curated by Bendegó
Ana Dias Batista
Oficina Cultural Oswald de Andrade
Rua Três Rios, 363
Bom Retiro, São Paulo, Brazil
Known as ‘The Troubadour of the Apocalypse’ or ‘The Bob Dylan of the Sertão’, Zé Ramalho is an important Brazilian singer and composer. Not as celebrated or embraced as other artists of his generation - such as Caetano Veloso or Alceu Valença - Zé Ramalho seems to still inhabit a place of shadows, considered dubious by some.
Born in Brejo do Cruz, Paraíba (1949) he played an important part in the psychedelic music scene which emerged in Pernambuco in the 1970s, characterised by a “lysergic mix of rock and roll with forró, baião, repente, xaxado, embolada and frevo influences”. Some members of the scene, such as the band Ave Sangria or the musician Marconi Notaro achieved cult-like status, whereas Zé Ramalho was signed to big labels, featured on soap opera soundtracks, and has, through highs and lows, obtained significant popular recognition in the last 40 years. However, he has always been connected to the mysticism of the sertanejo, and his songs incorporate an extraterrestrial atmosphere, of stories of UFOs and hallucinogenic mushrooms found in the arid pastures of the sertão of the Northeast. Such interests are associated with political, aesthetic, social and philosophical questions, embodied in his language, performance and persona.
His first two albums, Zé Ramalho, (which features YES keyboardist Patrick Moraz on Avôhai and Dominguinhos playing accordion on A Noite Preta) from 1978, and A Peleja do Diabo com o Dono do Céu (cover photos and set by Ivan Cardoso, special guest appearances from Zé do Caixão and Hélio Oiticica) from 1979, are important documents of his approach, which brought together aspects of psychedelia, acoustic guitar, cowboy culture, horror films and ‘cordel poetry’. In 2003, Dance of the Butterflies, a song from his first album, was reworked into a more loaded, sombre version, in a collaboration between Ramalho and the heavy metal band Sepultura, again showing his strength for juxtaposing complex images.
Ramalho haunts the project like a ghost, with the atmosphere evoked by his figure being the curatorial argument of the show. The period 1978 - 2018, which goes from the release of the first record to the present day, invites us to rewind and advance, rewind and advance. We may inhabit the future of prophecies or the past of myths and legends and we will still be in the same place.
The stage is set, but not above us. If backstage is part of the scene, the works can now be seen inside out. So they whisper: caves, solitude and bravery, giants, messiahs, vampiric, darkness, the red moon, owls, violeiros, foreboding, energetic interactivity, alien presence, isolation. Together, they make up a game of cards for what is foreshadowed under the aridity of the high sun, or under the total darkness of the black night.
*(And that year the black night takes the door). From the song A Noite Preta, on the 1978 album Zé Ramalho.
Photo by Filipe Berndt, courtesy of bendego.com and the artists