Rancharia is 1 of 49 special projects in the state of Bahia
supporting 2,250 families. The majority of land
is worked communally. Personal responsibility
is reinforced by requiring each family to finance
their own portion of the land through repayment of low interest
government loans over a 20-year period.
By Brazzil Magazine
Sometimes two musicians unite with such stunning results that listeners feel the
artists have been sharing the same stage and relating to each other musically since
childhood. This is the case with Geraldo Azevedo and Elba Ramalho, two outstanding
individual talents and influential leaders of Northeastern music who have earned the
admiration of not only the public and the press but also of their peers. The high degree
of musical artistry and love that is always present in their shows and recordings together
is the result not only of their long friendship but also of a mutual admiration for each
other as artists, a respect that has come about by virtue of working together for decades.
Their pairing this month of September in Los Angeles is not merely dynamic but inevitable.
Azevedo, one of the most original guitar players and composers in Brazilian music, is
easily recognizable by his lyrical and passionate writing, his impressionistic guitar
harmonies and dense voicings, and his long, carefully pondered melodic lines. Ramalho’s
intensity makes Azevedo seem almost serene by contrast. Her hyperactivity on stage is
legendary. These two complementary musical personalities share a razor-sharp sense of
timing and perform with fire and sinew. Each is inventive, enhancing the other with
unparalleled shows of unity.
Combining the magnetism of two brilliant artists who are able to create, on the spot,
any mood they choose, leaves small wonder why Azevedo and Ramalho have maintained their
position of musical preeminence over the years and why the producer of the two shows in
Los Angeles has engaged Snow Creek Music to record Ao Vivo em Los Angeles (Live in
Los Angeles), a CD that will be a tribute to the talent of two musicians who are deeply
attuned to each other. The show’s repertoire, an exquisite blending of African, Indian,
Caribbean, and Northeastern Brazilian melodies and richly layered polyrhythms, promises a
listening experience at once entrancing, primal, and exploratory.
Although their band includes extraordinary Brazilian musicians like Toninho Ferragutti,
known for his work with Marisa Monte and the Orquestra Popular de Câmara, and although
there will be special guests like Dori Caymmi and ex-Weather Report percussionist Alex
Acuna, the third luminary at the weekend performance will be the venue itself. On
September 16 and 17, 2000, Los Angeles will be fortunate to host the poetry, balance,
enthusiasm, and romance of Geraldo Azevedo and Elba Ramalho at the John Anson Ford
Amphitheatre, unquestionably the West Coast’s most intimate outdoor venue.
Listeners will be afforded an opportunity to commemorate a star-crossed musical
encounter between artists who display an exquisite alertness to each other’s ideas and in
which electrifying moments of mutual sensitivity and anticipation are sure to abound.
Without a doubt, the wealth of Northeastern Brazilian music is alive and about to converge
I spoke with Azevedo and Ramalho about Northeast music, their backgrounds, and the
upcoming show in Los Angeles via a three-way conference call linking Rio, Los Angeles, and
BrazzilIn the last five years there has been a strong resurgence
of Northeastern music with artists like Lenine, Mestre Ambrósio, and Chico Science. Can
you comment on this?
AzevedoThere is a new theme in Brazil with artists like Lenine who
are rescuing Brazilian culture, in the sense of reviving it. This is something the
marketplace never allowed space for. These new artists are synchronized with the times and
are bringing our music a new appreciation. The Brazilian public accepts this new
generation, establishing it as a turning point in Brazilian music. I’m very happy this has
been happening and that Brazil has finally reclaimed the Northeast. I’m flattered that
these Northeastern artists and composers you mentioned find similarities in our work and
reflect our influence. This new wave of young artists is rescuing music that was sleeping
or buried for decades, but which is now highly valued by people of all ages throughout
RamalhoWe have always been a very musical country with many musical
dimensions. But we have also been a divided country, one that had been closed-minded about
the Northeast. The South, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, had been closed with regard to
the Northeast. Music of the Northeast was considered second-class music, music for the
peasants. It was never the kind of music presented in shows in the South. And although
everything that happened musically in the South would come to the Northeast, nothing went
South. Sure, some programs were occasionally heard on the radio, but seldom was there any
space on TV for Northeastern music. It was considered music for illiterates, poor people,
not people who were making money. Even though it has enormous strength, Northeastern music
had always been shadowed by bossa nova and its American influence, which was
recognized all over the world. But forró, quadrilha, and coco had
been going strong, long before bossa nova, and there was always great support
inside our Northeastern culture for the music’s unique richness of harmony, rhythm, and
backbone. We had a stigma, but now the music of Luiz Gonzaga, Jackson do Pandeiro, Zé
Ramalho, Alceu Valença, and Geraldo Azevedo is spreading and being applauded.
