While its optics may lure the cheesecake collector, its music is not erotic at all; it’s haunting and melancholy.
With a cover depicting nude lovers on a tropical beach, Hareton Salvanini’s 1981 album Xavana, Uma Ilha do Amor looks like a porn soundtrack—after all, that title translates to Xavana, Island of Love. Much like Salvanini’s nude-dappled 1974 album A Virgem de Saint Tropez, reissued by Vinilisssimo in 2018, this too is the score to a forgotten exploitation movie. But for the most part, the music is far from boom-chicka-wow that one associates with grindhouse fodder. Mad About Records has reissued the Xavana soundtrack, and while its optics may lure the cheesecake collector, its music is not erotic at all; it’s haunting and melancholy.
The movie Xavana was directed by the Polish-born Zygmunt Sulistrowski, who directed Virgem as well. He thought himself as much ecologist as filmmaker. He was smitten by Brazil after a visit to Rio de Janeiro, and turned his modest career to a handful of softcore films made in exotic locales. Salvanini, born in Bauru, Brazil, was a composer-crooner who in all likelihood elevated Sulistrowski’s images above the level of suntanned eye-candy. Opener “Com os raios do sol” (“The Rays of the Sun”) is a moody ballad; even though translations from Portuguese aren’t provided, Salvanini’s voice sounds pensive. When the track gets sunnier near the end and background singers join in a chorus of “sol,” the homage to the sun doesn’t sound particularly hedonistic.
The sensuous melodies and languorous arrangements—sometimes, as on the title track, accompanied by the distant sound of local fauna—may well suit the era’s adult movie moods. But when Salvanini cries out, “Xavana,” it’s with a visceral anguish, as if an aging and musically talented beach bum was recalling his carefree youth. The most cheerful track here, “Zona Sul” (loosely, “in the South”) is an up-tempo bossa nova led by vocals and whistling, but if this is an album of memories, it sounds like the only happy one. The album closer is a reprise of Salvanini’s theme to the 1974 softcore movie A Virgem de Saint Tropez. But while on that album it was given lyrics and the title “You Can’t Run Away from Your Destiny,” which is wistful enough, here it’s called “Solidão”—solitude.
Despite the erotic potential, the movie is apparently a tale of paradise lost. It revolves around Nathalie, who has inherited a remote island named Xavana, off the coast of Rio. The legend goes that Xavana was a farmer’s daughter who fell in love with a boy that her father didn’t approve of; they ran off to the island and lived in peace (and, one imagines, mostly naked) until one day when she simply disappeared into the sea. Salvanini takes those plot cues for a lush but somber ride, seductive timbres and smooth vocals lulling the listener so that they might well walk into the ocean.
During Titanic-mania in the ‘90s, reports noted that sensitive teenage girls held crying parties where they’d listen to Celine Dion and weep together—an entirely understandable reaction. For older audiences, Xavana, Uma Ilha do Amor, sexy and sad at the same time, is a perhaps more apropos soundtrack to a good cry, with woodwinds and strings practically sobbing at the memory of an unspoiled yet tragic island.