[PLEASE NOTE: Some of the music tracks in this post contain a link that will open a new window in YouTube]
In this final installment of Música do Coração, we turn to some of the great female voices of Musica Popular Brasiliera (MPB).
First up, a woman whose tragically short career was contemporaneous with the birth of MPB, Elis Regina. With her roots in bosso nova, Elis Regina’s oeuvre contributed to the tropicalismo (Tropicália) movement along with her peers, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. Regina was born in Porto Alegre in 1945, where she began her career as a singer at age 11. She recorded her first LP at 14. Her second, Dois na Bossa, was the first million selling LP of Brazilian music. In the late sixties and early 70’s, as she watched her friends and collaborators imprisoned or forced into exile during Brazil’s military dictatorship, Regina opted to temper her own vocal opposition to the regime, for fear of her family’s safety, though her popularity likely moderated the government’s tolerance of her criticisms. In the later tears of her career, her concerts increasingly were infused with political overtones. She was not herself a songwriter, but a meticulous sampler of the MPB songbook. Her collaboration with the legendary Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, Elis & Tom, is widely regarded as one of the greatest bosso nova records of all time. She joins Jobim in a live rendition his classic “Águas de Março (Waters of March).”
Elis Regina died in 1982, only 36 and at the peak of her career, from an accidental drug overdose. Over 100,000 people trailed her funeral procession through the streets of São Paulo.
Maria Bethânia is not only one of the premier voices in MPB, but she is also part of the Veloso family musical dynasty, as the sister of Caetano Veloso, one of MPB’s most heralded songwriters. Raised in Santo Amaro, Bahia, her career began after she moved with her brother to Rio de Janeiro. There, she joined a traveling show called “Opinião” (“Opinion”). It became enormously popular, and the visibility along with 1965 hit song “Carcará” (written by João do Vale and José Cândido), catapulted her to stardom. Bethânia has 50 studio recordings in almost as many years, and is among the Brazil’s top ten musical artists in terms of record sales. Here is a live version of Gilberto Gil’s “Forro Do Dominguinhos (Lamento Sertanejo)” with Gil contributing.
Gal Costa was also born in the state of Bahia, spending her early life in the state capitol Salvador, where she was born in 1945. Her professional career began in 1964, performing with others such as Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia (on whose debut record she sang a duet), and Gilberto Gil. Her first record, a partnership with Caetano Veloso, Domingo appeared in 1967, and a single, “Coração Vagabundo,” was enormously successful. From this album, the Veloso song “Baby:”
One year later she joined the Tropicalismo movement and sang four of the songs on the movement’s signature album Tropicália: ou Panis et Circenses. But it was not until 1969 that her eponymous solo debut appeared. Unlike Maria Bethânia and Elis Regina, Costa mixed the strains of sixties British and U.S. music with traditional bossa nova as did Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and she frequently played the guitar in performance. Though successive recordings were more “in the tradition,” Costa continued to bring a definite rock-influenced sound into her music. Her versions of songs authored by many of Brazil’s finest songwriters have become staples of the MPB songbook. Her marvelous stage presence is evident in this video of her performing Jobim’s “Corcovado;”
There is one cantora brasileira who truly represents what I love about music in general. In essence, I have saved my personal best for last. Joyce Moreno, who until 2009 went by her first name only, is the trifecta: a skilled guitarist, a voice like an angel that effortlessly glides from bossa nova to jazz phrasings, and a brilliant songwriter. There are some 300 covers of her compositions by other singers. She is a carioca, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1948. She began her career in the late 60’s, heavily influenced by jazz fusion, which she incorporated seamlessly into bosso nova. She has some 20 albums, always a splendid mix of her own compositions and Brazilian classics from the pen of so many other MPB greats. Joyce calls her music “MCB” (Creative Music of Brazil). She has provided music for films and television, and hosts a music-centered T.V. show “Cantos do Rio.” Here is one of Joyce’s early classics, “Clareana,” a song she wrote for her daughters. This version she recorded with the great Brazilian band Boca Livre.
Moreno has established a large international following, and the new millennium has been a fertile period of both touring and recording with her drummer/producer/husband Tutty Moreno. The wordless “Baracumbara” shows off her vocal and guitar prowess beautifully:
Moreno is also notable for being one of the first Brazilian singer songwiters to bring a feminist perspective to her songs, such the 1980 tune “Feminina:”
And finally, here is a version of Jobim’s bosso nova classic “Desafinado” from her most recent album Raiz.
Of course we’ve only just but scratched the surface of the riches of Brazilian music in the three parts of this exploration. I invite you to open your mind and discover your own favorites. It is a journey that you will never regret.
Alan Meerow works as a tropical plant research biologist in Florida and is the managing editor of the Spirit of Harmony Foundation blog pages