BrazzilWhat brought this about?
RamalhoIn the last five years, Brazil discovered Brazil. After the
arrival of Lenine, Chico Science, and Chico Césarwho all came with a
stronger musical language, which added and established a certain equilibrium with the
Southtaboos were broken and barriers knocked down. These artists arrived at
the moment Brazil was open and ready to set aside its long prejudice against Northeastern
music, and this was opportune for the Northeast. You could see wealthy Brazilians,
musicians, and journalists who put off plans to vacation in the Bahamas or Rome to come to
the Northeast. Brazilians all of a sudden wanted to explore our "new" culture.
Now there is an explosion in Brazil that wasn’t created by the media, but by the young
people and the university students, future professionals. Forró is a spreading
sensation in Brazil. And we can blame the university students who discovered forró.
Because afterward, the walls came down. Now the Northeast is definitely a unified region
BrazzilElba, your recordings always have a fabulous collection of
Northeastern songwritersLenine, Chico César, João do Vale, Jackson do Pandeiro,
Alceu Valença, Geraldo Azevedo, Zé Ramalho. Which new Brazilian artists do you find most
RamalhoI believe that Lenine is the pinnacle. I should have spoken
about Lenine and recorded his music from the beginning of my career. He has humor,
culture, and intelligence. And the way he relates to sound and understands stage space is
bringing him the tremendous success he deserves. Lenine is an important poet and a great
revelation who works with terrific partners. I have always been connected to him through
our common poetic language, which speaks to my heart, my romantic side. But I also like
Chico César. His last CD, Mama Mundi, will be a landmark in the new generation’s
poetry. He is still a little timid because he is just beginning his career, but his talent
radiates. The Northeast’s new music has been centered around Pernambuco and groups like
Nação Zumbi and Mundo Livre, and I believe Pernambuco will give us many more new talents
who are perfecting and presenting traditional music.
BrazzilHow do you choose which tunes to record? What criteria do
RamalhoRhythm and emotion. My musical language is the Northeastern
language, and good rhythm speaks to my heart. Sometimes a song may not have great rhythm
or noteworthy lyrics, but I’ll include it because is has a beautiful melody that I can
exploit and embellish.
BrazzilWhere do you see Northeastern music going next?
RamalhoBrazil is an extremely rich country musically, a fountain,
and from that fountain will come a deluge. The source is inexhaustible. The Northeast has
so much to give, and there are still so many things to be discovered. I don’t know
exactly, but I believe Northeastern music is going to gain a much wider and more definite
place in the international marketplace.
AzevedoFor a long time I’ve felt forró would gain universal
acceptance, the way samba spread all over the country. And now I see something similar
happening with forró. I believe that forró will have the same sweep as
samba and be welcome by all Brazilians. It is festive music that will be welcome anywhere
in the world. According to the legend, the term forró developed in the early
1900’s when the English railroad engineers promoted weekend parties to celebrate the first
railroad in the interior of Pernambuco. Supposedly, a placard gave notice that the party
was "for all," a phrase that Brazilian railroad workers pronounced "forró."
The idea that the pronunciation of forró is evolving back into "for all"
BrazzilAre you seeing this in audiences outside Brazil?
RamalhoToday, there is a wider panorama, like an open Japanese fan.
