By Arthur Machado
A lot was going on in my life the last time I visited my family and friends in Brazil: high school ended, I was forced to drop out of my dream college, and I was going through a weird break-up phase. I had to face the reality that I was spending the next 6 months at home until I could apply to another school.
The day before I got on my flight to Brazil my Mom entered my room and yelled an unforgettable sentence that roughly translates to: “You know you’re a simp when you’re listening to Tim Maia’s cult music on a Friday night.”
This “cult music,” as my Mother had categorized it, was Tim Maia’s rational culture phase. I was never fond of music from my own country. Maybe it was because I had more contact with the bad country music from my state or it was because of American cultural dominance. Tim Maia changed that for me. The singer blends American soul and funk with tropical Brazilian genres such as samba and forró. He released five well received albums in the mid 70s until he saw a book laying on his friend’s table that changed his life.
This book was the first volume out of 21 volumes of Universo em Desencanto, the guidebook to the sect called “Rational Culture.” Some of the main teachings of this sect are that miracles do not exist, everything and everyone are made from natural energy, and the world exists there in a natural balance. The only way to achieve natural balance is through buying and reading all 21 volumes of the book, a genius business model. And oh, yeah, aliens exist too, as Tim Maia would report in a Playboy interview.
Maia got completely obsessed over the cult and this translated to his music. The singer forced his band members to convert themselves to the “Rational Culture,” get rid of all their non-essential material goods, and paint their instruments white in what became known as his rational phase. In this era all of his songs were somehow always connected to the cult, and just like the books the albums were representative of the volumes of the guides. The albums are creatively titled Rational Vol.1, Rational Vol. 2, and Rational Vol. 3.
Last summer I managed to find the first two bundled in a very sketchy music shop in the old downtown of my city, Goiânia . The vinyls were full of dust, wrapped in old protective plastic and had that distinct thrift store vinyl smell. Since the music shop owner didn’t even know they were in his store I managed to get them for cheap and as soon as I got back to my grandparents house I listened to all three back to back. I don’t think I’ll ever have another musical experience like this. The amount of confusion that came from the lyrics was immediately counterbalanced by the catchy hooks and the tropical funk vibe Maia creates.
The first album seemed like a perfectly fine funk album, the horns blasting an earworm riff, his deep bass voice singing about how great life was, and how the group he was in was great. The third track Bom Senso was when the purpose of the album finally hit me. Maia sang about how all humans should read the book to be successful in life and this sort of “rational immunization.” At the 3 minute mark he stops singing at all and gives us a spoken intermission:
Read the Book
the only book
Universe in Disenchantment
On top of being amazing 70s funk records, these albums are deep dive into the workings of this cult. In a completely surreal experience Maia attempts to charm you into reading Universe in Disenchantment throughout the whole collection of albums.
Another stand-out track is the 12 minute epic “Rational Culture,” completely sung in English. This track is mostly a long jam, based on the interplay between two electric guitars soloing and an entrancing bass loop. The only exception is the return of the extended intermission motif when the singer exclaims:
From me a superworld
World of rational energy
And we live
In the energy world
World of animal’s energy
Read the Book
The only book
The book of God
‘Universe In Disenchantment’
And you’ll gonna know the truth
I felt obliged to at least check out the book on my own to see how crazy it is. The week before I came back to the US I ordered the first volume out of a used book shop and unfortunately it was left to dust in my desk until quarantine started. Out of boredom I decided to take a glimpse at a couple of chapters such as “ASTROLOGY – RATIONAL IMMUNITY belongs to Brazilians,” “How we all can communicate with the RATIONAL SUPERIOR,” and “This BOOK absorbs the punishment of DEATH.” Let’s just say that at least Tim Maia made some good music about it. The book itself is complete gibberish and I’ll happily leave the book dusting in my desk again.
All in all, I’ll leave two great recommendations: give Tim Maia a listen, especially the the 2012 American re-release of his greatest hits World Psychedelic Classics 4: Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia and (please don’t) read the Book, the only book, the book of God, Universe in Disenchantment .