A Day in Rio with Barroso and Jobim … and another one with Caymmi
By Roberto Muggiati
On a fine April morning in Rio de Janeiro — the Autumn sun slanted just enough not to scorch, but to bring cordial warmth beneath a scandalously blue sky — I set out for a sentimental journey, a musical trip into time’s tunnel. At 12:30 PM I managed to get a seat at the crowded auditorium of the Academia Brasileira de Letras for a tribute to one of Brazil’s greatest popular composers, Half a Century without Ary Barroso. Clara Sandroni and Marcos Sacramento alternated singing gems of Barroso’s repertoire and also did some songs in duo, backed by a wonderful small group: Itamar Assiere (piano), Luís Flávio Alcofra (acoustic guitar) and Netinho Albuquerque (tambourine). As Master of Ceremonies of the series “MPB at the ABL”, Ricardo Cravo Albim, first pointed out that Ary, although he was born in Ubá, in the state of Minas Gerais, was one of the first Bahianologists of MPB (Brazilian Popular Music). The first and third tunes illustrate Albim’s thesis: No tabuleiro da baiana and Na Baixa do Sapateiro, both well-known classics of Bahia’s musical mythology.
At these shows, between the songs, Albim holds a casual conversation with the performers, which helps to widen the audience’s horizons concerning the socio-cultural setting whence the music originated. Some duos (No rancho fundo, Eu dei) bring forth the deep empathy between Clara and Marcos, offsprings of MPB’s early 80s vintage. Clara became a professional singer in 1981, made her debut in the musical Godspell; her first solo show in 1983, Bem baixinho (Very softly); and has recorded a series of successful CDs from then on.
Marcos Sacramento told what he was about already on his first album, A modernidade da tradição (The modernity of tradition) – his insistence on the simultaneous interpretation of all kinds of songs, regardless of their birthdate. Clara Sandroni also spoke candidly about the pressures she suffered right at the beginning of her career. Producers and marketeers would tell her: “You must choose! Pinpoint your market segment in order to leverage your career – be it bolero, tango, fado, but you must have a well-defined slot!” She retorted: “Why can’t I simply sing just what I want, whatever it may be?” Sure of her stand, she went on to become an “eclectic” interpreter, always having fun along the way. Cool, calm and collected, Clara projected in this show the carioca version of the baiana, both sensual in their own ways.
Almost as tall as an NBA star, with a swooning sway of the hips and irradiating joy all over his face, crowned by what one might call a post-modern Afro hair style, Marcos Sacramento also seemed the perfect Barroso interpreter. In a moving treatment of Inquietação (Inquietude), a lesser-known gem of Ary’s repertoire, he gave the lyrics their due weight: “Nas asas brancas da ilusão/Nossa imaginação/Pelo espaço, vai, vai, vai/Sem desconfiar/Que mais tarde cai/Para nunca mais voar.” More or less: “In the white wings of illusion/Our imagination/Through the space goes and goes/Unaware that later on it will fall/Never to fly again.”
The grand finale, of course, was Aquarela do Brasil, Barroso’s masterwork, known worldwide as Brazil, either in the voices of Crosby, Sinatra, Belafonte, Dionne Warwick, Placido Domingo, in the instrumental versions of band leaders such as Ray Coniff, Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (with a cuíca solo) or improvisations by Django Reinhardt, Chick Corea and Bela Fleck (John Coltrane opted for Barroso’s Bahia.) Spurred by the congenial atmosphere of the show, a young lady in her early seventies got up from her seat and danced on the aisle swinging up her arms doing an expert imitation of Carmen Miranda’s antics. Nothing better for an encore as more of the same, making everybody happy under the joyful music of the mineiro with the soul of a baiano. Ary Barroso died on Carnival Sunday in 1964, six weeks before the military coup that would throw Brazil into 21 years of gloom and oppression.
