Bossa Nova Is Samba. No, It’s Not.

 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.
by: Egÿdio
LeitÛo

Bim Bom: A ContradiêÛo sem Conflitos de JoÛo Gilberto by

Walter Garcia (Paz e Terra, SÛo 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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