Waters of March

A Fine Day to Salute
Hurricane Elis Regina

‘If she were still alive, Brazilian music wouldn’t be in such a bad shape.’ That’s guitar player Nathan Marques about Elis Regina, likely Brazil’s greatest singer, who’d be 72 this Friday. She died at 36 of an accidental overdose, and the country’s rich musical tradition still mourns her loss.
Most survivors of Brazil’s golden generation of songwriters and musicians, from the 1960s on, would endorse her guitarist’s stinging comment. Besides being impossibly gifted as an artist, Elis is also missed for her uncanny scouting talents, as many a career was either launched or enhanced by her renditions.
Her rise from anonymity to national stardom was meteoric. At 20, with Vinicius de Moraes and Edu Lobo‘s Arrastão, she won the TV Excelsior Festival de Música, the first of a series of festivals that took the country by storm, and revealed a new batch of interpreters that would dominate Brazilian music for years to come.
She then co-hosted with Jair Rodrigues O Fino da Bossa, and turned it into the most important music program on TV at the time. She seemed born to star in the medium, a crucial part of the young nation’s cultural integration, even as it also served well the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 85.
In many cases, hers were the first recordings of composers who’d go on to become national treasuries, like Milton Nascimento, Ivan Lins, Beto Guedes, and João Bosco, beside others. Or she added considerable wattage to the work of contemporaries, like Lobo, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil, by recording their songs.

WHEN BRAZILIAN MUSIC MATTERED
Even though they all wrote lyrics, she also helped usher an entire new lineage of lyricists. Fernando Brant, Ronaldo Bastos, Aldir Blanc, and Victor Martins, to name but few, had their urban poetry-infused words first played on the radio and performed on TV by her, in a country whose majority by now were living in big cities.
By the 1970s, Brazilian music, or MPB, had several streams of high quality output, and composers of talent to boot. As Bossa Nova entered its second decade, and Tropicália, its own maturity phase, even artists identified with purer musical idioms, such as samba and Chorinho, were registering on vinyl their arguably best work.
Thus as Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Baden Powell, and so many others were consolidating the then most famous representative of the country’s music, Veloso, Gil, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes, plus Buarque, Paulinho da Viola, Nascimento, and Bosco were hard at work rewriting popular music to a younger audience.
MOOD SWINGER & ADVOCATE
One of the most remarkable facts about Elis Regina’s trajectory was that she was developing her sophisticated interpretative touch while at the vanguard of all these currents. Credit must be also given to husband and partner Cesar Camargo Mariano, who contributed (more)
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Read Also:
* Lil’ Pepper
* 50 Summers

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Marvelous City

At 450, Rio de Janeiro Does
Not Look a Day Older Than Me

According to family records, Maria and Heitor were watching the Carnival parade on a Rio de Janeiro street, an early Ash Wednesday, when she went into labor. A rush to the military hospital was all it took for her third and last son to be born, a couple of hours later.
That’s probably why I never really liked Carnival. As for Rio, whose 450th anniversary is Sunday March 1, is not just Brazil’s premier party town – even when Cariocas decide to have fun with you – but where physical beauty and pleasure are steeped into its DNA.
The Saturnian nature of that night, and the subconscious background of music, rhythm and drums, was all I took from the city by the sea when we left it five years down the road. Oh, yes, I took something else too: in 1960, it ceased to be Brazil’s capital, a title transferred to Brasília.
Still one never really leaves Rio. I went back a few times – as if some insatiable thirst could only be quenched at that source -, lived there again for a few years, but since then, the city and I went our separated ways. One side misses the other more but there’s no bitterness.
My place of birth is no longer, anyway. From its then 2.5 million, it’s metastasized into a megalopolis of over 6 million people, pollution, urban violence, extreme income disparity, guns, drugs, corruption, you know, the full range of ills most South American cities know so well.

