What do CODA and Bachianas Brasileiras have in common?

Short Answer: Both are related to musicians with the surname of Villalobos. Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) is a music teacher in the Best Picture nominee CODA and Heitor Villa-Lobos composed the Bachianas Brasileiras.

Sorry for the long hiatus, I’ve matched at Wills Eye Hospital, eaten lots of fantastic BBQ in Texas, and taken up rock climbing in the interim.

I heard a segment on The Intelligence a few days ago about Brazilian modernism that was highly related to my most recent blog post about Tarsilo do Amaral, Antropofagia, and modernism in Brazilian art. In brief, the podcast/article traces the course of Brazilian modernism in the century since the Modern Art Week (an arts festival to Brazilians “as important as the…Armory Show”) – discussing the Antropofagia movement, the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, and the evolution of bossa nova. Of greatest interest to this post, it notes that Heitor Villa-Lobos presented some of his works at the Modern Art Week as well.

As a young man, Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) rebelled against his mother’s desire for him to become a doctor. He instead become a “musical vagabond” that played guitar and cello to support himself while traveling around Brazil. During this period, he absorbed Brazilian folk music, especially the Afro-Brazilian music of the country’s north. After his travels, he enrolled in the National Institute of Music in Rio de Janeiro where he seriously studied classical stalwarts such as Bach, Wagner, and Puccini. Among an extraordinarily prolific output (with ~2,000 credited works), his Bachianas Brasileiras (1930-1945) are probably some of the best known. These works uniquely blended Western classical music with Brazilian folk and popular music.

I’ve heard Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 live twice in my life – once with Nicole Cabell and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2014- and the other time at a concert with a Stanford professor that refused to extend my funding for a research project. In any case, it’s quite sublime. For a recording helmed by Villa-Lobos himself:

CODA (child of deaf adults) is a coming-of-age comedy-drama directed by Sian Heder that is a remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Belier. Ruby (Emilia Jones), the only hearing member of her family, struggles to balance her passion for singing with her responsibilities to her family’s fishing business. The cast is rounded out by her inspirational music teacher Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) and family (Troy Kotusr, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin). It’s up for three Oscars (including Best Picture) in 2022. I would definitely recommend streaming on Apple TV or seeing it in theaters (for free!). You’ll never hear Judy Collins’ “Both Sides Now” the same after watching…

From CODA. Ruby’s audition for Berklee (actually filmed in Rockport, not Berklee).

Not totally related, but I also watched Soderbergh’s Kimi the other day in which Billie Eilish’s ‘Oxytocin’ was featured multiple times. Since then, another song from Happier Than Ever, Billie Bossa Nova has been totally stuck in my head. For some real bossa nova, I had a radio show from a few years ago also attempting to explore the evolution of Brazilian music here:

Track listings for the show can also be found on the website of WMBR 88.1.


  1. https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2022/02/12/how-the-cannibal-manifesto-changed-brazil
  2. https://library.brown.edu/create/fivecenturiesofchange/chapters/chapter-5/modern-art-week-and-the-rise-of-brazilian-modernism/
  3. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Heitor-Villa-Lobos

How are the Donner Party and Tarsila do Amaral related?

Short answer: Cannibalism. The Donner Party was a group of pioneers who were snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains and had to resort to cannibalism; Tarsila do Amaral was a Brazilian modernist painter instrumental in the formation of the aesthetic movement Antropofagia (cannibalism).

Abaporu by Tarsila do Amaral. Source: MALBA

One of the other residency applicants during my interview today was from Brazil. Separately, my friend sent me the most recent episode of “Great Art Explained” about Dali’s Persistence of Memory. Somehow these two things together reminded me of the magnificent work of Tarsila do Amaral (1886-1973).

Tarsila was the scion of coffee plantation owners in São Paulo and studied art in Brazil before leaving for Paris. There she studied with noted Cubists such as Fernand Leger and Andre Lhote- which helped inform her future work. In 1928, she painted Abaporu (oil painting on canvas) as a birthday present for her husband, the Brazilian writer Oswald de Andrade. In the Tupi language (an language formerly spoken by the aboriginal peoples of South and Southeast Brazil), abapor’u means “the man who eats man” from aba (man), poro (people) and u (eat). The painting itself was described by Tarsila as “a monstrous solitary figure, enormous feet, sitting on a green plain, the hand supporting the featherweight minuscule head. In front a cactus exploding in an absurd flower.”

Tupi or not Tupi: that is the question.

Oswald de Andrade in Manifesto Antropofago

When Oswald saw the painting, he was said to have exclaimed “That looks like a cannibal, a man of the earth.” This went on to inspire Oswald to write the Manifesto Antropofago (Anthropophagic [Cannibal] Manifesto”). The manifesto proposes that Brazil “cannibalize” European culture, ridding themselves of direct influences to create their own culture. In the short term, the ideas of the Manifesto were suppressed in the wake of the Brazilian revolution of 1930 and the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas. In the longer term, the Manifesto would help inspire figures in the Tropicalismo movement of the 1960s.

Abaporu was sold in 1999 for $1.5 million to a (gasp) Argentinian collector and sits in the MALBA in Buenos Aires. Today, it is valued at over $100 million. However, as Freakonomics noted in their second podcast on art this week, all value is theoretical until it comes time for auction… The most expensive Brazilian painting to actually sell at auction is Tarsila’s A caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail made with cahaca [sugarcane liquor], sugar, and lime). This painting was sold by court order and went for $9.25 million, beating out Alberto de Veiga Guignard’s Vaso de flores.

A Caipirinha - Tarsila do Amaral - WikiArt.org
A Caparinha by Tarsila do Amaral. Source: Wikiart

The Donner Party was a group of unfortunate Illinois pioneers that attempted to join the westward migration to California in 1846. Consisting of the families and employees of brothers George and Jacob Donner and local businessman James Reed, the party started off around 30 people strong. Their journey was unremarkable at first, reaching Independence, Missouri in May and Fort Laramie, Wyoming in July. However, their party (along with 50 unfortunate others) split off from the main group in late July, intending to head to California instead of Oregon. Following the advice of the unreliable explorer Lansford Hastings (and later Major in the Confederate States Army – they truly hired the best and the brightest), the party pushed ahead into the Hastings Cutoff. This route was 125 miles longer than the established trail and cut through inhospitable deserts. The group lost valuable time over the next few months breaking new trails, fixing wagons, and searching for dying cattle. By late September, the Donner Party was the final migrant party heading towards California. On October 31st, the group finally reached Donner Pass… and found their route blocked by snow.

10 Things You Should Know About the Donner Party - HISTORY
Hastings Cutoff. Source: History.com

The party then built makeshift cabins around a nearby lake (Donner Lake) and tried to subsist through the winter. Due to the harsh weather and inadequate food supplies, deaths soon occurred; this left the survivors to resort to cannibalism of the dead bodies. For those interested in a more detailed accounting, the Encyclopedia Britannica provides a great summary. Amazingly, the last survivor did not leave the camp until April 21, subsisting on cannibalism for weeks. Although harrowing, the misfortunes of the Donner party did nothing to slow the pace of migration to California. Today, Donner Lake is a gorgeous alternative to Lake Tahoe – I can personally attest it is a great place to boat, hike, and water-ski.

Donner Lake - Wikipedia
Donner Lake. Source


  1. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Donner-party
  2. https://coleccion.malba.org.ar/abaporu/
  3. https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3871
  4. https://womennart.com/2017/08/16/abaporu-by-tarsila-do-amaral/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tupi_language
  6. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09528829908576784
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donner_Lake
  8. https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/tarsila-do-amaral-abaporu/
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