Favourite soundtracks – Serendipitous Songs Part 2

Concluding my post about hidden gems from movie soundtracks that I bumped into the past one year. Two of these songs introduced me to the rich Brazilian music scene, encompassing rap, funk and rock. The third one comes from a very engaging indie drama called Laurel Canyon.

In 2010, British filmmaker Asif Kapadia released a widely acclaimed documentary titled Senna about the legendary Brazilian Formula 1 driver. The film traces Senna’s Formula 1 career from 1984 until his tragic death in the San Marino Grand Prix ten years later. For fans of Formula 1 and of Senna, it is a visual pilgrimage, an emotional journey. As the credits roll, we see various cuts of Senna the man – enjoying himself in the midst of crashing waves on a beach, in a garage celebrating with friends, racing his car, popping champagne and ultimately driving away smiling in his Porsche road car. And all the while in the background plays the end credits song – Maracatu Atomico by Chico Science & Nacao Zumbi. Chico Science (aka Francisco França) was a co-founder of the ‘Mangue Bit’ movement for social change which originated among disaffected youth in the Northeastern Brazilian city of Recife in the early 90s. It expressed itself through a new form of music fusing the Western genres of funk, rock and hip hop with an Afro-Brazilian musical genre called Maracatu. Chico Science’s vocal delivery is edgy and raw, but the funk and the hip hop elements give the music a natural groove which just seems to penetrate your body as you listen to it. Ironically Chico Science died in a car accident in 1997 (3 years after Senna) at the age of 30. His band Nacao Zumbi (Zombie Nation) continues to perform and release albums. The song Maracatu Atomico was originally composed by another group in 1974, then re-recorded in the Mangue Bit style and featured in Chico Science’s 1996 album Afrociberdelia. The version in the Senna documentary is a new version recorded by Nacao Zumbi for the film. In the 1996 album, there are also reggae and trip-hop versions of the song…all pretty cool. I liked a bunch of other songs in the album too; really grateful to Senna for helping me serendipitously discover this really interesting genre.

In August last year, while researching about the Brazilian director Jose Padilha who had been tapped to direct the upcoming remake of RoboCop, I ended up watching Padilha’s breakout movie Elite Squad (2007). As I wrote in my post at that time, this movie (and its equally successful sequel) tells the fact-based story of BOPE, an elite anti-narcotics squad in Rio who have to deal with corruption and internal moles while trying to take down drug lords operating out of the slums of Rio. The film opens with a night-time raid that takes place in one of Rio’s shanty towns. The raid takes place during a street party/ concert and the song being sung is the super-catchy Rap das Armas (Rap of Weapons). This song is part of the Brazilian ‘funk carioca’ movement that originated in the late 80s and went mainstream in Brazil through the 90s. Rap das Armas was originally written in the early 90s as a protest on urban violence, but because the lyrics featured the names of a number of firearms, it became popular among gangs for the wrong reasons. It was re-recorded by another group soon afterwards with even more weapons’ names added in and there are lots of European remixes of this song which have added heavier beats for the dance floor. A decade later, it stirred up lots of controversy when it was used in this movie and the filmmakers had to remove the song from the official soundtrack of the movie soon after its release. For those of us who don’t understand the language, you can simply enjoy the groove of the music and the infectious refrain “pa ra pa pa…” which is supposed to imitate the sound of a machine gun. Equally interesting is the origin of this tune, which was copied from the opening lines of The Outfield’s 1985 hit Your Love…the lyrics “Josie’s on a vacation far away” is replaced with “pa ra pa pa…”. Check out the original version by MCs Junior and Leonardo and the more extreme version by Cidinho and Doca.

Lastly, I want to talk about a really nice song called Shade and Honey which appears in the 2002 indie drama Laurel Canyon, directed by Lisa Cholodenko. Ms. Cholodenko was recently nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the excellent The Kids Are All Right (2010) which she also directed. Laurel Canyon features an outstanding performance from Frances McDormand as Jane, a free-spirited hippy-type record producer living in the Laurel Canyon area of L.A. In the film, she is working on producing a record with her current boyfriend (played by Alessandro Nivola) and his band. After several frustrating attempts at crafting a catchy pop song, Nivola’s character writes and records this wonderful piece called Shade and Honey. Nivola does his own singing in the film, but on the soundtrack album, the song is performed by the group Sparklehorse and was actually written by Sparklehorse founder Mark Linkous (who sadly committed suicide in 2010). I couldn’t find a clip of the scene from the film, but this clip at least shows you the lyrics. The movie itself is very absorbing and stars some other big names like Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsdale. Definitely worth watching.

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