That’s Bossa Nova
It’s Quite Natural
How did bossa nova start? It would be naïve to contend that it
had but one moment of birth. Some say the start of the movement was the LP Canção de
Amor Demais by Elizeth Cardoso. Or was it “Desafinado” by Tom Jobim and
Newton Mendonça and its line “That is bossa nova, it is very natural”?
One defining relationship started when João Gilberto first met Antônio Carlos (Tom)
Jobim, in Ipanema. Jobim, Vinícius, João Gilberto, Menescal, Elis, Nara Leão, Maysa,
Baden Powel, Sylvinha Telles, Carlos Lyra, Bôscoli, Bonfá, Castro Neves, all the players
are here to celebrate the 40th anniversary of bossa nova.
By Kirsten Weinoldt
Revolution Rev.o.lu.tion: The action by a celestial body of going
around in an orbit or elliptical course.
2.: a fundamental change in political organization; esp. the overthrow or
renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed.
3.: activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the
4.: a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something.
Those are just some of the ways in which the dictionary defines revolution. And bossa
nova was nothing short of a revolution when it was sown and germinated in 1958. And as
with any revolution in history, this one was welcomed with a mixed reaction, ranging from
shock and dismay to excited enthusiasm and inspiration.
MPB (Música Popular Brasileira—Brazilian Popular Music) great, Caetano Veloso,
speaks of his introduction to the new style (bossa nova means new style),
remembering with fondness how he as a 16-year-old would sit across the street from a bar
in Santo Amaro, his hometown, in Bahia state, and listen to the record of fellow Baiano,
João Gilberto, singing “Chega de Saudade,” in English known as “No More
Blues.” The flipside of that single was “Bim Bom” written by João himself.
For young Caetano, this record was a revelation, possibly one of the inspirations for his
own career that would later be legendary.
Revolutions generally happen as a result of the oppression and deep dissatisfaction of
a people. This particular event could hardly be said to have sprung from oppression, but
rather a desire to break with tradition—and a rich tradition it was—Brazilian
popular music. And it was that rich heritage that laid the groundwork for the revolution.
Before getting into the style known as bossa nova and its players, it would be
prudent to look at those who made the great leap possible.
Caetano Veloso, in his recent show, Fina Estampa, talks about the phenomenon and
its father, João Gilberto, but goes on to mention a great, beloved singer who came
before—Orlando Silva. In the show he performs a song made famous by Orlando Silva,
“Lábios que eu Beijei” (Lips that I Kissed), one of the songs that inspired
João Gilberto to sire the new style. Calling it “the missing link” between bossa
nova and what came before, Caetano also performed João Gilberto’s 1950 “Você
Esteve com Meu Bem” (You Were with My Sweetheart). In it you can hear a hint of the
beat that was to become so famous only a few years later.
In 1940’s Brazil samba canção was the rage. But there were already
people who were changing the sound of Brazilian music. Carioca (from Rio) pianist
and singer, Johnny Alf—real name Alfredo José da Silva—was born in sambista
great Noel Rosa’s own neighborhood of Vila Isabel. He was breaking new ground with his
jazz inspired piano playing and singing. Ahead of his time, he was also the subject of
acidic criticism at the time. One critic after hearing him at one of the clubs in Rio, in
which he performed, remarked, “This fellow plays a kind of music nobody
understands.” His syncopated playing must, indeed, have sounded out of place in early
50’s Rio. But there were other people upon whom Alf made a lasting and inspiring
impression. He had a couple of hits, “Rapaz de Bem” (Nice Guy) and “Eu e a
Brisa” (I and the Breeze), that were covered by other artists. Unable to make a
decent living, however, he accepted work in São Paulo and left Rio until 1962—an act
that took him out of the loop of the bossa nova mainstream that was about to spring
American Frank Sinatra with his velvet voice was loved all over the world, including
Brazil. The Brazilian answer to Sinatra, however, was found in the embodiment of Dick
Farney, who sang those American ballads and made a success of himself in New York. Radio
announcer, Luís Serrano got the brilliant idea of combining the two heartthrob singers.
Thus, on February 3rd, 1949, in a basement in Tijuca, bairro
(neighborhood) of Rio, was born the Sinatra-Farney fan club.
It was said that Dick Farney was more American than Brazilian, singing the repertoires
of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, until he followed the suggestion of composer Orlando
Belandi that he use the same romantic style to sing samba-canto in Portuguese. In
this fashion, Dick Farney became a symbol and opened avenues for those who were yet to
come as bossa nova singers.
Another pre-bossa nova musician, who influenced later players, was Billy Blanco,
whose brief partnership with Tom Jobim produced “Tereza da Praia” (Tereza from
the Beach), which was performed by Dick Farney and Lúcio Alves. The latter—a rival
of Farney’s, was one of Brazil’s great singers. It was said that his voice “appeared
to come from a dormant volcano.” Lúcio was only 14 when he founded the group
Namorados da Lua (Boyfriends of the Moon), in 1941. He very cleverly adapted his style to
singing samba in the way of Bing Crosby. He dissolved the group in ’47 and founded
another, Os Anaw6kx do Inferno (The Angels of Hell). His odd style did not become popular in
Rio, where he was virtually unknown.
Then, in 1950, young João Gilberto arrived from his home state of Bahia at the
invitation of Os Garotos da Lua (The Moonboys), thereby throwing his voice into the ring
of the vocal group war. Os Garotos did not sing in English. They were Brazilian and sang
in Portuguese. With the arrival of João Gilberto, the group began to annoy the other
groups. However, João Gilberto did not easily conform to the rules of the group. He also
had the idea that he would do well on his own. Therefore, when his failure to show up for
rehearsals and shows resulted in his subsequent firing, it probably did not upset him very
much. The eccentric Senhor Gilberto next allied himself to another eccentric João
(Donato), and the two prepared the way for bossa nova together.
The group Os Cariocas with their nationalistic music, had their first success with
“Adeus América” (Farewell, America) by Geraldo Jacques, in which they mock such
American “institutions” as boogie woogie, swing, rock, singing “Que isso
não está mais pra mim. Eu quero um samba feito só pra mim,” That this is not
for me anymore. I want a samba made just for me.
