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Sergio Mielniczenko: 'It Wasn't Like This in São Paulo'

Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg (@losjeremy) asks, "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles?

Today we hear from Sergio Mielniczenko, musician, songwriter, producer, deejay and Cultural Affairs officer at the Consulate General of Brazil:

"I'm a Paulistano. I was born in the capital city of the state of São Paulo. It's like New York, New York.

"São Paulo is one of the largest cities in Latin America. It's bustling and dynamic. It's progressive and energetic. Some of the most interesting movements happen in São Paulo. The fact that it is a very rich city creates possibilities.

"São Paulo is also an absolute chaotic city, traffic-wise. In the midst of all that, flowers come from the ground, from the concrete. It's a concrete city. It has more buildings than you can ever imagine.

"If you think Manhattan is big, you should fly over São Paulo -- it's endless. We don't have necessarily one downtown in São Paulo; we have large communities. São Paulo has the dangers of a large city and is sometimes polluted. Life there isn't always easy. You have to be brave.

"Los Angeles is a dream. The pace is slower - even though we complain about the 405. L.A. is beautiful. You have the ocean. You have a marvelous Downtown. You have beautiful museums and venues like the Hollywood Bowl, Disney Hall, the Skirball, the Getty, the Hammer Museum, LACMA, the Grand Performances series -- it's absurd, there is such amazing opportunity!

"I first came to Los Angles on vacation in 1972. I was about to enter college in Brazil. I wanted to practice English a little bit and to go to shows.

"When I arrived, I went straight from LAX to a friend's house in Glendale. I remember that it felt like a Father Knows Best type of neighborhood. The nice little garden in front with the grass. The cars. The quiet. The beautiful architecture. The houses looked totally different from the houses we had in Brazil.

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"When a friend invited me to go to this place called Hollywood, I thought I would see cranes with cameras and all the rest. Then I found Hollywood Boulevard and I was like, 'Oh my god, I can't believe this is Hollywood.'

"It was calmer then. This was the time of the peace movement so you would see places selling oils and candles and incense. It was the era of jeans; people discovered wearing bleached jeans and Levis jackets.

"And people were so very cool -- you'd see those VW vans going up and down with flowers - and you could hitchhike in those days. You could put your thumb out and people would stop right away and say, 'Where are you going?' I'm heading to the Valley. 'Okay, I'll take you there.' It was so friendly.

"It wasn't like this in São Paulo. But hitchhiking here was the norm. People would go across the canyons. Guys and girls. And there was a sense of community because you had long hair. Maybe you had a guitar with you, holding a guitar. They stopped. Your friends would stop and make friends all the time.

"It was a fantastic time. I was very young. I was able to fulfill my dream of seeing major, major rock bands at little clubs like the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. And at the same time, I met major Brazilian musicians who were living here.

"For instance, in the first ten days I was here, I met Sergio Mendes at a little restaurant club called Brazilian Bossa where my friend was a chef. It was a fluke! The possibility of that happening were one in a million. I've been living here for over thirty years, I never see Sergio Mendes around.

"That inspired me. If I had any doubts that I wanted to spend my life in music, at that point I was absolutely convinced. I went back to Brazil and studied for one year -- basic conducting, theory, composition, everything.

"But then I went to a class with a visiting professor from Michigan University. He was lecturing there in São Paulo and he was a professor of electronic music.

"I already loved, and I was already playing with, electronic music back then. I used all sorts of effects. I would record sounds from a short wave radio and play them backwards to create new sounds.

Sergio Mielniczenko. Photo courtesy Brazilian Hour

"In Brazil, I was neighbors with Os Mutantes from the Tropicalista movement. So I wasn't alone in my interests. But when I went to the Michigan professor's lecture, I said, 'Wow, I want to study music in the U.S.'

"So I came back. I had friends in the Valley. I went to Northridge. Then I learned about the radio, television and film major and I got interested in that. I changed my degree from music and graduated like that.

"During my second year of college, I went to work at the Brazilian consulate. And soon after the Brazilian Cultural department, or "sector," was created.

"And right after that somebody said, 'We have an opportunity to create a radio show at Loyola Marymount University*, KXLU, can you do it?' I didn't know if I could, but I said yes. I had like ten albums, I borrowed the rest from friends.

"One day soon after that, I was recording a show at the Brazilian Consulate -- we had set up a studio there. An engineer came through the door and said, 'Sergio, did you know that NPR is just starting to distribute radio shows?'

"I contacted them. And a week or ten days after, the government gave us the funds to have satellite distribution. Right off the bat we had twenty stations around the country.

"That's what this country is about. That's what Los Angeles is about. People say that this is the place to come and realize dreams. It's true. Look how fast things can happen here. If you have something of value, there's always an opportunity. People are always looking for new ideas.

"The radio show I started while in college is called The Brazilian Hour. It has been running for thirty-five years and is one of the longest-running international shows on satellite in the United States. We now produce the show in five languages -- English, Portuguese, Spanish, French and Mandarin. It's a non-stop thing!

"You can hear it online and for thirty-three years, over the air on KXLU, 88.9-F.M., the LMU* station. I also host and produce the Global Village on KPFK 90.7-FM and I co-host a more underground-ish show called Global Tracks on Moheak Radio, which is an online offshoot from Indie Radio. And I recently launched One Globe Radio, a free format radio station.

"You know, thinking back to those early days -- when I first got here, our community was small. We knew who were the musicians, we knew who had a business. We had a little Carnaval -- it was a dance at the Hilton hotel.

"As time went by, the population has developed. Some people you still know, but the community is much larger. The ups and downs rest in particular with the economy -- the economy of Brazil and the economy of the United States.

"When I moved to the U.S., Brazil's economy was complicated. Inflation was high. And to go back home with great ideas but not being able to execute didn't make sense. I thought, I should stay here and develop what's happening into reality, not just dream. So I stayed.

"Today it seems there is a reversal taking place because Brazil is doing so very well and developing so much, so fast. We need so much know-how in different areas that a lot of Brazilians who were here are going back home. So are Americans who are specialized in certain fields -- oil, for instance.

"In the cultural realm, the most difficult time to bring Brazilian musicians here is when Brazil is doing very well economically. Because the musicians stay home. They fill stadiums. They don't want to leave Brazil.

"As for me, I'm lucky enough to travel back and forth. I never stopped writing music. I've had hits in Brazil -- rock tunes -- and recently three of my songs were in the Brazilian film "Bed & Breakfast." It's a life of music and I love it. I can't stop. I always say, I'm not a genius, I just happen to be in the right place!"

-- Sergio Mielniczenko
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)


For more information about and to listen to audio from Sergio Mielniczenko's various radio shows: Click here for The Brazilian Hour online and at KXLU; click here for KPFK Global Village Fridays; click here for Moheak Radio's Global Tracks; and click here for One Globe Radio.

Top Photo: Sergio Mielniczenko, at the board during an undated KPFK-FM broadcast of his show, Global Village. Photo courtesy Sergio Mielniczenko

*Jeremy Rosenberg has written for LMU


Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com. Follow Rosenberg on Twitter @losjeremy

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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