Friday, January 29, 2016

An Interview with Geraldo Azevedo

Geraldo Azevedo:
The Northeastern Wave

"After bossa nova and Tropicália, there was a strong northeastern movement. It didn't have a name, but I think it was as important."—Geraldo Azevedo

Geraldo Azevedo, like his colleague Alceu Valença, was part of the "northeastern wave" that enriched MPB in the 1970s. Azevedo—a singer, songwriter and guitarist—interprets regional styles with a bossa nova sensibility and sophistication. His light, clear songs center on his voice and guitar, often acoustic. Geraldo's lyrics evoke earthy romantic love and the beaches, jangadas, and coconut trees of the northeastern coast.
           Geraldo Azevedo de Amorim was born on January 11, 1945 in Petrolina, Pernambuco, on the banks of the São Francisco River. Geraldo grew up in a musical household where everyone played instruments or sang. "The folklore of the region—maracatu, coco, repentistas—it's in all of us without our perceiving it," Azevedo told me.  He was a self-taught musician and started playing the guitar at age twelve. As a teenager, he listened to Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro, as well as such diverse musicians as Johann Sebastian Bach, classical guitarist Andrés Segovia, bossa guitarist Baden Powell, and romantic crooner Nelson Gonçalves. But it was the bossa nova singer João Gilberto who inspired Geraldo to become a professional musician. "He made me more serious about looking into harmony. We didn't have those [bossa nova] harmonies in Petrolina."
           He began playing with the group Sambossa as a teenager and at eighteen he traveled to Recife to attend college. While there he joined Grupo Construção, which included percussionist Naná Vasconcelos, singer Teca Calazans, and two future members of Quinteto Violado – Toinho Alves (bass) and Marcelo Melo (guitar).

Geraldo Azevedo, "Moça Bonita"

           In 1967, Azevedo moved to Rio and formed the group Quarteto Livre (Free Quartet) with Vasconcelos, guitarist Nelson Ângelo, and flutist Franklin da Flauta (Franklin Correa da Silva Neto). They accompanied singer-songwriter Geraldo Vandré in various shows and on his famed protest anthem "Pra Não Dizer Que Não Falei de Flores" (Not to Say I Didn't Speak of Flowers"), also known as "Caminhando," which was censored for ten years after its debut in 1968. Vandré was a hero of the 1960s song festivals who sang protest lyrics against social injustices and Brazil's military dictatorship. Azevedo and Vandré wrote "Canção da Despedida" (Goodbye Song) together and the government banned it for twelve years until it was recorded by Elba Ramalho.
           The notorious Institutional Act No. 5 of December 13, 1968 clamped down hard on dissent in Brazil and made it impossible for Vandré and Quarteto Livre to record. Vandré left the country and Azevedo went to prison. Azevedo was not politically militant, but his friendship with loudly dissenting musicians and artists caused him to be clandestinely seized and placed under arrest in 1969. When he came out of prison, after staying for forty-one days, he felt depressed and beaten down and almost gave up music for good. The next year was a bleak year for Azevedo, but near its end he re-encountered Alceu Valença, who gave Geraldo "a force, a strong push" and helped him regain his enthusiasm for music. The two teamed together for a while, co-writing songs (such as the hit "78 Rotações") and entering the musical festivals together
           They made their recording debut in 1972 with the joint album Alceu Valença e Geraldo Azevedo: Quadrafônico. It had many memorable songs, including "Talismã" (written by the two of them), and the haunting "Novena," a toada written by Azevedo and Marcus Vinícius. In it, Azevedo poetically evoked the intense Catholicism of his childhood.The two also later collaborated in the O Grande Encontro series, but their styles are generally quite different.

"Novena" from Alceu Valença and Geraldo Azevedo's Quadrafônico
           Alceu is a fiery musical alchemist who attempts to be theatrical and mythical, and Geraldo in general is mellow and down to earth. Valença fuses northeastern styles with rock and blues, while Azevedo mixes the region's idioms with bossa nova harmonies and vocal influences and the occasional light pop touch. Both often favor the northeastern xote rhythm, which has an affinity with reggae. Azevedo's lilting "Taxi Lunar" (co-written with Valença and Zé Ramalho) and tender "Moça Bonita" are based in xote; and his "Petrolina e Juazeiro," written with Moraes Moreira, and "Dona da Minha Cabeça" mix xote with reggae.
           Azevedo placed songs on numerous television novelas over the next few years, which brought him a great deal of attention. In 1977, he released his first solo LP, Geraldo Azevedo, which had the evocative Azevedo-Valença tune "Caravana" (Caravan); it was included on the soundtrack for the Gabriela TV novela. After that, Azevedo recorded albums such as Bicho de Sete Cabeças (Seven-Headed Animal), De Outra Maneira (Another Way), and Eterno Presente (Eternal Present).

