The shock and the country's commotion over singer Leandro's death and the feeling of personal loss seem to stem from the fulminating power of the crooner's cancer. Some also pointed out the trend to value the simple and the country style represented by the sertaneja music.
The premature death of Leandro from the country-music duo Leonardo and Leandro immersed Brazil in deep sorrow during a time when the seleção (the national soccer team) was cause for some apprehension, but mainly for celebration to the whole country. The intensity of the collective outpouring of grief was a surprise to Brazilians themselves since the singer wasn't a star and his music genre is snubbed by most of the nation's intelligentsia.
Leandro, whose real name was Luiz José Costa, was 36. He died June 23 of multiple-organ failure caused by a giant and rare Askin tumor in his thorax. Chemotherapy, two surgeries, nothing was able to deter the cancer, which took over practically the whole right side of Leandro's chest. It was April 20 and Leandro was fishing in a farm in the state of Tocantins when he felt the pain that took him to the hospital and the discovery of his cancer. It was too late though and the tumor was already as big as an orange. Crowds had gathered outside the Hospital São Luiz in São Paulo's south zone, since he had returned to the hospital after a cardiac arrest at home.
On April 28, Leandro came to the U.S. At Baltimore's Johns Hopkins hospital he underwent a biopsy that confirmed his Brazilian doctors cancer diagnostic. During his brief stay in the hospital Leandro used to sing the title song of his just-released posthumous album. It was the favorite tune of his career he said. Naively plain as all their songs, "Um Sonhador" (A Dreamer) brings now a harrowing feeling of premonition:
Eu não sei para onde eu vou
pode até não dar em nada
minha vida segue o sol
no horizonte desta estrada.
I don't know where I'm going
It might well amount to nothing
My life follows the sun
On this road's horizon
The singer, who loved to dress well and to smile, appeared balddue to the chemotherapyrolled into a Brazilian flag at his São Paulo apartment balcony celebrating Brazil' soccer victory over Scotland. The dramatic image moved the country and even led President Cardoso to call the singer's family to wish them the best.
Leandro left three children: Tiago, 13; Lyandra, 3; and Leandro, five months. He had been married and divorced twice. The mother of the two smaller children is former model Andréa Motta from whom he had separated a short time before knowing about his cancer.
During the 10-hour-long wake in São Paulo in the Palácio 9 de Julho, the state assembly building, Leandro's body was seen by a crowd of at least 20,000 people. Among the anonymous mob, who cried, prayed and sang some of the duo's hits, there were several celebrities and politicians. São Paulo state governor Mário Covas was there and so was senator Eduardo Suplicy, São Paulo mayor Celso Pitta, and former Justice Minister Íris Rezende.
Luciano, from another famed sertanejo duo, Zezé Di Camargo e Luciano, fainted. Chitãozinho and Xororóstill another duo and Roberta Miranda also came for the farewell. The Fire Department truck transported the Brazilian-flag bedecked casket when it was time to take it to the Congonhas airport on its way to Goiânia.
Close to 100,000 people, including Vice-President Marco Maciel representing President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, followed the singer's body to the Jardim das Palmeiras cemetery for the burial on June 24. Said Maciel: "Leandro left a void and examples of love to the people and the music."
In Campos, state of Rio, 17-year-old Lídia da Silva Lima, soon after listening to the news of her idol's death, placed the duo's record with the cut "Pense em Mim" (Think of Me) and drank rat poison. She died 15 minutes after arriving at the hospital to where she was rushed.
Record TV network was rewarded for dropping its programmed world cup games in favor of the singer's death wall-to-wall live coverage. Record, which was getting a ridiculous 1% rating in the games jumped to a up to 24% rating, what placed it in first place among all TV channels. That's what happened for example during the broadcasting of Austria vs. Italy. So enthusiastic was Record with the instant feedback given by Ibope, the Brazilian Nielsen, that it almost skipped the game of Brazil against Norway.
Reporters Silvana Silva and Célia Serafim ended up crying on the air while showing the crowd emotions and Disk Record host Gilberto Barros seemed at times more like a fire-and-brimstone preacher, screaming among other things: "Leandro did not win the battle against death, but for us he became a national hero."
When the day games ended, the other networksGlobo, Manchete, and SBTjoined in the mourning with news and specials about Leandro. The next morning all of them covered live the funeral in Goiânia preempting the France vs. Denmark world cup game.
The shock over Leandro's death and the feeling of personal loss seem to stem from the fulminating power of the crooner's cancer. It took only two months from the day he felt strong back pains to the day he died. Some analysts also pointed out the agrarian origin of most of the population and a worldwide trend to value the simple and the country style represented by the sertaneja music.
Leandro was born August 15, 1961, the third of eight children. Their father, Avelino Virgulino, played viola (five-to-fourteen-string guitar) and Leandro started to play the guitar as a child. He and his seven siblings didn't have time to school though. Very early in life they started to pick up tomatoes with their parents who worked for a farmer in Goianápolis. To do their job the family had to wake up at 4 in the morning and walk six miles to be at work at 6.