On that night, another giant of Brazilian song was honoured: Antonio Carlos Jobim, who passed away in New York, December, 8, 1994. On the first programme of the series Sete Brasil Presents, the jazz great Ron Carter met the Trio Jobim – the Maestro’s son Paulo Jobim (guitar), Alfredo Cardim (piano) and Paulo Braga (drums). There could not be a better locale than the Espaço Tom Jobim, a wooden structure built within an ancient building that housed Rio’s Botanical Gardens research institutes. The Jardim Botânico used to be Jobim’s favorite place for meditation and inspiration. Carter, 76, first met Jobim when he took part in his recording sessions for the Album Wave, in 1967. “I heard his music for the first time on the movie Black Orpheus, and the greatness of his melodies had a strong impact on me.”
The show opened with Surfboard and embarked on a swinging bossa nova mood with One Note Samba, Água de beber, Chega de saudade (No More Blues) and Brigas nunca mais. Paulo Jobim, 63, like his father, illustrates that to sing bossa nova, intimacy and a well tuned voice counts more than strength and technique – even Sinatra opted for this cool approach while interpreting Jobim. Carter, the icon of jazz contrabass, seemed at home with the Brazilian trio and the night came to a close on a note of a musical celebration of life, which was always at the core of Jobim’s compositions.
On the eve of Dia dos Namorados (Valentine’s Day) — also the eve of Brazil’s World Cup opening, Rio vibrant with expectation — I went once again to the Academia Brasileira de Letras for another event of the series “MPB at the ABL”. Another great name of Brazilian music, Dorival Caymmi, was being celebrated for his 100th birthday – and he nearly made it to the party, having lived a full life up to 94 years. Born 11 years after Barroso and 13 years before Jobim, Caymmi holds the best of their two worlds: the ethnically sensuous and humorous atmosphere of Barroso and the urban sophistication of Jobim. Furthermore, he was born in Salvador da Bahia and has declared his rights of birth in many of his best-known songs: Você já foi à Bahia? O que é que a baiana tem? Samba da minha terra, Saudade da Bahia.
A major poet of the sea with a brilliant cycle of songs about fishermen fighting for survival aboard jangadas (precarious rafts made of logs and supposedly a legacy of Odysseus’s vessels in the Odyssey) and sometimes drowning tragically in the tempestuous waters of Brazil’s Northeast. On hand for celebrating Caymmi were his youngest son, Danilo, 66 (voice and flute) and Claudio Nucci, 58 (voice and guitar), also a member of the family, having been wed to Caymmi’s daughter Nana. Wearing a seaman’s white and blue striped T-shirt – a trademark of his father’s – Danilo also sings with the warm and sensuous voice of the Old Man. A moment of elation is attained when the audience sings together with Danilo and Cláudio the beautiful marcha-rancho Canção da Partida: “My jangada is setting out to sea/If God wishes/coming back from sea/a good fish I’ll bring with me.”
Having chosen Rio de Janeiro for his home in 1938, at the age of 24, Caymmi became, by the 50s, one of the exponents of samba-canção – Brazil’s equivalent to the American torch song – with classics like Nem eu and Só louco, so modern that they gave a guideline to the upcoming bossa nova love songs. Danilo does not spare a handful of jokes about his father’s womanizing – not a few Caymmi songs were named after a girl: Marina, Dora, Doralice, Juliana, Marina, Rosa Morena. A vizinha do lado/The Lady Next Door “wriggles her hips/wriggles the brains/of the man who sets out to work.”
A Caymmi show would not be complete without Maracangalha, his hit for the Carnival of 1957 and a sort of poor-man’s Utopia translated into samba. As always happens at these MPB at the ABL’s venues, the happy end brings an encore with musicians and audience sharing a glorious moment of sound and joy.
Ary Barroso, Dorival Caymmi and Antônio Carlos Jobim – a trio that is being duly celebrated in 2014, and shall continue to be celebrated as the cream of Brazilian music forever more.
Roberto Muggiati is a regular contributor to CIE. He is a musician who writes about music for numerous newspapers and magazines in Brazil.