Geraldo Azevedo, "Caravana"

           Other hits include "Dia Branco" (White Day), "Arraial dos Tucanos" (used by the series Sítio do Pica-pau Amarelo), "Juritis e Borboletas," "Barcarola do Rio São Francisco," "Chorando e Cantando" (Crying and Singing), and "Talvez Seja Real" (It Might Be Real). His 1981 album Inclinações Musicais (Musical Inclinations) with arrangements by Dori Caymmi and the participation of Sivuca and Jackson do Pandeiro, included his signature song "Moça Bonita."

                                    Beautiful girl, your kiss can
                                    Kill me without compassion
                                    I don't know if it's so
                                    Or it's pure imagination
                                    To find out, you give me
                                    This assassin kiss
                                    As I lie in your woman's arms

            In 1984, Azevedo traveled with the late Tancredo Neves, participating in the Direitas movement for democratic presidential elections in Brazil. That same year, he was part of the group show Cantoria with Elomar, Vital Farias and Xangai, a great showcase of northeastern musical traditions from four of the region's finest musicians. The show resulted in the Cantoria I album, which was followed by Cantoria II four years later.

Alceu Valença, Elba Ramalho, Geraldo
Azevedo and Zé Ramalho's O Grande Encontro
           In 1985, he released the acoustic A Luz do Solo, which is a great retrospective of his standards up to that point. In the next decade, he joined Alceu Valença, Elba Ramalho, and Zé Ramalho for the three well-received O Grande Encontro albums, between 1996 and 2000. Salve São Francisco (Save the San Francisco), released in 2010, is a thematic album devoted to the great San Francisco River, which Geraldo grew up beside and which is under threat today from dams and diversions of its water.

I interviewed Azevedo at the BMG/Ariola recording studio in Copacabana, when he was laying down vocal and guitar tracks for "Bossa Tropical," the title song for an upcoming album. Azevedo was dressed in a green and purple sweatshirt and chewing ginger root because of a bad cold. He was very friendly and relaxed.

Chris: What have you been up to?
Geraldo: I've been traveling a lot internationally. In February 1990, I have a show in Paris.

Chris: You have a growing audience in Europe.
Geraldo: I did the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1985 and it was very well received. I played with Djavan and Tania Maria, who were better known, but I did very well.

Chris: You have a unique fusion of northeastern music with many other types of music. What musical elements are in your songs?
Geraldo: My work has a lot of mixing. On the new album, for example, there's a song called "Sexo Vinte," a pun on seculo vinte (20th century). It is a mix of xote, which is very related to reggae, and the Beatles. "Talismã" perhaps originated from the Gypsies. The songs are inspired and you don't always know what the influences are.

Chris: Did you have a musical childhood?
Geraldo: In my house, music was always naturally a part of things. My mother sings marvelously. My father plays guitar. My brothers all play music. In school, I always sang at the different parties and festivals. I couldn't enter the university because I always had shows that interfered with my taking the entrance exam.

Chris: What were some of your biggest influences?
Geraldo: Bossa nova and João Gilberto. João Gilberto made me turn professional. He made me more serious about looking into harmony. We didn't have those [bossa nova] harmonies in Petrolina. Also [Dorival] Caymmi, Milton [Nascimento], Jobim, jazz. The Northeast is so much a part of me – Jackson do Pandeiro and Luiz Gonzaga. The folklore of the region—maracatú, coco, repentistas—is in all of us without our perceiving it, instinctively. Later, I turned to jazz, the Beatles.

Chris: You recorded your first album with Alceu Valença, but you had already been in Rio awhile. How did you career start once you got down there?
Geraldo: I came to Rio before Alceu. I played with Quarteto Livre, with Naná Vasconcelos and others. We never recorded an album.

Chris: The military essentially broke up the group and sent Vandré into exile and you into prison. You also couldn't record "Canção da Despedida," written with Vandré, until much later.
Geraldo: My song "Canção da Despedida" was censored for a long time. At that time, artists were suffocated. There was cultural chaos. People had to leave the country.

