Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our Book Inspires a New Milton Nascimento Album

by Chris McGowan

My appreciation of the remarkable music of Milton Nascimento was a major reason that I started writing about Brazilian music and that I eventually wrote The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil with Ricardo Pessanha. So, it was with great happiness that I learned recently that a musical map in our book had inspired Milton to embark on his latest musical project: E a Gente Sonhando (And Us Dreaming), an album that focuses on the music of his hometown, Três Pontas.

Chris McGowan and Milton Nascimento, 1987

In The Brazilian Sound, we have a chapter on Milton and his musical colleagues from Minas Gerais, and a musical map that includes cities like Rio, Recife, and Salvador. The map also has Três Pontas, because of the musical importance of Milton and Wagner Tiso (who also grew up there). When Milton saw that Três Pontas was on the map, he felt a need to return to the town where he grew up and explore the current musical scene there. He felt a strong emotion and wanted to give something back to his hometown.

In the November 1, 2010 issue of Rio de Janeiro's daily newspaper O Globo, Leonardo Lichote also interviewed Milton Nascimento about his new album for the cover story of the "Caderno B" arts section. Lichote described how the musical map in The Brazilian Sound inspired Milton to create the album. "His idea of bringing, of incorporating the new music of Três Pontas (and surrounding region) with his own was born when the book The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil, by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha, arrived in his hands. The city was the only one that wasn't a [state] capital to be highlighted on a Brazilian map, as an important musical center," writes Lichote.

"Many tourists from the whole world are going to know the city, the square where my parents' house is located, and the house. Above all the Japanese, who founded my first fan club...When this book appeared, I thought: people are going to see this, more will go to Três Pontas and find what? what music will they see?," Nascimento said to Lichote.

"I started to talk with Marco Elizeo, who co-produced the album with me, and said, 'It’s tough! What are we going to do to show this stuff from Três Pontas that these guys talk about?' " Milton told Miguel Sá in the August, 2010 issue of Backstage. Sá continued, "The answer was to have a dinner in a bar in Três Pontas for thirty people, who were a good part of the musical community of the city. Between food and drinks, Milton could see what was happening with the musicians from there. This was the first of various events for the composer to get to know the local musical talents. Nobody knew, but the project of recording an album with them was already ripening."

Milton Nascimento collaborated with thirty young singers and musicians from Três Pontas on the album, which includes both new compositions and re-recordings of the songs “Raras Maneiras” (written by Tunai and Márcio Borges, and originally recorded by Simone), “Advinha o Quê” (Lulu Santos), and “Estrela, Estrela” (Vitor Ramil). The title track was composed by Milton over forty years ago and recorded by the Tempo Trio on their 1965 Tempo Trio album.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Brazilian Sound: From 1991 to Today

Our book The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil has been the leading guide to Brazilian music in the English language since 1991, when it was first published by Billboard Books. The Brazilian Sound has now had three U.S. editions (the last two with Temple University Press), one U.K. edition (with the title The Billboard Book of Brazilian Music), and French, German, and Japanese translations. The current 2009 edition is available worldwide through Amazon. Find all editions here: The Brazilian Sound.

Images from top to bottom:
1. The Brazilian Sound (Temple University Press, 3rd ed., 2009).
2. The Brazilian Sound (Japan: Shinko Music Publishing, 1999).
3. Le Son du Brésil: Samba, Bossa Nova et Musiques Populares (France: Éditions Lusophone, 1999).
4. The Brazilian Sound (Temple University Press, 2nd ed., 1998).
5. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova und die Klange Brasiliens (Germany: Hannibal Verlag, 1991).
6. The Billboard Book of Brazilian Music: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Sounds of Brazil (England: Guinness Publishing, 1991).
7. The Brazilian Sound (Billboard Books, 1st ed., 1991).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Brazil's Hidden Music Festival

 Igreja da Matriz, Vassouras, Brazil

by Chris McGowan
(published August 6, 2010 in The Huffington Post)

One of the best music festivals in Brazil, or the world for that matter, is one that few people know about. The Festival Vale do Café (the Coffee Valley Festival) is a ten-day celebration set in a picturesque valley two hours by car from Rio de Janeiro. This year’s event ran from July 23 to August 1 and offered everything from classical music and Brazilian popular music to the folkloric music-and-dance traditions of jongo, calango, caxambú and folia de reis. Cristina Braga, the first harpist of the Symphonic Orchestra of Rio’s Municipal Theater, created the festival eight years ago, and recruited the renowned classical guitarist Turíbio Santos to serve as its artistic director.
The festival’s intent is to present great music in an idyllic setting, create a destination for cultural tourism, and to help preserve the cultural heritage of a region that has been somewhat forgotten. 

