Song Of The Day 4/22/2015: Seu Jorge – “Oh! You Pretty Things”

Speaking In Tongues: Seu Jorge was raised in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Favelas are shantytowns, or “slums” if you must, located within the boundaries of the major metropolitan areas of Rio and São Paulo. They are thought to have originated in the late 19th century as colonies of destitute former slaves, but really came into being in the 20th century as a massive exodus brought many former rural residents into the urban areas of Brazil. Not all favelas are necessarily created equal, but they have tended towards overcrowding, vertical development, questionable-at-best infrastructure, and crime. They’re fairly unregulated and rarely visited upon by police or public funding. About 6% of all Brazilian residents live in favelas, and the other 94% never come within footfall of them. Most outsiders who visit favelas are tourists from other countries.

Jorge’s favela was located in what’s now known as the city of Belford Roxo, currently one of the state of Rio de Janeiro’s filthy rich places. He developed a following as a homeless musician in the area who was reviving the samba on a street level. He was in a band called Farofa Carioca, and then joined some group I won't investigate too much called Project Hemp. Besides actually hailing from a favela, Jorge was in City of God (Cidade de Deus), a 2002 Brazilian movie about life within favelas that’s one of the most outstanding movies of the millennium. Jorge played “Knockout Ned,” a local philanderer who, for reasons I won’t spoil, gets bent on revenge. This led to an appearance in what is likely the most divisive film from director Wes Anderson, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. I liked it myself.

For the soundtrack of Life Aquatic, Jorge made Portuguese-language covers of a handful of David Bowie songs. Whatever you think of that project within a project, you have to agree that’s it’s so very, very Wes Anderson. It’s also impressively affecting music, lovely replicas that, even with the language barrier, show how gorgeous a songwriter Bowie was when he put his mind to it. I chose “Oh! You Pretty Things” mainly because I hadn’t heard it yet. Many fans of the soundtrack thought Jorge’s version of “Life On Mars?” was the best song on the project, but let’s be honest: If you don’t screw up “Life On Mars?”, it’ll probably be the go-to highlight of Bowie night at the bowling alley.

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