NATIVE FOREIGNER AT THE FAVELA REALM
But there are mysteries worth probing, hiding in its plain, 100 degrees average heat. The name, for instance: River of January? That’s got to be an inside joke: it’s not a river, but miles of seashore just a walking distance from downtown businesses. How do they mix? Don’t ask.
Also, it was officially founded on the third month of the year, not the first. Again, someone must have had a laugh about that. And for all the good vibes it inspires on people all over the world, reality on the ground in Rio is often more brutal than in New York. Now, go figure.
On a day in February I’ve left the 50s for the second time in my life, just like I’d done with Rio. As a dragged my own private Rio around the globe, mostly being a heavy-accented foreigner wherever I went, when I settled in the only city I’ve consciously chosen, New York, I finally knew where I’d come from.

TWO FEET IN THE 50S, TWICE LIVING IN THE CITY
Guanabara Bay will always inform everything feel about this life, even if now we speak different languages, and natives admire my perfect pronunciation of Portuguese, better than many a legal alien. But this transitional state is the ground I’ve made of by now, and will probably be laid to rest onto it too, someday.
I was born to the syncopated sway of Bossa Nova, Continue reading

Dead Presidents

Exhumation of Brazil’s João
Set for Month of John in the U.S.

It’s just a coincidence, but as the U.S. President John Kennedy’s assassination 50 years ago this month spawned the mother of all conspiracies, the exhumation of João Goulart, Brazil’s last democratically elected president before the 1964 military coup, is indeed spooky.
We’re not making light of what’s pretty much one of Brazil’s first attempts at exhuming its own past. Goulart’s death in Mercedes, Argentina, on Dec. 6, 1976, has been the subject of popular suspicions that he was poisoned, not felled by his heart, ever since.

After all, the dictatorship that had deposed him was at the peak of its most ravaging efforts to eradicate from the national memory his leftist legacy of populism. Plus, less than four months earlier, his predecessor, Juscelino Kubitschek, had also died in mysterious circumstances.
Earlier this year, the National Truth Commission, which has a mandate to probe human rights violations during the military rule, said it’d been Continue reading

50 Summers

Brazil’s Signature Song Hits Milestone
(& the Girl From Ipanema Is Fine Too)

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Garota de Ipanema, the Brazilian song that Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote with a certain beachgoer in mind, for a musical that was never staged. In 1964, its English version, The Girl From Ipanema, introduced the world to Bossa Nova, a jazzy musical style, and to a fresh culture from south of the Equator.
The song went on to become Brazil’s most recognizable art expression, and along with The Beatles’ Yesterday, one of the most recorded in history, its breezy rhythm now an integral part of the vocabulary of popular music. Just like the song, Helô Pinheiro, the young muse who inspired Tom and Vinicius, and had her 69th birthday a month ago today, has hardly aged at all.
Although the song was recorded first by Pery Ribeiro, himself the son of two members of Brazil’s popular music royalty, singer Dalva de Oliveira and songwriter Herivelto Martins, it was the recording of its English adaptation what marks a turning point for the musicians involved, the Bossa Nova beat in particular, and the world of popular music in general.
When Jobim, his frequent interpreter João Gilberto and wife Astrud, plus the Ukrainian-American Stan Getz gathered to record The Girl From Ipanema, Bossa Nova was still a Continue reading

Multi-Note Samba

João Gilberto, the Voice of
Brazilian Music, Is 80 Today

João Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira, the singer whose delicate voice and masterful use of silence led a revolution in Brazilian music, has already etched his name as one of the world’s most expressive performers. Without dancing, without three-octave Cs, without even writing his own material, he still managed to record some of the definitive songs of the 20th century.
The fact that he has outlived his partner and co-architect of Bossa Nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim, has absolute no relevance to his own position at the top of Brazil’s rich musical tradition. That is mostly because since the late 1970s, João Gilberto made a point in rerecord and reinterpret the same group of songs over and over again. And Continue reading

Five Fine Stamps

Postal Service Pays Homage
to Latin American Music Titans

To label as “Latin” the music made by Latin American artists is nothing short than an empty generalization. But as the U.S. Postal Service stamp collection of five such legends shows, it’s clear that the endurance of their work went way beyond the limitations of the label and turned irrelevant even the Spanish and Portuguese languages through which they mostly Continue reading