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

Continue reading

Stone Flower

Jobim, Bossa Nova Giant,
Would’ve Been 90 Today

When Antonio Carlos Jobim was born, the stunning beaches of his hometown, Rio de Janeiro, were still nesting grounds to a variety of marine birds and wild life. Some of them would be celebrated later by Brazil’s greatest popular music composer, who’d be 90 today.
The architect of Bossa Nova, the 1960s movement that took the world by a quiet storm, Jobim’s forever linked to his Garota de Ipanema, the classic that became one the most performed songs ever, even as it seems now forever trapped in some sort of an elevator to oblivion.
Which is unfortunate, not just for his varied and profoundly Brazilian output, but also because, in its original João Gilberto and Stan Getz performance, it remains a delicate gem, all intricate harmonies and tender balance of its beat. (On Feb 2, Getz would’ve been 90 too.)
An accomplished musician both on acoustic guitar and piano, Jobim found in João‘s voice the superb phrasing to enhance his delicate melodies. Their musical partnership was not unlike that of Federico Fellini and Marcelo Mastroianni: a esthetic symbiosis, where both seem part of the same creative continuum.
It’s possible that João, now 85, may be still mourning, quietly as is his style, the sudden passing of his lifelong friend, in New York, Dec. 8, 1994. And so may be generations of artists, influenced and inspired by him, grieving his loss and the hole he’s left in Brazil’s culture.
For even as his extensive songbook is still a defining landmark for the rich musical tradition of his homeland, he’s much less regarded there today than his stature as a songwriter would’ve granted. Even today, it
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Read Also:
* 50 Summers
* Multi-Note Samba

may not be easy to tune in any of his songs on Brazilian radio stations.
In these short-attention span times, the relevance of collective memory and the weight a society places on his standard-bearers, depends on constant refreshing, and efforts to preserve them. Popular culture is as good as the next trend, if nothing is done otherwise.
Jobim’s genius may still be part of every positive reference about Brazil’s culture. But less than 20 years from his passing, fresh traces of his work are more likely to be found in the art of international artists than of his fellow brasileiros. That is truly puzzling but some half-seriously think that the reason is obvious.
Although they were all born in the same country, few has the Portuguese word for ‘tone’ as a nickname. Plus, almost no one has, written on their very birth certificate, the term that defines nationality, as Antonio Carlos BRASILEIRO de Almeida Jobim did. No wonder some call him the inventor of Brazilian music. Happy Birthday, Tom.

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

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

Lil’ Pepper


30 Years Since Brazil,
World Lost Elis Regina

The singer arguably considered Brazil’s greatest, Elis Regina, died of an 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