I started buying Brazilian vinyl before it became a luxury item. It was the late nineties and I was living with my brother, who had a turntable and was starting a vinyl collection. At the time you could find Brazilian vinyl at many shops around the city at reasonable prices. But it was around this time that the recording industry started giving up on vinyl. Record stores carried a lot of the older albums, but increasingly, new releases were only being put out on CD or cassette. I was never a vinyl purist, and I was listening to as much current music as old music. When I stopped living with my brother, I stopped buying vinyl and collected strictly CDs. A few years later, I switched to digital.
Fast forward to 2010, when I got back into collecting vinyl. I had returned to New York after several years of living in Puerto Rico. I missed a lot of aspects of vinyl, particularly the physicality. Grabbing a record, looking at the cover, taking it out of its sleeve, putting it on the record player, putting the needle to it. But also the physicality of actually buying it. Going to the store, looking through the bins, picking things out based on the cover, or on the personnel list, or on the record label. And I was excited to find that a couple of the same record stores were still around. But some things had changed. A lot of the music I collected was getting harder to find. And Brazilian music in particular had become expensive. It seemed that, while I was on my vinyl hiatus, record collectors went goo-goo over Brazilian vinyl. The prices had risen exponentially, and over the next few years they just continued to increase.
Buying records in Brazil
My wife and I were going to Brazil for a wedding. I was going to finally experience a country whose culture and language I had been learning for years. And I would get a chance to dig for Brazilian records. I was hoping that they’d be cheaper than prices in New York and online, and I was happy to discover that, for the most part, they were. Especially if, like me, you weren’t just looking for the big ticket collector’s items.
I stumbled upon the first record shop of my trip by accident, walking in downtown Rio. The store didn’t promise much from the outside, but stepping in I saw so many records, in bins and piles, that getting through it would have taken all afternoon. And although I quickly spotted a Tim Maia record for about US $50, most of the records were a lot cheaper. I saw a lot of things I recognized but many more things that I didn’t and it brought me back to reality after my wedding ego boost. I still had a lot to learn about Brazilian music.
Levi, the owner of the store, quickly asked what I was looking for and tried to be helpful. I told him I was looking for Brazilian music just to say something. I didn’t want help, I just wanted to look through on my own. I quickly spotted some samba I was interested in: Beth Carvalho, Daniela Mercury, Bezerra da Silva.
But Levi kept buzzing about the store, keeping an eye on what I pulled out. He noticed that I was pulling samba and he’d circle around with a few that were along the same lines. When I asked him about other Brazilian genres, he suggested Ruy Maurity “Nem Ouro, Nem Prata.” I didn’t know the artist, and it was the only album Levi insisted on. “This is a good album. Foreigners are very interested in this album.” Although I was doubtful about that endorsement, I took the Maurity and several others. I’m glad Levi insisted, I ended up loving the album, and realizing that I had heard the title track many times at parties.
My next dig was at Galeria Nova Barão in São Paulo. It’s a walkway along the middle of a block in the downtown area with rows of stores on two levels. I found a couple of stores on the ground level which had a lot of stuff for $10 USD and under (even $5 and under), which in New York is basically impossible when it comes to Brazilian music. When I got to the second floor I was surprised to discover it was filled with music stores, some that had a variety of genres, others specializing in rock, hip hop, electronic, or Brazilian. Several stores had some of the pricier Brazilian collector’s items, but I had been doing so well with the cheap finds that I decided I wouldn’t consider anything over $10 just yet. After all, I was finding gems, like a 4-record Gilberto Gil box set for $9. And I still had several days left to dig.
Don’t go record shopping during Carnaval
Granted those days were during Carnaval in Sao Paulo, which is maybe not the best time to go digging. First of all, a lot of stores are closed. Second of all, there are blocos all around, and they really slow down traffic, whether you’re on foot, on public transportation or in a car. And if you’re swallowed into a crowd, the more bags and stuff you’re carrying, the less comfortable it will be to move.
I was curious about Carnaval, the music, and the cultural role it played in Brazil. But I wasn’t drinking alcohol, and I wasn’t looking to party like crazy or lose myself. I was happy to experience a bloco but also wasn’t looking to spend all afternoon, much less all day there. After all, there were more records to be had!
I managed to make it to one of the flea markets which wasn’t cancelled during carnaval. Flea markets are often great places to find deals on used records when you’re abroad. The one we went to also had great salgadinhos and live music. There I found a couple of Caetano Veloso albums, a Clara Nunes album and a Gal Costa album.
My last purchase was on my last day in Brazil. I had tried several times to go to Patua discos during my trip but it was always closed, due to carnaval. Patua had a good selection of both used records and new contemporary Brazilian records. Thankfully they also had a listening station, which not every store had. Splurging on the Di Melo reissue was a no-brainer, as it is an amazing album that in its original version is prohibitively expensive (I saw it at a store in NY for $700). I also found a couple of used albums, including Sandra Sa with the classic “Olhos Coloridos,” which I had heard a couple of nights before at DJ Tahira’s party at City Lights Hostel, a short walk away from Patua.
By the end of the trip, my feelings about my record purchases reflected my feelings about the trip in general: I barely scratched the surface. I found such a wealth of culture, and there’s so much that I didn’t get to. I can’t wait to go back, but in the meantime I’ll remember the stories behind each of the records I bought on my first trip to Brazil.
Here’s a mix I made with some of those records and a few things that I played at my friends’ wedding in Juquehy: