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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52 From the Coup

A Day for Brazil to Count

Its Democratic Blessings

The Ominous Use of Brazil's National Colors (A Tarde, 2015)There are two wrenching, overlapping moments hitting Brazil right now: one punctual, threatening to postpone the future for another 40 years. The other is a permanent state been of self-doubt, of insular auto-sabotage that betrays a profound fear of realizing the dreams that it has been dreaming for so long.
Thus, if Brazil were a person, March 31th would feel like having a screwdriver making turns while deeply encased in the gut. Any other year, it’d be a day to be quickly forgotten, as it’s been for over half a century. But this year, the pain’s different and the bleeding, worse.
When the tanks took the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and other Brazilian capitals, on that March of 1964, they were not just aborting democratically elected President João Goulart. They were strangling a nation trying to come on to its own.
For the 1950s had been Brazil’s rebirth, and the promise of a time unlike anything that had come before. It was the decade the nation discovered its blackness, its youth exploding with possibilities, and most people started moving to live in modern cities, with an emerging industry to boot.
Suddenly, Brazilian popular culture, music, cinema, fine arts, architecture, even its passion for football, acquired an exuberance, a gusto for living that surpassed that of all ethnicities that had been thrown in the mix since the founding of the nation in 1500.

WHEN BOOTS HIT THE GROUND
That’s what the truculent military coup hoped to squashed like tropical cockroaches. The country’s powerful oligarchy, and the always unsecured middle class, readily embraced the muscular support from the U.S., who couldn’t bear seeing Brazil fall into the Soviet Union lure.
The military showed a unified front, swiftly consolidating power, even as they were at each other’s throats behind the scenes. Their single-file determination drove great Brazilian minds to exile, or to an early grave, but also had a tenacious resistance to fight from day one.
While tirany indebted the nation, and mercilessly punished dissent and free expression, Brazil grew around and despite it. It took 21 years to restore democracy. It may take many more (more)
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* John & João
* Dead Presidents
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A Century’s Voice

Frank Sinatra and His Many
Nights & Days Left Inside Us

Frankie was the singer baby boomers loved to hate. But then along came maturity, and the recognition of his maverick spirit, and they finally connected with the Chairman of the Board. By then, he’d already earned the nickname that the so-called Greatest Generation had given him: The Voice.​ Still, he never seemed to care much about that sort of stuff.
That’s part of the allure of Frank Sinatra, who’d be 100 this Saturday: first he grew on the very people who grew up with him. They were enthralled and disgusted, at times sympathetic and repulsed about every one of his ups and downs. And he had many, collected as sobriquets, each marking a distinct moment of his trajectory. And then, he got to you.
The great swinger was a reference point to the popular music that animated and chastised the many revolutions of the 20th century, with two world wars to boot. He also added a few deep sulks of his own to its history. Like sex, for instance, arguably his greatest contribution as an interpreter, and the differential between his art and that of other crooners of his time.
It permeated his whole carrier, from the screaming teenage girls, anticipating Beatlemania by decades, to the virile enunciation and graceful phrasing of his maturity, to the weariness of his final years of artistic brilliance, in the early thunders of the rock and roll explosion. He faced the decline of his vocal chords prowess with the stoicism of a fallen hero.
As Sinatra progressed towards irrelevance, a man who’d conquered one too many heartbreaks to count, he could no longer understand the primeval beat that had replaced the precise jazz syncopation he used to excel at. The urgency and straightforwardness of rock lyrics offended his American Standards-educated sensibility. Even his political sympathies were out of step with the times. (more)
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* The Standards
* 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

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