 Guitarist Turíbio Santos and poet Affonso
Romano de Sant’anna at the Fazenda Guaritá

The Vale do Café, situated in the Paraíba River valley in Rio de Janeiro state, is an area of rolling green hills and a temperate climate, situated at a higher elevation than the steamy metropolis of Rio to the South. The weather is like that of Southern California, only milder and with bluer skies. It was the coffee-growing center of 19th century Brazil; later, the country’s coffee production shifted to the rich soils of the states of São Paulo and Paraná. The valley and its small towns like Vassouras were left with some impressive estates on old coffee farms and a less than vibrant economy. Atlantic rain forest (mata atlântica) has grown back atop many hills, adding to the beauty of the region, but a lack of opportunity has kept it in a somewhat suspended state.

Jongo dancing at the Cortejo de Tradições

Braga and Santos have succeeded admirably in their goals, so much so that tickets are scarce for the paying events, which have small seating capacities. Their efforts may have helped lure new luxury hotel-spas and gourmet restaurants to the Vale do Café, and the city of Vassouras feels like an Ojai in the making - a charming small town with world-class cultural events and high-end hotels and villas in the local countryside. It also may be inevitable that some Rio de Janeiro residents will tire of their city’s crime and traffic, and start looking for nearby areas that offer a better quality of life.

Joao Bosco performing at the festival

The festival is a music lover’s dream: superb musicians performing a wide variety of styles in intimate and scenic settings. Events in the church and main square of Vassouras (the most historically and culturally important town in the region) and other area cities are free. And small concerts requiring admission are staged at fourteen different coffee plantations, in lavish period mansions or on the surrounding grounds.

 Capoeira at the Cortejo de Tradições

I attended a performance by Cristina Braga at the Fazenda Cachoeira Grande (Big Waterfall Ranch), a beautifully restored estate in Vassouras. The innovative harpist played pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and herself, and was accompanied by an accordion player and bass guitarist. She added a strong rhythmic drive to some compositions, and supplemented others with her soft, breathy voice. The pairing of guitarist Turíbio Santos and poet Affonso Romano de Sant’anna at the stately Fazenda Guaritá in Rio das Flores was another highlight. Santos is one of Brazil’s great classical guitarists and also adept with Brazilian popular music. His sublime intepretations of Villa-Lobos, Albeniz, and Luiz Gonzaga counterpointed Affonso’s wise and clever poetry on a bright sunny day under a white tent on the sweeping green lawn of the estate.

Leo Gandelman, Victor Biglione, Carl McDavit, Zé Paulo Becker, Duo Gisbranco, Carlinhos de Jesus, and Marcelo Caldi were among the festival’s other featured performers this year. One could hear Brazilian music ranging across choro, bossa nova, forró, MPB, and Brazilian jazz and orchestral works. If you were a fan of the influential composers Jobim and Villa-Lobos, you could hear their works interpreted by many fine musicians in a variety of settings. It was a feast for musical gourmands, and this mood of refinement extended to other events: several free cooking classes were part of the festival’s programming.

 Cortejo de Tradições

The Cortejo de Tradições, a presentation of regional musical/cultural traditions, was especially striking and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Brazil. On the balmy evening of July 24th in Vassouras, bells rang out a little after 9pm in the square in front of the city’s beautiful Igreja da Matriz. Colorful groups carrying banners appeared out of the darkness and converged on the 150-meter lawn that runs from the church downhill to the end of the plaza. There were folia de reis, jongo, caxambú, capoeira, calango, cana-verde, and maculelê groups from towns in the valley. Each one took a different place on the grass and performed simultaneously with the others. You could wander from group to group, taking in a staggering array of venerable Afro-Brazilian traditions that were enough to make a cultural historian run a fever. 

The Vale do Café is one of the few places, perhaps the only one, in Brazil where so many traditions can be found in one region. And the festival seems to be playing a role in helping to perpetuate them. It is also doing its part to further develop Brazil’s already formidable musical strengths; the celebrated participants offer some four hundred free music courses to local children. 

If you happen to be in Brazil next year at this time, this is a music event not to be missed. There are many fine hotels in Vassouras and the valley, ranging from simple and cheap to high-end luxury. And Rio is just two hours away by bus.

Updated in July, 2018.

