Broadcaster Jassvan de Lima presenting Tropicália
Broadcaster Jassvan de Lima presenting "Tropicália", his first program in the USA. Photo: Personal archive

Based in the United States since 1976, broadcaster Jassvan de Lima has been running the program for exactly 20 years, since September 1997. Sound of Brazil from WKCR, a broadcaster affiliated with Columbia University that boasts the status of being one of the pioneers in world FM broadcasts (access the official website from the program). A breadbasket of broadcasting that extols the legacy of classical and jazz music, the North American radio that hosted Jassvan is also reverent to the traditions of Latin and Brazilian music.

Born in the Northeast of Brazil, from Alagoas, with transit in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, Jassvan, however, was catapulted from Brazil to New York via Governador Valadares, one of the most notorious epicenters of the Brazil/US migratory flow. The transition revealed by him, however, escapes the rule of the exodus pragmatically of social ascension that permeates the imagination of the city of Minas Gerais.

In the transgressive eagerness of a youth lived in the midst of the turmoil of 1968, Jassvan discovered the quiet town of Minas Gerais, where with a friend he kept the Blow-Up record store, opened that year, and a point of convergence between the oppressed singing of a Geraldo Vandré and the hedonistic poetry of an American rock icon like Jim Morrison.

When such unusual connections made even greater sense to him, with the understanding of the reverence of North Americans for the exuberance of our music, Jassvan, duly established in the homeland of the leader of The Doors, managed to score in the WKCR, in 1998, the year of affirmation of the listeners' interest in the program Sound of Brazil, a special with 13 hours of continuous transmission in honor of conductor Tom Jobim, as explained by the broadcaster at the end of the following conversation.

In an article from 1999, I read that your first radio program in the United States was aired in 1971. Is it correct?

Not. It was actually in 1976, when I had my first show, in Medford, Massachusetts, on WMFO 91,5 FM, a free-form radio (free-form radio, with community production) from Tufts University. WMFO began broadcasting in 1970, and it is part of a chain created in San Francisco through a radio station that still exists, Pacific Radio. The station was one of the creators of this format, at the time of the hippies, in that wave of the Grateful Dead. When WMFO launched it only aired stuff made in San Francisco, then students at universities like Tufts started doing original shows in other locations.

And how did you receive the invitation to collaborate with the radio?

My start at WMFO was magical. My compadre, César Augusto, was listening to the radio in Boston and heard a guy speaking Portuguese from Portugal. He called the DJ named José Moura and said: “I have a friend who has a lot of Brazilian music records. He was a DJ in Brazil and had a record store”. José Moura said he wanted to meet me and, days later, he came to visit me at home. When I showed my collection, he said, “I will create something for you inside WMFO”. He was doing a program for the Portuguese community, which is still very large in Boston and throughout Massachusetts, and after a while he invited me to visit the station. In the studio there were three turntables (turntable) and apparatus for playing cassette tapes. Back then, everything was different and free. During the broadcasts, we had beer on the table.

On the same day of the first visit, did he invite you to do the program?

The phone rang in the studio and he said: “The thing is, take this record and put it on because I need to leave now. I have an emergency at home, help me there…”. I went on the air, put on the record, checked channel 1, channel 2, made a presentation in Portuguese – “you are listening to WMFO, 91,5 FM” – and put the other record on the spot, so as not to let the business fall. . Back in the studio, José Moura also brought in the radio programming director and said: “You passed the test!”. He liked one with me. I was actually testing myself. I first started working on this Portuguese community program doing 15 minutes of Brazilian music and announcing activities for the community in Boston. It started like that, but a few days later he said, "Well, let's open up a bigger space for you." His dream was also to have a Brazilian music program. He was a refugee teacher, a left-wing intellectual. He went to Portugal fleeing the war in Angola and then came to the United States, where he studied at Tufts and other universities. It was there that I managed to land a one-hour program, which aired on Fridays, from 19pm to 20pm. As I was still crazy about Tropicália at that time, I gave this name to the program at WMFO.

You left Governador Valadares, in Minas Gerais, for Boston. And, in Brazil, how was your involvement with music?