“That night, as I heard that slow and syncopated samba, the musician hiding in
me took control of my body. I became part of that wonderful energy of the trio, when a cuíca
came from within me, and I had the courage to imitate its sound, at the right time and in
the right pitch. Later, the musicians told me I must be Brazilian to understand that exact
Luciane Simonds, expatriate Brazilian, after a recent concert with Eliane Elias.
The Birth of
It would be naïve to contend that bossa nova had but one moment of birth after
conception and gestation. Almir Chediak, who has given so much to lovers of Brazilian
music with his Songbooks, collections of music on CD and in books, representative
of a great many of MPB’s greatest, has also issued a CD-ROM called Song Book about bossa
nova. On it, he challenges the user to answer questions and then provides the answers.
About the birth of bossa nova he depicts 5 possibilities with pictures to click on,
then with text, animation, “live” performances by several artists, and sound
tracks of famous songs, he answers the questions posed by himself.
One of them, which countless others see as the start of bossa nova, is the LP Canção
de Amor Demais (Song of Too Much Love), by Elizeth Cardoso. On it she sings Tom Jobim
and Vinícius de Moraes’ “Chega de Saudade” (Enough Longing) almost
simultaneously made famous by the guitarist who accompanied her, João Gilberto.
Another of the possibilities mentioned was a phone call from Tom Jobim to the artistic
director of record company, Odeon, Aloysio de Oliveira. Tom Jobim had heard mention of a
“Baiano singer with a different style,” whom he wanted to invite to his
house. That precipitated the first meeting between two of the geniuses of bossa nova.
Yet another option on the CD-ROM is this, on the liner notes of the LP entitled Chega
de Saudade, Tom Jobim, in fact, gave name to the new movement. He called João
Gilberto “O Baiano bossa-nova de 27 anos” (The new-style,
27-year-old Bahian), thereby coining a name that would send shock waves into the world.
A fourth “click” introduces the song “Desafinado” (Off-key) by Tom
Jobim and Newton Mendonça and its line “Isso é Bossa Nova, isso é muito
natural” (That is bossa nova, it is very natural). A delightful animation
shows a hapless singer being bombarded with tomatoes as he sings “Off Key” off
Last, but not least, is mentioned a conversation that took place at Casa Villarino, a
bar, in 1956. Critic and historian Lúcio Rangel introduced Tom Jobim to Vinícius de
Moraes, who was looking for a musical partnership for his play Orfeu da Conceição.”
Tom Jobim was a little embarrassed but finally dared ask the question if there were any
money in the project. The play did not produce great remuneration, but a divine and
immortal partnership was born.
The mid 50’s had brought with them a desire for renovation. Popular music had for some
time, to a great degree, come from outside Brazil. A movement for creating music inside
the country—a music all-Brazilian, albeit with foreign influences, was brewing among
a group of young people in the Zona Sul in Rio—a talented group of musicians and
singers—born into the bourgeoisie of Ipanema and Copacabana. These people were eager
to create their own jeito, their own way: “Revolution with beauty,” a
phrase used by the triumvirate of Tom Jobim, Vinícius de Moraes, and Carlos Lyra.
Tom Jobim did not like what people were saying, that bossa nova was inspired by
jazz. He said of the subject that his work was inspired by the harmonies of Villa-Lobos,
Chopin, and other classics. Others said that what he and his pals did was simply samba.
Then, producer and lyricist Aloysio de Oliveira created quite a stir when he arrived from
the U.S. and stated that “Foi a Noite” (It was the Night), by Jobim and Newton
Mendonça and “Menina” (Girl), by Carlos Lyra, recorded by Sylvinha Telles, were
not samba, not samba-canção, nor ballads. “I have seen that something new is
being born,” he said.
João Gilberto was intrigued by the modern style employed by Tito Madi, who had great
success with “Chove Lá Fora” (It’s Raining Outside). They struck up a
friendship, which led to many creative moments between the two.
But one defining relationship during this time, of course, started when João Gilberto
first set foot in the apartment belonging to Antônio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, in Ipanema. Tom
was astonished to hear the beat utilized by the Baiano singer and immediately
thought of “Chega de Saudade,” already recorded by Elizeth Cardoso, as a vehicle
for João. As history has shown, his instincts were exactly right.
At that time, São Paulo was the important market for music. The director of Odeon
Records, Osvaldo Gurzoni, however, showed somewhat less enthusiasm than Tom Jobim had. In
fact, when presented with the record, he is said to have had a fit and broken it. Thus, he
too, has his place in the history of bossa nova. One can only be grateful it was
the finished product and not the master tape he heard. “Chega de Saudade” went
on to break all record sales in Brazil and around the world.
Osvaldo Gurzoni was not the only one who vociferously expressed his dislike for the new
style. Antônio Maria, author of sambas-canções like “Ninguém Me Ama”
(Nobody Loves Me), was one of the first. Nobody, however, was as virulent as music critic
José Ramos Tinhorão, for whom bossa nova never went beyond “an assembly of
North American music, a servile adaptation of cool jazz.” One can only wonder if at
some time later, Mr. Tinhorão felt as if he were standing on the track of an oncoming
train with a picket, protesting the noise.
Brazil had for a long time had a national obsession with the accordion and has, over
the years, produced many great players. João Gilberto changed that picture forever. The
sound and beat of his guitar became the manner in which the new musicians of Brazil wanted
to express themselves. And scores of hopeful young people flocked to learn “the new
beat” from Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal at their music academy. Another tradition
was born then, as well, that of getting together in small, intimate groups at someone’s
house to sing and play. Such a place was the so-called bunker of Nara Leão, the muse of bossa
I remember that day clearly—the day that changed my life forever. It was during
school vacation. Copenhagen was warm and sunny that day, when this teenager strolled up my
hometown’s famous Walking Street. And there, on the right, in that little movie theater,
now long gone, I saw the poster of two black people with the morros (hills) of Rio
in the background. The pictures were too intriguing to pass by, and I bought a ticket for Orfeu
Negro. I didn’t know the writer, director, score composer, or actors. But it began my
love affair with Brazil at the same time that it opened the world of bossa nova to
The “Places” of
Aforementioned Casa Villarino was on the corner of Avenida Calógeras and Avenida
Presidente Wilson in the center of Rio. It was not just the birthplace of the partnership
between Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes, but also a creative haven for the bohemians in
Rio—a place in which were written some of the most wonderful sambas-canções,
the most passionate poems, and some of the most interesting radio programs of the time.
