Thursday, July 07, 2005

Texaco, Opera, PDVSA and Samba

There was a startling piece of news yesterday: PDVSA has announced that it will sponsor a Samba school in the 2006 Rio Carnival.

Now, before I get into the matter I want to state that there is nothing inherently wrong about supporting a Samba school, even for the state owned oil monopoly of Venezuela, PDVSA. However...

When I lived in the US I was one of the many followers of the Saturday live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera House, sponsored by Texaco. No true opera lover in the US could have remained insensitive to this most magnificent Saturday afternoon show, the opera quiz intermission, or the sometimes great montages on opera history and meaning at the other intermissions, or its interviews to the legends of "bel canto".

This unfortunately came to an end as Texaco was swallowed by Chevron who has its own cultural sponsorship, leaving the Met to find new sponsors for these broadcast. Broadcast by the way that rech many Latin America countries but no Venezuela, where there is not even a decent classical or Jazz FM left.

For Texaco this decades long affair with opera made sense. Texaco, at least on the East Coast acquired a certain shine to be the gas people sponsoring such high brow culture, amen of any NASCAR they might be doing on the side. It did make sense to reach the higher end of the gas market if anything to have people buy Texaco stock. But it also reached the lower end of the market as anyone who has stood in the long line for the standing room "seats" available only a few hours before the shows. Or to reach people like me who would drive the extra 500 yards to make it the Texaco gas station when given the option at one of those US highway big exchanges full of gas stations and fast food.

The other thing I must write is that my love for opera does not preclude me from appreciating Samba. From my Brazil trips over the last few years I have build up a serious, if small, collection of Brazilian music which if it includes much more than Samba has still this one well represented. Actually, I wonder if my Brazilian music stack has not overtaken the Jazz one.

Now we can return to PDVSA and its financing of the Samba school "Unidos Vila Isabel". The first thing that one must say is that apparently it is not a widely known school as Imperatriz, though it is still not a bad one, ranked in the top Grupo especial list, as long as it manages to be 13th or higher every year (the 14th drops to an A list whose winner climbs up). It features of course a successful in house composer, Martinho da Vila, whose theme "Kizomba, Festa da Raça" carried the 1988 Carnaval competition at the almighty Sambodromo.

Still, that does not tell us what is PDVSA doing financing a purely Brazilian cultural activity.

What perturbs me is that in the Texaco case I could see clearly the tradition, the marketing advantages, the image Texaco wanted to project, etc... But I did not see that anywhere in PDVSA sponsoring an "Escola do Samba". I would like very much a PDVSA cultural affair person reply to at least a couple of the following questions:
  • Are there PDVSA gas stations in Brazil in need of promotion?
  • Which are the mass market PDVSA product that could be associated with a Samba school?
  • Or even Carnival?
  • What other foreign companies sponsor Sambodromo ventures?
  • How does PDVSA compare, image wise, with them?
  • Why sponsor a school of Samba in Brazil instead of, say, restoration of colonial baroque church in Salvador or building a Venezuelan cultural center in Sao Paulo, such as La Estancia in Caracas?
  • Will that Samba school be an "exchange program of sorts"?
  • And with what will cost a Carnaval parade for a single school (in the million USD), how many local Carnaval manifestations could be sponsored inside Venezuela?
  • And more harder and meaner question that the reader might easily figure.
I think that the Malaysian paper The Star reporting on that Samba venture got it right when it picked a picture of Chavez parading on a tank to accompany the article. With the mention that Simon Bolivar will be the theme of the Escola under the Gil song "Soy loco por ti America". Indeed.

In fact, all of this is only an excuse for getting a junket trip to Rio on 2006 Carnival, paid by PDVSA "now of the people", but where everyday some of the people are more and more equal than others.

A Venezuelan Carnaval float idea: the leader of the glorious Revolution in the middle of a Venezuelan Military parade, still must be accompanied by his suit dressed body guards (June 24, 2005, El Nacional). Comments are unnecessary.

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