Further information (in Portuguese): Festival Vale do Café website

For more information on Brazilian music, see my books The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil (an introduction) and The Brazilian Music Book (a collection of interviews).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Brazilian Rock's Guiding Light, Ezequiel Neves, Passes Away

Ezequiel Neves and Cazuza

Ezequiel Neves, an important and colorful figure in Brazilian rock history, died on Wednesday (July 7) at age 74, in Rio de Janeiro. The music producer and journalist—known to friends as Zeca—passed away on the twentieth anniversary of the death of the popular singer-songwriter Cazuza, for whom he was a close friend, mentor and collaborator. Neves co-produced Cazuza’s solo albums and those of his band Barão Vermelho, and corrected the Portuguese in his lyrics. The two co-wrote several songs together, including “Codinome Beija Flor,” “Exagerado,” “Burguesia,” and “Por Que a Gente é Assim?” Neves was instrumental in the career of Cazuza, one of the most popular and iconic musicians for Brazil’s middle class in the 1980s.

Neves influenced Brazilian rock starting in the 1970s with his music writing, as the producer of the glam-rock band Made in Brazil, and with his work with Rita Lee after she left the Mutantes (one of the songs they wrote together was “Vote Em Mim”). In the 1980s, he was something of a guru and sounding board for many important groups of that era, a breakthrough time for Brazilian rock. Cazuza and Barão Vermelho and bands like Titãs, Legião Urbana, and the Paralamas do Sucesso took the genre to new heights of critical and commercial success. Prior to the ‘80s, there had been brilliant individual rock talents like Raul Seixas and os Mutantes, but not an entire musical movement that spoke for a generation. In the ‘90s, Neves guided the careers of Angela Ro-Ro (making a comeback) and Cássia Eller (a powerful rock/pop vocalist who died prematurely, like Cazuza).

Born in 1935 in Belo Horizonte, Neves was an actor in the ‘60s and moved to São Paulo to pursue his career. A devoted fan of jazz and Brazilian musicians like Elizeth Cardoso and João Gilberto, Neves had a life-altering moment when he first heard Jim Morrison. “He was turned onto rock and roll by the Doors and then he became a music writer. That was the start of a new career for him,” recalls music journalist and film director José Emilio Rondeau.

While writing for newspapers in São Paulo, Neves was called to start a Brazilian Rolling Stone in 1972. "He was like a guiding light to everyone, instructive and informative. He always took sides. If he loved something, he would go to depths of hell to make sure people heard it with the excitement that he did. If he didn’t like it he hated it with a passion and would loudly proclaim it. As a writer, Zeca was unique, inimitable. He wrote with urgency, a sense of humor, irreverence, with the energy and passion of rock and roll itself.”

“He was an archetypical representative of a generation that either took up arms to fight the military dictatorship or turned to sex, drugs and rock and roll to survive the oppression,” recalls Ricardo Pessanha, co-author of The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil. “Zeca chose the latter and did it with grace. His column in the first Brazilian Rolling Stone magazine was trend setting. Everybody read it to know what was going on in music, behavior and the arts in general.”

That version of Rolling Stone in Brazil was a “pirate” version without official authorization and it lasted for a year. Neves also wrote for the Brazilian version of Playboy, Pop, Jornal da Tarde (a newspaper in São Paulo), and Jornal da Música. As an editor, he was a father figure to an entire generation of Brazilian rock journalists, including Ana Maria Bahiana and the aforementioned José Emilio Rondeau.

As the international editor for Jornal da Música, Neves gave a break to Rondeau, then an aspiring young rock journalist. “He gave me an assignment: a story on, of all people, Ted Nugent! But he warned there was no payment involved. And that was more than fine with me. I wanted to get started and money was my last priority. And that is how it all started - my career in rock writing.” Rondeau developed into a prominent critic and went on to direct several early music videos, produce Legião Urbana’s first album, and direct the film 1972 (a “rock and roll romance” that he co-wrote with Bahiana). In that movie, Rondeau and Bahiana based the colorful character of Guti, a rock-magazine editor, on Neves.

“Zeca was a mixture of father, mother, older brother, godfather, mentor, cheerleader and inspiration to the whole world tied to Brazilian rock from the 1970s on. He lit the way for multitudes of readers and musicians, opened doors, gave advice. I learned with him not to take everything so seriously. He wrote things that were really funny and he made you laugh. I learned it was okay in a rock review to make the reader laugh, to take it with a pinch or a pound of salt.”

Neves also stretched the boundaries of music journalism. “He considered himself a fiction writer, and wrote a lot of stuff that never happened,” says Rondeau. “I remember once he wrote about a Keith Richards solo album called I’m Not Silly, I’m Just Crazy and he reviewed it. And the album never existed. He invented it!” Neves also wrote under the pseudonym of Angela Dust, a character who told wild tongue-in-cheek stories, such as one fictional account of attending a party with Mick Jagger and sleeping with him.

