Brazzil
Music
April 2003

Bossa Nova Is Samba. No, It's Not.

João Gilberto, considered the pope of bossa nova, receives in Walter
Garcia's book Bim Bom a most detailed if somewhat cryptic study.
Covering 224 pages,
the work examines how João Gilberto's famous
guitar beat became the symbol of a musical genre that has
crossed borders and took Brazilian music to far-away places.

Egídio Leitão
Bim Bom: A Contradição sem Conflitos de João Gilberto by 
Walter Garcia (Paz e Terra, São Paulo, 1999, 224 pp) 

Bim Bom is a different book about bossa nova. Here the genre is discussed on the basis of its origins taking as its starting point the most representative artist of the movement: João Gilberto. The book is not only interested in the influences by Johnny Alf, João Donato and several others as the precursors of bossa nova. The historic Elizete Cardoso album Canção do Amor Demais (1958), where the Bahian João Gilberto first used his different beat in the songs "Chega de Saudade (No More Blues)" and "Outra Vez (Again)," is dissected, analyzed and scrutinized at levels sometimes impressive, but also at levels where the reader will inevitably ask whether Gilberto really thought of all of those details. Well, if you have ever read anything about the Gilberto phenomenon, you know what he is capable of when it comes to being a perfectionist.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is all about the analysis of the guitar beat. If you do not have any musical knowledge, you will likely skim these pages fast. Even with some musical background, the reader might find the first three chapters a bit too technical and academic (the book is, in fact, Garcia's master's thesis) to the point of leaving you dizzy.

Many times I asked myself what the purpose of such detail was and whether this work was truly directed to academicians only. The author's intention finally reaches a decisive point half way through the book, more precisely on page 98. He says that his intention—clearly explicit throughout the whole study—is precisely to evaluate João Gilberto's guitar rhythm via his intervention in Brazilian music.

Well, it seems to me like a rather long introduction to expose the author's intention. Before that, the discussion focused on the various classifications of pre-bossa nova songs: "Solidão (Loneliness)" (1954), "Teresa da Praia (Teresa of the Beach)" (1954), "Mocinho Bonito (Handsome Guy)" (1957) and several other sambas-canções. There was also some discussion about the traditional samba-canção and the use and acoustic guitar techniques applied to those songs. When we get to the section addressing the regular and non-regular beat present in bossa nova chords, the author brings us closer to the book subtitle, the contradiction. It is interesting to read this:

"In conclusion, the two articulated bossa nova principles are the regularity, which governs the bass, and the non-regularity, which orients the chords on the variation of the base which is sometimes played. Please note that this articulation sounds with no conflict, because in the course of the song, the non-regularity comes from the regularity and the regularity is reinforced by the non-regularity."

In other words, there is balance in the guitar beat even though it might seem like an "asymmetric design," the author says. Those two ideas, in reality, complement each other in João Gilberto's guitar accompaniment. To close this first part, Bim Bom discusses the ideology of bossa nova arguing that it is simultaneously samba and not. The author states that bossa nova is defined "by conciliating the negation with the affirmation of samba."

In the second part of the book, the discussion focuses around João Gilberto's speech-singing by evaluating only one of his own compositions, "Bim Bom."

The interplay among the voice, singing and acoustic guitar is at times addressed in an interesting manner. It is the way João Gilberto presents those characteristics that make him the myth he is. The artist does everything with "absolute conscience," says Walter Garcia. He cites João Gilberto himself:

"Music is sound. Sound is voice, instrument. The singer must have, because of that, the necessity of knowing when and how to prolong a high or low note, in such a way to transmit the emotional message."

Unfortunately, the analysis of word for word in the song "Bim Bom" becomes exhaustive. There is even a graphic representation of the lyrics and their relative height in the song. In reality, that representation is nothing but the notes of the song shown here as a graphic. I believe that the real music notation would have produced the same result without having to reinvent the wheel.

Closing the book, there are five appendices covering various topics, including texts about Mário de Andrade, Noel Rosa, rhythmic transcriptions, as well as a discography and bibliography.

In his spare time, Egídio Leitão maintains two sites about Brazilian music: Brasilian Music Links - http://thebml.com - is a collection of links, and MusicaBrasileira - http://musicabrasileira.org - is dedicated to reviews and interviews. He can be contacted at egidio@musicabrasileira.org
 

Bim Bom (by João Gilberto)

Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Bim, bom

Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Bim bim

É só isso meu baião
E não tem mais nada não
O meu coração pediu assim


Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Ta ca tum ta ca tum ta ca tum
Bim bom bim bim bom
Ton bon ton bon ton bon
Só bim bom bim bom bimbim

Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Bim, bom

Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Bim bim

That's all there is to my baião
And there is nothing else
My heart asked that way
Only

Bim, bom, bim, bim, bom
Ta ca tum ta ca tum ta ca tum
Bim bom bim bim bom
Ton bon ton bon ton bon
Only bim bom bim bom bimbim

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