Casa Villarino was frequented by such luminaries as the poets Carlos Drummond de Andrade
and Paulo Mendes Campos, the composers Ary Barroso, Dorival Caymmi, and Fernando Lobo and
the singers Dolores Duran and Aracy de Almeida.
Another place with significance in the history of bossa nova, which nurtured the
growing movement, was the nightclub of the Hotel Plaza at Avenida Prado Júnior. A small
space, it lent itself perfectly to the get-togethers of greatly talented people, where
they had the opportunity to play the sounds that were becoming increasingly popular. Not
surprisingly, it was João Gilberto who brought fame to the Plaza when he performed with
drummer Milton Banana. Tom Jobim went there to see the Baiano guitarist. But
perhaps the most famous and wide reaching result stemming from the Plaza was the work done
by Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes, which led to the birth of bossa nova.
“Beco das Garrafas” (Bottle Alley) is another term that should not be
forgotten. In fact, journalist Ruy Castro, author of the book Chega de Saudade, is
quoted as saying that “the Beco das Garrafas was to bossa nova what Milton’s
Playhouse on 118th Street in Harlem was to Be-Bop,” the jazz style created
by, among others, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Beco das Garrafas got its name from
the action of the neighbors upon hearing the Carioca bohemians playing their music
into the wee hours. They threw bottles out the windows at the hapless musicians to get
them to quiet down. It was a blind alley between Duvivier and Rodolfo Dantos Streets, but
some time before the start of the 60’s, writer Sérgio Porto baptized it Beco das
Located in Beco das Garrafas were the clubs Little Club, Bottle’s Bar, Baccara, and Ma
Griffe. The first two presented shows with the duo Miéle and Bôscoli. Then came
performers like Elis Regina, Paulo Moura, Baden Powell, and many others. Later emerged
groups like Luizinho Eça’s Tamba Trio, Bossa Três led by Luiz Carlos Vinhas, and the
sextet of Sérgio Mendes. Discovered in Rome and brought to Brazil, American dancer Lenny
Dale put his own spin on bossa nova for a while in Beco das Garrafas and almost
transformed it into another Broadway show. At Bottle’s, his crazy choreography created a
stir. Waving his arms like the rotors of a helicopter, he appeared on stage. Likewise, he
made an entrance with a live duck to sing “O Pato” (The Duck). He also invented
a bossa nova dance filled with lots of swinging and swaying.
Bossa nova has changed not only the culture but also the geography of Brazil.
There used to be a little hangout called Bar Veloso on Rua Montenegro. The bar is now
called Bar Garota de Ipanema and the street is called Rua Vinícius de Moraes. It is
commonly believed and accepted that Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes composed the song of
the same name, in English known as The Girl from Ipanema, in this bar. The story, however,
is not accurate. The famous pair frequented Bar Veloso to drink and chat and gather
inspiration. And indeed, it was there that in 1962 the green eyes of Heloísa Menezes
inspired the creative duo to write a song and dedicate it to Helô, as she was generally
called. But it was in Tom Jobim’s new house on Rua Barão da Torre that the music began.
The song was, originally, named “Menina que Passa” (Girl Who Walks By) and the
lyrics were quite different.
The Bunker of
Some call the apartment, where 14-year-old Nara Leão lived with her parents, the
actual beginning of bossa nova, because it was a place in which, supported by her
parents, Nara’s friends gathered at all times and tried out their compositions. Her circle
consisted of people like Roberto Menescal, Carlos Lyra, Ronaldo Bôscoli, Chico Feitosa,
Luís Carlos Vinhas, the brothers Castro Neves, and Dori Caymmi, son of Dorival Caymmi.
In Rua Nascimento Silva, 107, Tom Jobim stayed up all hours of the night to compose
music for Vinícius de Moraes’ play Orfeu da Conceição. The architect who
designed Brazil’s new capital Brasília, Oscar Niemeyer, also designed the set for the
play. The play was a success and a cultural event in 1956 Brazil.
It could be said that bossa nova had officially arrived, when the president’s
preferred pianist, Bené Nunes, also called the Godfather of bossa nova, invited to
a party at his apartment in the last week of 1959. Invited was the Turma da Bossa (Bossa
Gang), which consisted of Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Ary Barroso, Luiz Bonfá, Ronaldo
Bôscoli, Carlinhos Lyra, Roberto Menescal, Sylvinha Telles, Nara Leão, Oscar Castro
Neves, Luizinho Eça, Luís Carlos Vinhas, Chico Feitosa, Sérgio Ricardo, Alayde Costa,
Nana Caymmi, and others. This happened as the magazine O Cruzeiro presented a
10-page spread on the new wave of music. Ronaldo Bôscoli said of the style, “bossa
nova is a state of the spirit.”
Created in the Marvelous City, Cidade Maravilhosa (Rio), it didn’t take long before it
arrived in São Paulo. In the beginning of the 60’s, the movement made its appearance on
television, in clubs, theaters, and student hangouts. In spite of the initial reception of
“Chega de Saudade,” bossa nova was there to stay.
Flux and reflux. I cannot help thinking about the cool Scandinavian sound of the
fifties. Recordings with Gullin, Domnerus, Bilberg, and Bent Hallberg that became quite an
influence in America, from east to west with its lush, warm and lyrical sounds and with so
much tristeza (Portuguese: sadness). And then these very sounds fell on us again,
less than a decade later through the masteries of Jobim, Gilberto, Carlos Lyra, Johnny
Alf, Sidney Miller, etc., who themselves had listened to Chet Baker, Mulligan, Modern Jazz
Quartet, The Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaborations. So the scene was clean and ready for
the arrival of the bossa nova in Europe, caught in a turmoil of hard bop and
avant-garde. The wave was on its way to be, it certainly saved Getz’ career, and bossa
nova musicians went on tours all over Europe.
