Gods, Gangsters & Honour
Gods, Gangsters & Honour
In 1981, I was flying high and feeling blessed. Machat and Machat, the business my father and I ran jointly, had many of the world's top artists as its clients. We covered the East and West coasts in America with huge bands like ELO and Genesis, and our London office was constantly busy with both established and burgeoning artists.
I felt the world was for the taking. I could go anywhere, do anything, but in reality I was getting tired of the grind of life inside the Western corporate music machine. I wanted to broaden my horizons, and I was fascinated by what seemed to me to be the potential globalisation of the music business. Why should popular music remain the preserve of just a limited range of artists? What about other styles, genres, cultures?
So in February, I decided to escape another New York winter and go down to Brazil to experience the Rio Carnival. The idea was to find out about the local music and, of course, to keep half an eye on a deal. I'd set up a meeting with the head of WEA Brazil, Andre Midani, having told him I was interested in breaking some Brazilian artists in the US, so I found myself invited along to the carnival.
Midani recommended that I make contact with legendary artists Gilberto Gil and Rita Lee. Gil, who is now the cultural minister of Brazil, asked me to put together a tour to Europe, which I duly did, but the deal collapsed over money disagreements with the tour promoter I'd found him.
Rita Lee, meanwhile, had made her name as a founding member of a group called Os Mutantes, which emerged in the late 1960s and was as much about art, revolution and defying the Brazilian military junta as it was about music. Their mix of local musical styles was blended with the influence of psychedelic acts like The Beatles, during their Sgt Pepper years, and Jimi Hendrix, and it was Os Mutantes that launched the so-called Tropicalia musical style.
Tropicalia was revolutionary in its impact and had replaced Bossa Nova, which had come to be seen as mind-numbing music that simply perpetuated the status quo. Beck, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, the Talking Heads' David Byrne, Nelly Furtado – all have all cited Tropicalia as a big influence on their music.
Rita was a hippy. She dressed simply but with style and didn't need designer labels to make her stand out from the crowd. She believed in spirits and was able to summon spirits into her body. She didn't care about material possessions or the illusions that they brought in her wake. At the time, she had a big single in Brazil called Lanca Perfume – sweet perfume – that was about snorting amyl nitrate in the local nightclubs.
She told me that her great grandfather was an expatriate Confederate general, from Huntsville, Alabama, who had left the US for Brazil after the civil war was lost. His family believed in slavery and felt that Brazil offered the best chance to perpetuate their lifestyle. Since Brazil didn't abolish slavery until the late 1880s, the story had more than a ring of truth about it.
Brazil fascinated me with its social and racial layers. At the top of the caste pile were the direct descendants of the European Catholic invaders. After them it was the Mixtas, which meant those of mixed race, then the indigenous peoples and last and least the blacks. As far as I could see, all the different castes seemed to hate each other and I was left feeling that white Europeans and colonialism had an awful lot of karma to correct.
Rita was an educated, cultured and urbane woman who could speak in at least five languages. But she was also a heroin addict who took drugs to call up or to quell her spirits. At times she could barely physically function, but in the business I came from, she was hardly unique in that respect. When we first met I promised her t