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Musical Brazil: Relatively Speaking, It’s All in the Family

Maria RitaAs regular readers of the Brazzil website know, I have a profound interest in, and deep admiration for, music of all kinds and from every conceivable category, as evidenced by the number of articles I’ve written on the subject over the past year-and-a-half.

This fondly felt appreciation for the performing arts was instilled in me at an early age, and which my wife in turn has cultivated to an even higher degree in the years we’ve been together.


I’m glad to report, then, that this passion for all things musical has been handed to my high-school-age daughters, who, as luck would have it, have been blessed with beautiful voices, have sung in the school choir, have learned to play the keyboard, and can boast of artistic abilities we all hope will serve them well in the years to come.


Having myself been born in the high-rise district of São Paulo, I’ve often wondered if other musically inclined Brazilian families have experienced the same phenomenon of passing this gift of a previous generation’s genetically entwined talents down to their descendants.


That thought gave rise recently just as Maria Rita, the daughter of celebrated MPB star Elis Regina, mounted the dais to accept the Fifth Annual Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist and Best Música Popular Brasileira Album.


Her late mother would have been pleased, I’m sure, had she lived to see Maria Rita’s triumph as she won these well-merited honors.


But what of the fate of other children of great Brazilian artists, who are they, and what has become of their fleeting chances at putting a personal stamp on their own individual accomplishments?
 
Nowadays, the endless possibilities for “fame” in general have greatly multiplied, given the proliferation of the Worldwide Web, digital photography, desktop publishing, instant messaging, chat-lines, and more.


These and other so-called modern conveniences, not to mention the latest round of reality TV programming, have allegedly conspired to make it a lot easier for simple folk like us to make it in the entertainment industry.  


But being the possessor of a well-known moniker, however, or a relative with an estimable lineage just might get that window of opportunity lifted a bit higher for you than it normally would for your average Joe – at least, that’s the public perception.


In any case, it’s talent that counts, or so they say, and it’s worth paying a visit to some of the major and minor ones out there, born to fabulously rich (in ability) musical families, so as to put this hypothesis to the test.


Brotherly Love


Beginning with the tropicalismo movement of the late 1960s, there is no better sampling of sedate professional rivalry than the affection shown by pop singer Caetano Veloso for his younger sister, Maria Bethânia, both of who come from the Northeastern town of Santo Amaro da Purificação, in the state of Bahia.


They have shared the musical spotlight on numerous occasions, and, to their mutual benefit, have kept up a reasonably amicable working relationship on and off the world stage for nearly forty years; if anyone knows of an incident where this has not regularly been the case, please let me know. 


In point of fact, there is some historical precedence for this behavior in the effervescent nightclub routines of Carmen and Aurora Miranda, who at one time had appeared together at the Cassino da Urca in Rio de Janeiro during the early thirties.


While Carmen later hit it big in Hollywood wartime musicals, little sister Aurora managed to sustain her own, not insignificant solo career; some condescending old-timers even insisted she had a lovelier singing voice than her more vivacious sibling. 


For those interested in making the comparison, Aurora sings and sambas, along with Walt Disney characters Donald Duck and Zé Carioca, in the colorful cartoon spectacular The Three Caballeros from 1945.


Its stunning visual design and zany, surreal presentation predates the Beatles’ own animated foray, Yellow Submarine (1968), by a full generation. 


From Tinsel Town we journey further eastward, to the core of the Big Apple, New York City, the incongruous birthplace of Brazilian pop stylist Bebel Gilberto.


Bebel has carved out an impressive niche for herself as a sophisticated interpreter and original composer of bossa nova, a style of music mastered long ago by her curmudgeon of a paterfamilias, vocalist-guitarist João Gilberto, one of the few living legends still active in the field today, and an artist who spent considerable time in the States as a previous resident of the borough of Manhattan.


Her mother, Carioca singer Miúcha, is the Bahian musician’s second wife and the sister of another famous celebrity, lyricist and composer Chico Buarque de Hollanda – so much for impeccable pop credentials!


A bold proponent of the current trends in Brazilian popular music, Bebel is considered by fans to be an integral part of the contemporary “new wave” of local performers to have made a market splash here, as her marvelous compact disc debut, Tanto Tempo from 2000, pleasantly proved.


For this inaugural work she was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2001, and, talk about déjà vu, in the same artistic categories that Maria Rita competed in. Her follow-up album, the self-titled Bebel Gilberto (Six Degrees, 2004), continues to push the musical envelope in newer and more dynamic directions – with a hint of electronica thrown in for good measure.


Its success in the jazz and pop spheres has aided immeasurably in increasing the exposure and vitality of modern bossa nova at a time of decreasing interest and lagging record sales.


Another in a long line of inspired natives of Bahia is the incomparable Dorival Caymmi, whose prolific song output has served as the melodic equivalent to the literary works of novelist Jorge Amado.


Dorival has sired several exceptionally gifted offspring of his own that include singer-guitarist Dori Caymmi, songstress Nana Caymmi, and flutist Danilo Caymmi.


While most jazz buffs may only be familiar with the first of these performers, each has contributed his or her own fair share of talent toward keeping their father’s surname alive and well in the minds of music lovers on both hemispheres.


In fact, Dori has often been featured as an artist, instrumentalist, arranger, composer and producer on an incredible variety of studio releases over the last thirty years alone.