Finn Nielsen, writer and music critic, Copenhagen, Denmark
On November 21, 1962, New York’s Carnegie Hall became the stage for a much advertised
show. Thousands got tickets, and at least 1000 people were left in the rain outside. It
was a show, in which Murphy played a central part, i.e. the Murphy with the law, in that
everything that could go wrong, did. Nothing worked right. And yet, it turned out to be a
“Batida Diferente” (Different Beat) sent the audience flying. Tom Jobim on
the piano got messed up on the lyrics of “Samba de uma Nota Só” (One Note
Samba), but people loved it. On “Corcovado” things got complicated, and he
stopped, then started again and sang it both in Portuguese and English to everybody’s
delight. Carlinhos Lyra sang his “Influência do Jazz,” a tribute to the North
American art form. João Gilberto thrilled the audience, among whom were Peggy Lee, Miles
Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie, with “Samba da Minha Terra” (Samba From My Land),
“Corcovado,” and “Desafinado” (Off Key) with Tom Jobim on piano.
Agostinho dos Santos sang Luiz Bonfá’s hauntingly beautiful “Manhã de
Carnaval” (Morning of Carnaval) with Bonfá on guitar.
It was a new beginning for bossa nova and its artists. USA’s First Lady,
Jacqueline Kennedy, received the artists in the White House. Many of them signed recording
and touring contracts in New York. A new era, in which North American artists jumped on
the bossa nova bandwagon, began. Of supreme importance was tenor player, Stan Getz,
whose velvety sound seemed perfect for bossa nova. He went on to record a series of
Brazilian albums with people like João and Astrud Gilberto, and Tom Jobim, who always
remained known in this country as Antônio Carlos Jobim. “Old Blue Eyes” himself
recorded one of his best records in partnership with Tom Jobim.
USA’s and Europe’s gain also became Brazil’s loss, in a way, in that both João
Gilberto and Tom Jobim ended up living many years outside Brazil. Sérgio Mendes also a
became a household name in the U.S. and Europe.
Jobim along with Lennon/McCartney became the most recorded composer on the planet. His
songs “Garota de Ipanema,” “Samba de Uma Nota Só,”
“Corcovado,” “Meditação,” “Insensatez,” and
“Wave” were sung and made famous by Astrud Gilberto, Frank Sinatra, Sarah
Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole, and Peggy Lee. “Desafinado”
recorded by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd sold over a million copies.
Bossa Nova Baby
Bossa Nova and I were born some thirty-five years ago in New York City. I on the
East Side, bossa nova on the West. Actually, the musical genre had about a
four-year head start on me in Brazil, yet it wasn’t until the November 1962 concert at
Carnegie Hall that America was introduced to the soft, understated sounds of what Jobim
referred to as “samba distilled.” Yet, even as a small child sitting in front of
my family’s Motorola stereo, I had thought bossa nova was American jazz music and
only years later discovered it came from Brazil. What I mean to say is that this music
felt so natural (so New York!)—so universal—that there was no trace of anything
“foreign” in it. Many years later, I certainly appreciate the subtle
differences, yet for me bossa nova was, and continues to be, pure and timeless
Being a contemporary with bossa nova, I’ve always had a keen interest in its
development and spread throughout the world. Much has changed in Brazilian music since
that time, yet there’s always been a sort of timelessness and universality expressed by bossa
nova, which I cherish. The subtle rhythm continues to tickle gently like a soft feather
brushing across your cheek. It has attracted an international following (which, indeed,
has kept it alive) and has relied on the cross-pollinating influences of non-Brazilian
greats such as Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra.
Bossa Nova both draws upon and contributes to the body of work we call jazz and
doing so is a true partner in the musical experience: one that shows the importance of an
So, is bossa nova Brazilian? In origin, perhaps, but as it has circled the
world, it has become so much more. Bossa Nova is the origin of integrated world
music—one sure to be recognized from Manhattan to Manaus, Paris to Parsippany, Tokyo
to Toledo. Thanks, Joe, Mr. Bim*, for nurturing your distilled spirit — and sharing
it with us.
Gabriel Ben-Yosef, a bossa nova baby, is editor of Bossa Magazine and can be
reached at editor@BossaMag.com on the Internet.
* Refers to an incident at which Tom Jobim arrived in New York and was greeted in that
manner by a customs agent who was not familiar with the famous name and its pronunciation.
Antônio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim was born on January 25th, 1927
in Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro. The family moved to Ipanema—a place that inspired much of
Jobim’s music. He started studying the piano at 13. By 1956, he worked as a pianist and
had already written music in partnership with Billy Blanco, Dolores Duran, and Newton
Mendonça. It was at this time that he met Vinícius de Moraes, and their creative
relationship started. “With Vinícius, I could write as much as three songs a
day,” said Tom Jobim.
In the 60’s, he began his international career starting with the Carnegie Hall concert.
That led to the recording with Frank Sinatra. This move toward the exterior, however, made
him the target of hard criticism in Brazil. They said he was making “American
music,” and that he had sold out. His recordings gathered dust in the stores in
Brazil, while they were torn off the shelves outside. “In Brazil, success is a
personal affront,” complained Jobim.
Another great source of bitterness for Jobim was the destruction of nature,
particularly in Amazônia. He took his worry about the environment into the studio with
“Matita Perê,” “Urubu,” and “Passarim.” In the 80’s, he
regained his prestige in his homeland and was often the subject of frequent tributes.
With his wife, Tereza, he had the children Elizabeth and Paulo, who is also a musician
and father of Daniel Jobim. From his marriage to Ana Lontra, he had the children Mario
Luíza Helena and João Francisco Lontra Jobim, who was killed in 1998 at 18, when he was
driving a car his mother had given him as a present a week earlier.
In ’92, he was the theme of the samba school Mangueira’s Carnaval performance. In ’94,
Tom Jobim was diagnosed with bladder cancer. In spite of surgery to remove the tumor,
Jobim did not recover and died in New York on December 8th of that year. Brazil
and the world had lost one of the greatest composers to ever hit the scene.
Vinícius de Moraes, “O Poetinha” The Little Poet, was one of the most
endearing characters in MPB and Brazilian literature. His career in music was a curious
one. In 1933, still quite young, Vinícius recorded a marchinha (a little march),
“Loura ou Morena” (Blond or Dark). But soon he abandoned his artistic life for
the Foreign Service, including a stint at the Brazilian consulate in Los Angeles. Until
the beginning of the 50’s, Vinícius’ Foreign Service restricted his artistic expressions
to articles for newspapers about movies and poetry.
