Zero Freitas, a bus magnate from Sao Paulo, Brazil, could be the individual owner of the biggest vinyl records collection ever. As writer Monte Reel, the author of "Between Man and Beast" and "The Last of the Tribe.", recently revealed in an extensive article for The New York Times, and O Globo TV released a video interview about Freitas obsesion.
Zero Freitas, 62, is a wealthy businessman who, since he was a child, has been unable to stop buying records. In an office near the back of his 25,000-square-foot warehouse in São Paulo, Brazil, Freitas said "I've gone to therapy for 40 years to try to explain this to myself,". His compulsion to buy records, he says, is tied up in childhood memories: a hi-fi stereo his father bought when Freitas was 5 and the 200 albums the seller threw in as part of the deal. Freitas was an adolescent in December 1964 when he bought his first record, a new release: "Roberto Carlos Sings to the Children," by a singer who would go on to become one of Brazil's most popular recording stars.
By the time he finished high school, Freitas owned roughly 3,000 records. After studying music composition in college, he took over the family business, a private bus line that serves the São Paulo suburbs. By age 30, he had about 30,000 records.
About 10 years later, his bus company expanded, making him rich. Not long after that, he split up with his wife, and the pace of his buying exploded. "Maybe it's because I was alone," Freitas said. "I don't know."
He soon had a collection in the six figures; his best guess at a current total is several million albums. Recently, Freitas hired a dozen college interns to help him bring some logic to his obsession. The interns can collectively catalog about 500 records per day -- a Sisyphean rate, as it happens, because Freitas has been burying them with new acquisitions. Between June and November of last year, more than a dozen 40-foot-long shipping containers arrived, each holding more than 100,000 newly purchased records. Though the warehouse was originally the home of his second business -- a company that provides sound and lighting systems for rock concerts and other big events -- these days the sound boards and light booms are far outnumbered by the vinyl.
Many of the records come from a team of international scouts Freitas employs to negotiate his deals. They're scattered across the globe -- New York, Mexico City, South Africa, Nigeria, Cairo. The brassy jazz the interns were listening to on the office turntable was from his man in Havana, who so far has shipped him about 100,000 Cuban albums -- close to everything ever recorded there, Freitas estimated.
"This will take years and years. Probably 20 years, I guess." said Allan Bastos one of his best NY buyers and now based in Paris, of the cataloging effort.Twenty years -- if Freitas stops buying records.
Freitas has recently begun preparing his warehouse for his own venture, which he has dubbed Emporium Musical. Last year, he got federal authorization to import used records -- an activity that hadn't been explicitly allowed by Brazilian trade officials until now. Once the archive is registered as a nonprofit, Freitas will shift his collection over to the Emporium. Eventually he envisions it as a sort of library, with listening stations set up among the thousands of shelves.
If he has duplicate copies of records, patrons will be able to check out copies to take home. While Freitas thumbed through those records, Bastos was warning of a future in which some music might disappear unnoticed. Most of the American and British records Freitas has collected have already been digitally preserved. But in countries like Brazil, Cuba and Nigeria, Bastos estimated, up to 80 percent of recorded music from the mid-20th century has never been transferred. In many places, he said, vinyl is it, and it's increasingly hard to find. Freitas slumped, then covered his face with his hands and emitted a low, rumbling groan. "It's very important to save this," he said. "Very important".
Freitas is negotiating a deal to purchase and digitize thousands of Brazilian 78 r.p.m. recordings, many of which date to the early 1900s, and he expects to digitize some of the rarest records in his collection shortly thereafter. But he said he could more effectively save the music by protecting the existing vinyl originals in a secure, fireproof facility. "Vinyl is very durable," he said. "If you store them vertically, out of the sun, in a temperature-controlled environment, they can pretty much last forever. They aren't like compact discs, which are actually very fragile."
Freitas's desire to own all the music in the world is clearly tangled up in something that, even after all these years, remains tender and raw. Maybe it's the nostalgia triggered by the songs on that first Roberto Carlos album he bought, or perhaps it stretches back to the 200 albums his parents kept when he was small -- a microcollection that was damaged in a flood long ago but that, as an adult, he painstakingly recreated, album by album.