As a person, by most accounts, Neves was loud, intelligent, intense, often obnoxious, always fascinating, and reliably flamboyant. Rondeau recalls an occasion when Charlie Watts was visiting Brazil and music mogul André Midani hosted a dinner party for him. Neves was also invited. When the Stones drummer Charlie Watts took notice of the raucous and outrageous Zeca, he didn’t ask, “Who is he?” Rather, he asked, “What is he?”

Rondeau also recalls Neves visiting him at his house one morning. Rondeau was listening to a new Clash album and Neves insisted that they commemorate the event by drinking tequila – for breakfast –as they listened to the LP on headphones.

The intensity, honesty, and irreverence characteristic of Neves’s personality were hallmarks of Cazuza’s lyrics. Cazuza achieved fame with his group Barão Vermelho, then left them in 1985 to record solo albums. His albums Ideologia, Burguesia and O Tempo Não Pára earned him critical adulation and multi-platinum sales in the years before his untimely death of AIDS in 1990 (Cazuza was one of the first Brazilian celebrities to openly admit having the disease).

Rondeau comments, “To me, Cazuza would have been nothing without Ezequiel Neves. Cazuza became Cazuza because of him, because he really pushed him and he brought out the best in him as a writer. I think there’s more of him in Cazuza’s music than he’s credited for.” Their relationship is part of Sandra Werneck's 2004 biographical movie about Cazuza titled O Tempo Não Pára.

Rondeau adds, “He was always affectionate, always generous, always attentive, always ready to help, and always ready with a big laugh.” Rondeau asserts that Neves was vital to Brazilian rock in the 1970’s and ‘80s. “He wrote about it, championed it, and helped produce some great music.” Tributes to Neves appeared in Brazilian newspapers in the days following his death. An obituary in O Globo referred to him as “a fundamental character in Brazilian culture for the last four decades.”

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Carioca Goes Regional

Rodrigo Maranhão has been well known as a songwriter and guitarist for more than a decade, and as the leader of the group Bangalafumenga. Fernanda Abreu, Zélia Duncan, and Marianna Leporace have recorded his compositions, and Maria Rita brought his beautiful song "Caminhos das Águas" to a wide audience in 2006 (it sounds uncannily like something her mother Elis Regina would have recorded). His own interpretation of the song, on his 2007 debut album Bordado, features guitarwork that recalls Dori Caymmi's playing on the latter's 1988 solo album. On Bordado, Rodrigo's carioca sensibility gives us new takes on the Brazilian regional styles baião, xote, ciranda and coco (from the Northeast), and milonga gauchesca (from the South). 

Rodrigo Maranhão with Marcelo Caldi, "Milonga"

Rodrigo won the Prémio Tim award in 2008 for best new talent as well as best regional singer. Listen to "Caminhos das Águas" and more here: Rodrigo Maranhão on MySpace.

*photo at top: Rodrigo Maranhão and Roberta Sá

Monday, July 5, 2010

New Female Voices: Aline & Antonia

The floodgates seem to have opened for new Brazilian female musical talent. Aline Calixto and Antonia Adnet are two rising young singer-songwriters who have both released debut albums this year. Calixto, who is from Minas Gerais, drew attention two years ago singing at the Carioca da Gema club, the most important samba nightspot in Rio de Janeiro. Her eponymous 2010 album covers samba and other Afro-Brazilian styles, as Aline interprets her own songs as well as compositions by Nelson Sargento, Monarco and Moacyr Luz. Could she become the next Clara Nunes? Listen to her here: Aline Calixto on MySpace.

Aline Calixto, "Tudo o que sou"

Aline Calixto, "Oxossi"

Antonia Adnet is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and arranger. She is the daughter of renowned musician Mario Adnet. Antonia gained recognition playing guitar in Roberta Sá's touring band in 2005 and 2007, and on the latter's second album. Her 2010 debut album Discreta melds bossa nova, MPB and samba, and features her own songs, as well as a nice instrumental rendition of Moacir Santos's "Vitrine." She has a sweet, clear, delicate voice. Listen to "Vitrine" and her tunes such as "Um Dia Quem Sabe" (One Day, Who Knows) here: Antonia Adnet on MySpace.

Antonia Adnet and Roberta Sá, "Discreta"


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Carnaval 2010 in Rio de Janeiro

I published three blogs in the Huffington Post about the February, 2010 Carnaval ("Carnival") in Rio de Janeiro:

Feb. 12: Carnaval in Rio: How to Have Fun and Not Get Mugged

Feb. 15: Rio's Carnaval Kicks Off Amidst Heat, Optimism & Controversy

Feb. 18: Rio's Carnaval: A Long-Awaited Victory, Record Heat, and a Revived Street Scene

The AP (Associated Press) photos on this page are of: Unidos da Tijuca (1 & 2), Portela (3 & 4), and Beija-Flor (5 & 6)