Revival of vinyl records in Brazil spares a 77-year-old singer – and others – from oblivion

FILE - Brazilian singer Catia de Franca, 77, performs at a warehouse converted into a venue for independent artists in Sao Paulo, Brazil, April 19, 2024. It took almost half a century for de França to find her audience. Her belated fame largely reflects a revival taking place in Brazil, where vinyl records outsold CDs and DVDs for the first time last year. (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

By GABRIELA SÁ PESSOA Associated Press

SAO PAULO (AP) — It took almost a half century for Brazilian singer Cátia de França to find her audience, but she finally has — with the help of a near-obsolete audio technology.

Born in Paraíba, a state in Brazil’s poor northeast region, 77-year-old de França’s blend of psychedelic rock with traditional rhythms and modernist poetry long went overlooked, even as she toured the nation in the 1970s and ’80s.

During the pandemic, she retreated to a conservation area in the mountains above Rio de Janeiro, “where you can’t even imagine an internet signal,” she told The Associated Press.

Then one day in 2021 her phone rang. It was the co-founder of an independent label in Sao Paulo who wanted to reissue her 1979 debut album, “20 Palavras ao Redor do Sol” (20 Words Around the Sun), on vinyl.

“I thought, ‘This must be a prank,'” de França recalled. “He started talking to me, and I realized it wasn’t.”

De França has since been thrust into the limelight, with fans and concerts in the alternative circuit.

Her belated fame largely reflects a revival taking place in Brazil, where last year vinyl records outsold CDs and DVDs for the first time in decades. Revenue doubled to 11 million reais ($2.2 million) in 2023 from the prior year, and was more than 15 times higher than in 2019, according to Pro-Musica, an association of Brazil’s largest record companies. And those figures include only new releases, as second-hand sales are almost impossible to track.

The market for used LPs never fully died, and now is on the upswing, said Carlos Savalla, a 66-year-old music producer in Rio who owns more than 60,000 vinyl records.

There are thousands of vinyl traders on websites and Facebook groups, while local aficionados and foreign hunters scour fairs, flea markets and used record shops in search of the samba, bossa nova, tropicalismo and Brazilian Popular Music LPs to complete their collection.

Vinyl’s comeback in Brazil follows a global trend over the last 15 years. In the U.S. alone, revenues from vinyl records hit $1.4 billion in 2023, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Recent renewed American interest is sometimes attributed to Taylor Swift, whose 2022 “Midnights” album became the first major album release to have its vinyl sales top CDs since 1987. That year, Swift accounted for one of every 25 vinyl albums sold in the U.S.

In Brazil, surging interest isn’t due to top-streamed artists, who aren’t even releasing records, said Marcelo Fróes, a music journalist and researcher. Rather, today’s buyers are listeners interested in getting classic albums and discovering new artists or once-obscure musicians.

By 2008, all of Brazil’s vinyl factories had shuttered. But, inspired by a revival in Europe and the U.S., producer João Augusto and his partners decided to buy — and resuscitate — a former vinyl pressing plant: Polysom.

“We started reissuing old albums with significant commercial appeal and demand. So now, the factory serves record labels, independent artists and reissues old albums,” said Luciano Barreira, Polysom’s general manager.

Fifteen years later, Polysom has pressed 1.3 million records and competitors opened two other factories in Brazil. One of them pressed a small circulation of a grant-funded vinyl for da França in 2019.

Also finding his vinyl groove at the time was João Noronha, a 32-year-old sound engineer who teamed up with two friends to start the label Três Selos in 2019, offering subscribers a freshly minted record by mail each month.

“We didn’t expect much,” Noronha said, but in the first month of operations, 120 subscribers sought the reissue of “Sinceramente,” a 1982 album by Sérgio Sampaio, a Brazilian singer from the 1970s and ’80s.

One of Noronha’s partners, Rafael Cortes, noticed de França’s rare 1979 debut album was fetching up to 700 reais ($135) in the second-hand market. Once the partners got the green light from her former label for a reissue, they decided it was time to phone the singer at her mountain hideaway.

“She was extremely suspicious, asking: ‘Who are you? Where do you come from?'” Cortes remembered.

“I think her mistrust comes from the fact that the industry often pushed her aside,” he said. “Imagine her, a Black, northeastern, lesbian woman in the 1970s, who never made any concessions and stood by who she was: a combative person, firm in her principles.”

De França started as a musical director in theater plays then moved into performing, touring alongside some of the country’s most popular artists in the 1970s. She avoided traditional arrangements and used off-beat instruments like the accordion and the 12-string guitar, rendering her music markedly distinct from the prevailing sound.

That sort of noncommercial output made her record label, the Brazilian subsidiary of Columbia Records, reluctant to spend money in promotion, music writer said Chris Fuscaldo.

“She didn’t receive a major marketing effort from the label or the promotional investment that others did,” said Fuscaldo, author of the book “1979 — O ano que ressignificou a MPB” (1979 — The Year that Redefined Brazilian Popular Music).

But Fuscaldo, who wrote her doctoral thesis on the erasure of women from Brazil’s music history, believes de França’s suppression back then is what makes her appealing today: Her unique style didn’t go stale.

The 2,000 copies of the “20 Palavras” reissue quickly sold out among Três Selos’ club members and other individual buyers.

Isadora Attab, a 35-year-old designer, was hooked at first listen.

“She’s absolutely brilliant — the artist I wish I had known as a teenager when I started listening to crazy American rock stars like Bob Dylan,” Attab said at a recent concert, where she snapped up the second-to-last copy on sale. “I look at this cover and imagine how the album will be displayed in my house. I want this woman’s face looking over me all day.”

While small, independent labels focus on elevating exiles from the pantheon of Brazilian popular music, larger companies want a piece of the action, too.

The Brazilian subsidiary of Universal Music started its own vinyl club in 2022, repressing albums by some of the country’s all-time greats like Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Rita Lee and Maria Bethânia. It also sells imported records of foreign artists ranging from Billie Eilish to The Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald.

De França may remain in their shadow, but now she has a spotlight to call her own. On April 19, she took the stage at a warehouse transformed into a coveted venue in São Paulo for independent artists. The house was packed with 30- and 40-somethings, some with their own kids in tow. They shouted “Marvelous!” and “I love you!” while stage lights reflected on de França’s short, cloud-like hair that was radiant against her dark skin.

“I’m here presenting a new record, while many thought I wouldn’t make another,” she said, smiling widely. “These songs have always been with me, but were dormant.”

A 12-string played a hinterland melody as de França kept rhythm with Afro-Brazilian rattles known as caxixis. Then she launched into her first song, letting her lyrics flow:

“I was reborn, rising from the ashes like a phoenix, disquieting my enemies …”

After her show, she walked off stage and someone draped woolen garments over her shoulders to shield her from the evening chill. One might have mistaken her for just another elderly woman — and not the rockstar she has finally become.


AP videojournalist Lucas Dumphreys in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.


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