Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
All of the photographs I've ever seen of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, make me feel about the place the way that Marcelo Frota, or MoMo, sounds. It's an extremely narrow-sighted vision of a city that, for all of its natural beauty, continues to remain wracked by horrific violence in its shanty towns due to the lucrative narcotics trade that rules the country and has for decades. Frota's music doesn't play into the party town reputation either, instead giving us a sense that these notes, melodies and words are somehow representative of the forces of nature that carved out this city and its inspiring features.
Frota's biography which, no matter where you find it, is written in Portuguese (as are all of his songs), he mentions Willie Nelson and we'd like to think that it does so to suggest that the ponytailed Texan is a source of inspiration. It's certainly possible, but what strikes you more across the head when you listen to his music is a love and soft spot for American songwriters and composers such as Brian Wilson, Leonard Cohen and Van Dyke Parks, putting into his songs these very lush and thought out orchestrations and melody lines that sound as if they are that line way off in the distance where the clear blue sky meets the ocean, where it kisses it and lies gently with it.
Frota puts his sparkling and chill songs together to make us feel multiple moments akin to how we feel when we listen to Wilson's "In My Room," from the 1963 album "Surfer Girl." It's short, with very few lyrics and yet the line, "Do my dreaming and my scheming lie awake and pray/Do my crying and my sighing laugh at yesterday," seems like it could resonate with Frota in more than one way, as the Brazilian tends to embark into these same confused and hurt waters as Wilson does when he retreats to a safe place.
Answering our request for his lyrics, transcribed into English, Frota sent them, but made a note to point out, "My impression is that when you translate, you lose some pretty words," so I didn't bother reading them. It didn't seem all that important any more. The words that could be made out brought out some of the underlying constants of the sun and the clouds and the sadness that gets to them all at some point, the overriding reality for anyone - living in a gorgeous place like Rio de Janiero or not. There's always something that one wants to get away from - even if it's not for very long.
*Essay originally published May, 2010