I would hazard a guess that almost everybody can name at least one Brazilian musician, but I wonder how many can name at least one Brazilian composer?
It isn’t necessary to refer to any one genre in particular. The lack of awareness as to who actually wrote the music you are tapping your toes to, applies across the whole sound board.
Let us have a wander through some well known Brazilian music and you can see for yourself if you can prove me wrong.
Take Samba for instance. Who can put hand on heart and say that they have heard of Zeca Pagodinho or Herivelto Martins? Maybe you know of Jorge Aragao, but then who hasn’t, and are you certain that he composes and if so, which songs?
Singer Song Writers are easier to follow, with Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Djavan to name but a few, but has anyone today heard of Andoniran Barbosa?
He was famous for his samba improvisations using the common street language of Sao Paulo in the days when the shanties were being torn down to make way for the megalopolis that it is today.
Here is a sample of one of his songs:-
“We picked up all our belongings
And we went out on the street
to watch the demolition.
Ah, what a sorrow we felt,
Each plank as it fell
Hurt us in the heart…”
Fond of Bossa Nova for a smootchy glide across the dance floor?
Who hasn`t listened to The Girl from Ipanema? But does Vinicius de Moraes ring any bells? Ding Dong, because he wrote the words! Maybe you do a little better with Jobim who collaborated with Vinicius, but can you name any of his hit songs other than Consolacao, and does Black Orpheus mean anything to you? Vinicius wrote a stage play, Orfeu da Conceicao, as an adaptation of the Greek legend Orpheus and Euydice. Set in a Rio favela during Carnival, it was made into a film in 1959 that featured a sound track written by Jobim and Luis Bonfa. The sound track album;- “Carinhos Sem Ter Fim/Black Orpheus”, is one of my all time Bossa Nova treasures, and is available on iTunes.
Brazilian Jazz has become better known on native soil since it`s reintroduction to the Brazilian public in early 2000 under Project Black Gold, by producers and instrumentalists Mario Adnet and Zé Nogueira, although Stan Getz did his best to popularise native rhythms when they were written back in the 50`s 60`s and 70`s it was audiences and fellow musicians overseas who brought to fame talent such as Moacir Santos, who played for most of his professional life in the USA and wrote works of real genius.
In Brazil his early career included teaching musical giants such as Nara Leao, Baden Powell, Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal. Then in 1965 he recorded the seminal jazz album “Coisas”, but it`s value was under estimated and he moved to Pasadena in 1967 where he worked in Hollywood, writing film soundtracks and recording three albums, becoming an innovative and influentual figure in jazz composition.
Meanwhile in Brazil he was largely ignored up until just before his death in 2006, when he was awarded a medal for his efforts, but ask anyone if they have ever heard “Coisas” or his all time hit “Nana” and a puzzled expression will betray complete ignorance of this fantastic musician and composer. Available on iTunes, why not give it a listen if you like Jazz?
Villa Lobos is becoming more and more popular among classical music audiences abroad, even though the rendition of his fabulously Brazilian music is seldom done justice by foreign conductors. Search for another name associated with the classical repertoire and you will find yourself in the “no results” column. Even in company with Brazilians who might be expected to know better, few will be able to name Laurindo Almeida, Francisco Braga, Luiz Floriano Bonfa, Joao Pernambuco, Dilermando Reis, Roberto Baden-Powell, Radames Gnattali, Claudio Santoro or Garoto, despite their fame internationally.
Laurindo Almeida, born in the tiny coastal hamlet of Prainha,SP, not far from where I live, in 1917, is a good example of a much neglected Brazilian musician and composer. He began his career in Sao Paulo but at just nineteen years old he went overseas, paying his passage on a liner by playing guitar. In Paris he heard Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, both of whom become inspirational to him. Returning to Brazil he made a name for himself playing both classical and popular guitar, but it wasn’t until he reached thirty years old that one of his hit songs was recorded in the US, and the money he made allowed him to travel and work in California.
In the late 1940`s he began to work on a synthesis of jazz and Brazilian sounds while playing alongside Stan Kenton and Jack Constanzo
In the 1950`s Almeida`s compositions, which later became known as Jazz Samba, attracted the attention of his fellow professionals, leading to sound recordings and public appreciation that made him one of the most famous Brazilian artists overseas.
He was nominated for no fewer than 16 Grammy awards and won on five occasions.
His many recordings, including film and television, made him one of the most important figures in jazz music and when he teamed up with singer Terri Salli and flautist Martin Ruderman in 1958 he made the first classical cross-over album and one of the most successful ever made by a Brazilian musician;- “Duets with Spanish Guitar”.
Despite its innocuous title, it still sells well even today and is available on iTunes. I heartily recommend it to you as a milestone in Classical Crossover music and as a tribute to Almeida`s composing talent and as wonderful music on guitar and flute with songs that will surely touch your heart and soul, especially if you have an ounce of romance within you. Some of the Portuguese pronunciation by Canadian born Terri Salli, may amuse you, but her soaring voice compensates. It was reported that upon hearing her sing “Bachianas Brasilieras No 5” from the album, that composer Heitor Villa-Lobos stated that he considered it to be the best recorded performance of the work.
Sadly Almeida`s work went largely unnoticed here in his native Brazil, although somewhat belatedly, the Brazilian government awarded him the “Comendador da Ordem do Rio Branco” not long before his death in 1995 at the age of 77.
I myself am no expert, and confess to be ignorant of much that has risen to fame in Brazil.
My point is that whereas the music of Lennon & McCartney, Bob Dylan, or
Rogers and Hammerstein, is often heard and recognised as having been written by these well known musical giants, even in Brazil.
Their homespun counterparts are quickly forgotten and perhaps even despised because of their domestic origin.
Foreign music that has reached celebrity status in New York, or London, on the other hand, is an immediate hit in Brazil and often remains among the best sellers for years to come, often made into cover versions and even immortalized by Brazilian imitators.
I enjoy listening to Brazilian music very much and feel a sense of solidarity with the artists who wrote and produced such wonderful contributions to Brazilian culture. It tickles me too, when I chat with Brazilian friends about their musical heritage and listen to their amazement when I talk about artists from their hall of fame, and then play a few tracks, which often they will have heard for the first time!
It has been said that the prophet is despised in his home town, and that may have a parallel with the innovator, who must seek approval abroad before his ideas become currency.
The next time that you are talking about Brazilian music, try this one out on your friends:-
Again available on iTunes, (No I don`t have shares in Apple Inc!)
Claudio Santoro is the composer of this delightful little piece called “Paulistana N.1”, from the album “Music By Brazilian and French Composers” by Ivana Pinho & Wellington Cardoso.
I hope that you enjoy it!
© 2014 Alastair Kinghorn