I'll tell you a little before Valadares because the whole story starts in São Paulo. After the war, my family came from the Northeast to São Paulo. My grandparents arrived in 1946 by ship. At that time, there were the pau-de-arara (trucks that crossed the northeast towards the southeast of the country, crowded with temporary workers and families of migrants), but also had the pau-de-arara ships. We came third class. My mother tells this story well: they left Maceió, passed through Bahia and took a month to arrive in Santos. First came my grandparents. Then came my father, my mother, my uncles – and we went to live in Vila Palmeira, in Freguesia do Ó. When I was eight years old, I went to Belo Horizonte with my father, but I always spent my holidays in São Paulo visiting my uncles and grandfather. There was a cousin of mine on my mother's side, named José Carlos, who was a tremendous waltz. I was a year younger than him, and so I was lucky enough to take São Paulo with him at the time of big bands and proms. When I was 16, 17, I used to go to Casa de Portugal a lot, to Fasano. There, I began to see conductors like Simonetti (Enrico Simonetti, Italian conductor who, based in Brazil, was hugely successful), Élcio Alvarez, the great orchestras. I was already crazy about this music business, but I had never thought about playing – I liked to dance, but I wasn't a waltz foot like my cousin. An uncle of mine, Zé, who was very naughty and knew the bohemia of the center, also took us to those little hells on Major Sertório Street. I remember seeing Airto Moreira and Flora Purim at that time. There were many bossa groups that played in these little hells. I was so lucky.

And how did you end up in Valadares?

My father, who was an industrial mechanic, went to set up an industry in Valadares and I ended up going with him. Of course, it wasn't very nice for me, because, in Belo Horizonte, I had my friends, girlfriends, the high school class. Studying wasn't my thing, but I already knew how to DJ. I had a girlfriend whose father was a waiter at a famous nightclub, at the time, called Slingshot. Once in a while I went there before it opened and met the house disc jockey who, at that time, played in a booth with reel tape and a record player. He only had one turntable and mixed with the reel tapes. As he had good connections, he bought a lot of imported 45rpm compacts, I don't know why, he went with my face and gave me a bunch of records. I never forget: the first two I won from him were the singles from Like a Rolling Stone, by Bob Dylan, and Sounds of Silence, by Simon & Garfunkel. When I arrived in Valadares, it was again music and records that saved me. I was a little depressed, I didn't know anyone. Who saved me was the radiola. My dad had given me one, that coffin from Standard & Electric, which had one of those turntables where you put a sequence of ten discs and it went down one by one. One day, I got lucky. Walking in Valadares, on a Sunday night, I heard a little rock band playing. I entered the place, asked for a hi-fi and sat down. I had no contact with anyone, but I had the courage to speak with the guitarist, who was the leader of the band, Jaider de Oliveira.

Jassvan's WMFO press pass
Jassvan's WMFO press pass. Photo: Personal archive

What was the band called?  

The group's name was Os Escorpões, in the Vale do Rio Doce area, the best band at the time. I started to meet with him to, together, look for repertoire for the band and I started working with them. My old man had an Aero Willys and I started loading the equipment, unloading the instruments. Eduardo Araújo had donated some Mustang amplifiers to them. The band had five members. It was pretty much a cover band, but we traveled a lot, and I sold a lot of their shows. In that wave, I began to discover that Valadares was the connection with the United States. The youth dressed in that North American wave. Then, I told Jaider: “My dream is to build a record store”. And nothing better than being young and finding the right guy. He said, "I'm going to talk to my father." His father and uncle had a little shop in the center of town called Caçadora, a store that sold weapons and fishing equipment, that very country thing, they sold all of this hunting and fishing transaction. On the Huntress's side, there was a small door two meters in front and five meters in the back, which opened onto an alley. Full of knick-knacks inside… His father gave us the space. We cleaned everything up and started to apply our crazy ideas. The wall was full of holes, and Jairo took rice husks, from an industry there, and we put glue on the wall, a heavy glue. We throw the rice husks with our hands. That gave it a really crazy look. We varnished the walls and it turned out amazing. We also created some boxes of records, the space was very small, but I managed to take my Standard & Electric radiola. We pulled some wires and put the speakers in the front door, with the sound to the street.

And how did you go about supplying the store's stock?