The more regional you are, the more universal you become. As you know, I’m in Europe now
on a twenty-day tour, and our season here has been brilliant. We shine everywhere we
perform because we are showing many people a new dimension in Brazilian music. I present
not only coco and quadrilha but also our Afro-Caribbean influences, and
above all, our poetry. What I’m showing is not only Carnaval in Pernambuco, but the
general happiness of Brazilian Carnaval translated through my energy, my happiness, and
through the diversity of Northeastern styles. And this has inspired both the public and
the press to find out more about the Northeast.
BrazzilGeraldo, what was your path to becoming a professional
AzevedoI was born in a musical moment. My mother sang for the
community, school, and church parties. And my father, my brothers, all my relatives played
guitar. It happened in a very spontaneous way. People simply played guitar and sang,
naturally without professional aspirations. Because in the Northeast, there is a traditionkids
learn how to play. When I was an adolescent, bossa nova arrived. Petrolina is on
the bank of the São Francisco River close to Juazeiro where João Gilberto was born. I
met João Gilberto when I was an adolescent, and he influenced me greatly, prompting me to
approach the guitar more seriously and opening my eyes to becoming a professional
musician. Through bossa nova, I discovered jazz. Jobim was a very important
influence as were artists like Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, and Caetano Veloso, who helped
me find my way, my identity. But bossa nova also made me look closely at my origins
and the older generation musicians, like Luiz Gonzaga, Jackson do Pandeiro, and Dorival
Caymmi who were very important for my musical development as a composer. In the early
sixties, I went to Recife to study, and that’s where I met Nana Vasconcelos and entered
the real musical world. From there, I went to Rio de Janeiro to work with Eliana Pittman
who showcased my songs. Once in Rio, I started writing more personal compositions with
Geraldo Vandré and working with Alceu Valença with whom I recorded my first album.
BrazzilAfter Geraldo Vandré went into exile, you were arrested
and imprisoned. What effect did that experience have on your musical aspirations?
AzevedoLet me tell you one thing. In December 1968, the military
regime had decreed Ato Institucional No. 5 (Institutional Act No. 5, or AI-5), which
allowed no arbitrary freedom. There were arrests without cause. The hands of the dictator
held all power. Many Brazilians were violated, and I was just one among many. There was a
powerful censorship, a persecution of musicians who wrote lyrics with any kind of
political strain. The dictator put a lot of pressure on composers like Gil, Caetano, and
Chico Buarque. They were forced to leave the country. When I was working with Geraldo
Vandré, I composed one of the songs that had been censored, and although it didn’t
disturb me, I was arrested and jailed twice. But my problems weren’t any more or less than
what everyone else in Brazil was experiencing. The dictatorship was reflected everywhere
in everything. Contrary to the dictator’s coercion, music was the one thing that gave me
the strength to rise above the oppression and violence that was all around me. It helped
me to believe in myself, in humanity, and in the beautiful things in life. The horrible
things that were happening never completely crushed me. Today I thank God we are free from
the dictatorship. It is over, and I am here bringing music to Brazil and to the world.
BrazzilWasn’t Alceu Valença influential in getting you started
after your release from prison?
AzevedoExactly. I was arrested in 1969, Brazil’s most difficult
period, and after my release I was in a state of depression. Then in 1972, Alceu came to
Rio from Pernambuco looking for me, fired with a new enthusiasm. We started a song writing
partnership and through it, my energy was restored. And as I mentioned, we recorded our
first record together as a duo. He was a great partner and I’m eternally grateful. We have
developed independent careers, but have always been connected to each other, so much so
that in 1996 we recorded O Grande Encontro together with Elba and Zé Ramalho.
BrazzilElba, can you tell me about your musical background?
RamalhoWell, my father was an orchestral musician, and I grew up
hearing him playing in the streets and in religious festivals, the religious and the
profane. I heard a lot of jazz because he listened to jazz all the time. His instrument
was the clarinet, but he also played sax and guitar very well. I remember the sax hanging
on the wall in our house. These are all very strong memories and very clear in my mind.
Now he’s 82 years old and doesn’t play any more, but I’m still savoring his influence.
When I was fourteen, I started playing drums in an all-girl rock band, called As Brasas
(The Cinders), and by sixteen, I had moved to Rio de Janeiro and was playing guitar in
small bars. So I have a musical background that embraces Northeastern traditional music,
rock, bossa nova, and jazz.
