project for 8 years, I spent many hours in his music studio every week. Marcelo Yuka didn't sleep much, he worked all night long, recording his own music and producing other musicians' songs. I ended up getting a taste of the music world and the musicians' lifestyle. I really enjoyed it and had so much fun just watching him and his friends or band members jamming, rehearsing or recording for his album "Canções para Depois do Ódio".
Making this film was such an intense process that it took me a couple of years to start a new film project after it was done. It made me think about my own life and art. I realized that music was also a passion.
When I turned 14 years old, I asked my dad to give me a guitar as a birthday gift. I took some classes with Akira from the RUMO band. RUMO was a pretty known group, part of a critical Brazilian cultural movement called “Vanguarda Paulistana” in São Paulo at the end of the 70s and 80s. Akira was a great teacher, and I actually learned a few songs in his classes at RUMO studio at Praça Benedito Calixto. But my tiny thin fingers hurt so much that I ended up giving up. I still have my Giannini guitar, and I still want to be able to play it. Anyone wants to teach me?!
How was it to be in the company of people close to Caymmi and hear first-hand accounts of their time with him?
Daniela Broitman : I enjoyed meeting Caymmi's sons and daughter. My crew and I travelled to Pequeri in Minas Gerais to do the interview with Nana Caymmi. She is a piece of work; known for saying whatever is in her mind without filters.
She didn't seem to be too excited about the interview at first. I can imagine how many interviews she has had to give – since all of Caymmi's children are great singers/musicians in their own right, besides being his children.
When we first arrived at Nana's house, she told me that I would have an hour with her. But as the interview went on, she opened up. I think she realized that I had done my homework (yes, I did!). I'd been listening to Caymmi's songs over and over for 2 years, and I had watched and read everything I could find about him and his work for the last 4 years. After an hour of interview, I said that the time was over and I had just one more question, but she smiled and said I could go on and ask whatever I wanted. That was a lovely recognition.
Listening to her, I could actually picture Caymmi as a father and a husband. She gave me details of what he liked, his dislikes, his lifestyle, his relation to religion and the spiritual world.
We also travelled to interview Dori Caymmi in his house in Petrópolis. I was a little afraid of Dori. People say he is very demanding and rigorous in everything he does. He is known for his excellence in music production. But in 15 minutes, after breaking the ice, I realized he is such a nice, friendly man! And Dori told me the beautiful love story that is in the film (no spoilers though.)
I had met with Danilo Caymmi (the youngest son) a few times before the interview to talk about the documentary, so the whole conversation and shooting were easy. Danilo takes care of his father's business and copyrights. I knew what to expect – except for the terrible construction noise in the building nearby that made us stop the interview thrice. From the family, I also interviewed songwriter Ana Terra (Danilo's ex-wife) and Gabriel Caymmi (Caymmi's grandson). I have a good relationship with them, and they both helped me a lot.
Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso are a different chapter. I had talked to Gil a few times before. One of them for another documentary film I made, which included a scene of Gil singing. Gil has always been very friendly, patient and easy-going. Through his eyes, I could get a colourful overview of how Bahia was when Caymmi composed his beach songs; his marriage with Nana and the family scenario.
I had a dream (well, I have a few dreams), but this one was special professionally and personally: interview Caetano. He made the soundtrack of my youth, and I told him so when I first met him. Needless to say, I was touched that he was able to participate in this film about Caymmi.
At the end of a warm afternoon, my crew and I went to his apartment. He had been working until late the night before and had just woken up when we arrived. The interview's beginning was a little tense for me because Caetano still looked a little sleepy. But as he started to tell stories about Caymmi, his face lit up. We were quickly engaged in deep conversations about music, Caymmi's sensuality, and his relationship with Dori, Nana, Danilo and Stella (Caymmi's wife), and other fascinating subjects. You can watch some of it in the film.
Caymmi's sound encompasses so many facets of Brazil from nature, love, and spirituality, and his music is an ode to it all. Was the film intentional in highlighting the diversity of the sounds and Brazil's culture in these times we find ourselves in?
