Black Race Awards Honors Actor/Singer Tony Tornado
Note from BW of Brazil: I can still remember very well when I first heard the name Tony Tornado. I’m not exactly sure of the year, but it was probably around 2003. The place was definitely Salvador, Bahia. By that time, I had already been visiting Brazil every year and, as usual, I was always on the hunt for items of black Brazilian culture; music, magazines, books, whatever. There, in “Black Rome”, I was flipping hundreds of old albums at this little hole in the wall record store near Avenida Sete de Setembro. Over the years, I’ve been able to amass quite a collection of Brazilian music shopping at these little “sebos” and that particular year, I felt like I hit the jackpot.
I must have walked out of that record store with about 50 albums on that day. The owner of the store took the time create a cardboard box in which all of that vinyl could fit, taped it closed and even wrote “Careful! Don’t not bend” on the box in a black magic market as he knew I would be going through security checks at Brazilian and American airports.
At that record store in Salvador, the owner had a little record player and speaker set up so I could sample the records and decide what I wanted to buy. I bought a pretty good mix of Brazilian music that day. Martinho da Vila, Chico Buarque, Jorge Bem, Maria Bethania, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Elza Soares, Luis Melodia, Tim Maia, Edu Lobo, Wilson Simonal, Paulinho da Viola, João Nogueira, Alcione, Clara Nunes…A LOT of Clara Nunes! I might have walked away with Clara’s entire catalog on that day.
All of that vinyl I picked up and I spent BRL$50! Dude basically charged me one real per album! By the time he started wrapping the albums for me, he knew that I was an American from Detroit. When he asked about the music I liked, I told him I was learning more about Brazilian music, but that I liked Soul, Jazz, Funk, and some elements of Rock. By that time, I was just starting to learn about what Americans labeled “World Music”.
The owner then asked, as I was into Soul music and was discovering Brazilian music, if I liked Tony Tornado. I didn’t know who that was as I had never heard of this artist. He explained that the guy was like a “Brazilian James Brown”, he danced like the Godfather of Soul and his music was similar. He didn’t have any records by Tony Tornado as they were kind of rare and his career as a singer hadn’t lasted very long. Intriguing. I would need to find out who this Tony Tornado guy was.
When I got back home, I started my research. As it turned out, Tony Tornado appeared on the music scene in an era of Brazilian music in which black and non-black artists alike were experimenting with elements of black American Soul and Funk music. In 2000, on a previous trip to Chicago, I found a greatest hits CD of the legendary Rio-based band Banda Black Rio, which was a sort of a Brazilian Kool and the Gang/Earth, Wind and Fire group that mixed Brazilian rhythms such as Samba and Forro with American Soul and Funk. That CD was would be in heavy rotation until the band’s four albums were eventually released individually. Rapper Mos Def actually sampled my favorite BBR song!
Anyway, the first song I ever heard by Tony Tornado was “Podes Cre”, which I heard in one of those Brazilian music compilations that I was buying in the early years of the 2000s. Full of horn blasts, chicken scratch guitar, percussion and a vocal that was clearly influenced by Black Power era American Soul, I was hooked on this joint. Now I needed to find a Tony Tornado album. When I looked into Tornado’s history, I discovered that dude who was born Antônio Viana Gomes in May of 1930, was actually three years older Soul Brother No. 1, if we accept that JB was born in 1933. Some records list Brown’s year of birth as 1928.
Anyway, it would be a few more years before I could get my hands on the two albums that Tornado was most famous for. As it turned out, he also recorded a number of singles that never appeared on any album. The songs were intriguing, not so much for being of a completely original style, but because of how black Soul music was being interpreted thousands of miles away, in a Latin American country, by other black people in the African Diaspora.
I admit that, initially, I was enthralled by the Tornado’s music as well as that as the other “Brazilian James Brown”, Gerson King Combo. I started introducing this music to some of my friends who were 1970s Soul/Funk enthusiasts like me. It’s funny, all of them seemed to have the same initial reaction as I did. “This is…hmmm…Soul music in Portuguese.” Kind of a reaction of intrigue, curiosity and…a little weird. As time went, my views on Tornado and Gerson King Combo’s music would shift.
In reality, both of them sounded more like second-rate imitations of the Godfather rather than a “whole new thang”. Don’t get me wrong, the music wasn’t as bad as, say, Pat Boone doing Little Richard, but after listening to Brazil’s interpretation of JB, it makes you really just wanna listen to the original. This is not to say Tornado didn’t have some good songs, he most definitely did, and song of his lyrics even touched on black representation. For example, the title of one of his songs was “Se Jesus Fosse Um Homem de Cor (Deus Negro)”, meaning, ‘if Jesus was a man of color (Black God)’.