BrazzilI’m wondering if your father passed on not only his love
for music but also for theater.
RamalhoIt is true. My father loved music and cinema, and he guided
my theatrical as well as my musical development. When I was young and living in
Conceição de Piancó, I was very free and had a close relationship with the land. But
when my family moved to Campina Grande and my father became the owner of the cinema, I
quickly developed a craving to act. From a very early age, I helped him operate the
machines in the projection booth. So even in the small cities of Paraíba, through my
father, I was able to experience art. The film Cinema Paradiso has a lot to do with
my life. After I moved to Rio, I joined a theater group, eventually receiving critical
attention in a work by Chico Buarque and Rui Guerra called Ópera do Malandro.
Drama gives me strength to interpret music. Today the actress comes on stage before the
BrazzilSome of the cover photos of your CD’s like Leão do
Norte, Baioque, and Fogo na Mistura are genuinely sexy, whereas the
cover art on Solar is almost Hindustani or Buddhist. Is the artwork on the new CD a
reflection of changes in your philosophy?
RamalhoI have always been a spiritual person. I have had a Buddhist
initiation, I’m a Kardecista (a follower of Allan Kardec), I attend the Church of
Spiritism in Brazil, and I’m a vegetarian and have practiced yoga and meditation for over
fifteen years. So my health and my spirit are well-balanced. These are all elements that
bring me to more and more music, and this is the aura I strive to present. My beliefs are
ecumenical, not sectarian or dogmatic. I pursue concepts that give me a broader
understanding of God. My searching began with my occidental Christianity, but developed
through my reading about Hindu culture and the Bhagavad-Gita. The Orient has always
fascinated me. I consider myself a divine worker from God, and I’m trying to function as
an instrument of a new consciousness that combines the Christian and the cosmic. As a
performer, I try to project these principles of peace and light, this joy. This is my
inspiration for the new millennium. I am an eternal child.
BrazzilI understand that the Brazilian press gave you a very hard
time about leaving your husband for a younger man. Would you comment on this?
RamalhoI’m an artist, a very exposed public person. I never hide
myself behind walls. My husband and I have been married for four years. And yes, he is
younger than I am, and he is very handsome. I also had a son with a famous actor who was
younger than me. And since then, the press has propagated the story that Elba is always
falling in love with younger men. This isn’t necessarily so because I’ve also had
relationships with men my own age. It isn’t anybody’s business, but the press loves to
shine bright lights on me.
BrazzilGeraldo, in the mid-eighties you participated in some
exceptional musical encounters with Elomar, Xangai, and Vital Farias. Do you feel the
Cantoria recordings laid the foundation for the Grande Encontro sessions?
GeraldoCantoria 1 was recorded in 1984 in Salvador with the sole aim of
helping four singers. But it was so successful that we went on tour and recorded Cantoria
2 in 1985 in Belo Horizonte, Goiânia, and Brasília. These shows were historical live
recordings, the first digital live recordings made in Brazil. We never imagined that the
Cantoria projects would be so important, and I never imagined fate would hand me another
project like them. One project leads to another. Cantoria 1 and 2 were indeed great
encounters that launched other great encounters.
BrazzilO Grande Encontro with Zé Ramalho and Alceu Valença and O
Grande Encontro 2 with both of you and Zé are essential recordings for any serious
collector. Are you anticipating another Grande Encontro?
RamalhoO Grande Encontro was a recording that commemorated our
friendship. We have all been close friends for many, many years. Without any expectations,
the four of us decided to come together to celebrate our friendship on stage and preserve
the event with this recording. O Grande Encontro was an enormous success, selling
more than one million copies and giving a great stimulus to Northeastern music. O
Grande Encontro 2 sold five hundred thousand. The two projects were so successful that
now we are going to record O Grande Encontro 3 with Geraldo, Zé, Zeca Baleiro,
Chico César, and Dominguinhos. Surely this will be another outstanding opportunity for
the South to look favorably upon Northeastern music.