In 1956, after he had returned to Brazil, Vinícius sought a partner for Orfeu da
Conceição, his Brazilian version of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. At first
he rejected the suggestion of Vadico, ex-partner of Noel Rosa, and agreed to talk to Tom
Jobim. Vinícius de Moraes was known for his bon vivant lifestyle (wine, woman, and song).
Retired from the Foreign Service by the military regime, he spent the rest of his days
enjoying his life to the fullest.
Roberto Batalha Menescal was born in Vitória, Espírito Santo, on October 25th,
1937. Studied piano from childhood and later switched to accordion and harmonica. Finally,
he opted for the guitar. Having studied with some excellent teachers, he later founded a
musical academy with Carlos Lyra in Copacabana in the mid-fifties. In 1958, his first song
was recorded by Alaíde Costa. He participated in the show Samba Session, considered one
of the forerunners of bossa nova. In 1961, he wrote the classic “O
Barquinho” (The Little Boat), inspired by his own love for and adventures at sea. The
following year he sang in public—for the first and last time—at the concert at
Menescal went on to become producer and director of PolyGram Records. He produced a
great many collections of Brazilian music for the Japanese market. He collaborated with
Almir Chediak on the CD-ROM about bossa nova. His son, Márcio, has followed in his
father’s footsteps becoming involved in the production of music.
Elis Regina, Gaúcha (woman from Rio Grande do Sul state), was born in Porto
Alegre. At 19, she arrived in Rio in 1964. It didn’t take long for the sprite Regina,
nicknamed “Pimentinha” (the little pepper), to become a success. After a show in
Beco das Garrafas, in Rio, the doors were opened for her. In 1965, after a season at the
Paramount Theater in São Paulo, she was put in charge of the program O Fino da Bossa,
on TV Record.
In the 70’s, when she was married to maestro César Camargo Mariano, Elis established
herself as one of the most important names of MPB and made some outstanding recordings.
She was also instrumental in discovering new talents, such as Renato Teixeira, João
Bosco, and Aldir Blanc. Sadly, she died of a heart attack brought on by a mixture of
alcohol and cocaine, in January of 1981.
Nara Lofego Leão was 14 years old in 1956 when she started taking guitar lessons from
two fellows in Copacabana, Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal. They say that bossa nova
was practically born in the family’s apartment, facing the sea, where she organized
get-togethers with her teachers and friends. One of those was Ronaldo Bôscoli, who ended
up moving in as her boyfriend.
Toward the end of the decade, Nara was considered the muse of bossa nova and
engaged in a career as a singer. Perhaps her greatest merit was discovering or
re-discovering great talents, new and old, such as Cartola and Carlos Cachaça, she
recorded Zé Kéti and João do Vale. She helped launch Maria Bethânia’s career and
recorded Chico Buarque’s first success “A Banda” (The Band).
She had famous fights with Bôscoli and Elis Regina. She was married to the filmmaker,
Cacá Diegues, with whom she had the daughter, Isabel. In the 70’s, she recorded LP’s with
music by João Donato and Erasmo Carlos. In 1991, she died of cancer at the age of 49.
João Gilberto was born in Juazeiro, Bahia, in 1931. He lived in his hometown until the
age of 18. Until then, practically his only contact with the outside world was radio, on
which he listened to his idol, Orlando Silva. He also listened to the American recordings
coming from the loud speakers on the main square in Juazeiro.
After his tumultuous relationship with Os Garotos da Lua mentioned earlier, he went on
working toward his solo career. For the next seven years, he traveled between Rio, São
Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, and Bahia encountering the same problems dealing with adapting
to the rules of others. After the success of “Chega de Saudade,” he became an
overnight success, practically. He married Astrud and together they recorded in the U.S.
with Stan Getz. After they broke up, he married Miúcha, sister of Chico Buarque, with
whom he had the daughter Bebel.
In the 70’s, after he returned to Brazil, he performed with Gilberto Gil, Caetano
Veloso, and Gal Costa, for whom he approached God-status. In the 90’s, his reputation for
being difficult has only grown, but recently, in 1998, he made a successful tour of the
United States, which received rave reviews both from the audiences and critics.
Maysa Figueira Monjardim, known as “O Furacão da MPB” (The Hurricane of
MPB), was famous for her large, green eyes. The poet Manuel Bandeira called them dois
oceanos não pacíficos (two not pacific oceans). At 18, she married impresario André
Matarazzo, 38. They had everything required to live a comfortable and tranquil lifestyle,
but her father recognized her uncommon talent and insisted on making her a star.
He succeeded in setting up an audition with Columbia, which resulted almost immediately
in a contract. Maysa was pregnant with her son, Jayme, and chose to spend time with him,
but not for long. Eventually, it came to a choice between her marriage and artistic
career. The latter won out.
The tearful and most personal voice of the singer—who also composed— was a
sensation, and with the arrival of the new style, she considered switching to bossa
nova. Finally, in 1961, involved in a relationship with Ronaldo Bôscoli, she took the
plunge and went on tour in South America singing bossa nova. Her life was a mixture
of turbulent love affairs and whiskey, and in 1977, she was killed in an automobile
accident on the Rio-Niterói Bridge.
Baden Powell was already an established guitarist at the outset of bossa nova,
but the movement gave him the opportunity to play with other musicians of high caliber. He
worked in partnership with Vinícius de Moraes on several occasions, which produced works
such as “Canto de Ossanha”, “Samba da Benção” (Blessing Samba),
“Berimbau” (an instrument used widely in the martial arts form of capoeira),
and “Apelo” (Appeal).
In the 80’s, after having lived in Paris for several years, he returned to Brazil.
Unfortunately, he never had the recognition he so richly deserved and got in Europe, and
he is now living in Germany.
Sylvinha Telles began her love affair with bossa nova almost a decade before the
genre officially existed. In 1952, when she was 19, she was the girlfriend of João
Gilberto and attempted a career as a singer. The affair did not last, but the musical
influence stayed. In 1955, she started going out with guitarist Candinho, whom she later
married. At the same time she began performing in small clubs, but soon attracted wider
In 1957, her LP Carícia (Caress), a precursor of bossa nova, launched
her on the road to fame. In fact, it resulted in a TV program not unlike I Love Lucy,
in which she performed with her husband. She separated from Candinho and later married
Aloysio de Oliveira, formerly of Bando da Lua, the group which accompanied Carmen Miranda
to the U.S.. In the 60’s, her career hit some snags due to alcohol. She died in a car
accident in 1966.