In 1980, Leandro started to sing by himself in Goianápolis bars, after a day of work in the fields. It was 1983 when they decided to leave for Goiânia to try the show business. "Don't worry," said Carmen Divina, the mother. "If it doesn't work you'll always have a home to come back to." They never had to.
Their first gig was at the Canta Viola (Sing, Viola) nightclub. They would soon adopt the new moniker. Luís José and Emival Eterno became Leandro and Leonardo. At the time, Leandro was making a living as a salesman in a clothes shop while Leonardo worked in a pharmacy. They got the inspiration for their name from the twins fathered by the pharmacist.
Their first record in 1983an independent productionwas ignored. It was producer Moacir Machado, who that same year invited them to record for the 3M label after listening to them on a tape. "Solidão" (Loneliness) was their first regional hit, a song by Zezé Di Camargo, an unknown at the time, who would also become a country music sensation. Brazilian sertaneja music makes extensive use of duos. Leandro used to sing harmonies while his brother sang lead.
In 1985, their first CD, Leandro & Leonardo - Volume 1, with "Contradições" (Contradictions), sold 150,000 copies. The second, in 1987, containing "Solidão" (Loneliness) was a bigger success, selling 250,000 discs. In 1989, with their third album and the hit song "Entre Tapas e Beijos," (Amid Slaps and Kisses), they sold 1.3 million records. That was the CD that made them a national phenomenon. Except for the last album called Um Sonhador, all their CDs had the same name. There were 11 Leandro & Leonardo discs, distinguished from each other by a number.
They reached the top in 1990 with the release by the Continental label of their fourth CD with "Pense em Mim" (Think of Me), a catchy and saccharine tune about a man whose ladylove interest has eyes for another man. The tune sold 2.9 million copies and hit a chord with the middle and upper middle class in the South of the country. They were received by President Fernando Collor de Mello at Casa da Dinda, the presidential residence at the time.
This closeness to power brought also some heartache to the singing brothers. They were involved in a suit against Goiás governor, Agenor Resende, who in 1994 was accused of misuse of public funds. In exchange for 30 shows they had a runway and a lake built in their farm in Jussara, state of Goiás.
They had abandoned their cowboy outfits and adopted a dignified suited look. "Our secret is to play music that people like to listen to and to not complicate," Leandro told Brazilian Playboy. In 1991 they became the first sertanejo artists to perform at Rio's sophisticated pop music temple Canecão. It was their pinnacle.
A chorus of nouveaux riches, socialites and members of the thinking elite sang "Pense em mim." By then, they were selling more records than kid TV presenter Xuxa and romantic balladeer "King" Roberto Carlos, this one a best-seller for decades. Unheard for a country group they got their own monthly program on Globo network in 1992, the same year in which they also became cartoon characters.
Differently from their predecessor, the caipiras (hillbilly)Leandro hated to be called a caipira singerwho sang about cattle and farms, the sertanejo crooners talk about love, lust and sex in their lyrics, as revealed in "Paz na Cama" (Peace in Bed):
Se de dia a gente briga
De noite a gente se ama
é que nossas diferenças
Acabam no quarto
Em cima da cama.
If we fight by day
By night we make love
Because our differences
End in the bedroom
On the top of the bed
Leandro and Leonardo have sold 20 million discs, including the 2.8 million for Pense em Mim, a record in the Brazilian music industry only broken recently by the pagode group Só Pra Contrariar. With the difference that the sertanejo duo sold their close-to-three-million when the record industry had only half the size it has today.
Passed their prime they were selling about 500,000 of their latest CDs. In their wake, other duos like Zezé Di Camargo & Luciano and João Paulo & Daniel were able to be very successful. When Leandro fell sick, Leandro and Leonardo were still very active and in demand doing two shows a week, charging a minimum of $45,000 for presentation. And with two "best of" CDs in Spanish they were poised to conquer Latin America.
They signed with BMG Ariola in October 1997. Um Sonhador (A Dreamer) was supposed to be the first of a series of new albums. Even though their records didn't sell more than 1 million copies since 1995, BMG on the strength of the tragedy has released their last effort with an initial 1.5 million copies.
Pense em Mim
By Douglas Maio, Zé
Ribeiro, and Mário Soares
Invés de você ficar pensando nele
Invés de você viver chorando por ele
Pensa em mim
Chore por mim
Liga pra mim
Não, não liga pra ele
Não chore por ele
Se lembre que eu
Há muito tempo
Te amo, te amo, te amo
Quero fazer você feliz
Vamos pegar o primeiro avião
Com destino à felicidade
A felicidade pra mim é você
Think of Me
Instead of thinking of him
Instead of crying for him
Think of me
Cry for me
Call me up
No, don't call him
Don't cry for him
For so long I
Love you, love you, love you
I want to make you happy
Let's take the first plane
Bound to happiness
For me happiness is you