Dó Ré Mi Fon Fon

For many people, the public image of Brazil begins with its esteemed coffee bean (effectively fueling a third of the world’s caffeine needs), or perhaps its notorious, self-titled waxing job (an odd accolade, but it had to start somewhere). Far fewer recognize Brazil as the only country in the world divided by both the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. Bordered by a coastline sprawling 4,655 miles, Brazil is geographically diverse. From the Amazon rainforest to Cerrado’s tropical savanna, from Mato Grosso’s swamplands to the shrubland of the Caatinga, Brazil is home to nearly four million species of plants and animals. Sadly, industrial development threatens its delicate habitats: dams flood valleys; mines pollute landscapes; and logging destroys forests the size of a small country per year.

Offering relief from its country’s cliché exports and endless industrialization, Dó Ré Mi Fon Fon began delighting listeners back in 2002. 15 years later, the album earns a re-release. Brazilian pianist and composer Fábio Caramuru’s collaboration with sound artist Beth Bento spins a playful album of embellished Brazilian nursery songs. Repurposing folk standards from their national childhood, these melodies are palatable for both children and adults alike. Gorged on Pixie Sticks and hot cocoa, Dó Ré Mi Fon Fon’s 27 odd songs last long as a kindergartener’s attention span – which is to say, rarely breaching a minute. Although the same youth raised on this album may now have diplomas, age cannot annul innocence.

While studying music at the university, Caramuru’s graduate thesis focused on the piano works of Antônio Carlos Jobim, a co-creator of the bossa nova music genre. Sprung from Jobim’s slanted major seventh chords, Caramuru’s compositions lend a light, angular air to Dó Ré Mi Fon Fon’s folk standards. As adamant emcee, Bento’s field recordings tickle and tease Caramuru’s picnic piano tunes, hosting unlikely guests – sounds of nature, toy instruments, and various human voices – all sauntering around the seams. Radiating both temperate and tropical sonorities, insects buzz beneath bushes, fish swarm in lagoons, trees teem with birds of every color, cheerfully singing beneath a scarlet sky. For intrepid travelers enchanted by Brazil: now one need not book a flight to hear its humming hills, or taste its ocean spray.

Dó Ré Mi Fon Fon’s songs could be catalogued according to its social commentary. One pictures an archivist in full lab coat, donning an ear trumpet and cotton gloves to inspect these sonic slides. “Marcha, Soldado!” begins with a historical allusion: the tinny snare drum beats a ragged martial rhythm. An aviary of parrots soon counterpoints the loose cogs of a peppy coo-coo clock as the keys kick back carefree chords – hopelessly aloof to curfew. In the category of community, piano braids through a latticework of market noise on “Entrei na Roda.” Children holler to their parents, pulling pant legs at garish vending booths. Throughout the din, a clock’s tinny hands cut swathes through humid air. “Atirei o Pau no Gato,” in contrast, files neatly in domestic life.  Hushed by a lazy cat’s meowing, a lone soul reclines in a room full of shadows as the ivory keys drift in a Westerly lull.

An archivist with a different taxonomy might sort according to the elements. “Fui no Itororó,” representing water, gurgles with a tranquil brook, the birdsong so sweet it’s surreal – a Twin Peaks rendition à la Jim Henson. Representing earth, “Nesta Rua” records sunset deep within a rainforest, the canopy creatures calling one last time before the guiding orb retires. “Capelinha de Melão,” representing fire, leads with light piano lines circling late-night embers. Watch for shooting stars. “Carneirinho, Carneirão,” the album’s conclusion, represents air: tinkling bells on bleating goats merge with wind rustling through wheat. Inhale the heaping manure wafting over weathered fence posts.

The album comes packaged in a cardboard matchbox. A sliding tray reveals a deck of cards. Illustrating Brazil from coast to culture, the origami card art features animals, flowers, boats, catholic icons, farming tools, and ethnic head garbs. With a separate set of cards for every song, the album provides instructions for a makeshift matching game. The connection is obvious: games, like music, are meant to be shared. Two by two they come; two by two they shuffle. Although not oblivious to its country’s suffering – the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500, the overthrow of the monarchy in 1889, dictator Getúlio Vargas’ suicide in 1954 – Dó Ré Mi Fon Fon quells tragedy, blanching blood-soaked soil from civil mind.

Leaving room for only whimsy, Caramuru guts garnish from his keyboard, softly chiding that childhood never fades. Meanwhile, Bento’s recurring bird calls invoke man’s ancestral nature: beaked and hollow boned, man is meant to fall before rising, body cast windward toward fear, wings unfurled with faith, adrift on currents of urban carols – saved by grace alone. Rushing to one’s head with the verve of ever faithful youth, leave it to children’s songs to cheer a pale music scene. Witness lines of latitude spanning history, spun like cotton candy in the hands of all provenance: brilliant with joy and other trembling.

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