BrazzilHow about a Grande Encontro in Los Angeles?
AzevedoGreat encounters are celebrations of friendship on stage.
Elba and I are very close and are always participating in each other’s shows and
recordings. My relationship with her may be even stronger than my relationship with the
others, even Alceu. Meeting on stage in Los Angeles comes as a result of this
relationship, and we’ll be bringing a small group of essential musicians that can
synthesize what we do in the Grande Encontro shows in Brazil, like the great sanfoneiro
Toninho Ferragutti and Cesal Michilles who played sax and flute on my most recent CD.
RamalhoGeraldo has always been my musical support. I learn a lot
from him, so our meeting on stage in Los Angeles will truly be another great encounter. We
have so many things in common: our deep friendship, open minds, a broad musical
background. We are Northeastern, but we both love samba, rock, bossa nova, salsa, merengue,
Afro-Caribbean music. I see all of this in his work, so singing with him is effortless.
Working together is always spectacular.
BrazzilWith Elba’s current itinerary will there be enough time to
rehearse for both projects?
AzevedoIt is lamentable that Elba is traveling so much outside
Brazil. We’re going to meet here (Rio) a few days before the show. I am preparing things
here, but truly without her, it’s going to be difficult. Everything is going to be rushed.
She is going to arrive just in time for us to record O Grande Encontro 3 before we
leave for the United States. Everything is going to be done in a rush… part of life.
BrazzilElba, will you have any time to relax before Los Angeles?
RamalhoI’m in Berlin now and I have a five-day festival here. I
stay until Sunday then travel to Portugal on Monday, then back to Germany for another
three shows. After those shows, we go to Verona, Italy, then back to Brazil on the 21st. O
Grande Encontro 3 will be taped live on the fourth and fifth of September, so I have
to organize my schedule carefully because I also have to finish two recordings that I’m
producing in Brazil. One is an homage to the Virgin Mary with songs from many different
composers that will be released on my own alternative label, and the other is the debut CD
of a Brazilian artist who is living in New York. I’ll have to run 20 hours a day until I
leave for Los Angeles! As soon as I arrive from Europe, I have parallel rehearsals for O
Grande Encontro 3 and to polish material for Los Angeles.
BrazzilGeraldo, you started the independent Geração label in the
early nineties. Why?
AzevedoI was having great difficulty identifying with the big
record companies whose selection process did not include the kind of music that is such an
integral part of my life. The major companies wanted me to write a style of music that the
market was absorbingpopular music, and this generated difficulty in
negotiating with them. I write my own compositions, in my own style. My feelings are not
connected to a particular popular phase. The music that the large record companies are
consuming has a very short life span; it is ephemeral. I have no interest in or commitment
to that kind of music. My commitment is to the music I love and is connected to my
cultural background, which, for me, has a timeless quality. That’s why I initiated an
independent label to release my work. I have released five recordings on the Geração
label; however, I still use the major companies as a vehicle for the distribution of my
work. I never severed my ties with them and have a very good working relationship with
BMG. My new CD, which by the way will be released in Brazil on the Geração/Snow Creek
label just as I arrive in Los Angeles, will be distributed by BMG. I’m not sure who the
distributor in the United States is going to be.
BrazzilGeraldo, I’ve always felt that your compositions were
melodically inspired, harmonically truthful, and rhythmically authentic fusions. Can you
comment on this?
AzevedoI love life and the beautiful gift that God gave us. My
music is connected to human feelings, to feelings for our land and our relationship with
nature. Love is present in almost all of my songs. Mine is the music of peace and of the
soul. And the truth is that I don’t write the songs. I am the antenna and the songs come
to me. I was given a talent for bringing something of beauty to humanity, and I’m only
accomplishing a mission. It is gratifying to do something beautiful that I like and that
BrazzilWhat about the tune "Berekekê"?