Chris: And you were thrown into jail.
Geraldo: I was imprisoned twice. In 1969 for forty-one days and in 1975 for eleven days. The first time in prison, I was very depressed and beaten down. But I was young and I could recover.

Chris: Alceu Valença helped you get back into music.
Geraldo: Alceu met me in Rio. Alceu gave me a force, a strong push. It was a new musical movement. I recorded my first record, Alceu Valença and Geraldo Azevedo, in 1971 [it was released the next year].

Chris: What happened the second time the military imprisoned you?
Geraldo: The second time, six years later, was more violent. I was blindfolded, tortured. My jailers asked me to play for them, but I refused. I wasn't going to play for my torturers. I was never tried. My work didn't have political connotations.  It was humanistic, more to the positive than to the nihilistic, and more to the constructive than the destructive. But any person looking into cultural and humanistic subjects was persecuted. Some people died innocently. But, happily, I came through all that. The second time, I had a very strong spirit, and I left feeling strong, even though my time in jail was very violent. After I left I decided I would become famous and I accelerated my work and recorded my first solo album, Geraldo Azevedo, for Som Livre in 1976. Ironically, [President] Geisel took my album to Germany as being representative of Brazilian culture.

Chris: What do you think was the impact of the dictatorship and the repression on Brazilian music?
Geraldo: I think the dictatorship interrupted a Brazilian cultural cycle and we still haven't managed to recover. We are still asleep. I think my success has come about because people sense something more profund and poetic in my music. They have a lack of cultural inheritance. Rock is empty, alienated. The system presents alienated music, with the exception of some artists like Cazuza, Lobão, and Renato Russo.

Chris: There was exceptional music, by Geraldo Vandré, Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque and so many others, presented at the great Brazilian music festivals of the 1960s. And then the military dictatorship stepped in and censored a lot of it.
Geraldo: At the festivals, there came out such a force. We don't have this now. I think we'll never recover what we lost, but we can have a new movement with much sweat and heart.

Chris: You are one who survived, and have large following, even though you have released a relatively small number of albums in your four-decade career.
Geraldo: Today I have a bigger public, especially in the Northeast. Now I select and choose what I want to do. I'm not so worried about TV appearances, etc. I tried to do a real commercial album with Mazzola. PolyGram wanted me to do that, and it was completely unsuccessful and is no longer in the catalog. So, I have to do it from my heart.

Chris: The music that was created by you and Alceu Valença and your peers from the Northeast was a really vital part of MPB.
Geraldo: After bossa nova and Tropicália, there was a strong northeastern movement. It didn't have a name, but I think it was as important. Alceu, myself, Zé Ramalho, Belchior, Elba Ramalho, Fagner, and others.

Chris: Did you ever imagine being where you are today and having such a long and successful career?
Geraldo: I never thought about being a musician. Music just carried me away.


Select Discography

Geraldo Azevedo
Geraldo Azevedo. Som Livre, 1977.
Bicho de sete cabeças. Epic/CBS, 1979.
Inclinações musicais. Ariola, 1981.
For all para todos. Ariola, 1982.
Tempo tempero. Barclay/Ariola, 1983.
A luz do solo. Barclay/Polygram, 1985.
De outra maneira. Echo/RCA, 1986.
Eterno presente. RCA, 1988.
Bossa tropical. RCA, 1989.
Berekekê. Geração, 1991.
Ao vivo comigo. Geração/BMG Ariola, 1994.
Futuramérica. BMG, 1996.
Raízes e frutos. BMG, 1998.
Hoje amanhã. BMG, 2000.
O Brasil existe em mim. Sony/BMG, 2007.
Salve São Francisco. Biscoito Fino, 2010.

Geraldo Azevedo and Alceu Valença
Alceu Valença & Geraldo Azevedo: Quadrafônico. Copacabana, 1972.

Geraldo Azevedo and Assunção de Maria
Assunção de Maria e Geraldo Azevedo. Biscoito Fino, 2011.

Alceu Valença, Elba Ramalho, Geraldo Azevedo and Zé Ramalho
O Grande Encontro. BMG Ariola, 1996.
O Grande Encontro 2. BMG, 1997.
O Grande Encontro 3. BMG, 2000.

Elomar, Geraldo Azevedo, Vital Farias, and Xangai
Cantoria I. Kuarup, 1984.
Cantoria II. Kuarup, 1988.

More Interviews with Brazilian Musicians
The Brazilian Music Book by Chris McGowan

The Leading Introduction to Brazilian Music
The Brazilian Sound by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha 


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