Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | May 5, 2011

The Music That Formed My Life: Post-Bossa Brazilian Songwriters


Bossa might be one of my favorite Brazilian genres these days, but it never really come into my radar until much later in my life (more on this some other time). However, I have always been a follower of the many songwriters of Brazil that actually came after them and who took the music to a different direction after having used the music of Jobim & Co. as a foundation for their own careers.

There are countless songwriters that could fit that bill – even Rita Lee, who I wrote about earlier. But some are definitely special, such as Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque, who were pretty much the principal composers of their generation. During their (still ongoing) careers they penned tunes that went on to become timeless hits for themselves and a whole cadre of vocalists, including the late Elis Regina, Maria Bethania and Gal Costa, to name a few.

The careers of Gilberto Gil and Veloso are almost intertwined – both musicians born in Bahia, Brazil; they became fast friends and frequent collaborators almost from day one. Together, they co-founded the Tropicalismo movement in the late 60s, which was like a response to all the psychedelics that took place in the US and Europe during those years.  Their political leanings got them both thrown out of the country in 1969, but they soldiered on – and ultimately returned to Brazil to resume their careers, which continue to this day as they go on reinventing themselves every couple of years or so.

For instance, during the 90s and early 2000s, Veloso was working with lush orchestras and making albums in different languages. However, in the last couple of years he left all that behind and began working with a band of musicians half his age (to say the least) and made two great albums, Ce and Zii & Zie. His band is very basic: guitar, drums and bass plus the occasional keyboard – and nothing else.

Gil has always been keen on modern technology, and a few years back he did an album celebrating exactly that. He is one of the few artists who allow fans to record his shows and post them on the Internet – as long as they don’t profit from that.  On his last tour, he traveled lightly – just two acoustic guitars and Jacques Morelembaum’s cello – which was great to hear. During his last US tour, he also took the time to record a session with pianist Eliane Elias – and the result was magical.

Buarque has been an early influence to me. I have always loved the fact that he really doesn’t have much of a singing voice, which makes his own recordings quite personal. However, his songs have been recorded by so many other artists that it probably wouldn’t have mattered if he had never made an album of his own – but that he did, and continues to do so.

Lately, he has focused on his novelist side, and has written several great novels – including Budapest, which was translated to English and made into a movie that was featured during last year’s Brazilian Film Festival in New York.

As for Milton Nascimento, I also discovered his music a long time ago. Back in Brazil, he plays before huge audiences in stadiums – his songs have become part of the national fabric. Last time he performed Stateside (I saw him in Carnegie Hall), everyone was singing along to tunes like “Travessia” and “Cancao da America.” He recently guested on Esperanza Spalding’s latest CD singing one of her songs – probably a ‘thank you’ for her great rendition of his “Ponta de Areia” on her much-acclaimed second CD.

Sure, there are other great composers in Brazil — but I’ll get to them in a future post.

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