Carlos Lyra was born in Rio de Janeiro on May 11th, 1936 into a middle class
family with a penchant for music. His parents and uncles played instruments, and Carlos
himself started on the road to being a musician at the age of 7. His first performances
with the guitar took place at the Colégio Santo Inácio, where he went to school.
At secondary school in Copacabana, he met Roberto Menescal, with whom he later founded
his musical academy. This academy was, in truth, an apartment in which the two gave
lessons to young hopefuls, but it also became a meeting place of people like Edu Lobo,
Nara Leão, Ronaldo Bôscoli, and Marcos Valle.
In 1955, while he was studying architecture and playing electric guitar with the
pianist, Bené Nunes, he began composing. In ’56, he won at the Festival da Canção on TV
Rio with the song “Menina” (Girl) later recorded by Sylvinha Telles. In 1960, he
composed the music for the play A Mais-Valia Vai Acabar, Seu Edgar (The Surplus
Value Will End, Mr. Edgar) by Oduvaldo Vianna Filho. The following year, he met Vinícius
with whom he composed the musical Pobre Menina Rica (Poor Rich Girl) and Primavera
One of his great contributions to bossa nova, was “Influência do
Jazz,” from 1962, which, in a vibrant rhythm he theorizes about how the genre was
created, mixing samba, jazz, Afro Cuban rhythms and more. Carlos Lyra says today that bossa
nova is over. “It was the Brazilian popular music between 1956 and 1965,” he
says. In 1994 he issued his first album with unpublished songs in 20 years. He has never
liked the pressure from producers to record something he did not consider quality and has
always spoken up for the rights of composers to write what they believe: “I don’t
have to write any nonsense.”
Ronaldo Bôscoli was born in Rio on October 27th, 1929. His was a family of
artists, composer Chiquinha Gonzaga and actors Jardel Jércolis and Jardel Filho. His road
to musician, however, went by way of journalism. His first job as a reporter was in the
50’s when he wrote about musical events in the magazine Manchete, moving on later
to the newspaper Última Hora.
He established himself as an influential figure in bossa nova, being both a
producer of musical shows and manager. He also composed and distinguished himself with the
composition “Sente,” (Feel) on the LP Oh, Norma, recorded in 1957 by
Norma Benguel. He also performed in pocket shows with invited guests.
Along with Carlos Lyra he composed “Lobo Bobo” (Silly Wolf) in 1959,
“Saudade Fez um Samba” (Longing Made a Samba), and many others. But the most
steady of his partnerships was with Roberto Menescal, whom he met in ’56 and with whom he
composed the famous “O Barquinho.”
He was known as a relentless music critic but also for his great sense of humor. He was
also a great ladies’ man, having had affairs with many of the leading ladies of bossa
nova, Nara Leão, Maysa, and Elis Regina. He never shied away from speaking openly of
his affairs. “It wasn’t just the women everybody knew, but all the prettiest women
around,” he is known to have said. He and Elis had a son, João Marcelo, who also has
a musical career. From about the 70’s, he worked with Roberto Carlos as a musical director
until his death in 1993.
Newton Mendonça wrote the lyrics for two of the most famous bossa nova songs,
“Desafinado” (Off Key), and “Samba de Uma Nota Só” (One Note Samba).
Unfortunately, he was never to reap the fruits of the roaring worldwide success both of
these songs received. In May of 1959, a couple of months after João Gilberto’s historic
recording, he suffered a cardiac infarction. A year and a half later, a massive heart
attack killed him at the age of 33. One of the great Carioca bohemians, Mendonça
spent his nights playing piano in the clubs of Copacabana like Mogambo, the Carrousel, the
Posto 5, and Ma Griffe in Beco das Garrafas. And there was always whiskey, women, and
conversation with friends that went well into dawn, creating many problems with his wife.
Cardiac problems ran in the family of Mendonça, and after the first infarction, he was
told by the doctors to stop drinking, smoking and fooling around. He was also advised to
stop working for six months. He did not follow a single one of those pieces of advice and
continued his lifestyle as musician of the night.
Luiz Bonfá was born in Rio in 1922 and made a living as a guitarist in the early 50’s.
Respected by his colleagues, he was the subject of an homage by João Gilberto in the tune
“Um Abraço no Bonfá” (A Hug on Bonfá). His beautiful song from Vinícius de
Moraes’ Orfeu Negro, “Manhã de Carnaval,” is one of those classics most
people know, even if perhaps they don’t know its origin. He was another Brazilian musician
who made a great success of himself in the United States with songs such as “Gentle
Rain,” “Menina Flor,” and “Ruth’s Waltz.”
In the 70’s, he and Jobim, who were great friends, engaged in a controversy about who
had composed which harmony. The fight escalated until there was a break in their
relationship. They later re-united with the help of music critic, Roberto Muggiati, who
was an unconditional fan of both.
After music, Bonfá has another great passion, antique cars—at one point, he owned
about 20, most of them from the 30’s—and he is a member of the Veteran Car Club.
Oscar Castro-Neves was born in Rio on May 15th, 1940. Since the age of 6, he
played cavaquinho and guitar. When he was 14, he formed a musical group with his
brothers Mário on piano, Leo on drums, and Ico on bass. In 1960, the LP Bossa Nova
Mesmo, included two of his songs, “Menina Feia” (Ugly Girl) and “Chora
sua Tristeza” (Cry Your Sadness). In 1964, he accompanied Vinícius and Quarteto em
Cy in the club Zum-Zum and presented his song “Onde Está Você?” (Where Are
You?) in the show O Fino da Bossa. That song became a great success for Alaíde Costa.
Oscar participated in the 1962 bossa nova show at Carnegie Hall. After that, he
returned many times to the United States, and since 1966 has lived in this country where
he divides his time between producing CDs, arranging movie scores, and acting as
representative of Brazilian musicians for American projects. From time to time, he goes to
Brazil. In 1975 he participated in writing the soundtrack for the soap opera Gabriela
and in 1993, he was in the annual Free Jazz Festival in Brazil.