Whether one looks at Tony’s music as simply an imitation of American Soul, a novelty or a cool spin on the 1970s, the singer/actor DID pay for his affinity with black American history and culture. Like fellow Brazilian Soulmen, Tim Maia and Gerson King Combo, Tony had spent some time in United States, living in New York between 1963 and 1967, making a living as a dopeman and a pimp. When he returned to Brazil, he brought the flavor of Soul music back with him. (Black Race Awards Honors Actor/Singer Tony Tornado )
But Brazilian authorities weren’t having it.
As I explained in a previous piece, Brazil’s leaders wanted no part of any black Brazilians being influenced by the Black Power movement that was going down in the US. As far as they were concerned, they had their negros “in check”, docile and fully accepting the “racial democracy” myth. They didn’t need any black man proudly rocking an afro, waving a black fist in the air and waking up a black population that Brazilian indoctrination had, for the most part, lulled to sleep.
Authorities feared that Tony would become a radical political figure whose attitude would inspire other blacks to bring an African-American style revolution to Brazil. As such, intelligence agencies of the Brazilian government antagonized and interrogated Tony, eventually running him out of the country. He sought refuge in various countries as the most oppressive years of the 21-year Military Dictatorship took hold of the country.
As it turns out, Tony was no radical, but he did succeed in bringing attitude, soul and racial pride to Brazil’s black population. The Soul music movement in Brazil was basically stomped out after only less than a decade of its existence. The deeper I looked into “Soul Brasileiro”, the more this conclusion seemed to be true. Artists such as Tornado, Gerson King Combo, Banda Black Rio, Copa 7, Carlos Dafé, Hyldon, Robson Jorge and others only recorded a handful of albums as Brazil’s music industry began to dabble with Disco.
Tornado had been appearing in films and television since the 1970s along with his short music career, and anyone who doesn’t know anything about 70s music most likely knows Tornado as a B-list actor from some of Brazil’s telenovelas. As an actor, I know him best for role in the 1984 film Quilombo, about legendary 17th century maroon societies established by fugitive Afro-Brazilian slaves. (Black Race Awards Honors Actor/Singer Tony Tornado )
In 2008 in São Paulo, I attended the Trofeu Raça Negra (TRN) award ceremony, a sort of NAACP Image Awards type affair, and along with other famous black Brazilians such as singers Netinho de Paula, Paula Lima, rapper Rappin’ Hood, congresswoman Benedita da Silva and others, I also had a chance to briefly interview Tornado. The first thing that struck me about Tony was his height. Although I had seen him on television, films and videos, it never occurred to me that he was as tall as is he. I’m 6’4” and Tony was looking at me eye to eye. I gotta dig that tape up wherever it is.
Anyway, it was cool to see Tony being honored at the TRN. It’s amazing that, even pushing 90 years of age, he still occasionally performs in black music/cultural events. I can only hope I’m in as good a shape as he is at that age. Funny thing is, from other details I’ve recently learned of him, it seems that living to such an advanced runs in his family. More on that in a future post. For now, check out the story below on an artist who definitely deserves recognition from hism community. Unfortunately, he seems to fall into that category of black Brazilians of whom other black Brazilians seem to know less about than the black American to whom they are often compared to.
2019 Troféu Raça Negra (Black Race Awards) honors actor/singer Tony Tornado; in 1970s, artist was a key voice that popularized Soul music in Brazil
Courtesy of Caras, Afro Brasileiros
Organized by the NGO Afrobras with the support of Zumbi dos Palmares College (UniPalmares), the Troféu Raça Negra (Black Race Awards) ceremony is considered the Oscars of the black community and shines the spotlight on those who strive for a fairer and more egalitarian society. The dresscode also contributed to making the night a winning parade. The award ceremony was established in 2000, on the occasion of the 500 years of discovery of Brazil and became annual event starting in 2004.
The ceremony features musical attractions and performances such as that of dancer Danilo Donizete. On stage, the speeches were marked by emotion and engagement. A great honoree of the edition, actor and singer Tony Tornado exudes breath, disposition and good humor at the height of his 89 years.
Recognition and reverence for those who struggle against racial prejudice and in favor of a more just and egalitarian society. It was with this motto that the 17th edition of the Troféu Raça Negra – considered the Oscars of the black community – brought together personalities and advocates of the cause, in Sala São Paulo, in São Paulo. The great honoree of the year, actor and singer Tony Tornado (89) was thrilled.