Apropos of his versatility, Caymmi enjoys a formidable reputation among smooth jazz colleagues David Benoit, Larry Coryell, Don and Dave Grusin, and many others, as a highly competent and in-demand session player.


His distinctively mellow baritone voice, reminiscent of his father’s unique timbre, can be heard on the soundtrack to the 1990 Sydney Pollack-Robert Redford film Havana, issued by GRP Records. Dori also shows up, in the flesh, on CTI’s Larry Coryell: Live from Bahia (1991), singing his own delectable mid-seventies composition, “Gabriela’s Song.”


Older sister Nana is no slouch, either, in the song department, as demonstrated by her lyrical partnership with Chico Buarque on the sensitively intoned “Até Pensei,” written by Chico, to be found on her EMI album Nana Caymmi – Resposta ao Tempo (1998).


The ballad is a highlight, too, of Mr. Buarque’s more current compilation of cuts from 2002 entitled Duetos, on the RCA/BMG label, produced by longtime associate Vinicius França.


Included on the disc with Chico is the Jobim-de Moraes work, “Sem Você,” taken from the songbook Vinicius de Moraes (1993), with the ever-popular Rio-born musician, Tom Jobim, at the piano. 


Papai Sabe Tudo (Father Knows Best)


As one of Brazil’s most widely respected and best-loved bossa nova practitioners, Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim was himself the proud parent of similarly endowed children, namely his son, Paulo, and daughter, Elizabeth Jobim, an established artisan and painter in her own right.


All of them, including second wife Ana Beatriz Lontra, were prominently displayed with Danilo Caymmi and his spouse, Simone, on the CD/Video program Rio Revisited, in the JazzVisions series of concerts put out by Verve-PolyGram in 1989.


Filmed at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California, in 1987, this remarkable live event captured the still expressive Jobim – many pounds heavier than what we remember from his youthful, carefree visage – basking in the familial atmosphere, with these two tuneful clans providing the harmonious backdrop to his most enticing creations.


Presciently, Tom’s broad musical influence and reach would extend far beyond his homegrown Brazilian brood.


Indeed, three of the more “junior” members of this elite gathering, i.e. guitarist Paulo Jobim; cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, whose claim to fame was as Caetano Veloso’s musical director, in addition to having been a frequent collaborator with Jobim Sr. on several recording projects; and his vocalist wife, Paula Morelenbaum, went on to form the Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum after the composer’s 1994 passing.


It consisted as well of Paulo’s own son and Jobim’s musical heir apparent, pianist and singer Daniel Cannetti Jobim. One could say that this latter-day jazz-chamber ensemble had taken up the late and much-lamented Carioca’s performance mantle where he literally had left off.  


Their year 2000 recording debut, Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum (Velas Records), and an ensuing American and European tour, were both a popular and critical success. The album’s exceedingly erudite liner comments by Caetano, however, were not very idiomatically translated from the original Portuguese and struck the sole sour note.


And speaking of Caetano, his son, Moreno, has also turned up of late in a musically eclectic group format of his own, called Moreno Veloso + 2, on the Ryko-Palm release Music Typewriter from 2001.


The other key players associated with the CD were multi-instrumentalists Domenico Lancelloti and Alexandre Kassin, with Moreno himself on guitar, percussion, and cello.


In his youth, the now thirty-something Veloso the Younger had toured frequently with his dad, and served as musical accompanist to such illustrious pop luminaries as Gilberto Gil and Carlinhos Brown.


With this kind of background, it should come as no surprise that the most offbeat item to emanate from his Typewriter is straight out of left field and reads like some esoteric producer’s worst nightmare: Moreno launches into a vocal duet, with guest artist Daniel Jobim, on the Churchill/Morley tune, “I’m Wishing,” from the 1937 Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the lines sung alternately in English and Portuguese.


Exactly what kind of statement Moreno wanted to make with this rather oddball piece escapes me; it could, moreover, represent a personal thumbing of his proboscis at the poor state of pop music per se, or whatever else his fertile mind might have conjured up at the time.


Either way, it was a decisive move on his part to have taken this more individualistic song route, much as his own father had done decades before him.


And we’re not done yet, as the ubiquitous Daniel crops up once again on jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli’s newest recorded entry, Bossa Nova on Telarc (2004), the latest stateside contribution to an already crowded platform.


In a salute to the genre’s pioneer, João Gilberto, the American-born Pizzarelli (himself the son of famed guitar-picker Bucky Pizzarelli) has his Brazilian counterpart, Daniel Jobim, perform the background vocals and Portuguese lyrics to his grandfather’s classic tune, “The Girl from Ipanema” – now that’s what I call entertainment nepotism!


Another welcome guest on several of the album’s tracks is none other than pianist, composer and producer Cesar Camargo Mariano, the talented former-husband of singer Elis Regina, which brings this genealogical survey full circle.


All of these diverse musical examples seem to share a common trait: they’re not just empty coincidences, but illustrate instead the vast interconnectedness of the Brazilian artistic experience.


Taken as a whole, they proclaim to one and all the sheer joy gregarious Brazilians get out of participating in life’s continuous songfest – with its firm and steady grounding in the sounds and rhythms of that most captivating of Latin countries, the always musically-exhilarating Brazil.


Joe Lopes, a naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, was raised and educated in New York, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his Brazilian wife and daughters. In January 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. He is a lover of all types of music, especially opera and jazz, as well as an incurable fan of classic and contemporary films. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.


Copyright © 2004 by Josmar F. Lopes


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