The Mark They
Most of us have probably played the philosophical game, “If a tree falls in the
woods, and nobody is there, does it make a sound?” It’s easy to give biographical
data on the people who created bossa nova, but does it tell us what they came to
mean to us and to the generations that were to follow? Gilberto Gil said in a recent
interview, asked about the death a while earlier of Tim Maia, “Life is like that,
isn’t it? People create, leave their marks, and die. But those marks are fundamental for
the development of a generation. In that is the renewal.”
And indeed, the masters of bossa nova, some of whom are no longer with us, live
on, not only in their recordings, but also in the legacies carried on by present and
Tom Jobim, as seen by others.
Tom, for me, is my university. The best music courses that I took were to hear what Tom
played and the things he said as well as the arrangements he made for my things.
Tom Jobim was accused, many times, of plagiarism. In a chronicle, Antônio Maria
denounced five such (perceived) instances. Sérgio Cabral in his biography, touches on
this event, which caused great controversy in the Carioca community, but leaves the
conclusion up to the reader. Carlos Lyra says of the subject, “Sure, there were
times, but Tom was generally the first one to point out the similarities between his new
song and one written by someone else. For instance, I remember when he showed me his new
song, I think it was “Discussão,” (Discussion) written because he adored
“Você e Eu” (You and I). He said, “This is the influence of Carlinhos
Lyra, I took it all from “Você e Eu.” I can’t hear the similarity, but
obviously, he did.”
Edu Lobo says, “With Tom, it was like this, the closer you got to his work, the
more you’d become able to enjoy it, to play it, and you’d start to see the dimensions. Tom
is the best popular composer I know. In his day, he had no equal, anywhere in the world. I
had the pleasure of telling him that several times. One of those times he asked me,
“And what about Michel Legrand?” I told him that Michel Legrand didn’t come
close to him. But I thought it was funny him asking that because it was almost like he was
a little kid.”
Edu Lobo says furthermore, “For me Tom was always a kind of model, an objective,
something like that. I think it was that way for everyone in my generation. My thing is to
make my music come as close as possible to that model, that harmonic and melodic rigor. I
think he was very important in the sense of attracting people to that music, such that
they wouldn’t be drawn to some other kind of music.
“Tom was one of the funniest people I ever knew. In the middle of a conversation,
he’d start telling a story about buzzards. There were some people who didn’t get his humor
at all. We’d record, and as soon as the track was laid down, it was straight back to the
jokes, just non-stop silliness. Puns, plays on words. He was a pun specialist, from the
worst to the best, he was very funny. There was a story about him and Chico (Buarque)
fighting over reading dictionaries. They had every dictionary in the world.”
Chico Buarque about his first partnership with Tom Jobim on the beautiful song
“Retrato em Branco e Preto” (Portrait in White and Black): “…the funny
thing is that back there in the beginning, I don’t know if this is just my impression or
if it was really so, but I had the impression that he was sort of lending me a hand,
giving me a break, he insisted that I do the lyrics, but comparing this to other times
later, when there was already a strong friendship between us, it was more difficult to
write lyrics for Tom, because he interfered all the time. But this time he didn’t. He was
like, “It’s great.” Like he was going out of his way or even patronizing me a
“In the song, “Piano na Mangueira” I was very careful to fit the lyrics
to his music. And then he’d go and change it when he sang it. Sometimes, I’d actually get
pissed off, but in reality, he turned it around and musicalized the lyrics.”
Meu maestro soberano foi Antônio Brasileiro (my supreme maestro was Antônio
Brasileiro), as Tom Jobim was often called, is a line from Chico Buarque’s song
“Paratodos” (For Everybody) from the CD of the same name—in tribute to Tom
About João Gilberto.
Carlos Lyra about the claim that “Chega de Saudade” was composed, not as a bossa
nova, but as a choro:* “It’s obvious that it was changed, for sure. I
don’t know if it was a choro, but it was evidently something Tom had already done.
What João Gilberto did was put a samba into an outline of syncopated rhythm, an absolute
economy of chords—he played few chords. Today, he plays more.”
Chico Buarque about “Chega de Saudade” and the reaction to it: “It was a
sense of general estrangement, so much so that there was a break between the generations,
between those who didn’t like what was going on, older people, who had a hard time
accepting that first moment of the bossa nova, including Tom’s music and the voice
and guitar and the vocal style of João Gilberto.”
* A musical style that emerged in Rio about 1870—played mostly in instrumental
form. Origin is (perhaps) the Portuguese word choro—the act of crying—but
could be an African expression—no one is really sure.
About Vinícius de Moraes
Chico Buarque: “Vinícius had the power to fascinate people who were a little
envious, in the good sense of the word, of the kind of life he led. In a certain way I
think my father wanted to be like him.”
Carlos Drummond de Andrade: “Vinícius was a great poet who lived his own
The Influence of
The people responsible for marketing various products in Brazil did not waste a minute
hopping on the bandwagon of bossa nova. It was not long before consumer products
from clothes to refrigerators bore the name of the suddenly “hot” style.
Carnaval got its own marchinha named Garota Bossa Nova. Filmmaker of
Cinema Novo (the name of the Brazilian movies produced at that time, whose leading
filmmaker was Gláuber Rocha), Leon Hirszman, directed “Garota de Ipanema” with
the actress Márcia Rodrigues and a soundtrack full of bossa nova songs. And if
someone wore a garish outfit, people would comment, “bossa nova, huh?”
Not even politics were excepted. The UDN (União Democrática Nacional—National
Democratic Union), a former Brazilian party, trying to renew their image, became “A bossa
nova da UDN.” Knowing that the party no longer exists, one can only assume the
strategy didn’t work.
Humorist Juca Chaves, who was in no way considered part of “the gang,” got
some mileage out of the movement with “Presidente Bossa Nova,” a satire on the
popular Juscelino Kubitschek. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the song was
prohibited by the presidential censors, which only made it more popular.