We were going to São Paulo, at Praça Clovis, where there was a Beverly distributor that sold wholesale. People from all over Brazil went there to buy records. I used to get off the bus with cash in my pocket, big boy, get off at that colorful bus station (the extinct Luz Bus Terminal), would go to Praça Clovis in the morning and choose the records. He already knew more or less what to buy. Some were for sure, like Roberto Carlos's, but others I took by the cover. The store was opened right after the song festival that had Geraldo Vandré with Not to Say I Didn't Talk About Flowers (The International Song Festival 1968; Vandré came in second, supplanted by You knew, by Chico Buarque and Tom Jobim). The day the record was released I was at Beverly, the music was playing like crazy and I bought the boxes I got of Vandré's double compact, in addition to other titles, about 200 records, to start the business. As soon as we open the store we put it on the speakers Not to Say I Didn't Talk About Flowers. At around 13 pm, with the departure of schools, the store was filled with young people. It became a hit. There was a little tree in front of it and, with the music, the kids didn't leave. That's how Blow Up Discos started. I put that name because of Antonioni's film, which, in Brazil, was called After that kiss.

In 1968, Governador Valadares already had a large flow of immigration to the United States?   

In Valadares I discovered that all the kids that came back from the United States always brought lots of imported records. So, we had a mine in our hands that, even in Belo Horizonte or São Paulo, few people had contact with. With the store, I was able to make many exchanges. The guy who came back to the United States wanted to take samba or anything else national and left what he brought. The Doors records, Pearls Before Swine… We got to know a lot because of this exchange. It was the John Kennedy government, migration was still open. Since the 1950s, many people have moved there from Valadares, but the heyday took place in the 1960s and late 1970s.

And Vandré's music didn't cause problems for you with the military?  

Yup. It didn't take long for this wave of the dictatorship to collect records to appear. how we were playing Not to Say I Didn't Talk About Flowers and the sound went out to the street, shortly after we opened the Blow-Up, PMs arrived ordering the sound to stop. They had gone to get Vandré's records. In that big-boy rebellion, I said I didn't have any left, but there were still some hidden.

AlsoIn the 1999 article, I read that you studied Radio and TV in the United States. 

From 1976 to 1981, I stayed in Boston doing the Tropicalia at WMFO. I arrived in New York in 1982, and started working as a DJ, at night, playing in clubs and in some Brazilian restaurants. I got married for the second time, had kids and took a break from the radio. I did side jobs, as an announcer, for TV Manchete, but at the time I stopped doing radio I went back to DJing, until I saw an ad in a Latin newspaper, The Diary, from a Radio and TV school, Dimension Broadcast School. It was located in Times Square, a simple two-story school, and the principal and one of the teachers, Carlos Martinez-Ardilla, a Peruvian, was an old man who had already done a series of radio and television programs. He even made the first Latin TV newscasts in the US, on Univision. The courses lasted two years, one year of radio; another from TV. And it was all in Spanish, but since I'd already lived in Barcelona, ​​I could slur a nice portunhol. Carlos liked me a lot. My class had about 20 students from different regions of South America and Central America. I took the first course, Radio, and when I went to take the TV course, I didn't have any more money, but Carlos said: “If you don't have money, help me and we'll find a way”. I worked in the canteen, helped paint the school, cleaned and studied at night. So, I was able to finish my time at Dimension Broadcast School and I got the diploma, which opened many doors for me, because, for example, it was there that I met DJ Carlos Rosário, a “new-rican”, as Puerto Ricans are called. raised in New York. Carlos, a guy who knows the whole Latin wave, that Fania All-Stars thing (Jassvan makes references to the artists of the Fania label), became my friend and was doing a show on WKCR called Latin Caribbean. At that time, there was also a Brazilian program called street samba. I also had the dream of doing a Brazilian music program on WKCR and I was lucky that Carlos invited me to get to know the radio at a time when the street samba it didn't work anymore. It was another magical move. Carlos, who has the program until today, introduced me to German Santana, who was the producer of Latin Caribbean. Soon I came up with the idea of ​​doing a Brazilian music program. In 1997, the radio opened a two-hour schedule on Wednesdays, from 23 pm to 1 am, and German asked me to write a program proposal, in addition to getting a student to collaborate with me. I knew then that there was a Brazilian, a big boy, Eduardo Delgado, who was in the Sports Department, and I invited him. The proposal passed, and it was in this that, in September 1997, we started the Sound of Brazil, title suggested by Eduardo, who stayed with me for the next four years.

Jassvan in action, still in the Tropicália program
Jassvan in action, still on the “Tropicália” program. Photo: Personal archive

Is the circulation of interns every four years?