Azevedo"Berekekê" is a mixture of many pieces that I’ve
written. It’s a very eclectic tune that embraces influences that were important in the
formation of the Brazilian people, like those the Northeast received from the Moors and
the Portuguese and those influences that I’ve talked aboutbossa nova,
the music of Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro. "Berekekê" is also a form of
music that brings together the primitive African and indigenous Brazilian elements that
we’ve absorbed. I’ve heard these different forms my whole life, and because I’m a creative
person, I like to fuse influences and make my own contribution. It’s funny that you
mention "Berekekê" because I’ve rerecorded it on my new CD.
BrazzilWhen are you going to publish a book of your tunes with
lyrics and chord changes?
AzevedoWhen the telephone rang for our interview, I was at the
computer writing out my songs for a book I will be publishing, and I’m going back to the
computer when we finish our conversation. Right now I’ve got about forty tunes
transcribed, but I want to publish the book with eighty, more or less. The moment I get
home, I start writing out my songs, but I don’t have much time at home because I travel a
lot. When I’m in Brazil, I don’t stop. Every weekend I have to travel, so the project has
been postponed again and again. I’m writing slowly, in my leisure moments. The book should
be in the stores by the end of the year or maybe the beginning of the next.
BrazzilElba, do you think that Southern California is ready for
the hyper-energy of Northeastern Brazilian music?
RamalhoI think so! It’s going to be great. Los Angeles is a hot
place, and there will be lots of Brazilians in the audience. My tour in Germany was sold
out. In Berlin, I drove the Germans into a state of delirium for over two hours. I know
how to communicate, to put on a show with my voice, with my joy, with my happiness, with
my energy. Los Angeles is a great place to receive my energy.
BrazzilGeraldo, Elba, thank you for the interview.
GeraldoThank you for your patience. I know you’ve had to fish for my
answers, and I thank you for your warmth and the extra work that you’re doing.
RamalhoYou were marvelous. Thank you for your caring, affectionate
way. I’m very happy to be coming to Los Angeles, and everyone can be sure I am going to
give them my best, my music, and my joy.
Dona da Minha Cabeça
Dona da minha cabeça
Não há um porto seguro
Eu digo e ela não acredita
Dona da minha cabeça
Na força dessa beleza
Eu digo e ela não acredita
Owner of My Mind
The owner of my mind
There is no safe harbor
I tell her and she doesn’t believe
Owner of my mind
In the force of that beauty
I tell her and she doesn’t believe
Nas horas de Deus amém
Sei que são nove dias nove penas
Enquanto a família reza novena
Enquanto a família reza novena
Nas horas de Deus amém
Nine hours of God, amen.
I know there are nine days, only nine
While the family prays
While the family prays
In the hours of God, amen.
Chorando e Cantando
Quando fevereiro chegar
Um sorriso quando acordar
Crying and Singing
Longing will not kill us
I awake with a smile
|Selected Discography for Geraldo Azevedo:|
|Alceu Valença & Geraldo Azevedo||Copacabana||1972|
|Geraldo Azevedo||Som Livre||1976|
|Bicho de Sete Cabeças||CBS||1979|
|Asas da América 1||Ariola||1979|
|Asas da América 2||Ariola||1980|
|For All Para Todos||Ariola||1982|
|A Luz do Solo||PolyGram||1985|
|De Outra Maneira||Geração (Originally on RCA)||1986|
|O Grande Encontro||BMG||1996|
|O Grande Encontro 2||BMG||1997|
|Raízes e Frutos||BMG||1998|
|Selected Discography for Elba Ramalho:|
|Ave de Prata||CBS||1979|
|Capim do Vale||CBS||1980|
|Fogo na Mistura||PolyGram||1984|
|Do Jeito que a Gente Gosta||PolyGram||1985|
|Leão do Norte||BMG||1996|
|O Grande Encontro||BMG||1996|
|O Grande Encontro 2||BMG||1997|
|Flor da Paraíba||BMG||1998|
Web sites of interest:
Geraldo Azevedo Home Page
Elba Ramalho Official Web Site
Brazilian Nites Productions
* Many thanks to Patricia Leão of Brazilian Nites Productions for her invaluable
Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received his Masters
degree in music from California Institute of the Arts. He leads the Brazilian jazz
ensemble Axé and plays cuíca for escola de samba MILA. You can reach him
through his e-mail: email@example.com