Bossa Nova Discography
Canção de Amor Demais—Elizeth Cardoso—on Festa, 1958
Chega de Saudade—João Gilberto—on Odeon, 1958
Orfeu do Carnaval—Agostinho dos Santos and others—on Fontana, 1959
Bossa Nova—Carlos Lyra—on Phillips, 1960
Alayde Canta Suavemente—Alayde Costa—on RCA, 1960
O Amor, o Sorriso e a Flor—João Gilberto—on Odeon, 1961
Bossa Nova—Roberto Menescal—on Imperial, 1962
A Bossa dos Cariocas—Os Cariocas—on Phillips, 1962
Tamba Trio—Tamba Trio—on Phillips, 1962
Big Band Bossa Nova—Oscar Castro Neves—on Audio Fidelity, 1962
Getz/Gilberto—João Gilberto, Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto—on Verve, 1963
Vinícius e Odete Lara—Vinícius and Odete Lara—on Elenco, 1963
Bossa, Balanço e Balada—Sylvia Telles—on Elenco, 1963
Samba Esquema Novo—Jorge Ben—on Phillips, 1963
A Bossa Muito Moderna de Donato—João Donato—on Polydor, 1963
Baden Powell à Vontade—Baden Powell—on Elenco, 1964
Pobre Menina Rica—Carlos Lyra and Dulce Nunes—on CBS, 1964
Zimbo Trio—Zimbo Trio—on RGE, 1964
Entre Nós—Walter Wanderley—on Phillips, 1964
Opinião de Nara—Nara Leão—on Phillips, 1964
Luiz Eça & Cordas—Luiz Eça—on Phillips, 1965
Dom Um—Dom Um Romão—on Phillips, 1965
Manfredo Fest Trio—Manfredo Fest—on RGE, 1965
Samba Eu Canto Assim—Elis Regina—on Phillips, 1965
Dois na Bossa—Elis Regina and Jair Rodrigues—on Phillips, 1965
Milton Banana Trio—Milton Banana Trio—on Odeon, 1965
Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim—Francis Albert Sinatra
& Antônio Carlos Jobim—on Reprise, 1966
The Gentle Rain—Luiz Bonfá—on Mercury, 1967
Beach Samba—Astrud Gilberto—on Verve, 1967
Chega de Saudade
Tom Jobim/Vinícius de Moraes
Vai minha tristeza
Mas se ela voltar, se ela voltar
Dentro dos meus braços
|No More Blues
Go my sadness
But if she returns, if she returns
In my arms
A insensatez que você fez
Vai meu coração ouve a razão
English lyrics by Gene Lees
How insensitive I must have seemed
Tom Jobim/Vinícius de Moraes
Tristeza não fim
A felicidade é como a pluma
Tristeza não tem fim, felicidade sim
A felicidade é como a gota de orvalho
A felicidade é uma coisa louca
English lyrics by Arto Lindsay
Sadness has no end,
Happiness is like a feather
Happiness is like a drop of dew
Happiness is a crazy thing
The title of the next song is an example of the humor of Tom Jobim. The new style of
music had by some critics been called “music for off-key singers” because of the
odd sounding harmonies and intervals. This inspired Jobim to make fun of those critics and
write the song. The best known part of the song is the refrain, and often the verse is not
sung at all. But in a version by Tom Jobim himself, he sings the verse and purposely
sounds off key—something that is bound to have upset the critics. However, the first
time João Gilberto heard it, he is said to have shouted, “That’s mine.”
Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça
Se você disser que eu desafino amor
O que você não sabe, nem sequer pressente
Só não poderá falar assim do meu amor
English lyrics by Gene Lees
If you say my singing is off key, my love
You insist my music goes against the rules
The thing that you would see
Everybody has heard and felt the sweet notes of this next song, in English entitled
“Quiet Nights” and made famous outside Brazil by Astrud Gilberto on the album Getz
Au Go-Go. But many people probably don’t know that Tom Jobim originally wrote the
lyrics with this first line, “Um cigarro, um violão” (A cigarette, a guitar).
Jobim, who smoked three packs a day, wanted to start the song in that manner. But João
Gilberto, who had stopped years earlier, disagreed vehemently, “Tomzinho (little
Tom), this thing with a cigarette and a guitar…. Cigarettes are a bad thing. How
about um cantinho… (A little corner).” And that’s how João Gilberto got his way
with what was to become a famous and beloved song.
Um cantinho, um violão
Quero a vida sempre assim
English lyrics by Gene Lees
Quiet nights of quiet stars
This is where I want to be
Garota de Ipanema
Tom Jobim/Vinícius de Moraes
Olha que coisa mais linda
Moça do corpo dourado
Ah, se ela soubesse
Girl from Ipanema
English lyrics by Norman Gimbel
Tall and tan and young and lovely
When she walks, she’s like a samba
Tall and tan and young and lovely
Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça
Quem, no coração
Quem chorou, chorou
Quem depois voltou
English lyrics by Norman Gimbel
In my loneliness
Though you’re far away
Yes I love you so
I will wait for you
Samba de uma Nota Só
Tom Jobim/Newton Mendonça
Eis aqui este sambinha
Quanta gente existe por aí
E voltei prá minha nota
One Note Samba
English lyrics by Tom Jobim
This is just a little samba
There’s so many people who can
So I came back to my first note
Samba do Avião
Minha alma canta
Song of the Jet
English lyrics by Gene Lees
How my heart is singing
See the cable cars
Statue of the Savior
It would be easy to continue for page after page of songs that still make the heart
flutter and brings on images of gentle breezes as one stands on Copacabana Beach at the
point where Pão de Açucar is visible and Ipanema beckons at the other end. There is a
fragrance and a feeling in Rio that says bossa nova, that says Tom Jobim and
Vinícius de Moraes, that says “come to me and drink in my intoxicating spirit.”
Being very subjective, I’d have to say that São Paulo could never have inspired bossa
nova. It arrived at the Bay of Guanabara on the wings of a divine Baiano, who
changed our vision forever.
I will be eternally grateful to Almir Chediak, who with his partner Roberto Menescal
produced the CD-ROM Song Book of Bossa Nova as well as the newspaper Estado de
S. Paulo whose wonderful Website for the whole year of 1998 has carried a special
feature about the 40 years of bossa nova. They can be visited at www.estado.com.br
It provides links to, among other things, The Tom Jobim Website, which again provides more
links and all the information, in Portuguese and English, you could ever want about Mr.
Jobim. Log on—and be prepared to spend the day.
Kirsten Weinoldt was born in Denmark and came to the U.S. in 1969. She
fell in love with Brazil after seeing Black Orpheus many years ago and has lived
immersed in Brazilian culture ever since. E-mail: email@example.com
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