Daniela Broitman : Before making Marcelo Yuka no Caminho das Setas, I had made 2 full-length films about social justice and human rights. I had also coproduced films about the environment with Frontline World program. Before becoming a filmmaker, I worked as a journalist for the leading newspaper in Brazil. I started my career as a reporter when I was 19 years old. I wanted to be a journalist to have my words as a tool for social justice, in the same way, Yuka did with his lyrics. This was what first bonded us together, and over tears resulted in a great friendship.
My previous films discussed racism, gender and social discrimination. Then I made a film about an artist who says in the movie: "Ï was a man before, now I'm a man in a wheelchair" as if Yuka had become a different gender after he was shot. We know that so many people discriminate people with disabilities and have a lot of prejudice towards them—all to say that I'm very concerned about diversity and inclusion.
Brazil is one of the most diverse countries globally, one of the most unequal economically, and one of the richest in terms of musical rhythms. It is not by chance that Brazilian music is well known around the world. And Caymmi was one of the composers and singers who contributed to making Brazilian music popular worldwide. From my perspective, there is no way to make a film about Brazilian culture without having this diversity in mind. And we live in a time that is even more important to affirm our diversity. This is the beauty of our country and our culture. I want our country to be recognized again, not for its destructive public policies, but for its arts and fascinating culture. Through the film Dorivyal Caymmi, The Sounds of Life, Caymmi can convey all these messages and spread them to the world.
Like the music of Caymmi, your film follows his life through his songs - his childhood in Bahai, then moving to Copacabana and later his international travels along with honouring themes of family, love, nature, and spirituality. How were you able to achieve this journey in the film?
Daniela Broitman : Was I? I'm glad to know it!
I usually write down all the words/themes that involve my protagonist's universe. So I know that these themes have to be present in the film, his references. And then I write a "pre-script" based on these themes-references. Of course, editing is an integral part of building the protagonist's journey.
I chose the songs that I thought represented well what he (and I) wanted to convey throughout his journey and just followed my intuition. I actually communicated with Caymmi through my meditations and asked him for guidance. I guess that's why the film has a strong spiritual facet as well.
What are your musical influences and what music are you listening to nowadays?
Daniela Broitman: I am a big fan of Brazilian music. I grew up with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Rita Lee, Elis Regina, Raul Seixas, Paralamas do Sucesso, Titãs, Legião Urbana (but also the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Toots and the Maytals, Talking Heads…)
Besides Brazilian Popular Music, I used to listen to rock and reggae a lot. Then, in my 30s, I was also very into world music when I was living in San Francisco, where I moved to do my Master's at the University of California – Berkeley.
My years of research about Caymmi and tuning into his music made me listen to Brazilian music a lot more, even Bossa Nova that I didn't enjoy before, especially João Gilberto. I started watching videos of João Gilberto's shows. When I was living in New York in 2002, I went to see João at Carnegie Hall. I was in awe. But then for some reason, I had kind of forgotten about him and his music. Caymmi brought me back to him, as their connection was strong and vital for Brazilian music history. I was very sorry about his passing in 2019. I spent New Year's Eve that year with João's daughter in law, my friend Adriana and her beautiful daughters, in Rio.
Nowadays I'm listening to Otis Redding, Zaz, Nina Simone, David Byrne, Caetano (always), Marisa Monte, Dominguinhos, Gonzaguinha – I love forró, it makes me happy. From the "newer" Brazilian scenes, I like BaianaSystem, Criolo, Céu, BNegão, Bixiga 70, Lucas Santana, Orkestra Rumpilezz, Curumin, Maria Gadú, Mariana Aydar, Trupe Chá de Boldo, O Terno, Marcelo Jeneci, Liniker e os Caramelows, Gilsons (formed by a son and two grandsons of Gilberto Gil). Caetano's sons are also very talented, and I have to mention Emicida for his essential role in fighting racism. There are so many other young singers and musicians that are special. I'm sure I'll remember many more after the interview is done and I'll be upset that I didn't mention them.
Interview & Article by Sana Rizvi
article posted by:Sana Rizvi, Piranha Arts