Yes. Every four years we change the interns, and Eduardo was the guy who gave the greatest strength to the creation of Sound of Brazil. He likes music, always included something from Brazilian rock from the 1980s, but, from the beginning, I choose most of the playlist for each show.

A few days ago you sent me the file of an old program featuring Eumir Deodato. Which other artists participated in the broadcasts of Sound of Brazil?

I had the opportunity to interview many important people in Brazilian music, like Eumir. The first interview I did on Sound of Brazil it was with Pery Ribeiro, back in 1997. Then, in the first Tom Jobim Especial we did, in 1998, Pat Phillips, a producer that still manages Brazilian music at Birdland, paid tribute to Tom at Carnegie Hall, in a show that had the musical direction of Cesar Camargo Mariano with the participation of Ivan Lins, Leila Pinheiro and Al Jarreau. We try to interview the majority of Brazilian artists who pass through New York, in addition to those who live playing here, such as Milton Nascimento, Hermeto Pascoal, Flora Purim, Gal Costa, Emílio Santiago and Toninho Horta.

Do you still advise Dom Salvador's career? 

I have known Salvador for over 30 years. We talk almost every day. I did a lot of interviews with him. One of them, even for the jazz profile, a traditional program from the WKCR's jazz department. I haven't worked as his advisor for a few years now. Who is with him is my partner of Sound of Brazil, Augusto Ghiotto, a golden boy. He is from Bauru, a student at Columbia University. He started doing the program with me when he was in his first year at university and is now doing his PHD in Physics; Augusto started producing the program when we paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of the first LP by the Rio 65 Trio at Carnegie Hall. It is always a great honor to work with the Savior. I met him when I saw him playing at a Charlie Rouse show, at Paul's Mall, with Portinho playing drums and Guilherme Franco, who was McCoy Tyner's percussionist. It was the late 1970s in Boston. Guilherme was the one who introduced me to Salvador and Portinho, on that wonderful night. Salvador is now working with a new manager in Brazil, Margareth Reali, and soon we will travel to Brazil, to make several presentations that she is managing.

wkcr - Sound of Brazil - jassvan and the pianists
In a recent record, already in the WKCR and in the “Som do Brasil”, Jassvan and the pianists, composers and arrangers Dom Salvador and Sergio Mendes. Photo: Personal archive

Has the advent of online radio changed the behavior of the WKCR audience a lot?

Not a lot. WKCR is very traditional around here, and we have a site with a lot of content available to the whole world. I think the internet has only increased our programming and audience. I think the behavior of listeners has not changed because WKCR was the first radio station to broadcast on FM in the world. We have captive listeners. Lots of people who listen to classics and jazz. Millions of listeners.

You also created a special in honor of Tom Jobim on his birthday, January 25th. How did the idea come about?

The program dedicated to Tom Jobim was created in the second year of Sound of Brazil. Jobim is the basis of everything. João Gilberto is the boss of bossa nova, but Tom is the conductor of them all. As soon as he passed away, I thought, “hey, I have to make this tribute part of the birthday broadcasting schedule” (WKCR special broadcasts in honor of the great authors of world popular music). On birthdays, or just when a great jazz musician passes away, they do special programs, the entire schedule of the day is transferred to this selection. I managed to get the proposal to do a day in honor of Jobim and he has already entered the WKCR's annual agenda. Tom still arouses the greatest admiration and affection. He is present in musical life abroad, perhaps more than in Brazil. Wherever you go and you're playing bossa nova everything is different, everything is elegant and beautiful. It's amazing. Tom was an enlightened guy.

Finally, a controversial question. Many consider events such as the Brazilian Day not representative of the musical quality of Brazil, due to the attractions listed. How do you see this?   

I do not participate in the Brazilian Day, I have already written to the owner of the newspaper The Brazilians, to opine on this, but I stopped. All Brazilian Day production is done by Rede Globo. So they fit artists that must be theirs (from the record company Som Livre, from the broadcaster) and aimed at the audience of Globo Internacional and Brazilian immigrants who come from communities like Boston, who always come here on Brazilian Day, and New York. The only time I went to the event I did an interview with Carlinhos Brown and it was a great chat. Then I saw him playing at Lincoln Center and it was a magnificent show. I found it interesting, very well done, with a good script, a nice sex.

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