“I confess that I don’t know if I deserve this award. It’s just that the fight is big and it’s of so many people… People who fight for the integration of black people in society, music and the arts in general,” said Tornado, who still claimed to be privileged in the midst of so many inequalities.
“My life has been lucky. I always believed in what I do and I had everything to be another outcast, but I came out to fight, to live life and never left my moral integrity. The black has power, being black is being a fighter,” added the native of Mirante do Paranapanema (São Paulo state), applauded by his son, Lincoln Tornado (33). Orchestrated by Afrobras, the Afro-Brazilians Development Society. A cultural partner, with the support of Zumbi dos Palmares College (UniPalmares), the ceremony had journalist Dulcinéia Novaes (64) and actress Maria Gal (43) in the role of masters of ceremony.
“We are 54.6% of the population and we are not seen in posts and positions of power and representation,” said Maria, an atriz on the soap opera As Aventuras de Poliana of the SBT TV network. Musical performers of the star-studded night included Seu Jorge (49), Léo Maia (43), Carlos Dafé (72) and Simoninha (55), who was the musical direction of the night and Gerson King Combo (76). Deise Nunes, 51, the first black woman to win the Miss Brasil contest back in 1986, also appeared.
Gal and Novaes presented to the public “the musical surprises”, among them: Vanessa Jackson, Seu Jorge, Leo Maia, Simoninha, Dandara Mariana, Carlos Dafé and Lincoln Tornado. The musical direction of the show was by Simoninha and artistic direction by Eduardo Acaiabe.
The ceremony’s powerful list of honorees included rapper Dexter (46), Brazilian-based French activist Alexandra Loras (42), state deputy Erica Malunguinho (38) and federal deputy Miguel Haddad (62).
“The fight is part of me. I don’t see myself without clenched fists seeking a better world for those in the same direction. Rap is my ammunition and my life. This culture saves lives!” Dexter emphasized. “This trophy is for all of you who struggle every day to make our world aware of this arduous journey to change the leading role of blacks in a prejudiced society. Much remains to be done,” said Alexandra Loras.
“It’s not from today that black people are moving and acting politically,” celebrated Erica, the first transsexual elected state deputy in Brazil. Elegant, the evening honored young Haitians Jacquelin Jules, Deniel Pierrot, Chrisner Louis and Evens Alce, students of UniPalmares who excelled in their studies and were hired at a banking institution.
Below is a list of the honorees of the night in the various areas of activity. They were:
Raul Botelho – the first black Lieutenant Brigadier of the Air Force and the first Commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Ministry of Defense, the Lieutenant Brigadier
Érica Malunguinho – The first trans state deputy elected in Brazil, in 2018. Malunguinho is also known for having created in São Paulo’s downtown, the Quilombo Urbano, Aparelha Luzia.
Dr. Pedro Luiz Sousa – the police chief responsible for the arrest of the torturers of the black youth at a supermarket that made headlines last year.
Alexandra Loras – Outstanding journalist and activist in 2019, former French Consul.
Miguel Haddad – Federal Deputy. Former mayor and pioneer in the implementation of municipal quotas for the city of Jundiaí, serving as a model for other municipalities in Brazil.
Ricardo John – Together with Zumbi College, he developed the Caixa Preta book, Golden Lion in Cannes and set goals for hiring young black people at the Agency.
Rodrigo Tortima – Director of the Agência Grey and the directors Adriano Matos, Gustavo Zordan and the students of Zumbi dos Palmares College, Vanessa Holanda, Klesley Alves, Mayra Sales and Alex Andre – together with Zumbi College launched the Real Machado de Assis Campaign, emphasizing the blackness of the great writer; the campaign was awarded gold in Cannes.
Andrea Assef – Along with Zumbi College, released the book Caixa Preta on the appreciation and visibility of black achievements in history, won gold at Cannes, Director of the Agência Thompson.
Flávia Lima – journalist, black woman occupying the Ombudsman post at Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s top newspaper.
Jacquelin Jules, Deniel Pierrot, Chrisner Louis and Evens Moose – young Haitians, (interns at Zumbi dos Palmares) hired at Banco Bradesco.
Paulo Roberto Vieira da Silva – doctor.
João Acaiabe – actor, storyteller, one of our greatest griots, the master.
Dexter– one of the most famous rappers in Brazil. Great partner of Zumbi dos Palmares College.