‘Relatively’ Speaking, It’s All in the Brazilian Family

Maria Rita (israbox.com)

As regular readers of my pieces know, I have a profound interest in, and deep admiration for, music of all kinds and from every conceivable category, as evidenced by the number of articles I’ve written on the subject over the past few years alone.

This fondly felt appreciation for the performing arts was instilled in me at an early age, and which my Brazilian wife in turn has cultivated to an even greater degree in the years we’ve been together.

I’m glad to report that this passion for all matters musical has now been handed off to my two daughters, who as luck would have it have been blessed with beautiful voices, have sung in the school choir, have learned to play the keyboard, and can boast of innate artistic abilities we hope will serve them well in the years to come.

Having been born myself in a high-rise district of São Paulo, I’ve often wondered if other musically inclined Brazilian families have experienced the same phenomenon of passing this gift of a previous generation’s genetically entwined talents on down to their descendants.

That thought gave rise as Maria Rita, the daughter of celebrated MPB star Elis Regina, mounted the dais to accept the Fifth Annual 2004 Latin Grammy Award for Best New Artist and Best Música Popular Brasileira Album. Her late mother would have been pleased, I’m sure, had she lived to see young Maria Rita’s triumph as she won these well-deserved honors.

But what of the fate of other children of great Brazilian artists? Who are they, and what has become of their fleeting chances at putting a personal stamp on their own individual accomplishments?

Nowadays, the endless possibilities for “fame,” in general, have greatly multiplied, given the proliferation of the Worldwide Web, digital photography, desktop publishing, instant messaging, chat-lines, iPods, iPhones, PDAs, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, you name it.

These and other so-called modern conveniences, not to mention the latest rounds of so-called “talent” shows and reality-TV programming, have conspired to make it a lot easier for simple folk, like us, to “make it” as well in the entertainment business.

But being the possessor of a well-known moniker, however, or a relative with an estimable lineage, just might get that window of opportunity lifted a bit higher for you than it normally would for your average Joe — at least, that’s the public perception of things.

In any case, it’s talent that counts — or so they say — and it’s worth paying a return visit to some of the major and minor ones out there, born to fabulously wealthy (in ability) musical families, so as to prove this simple hypothesis correct.

Brotherly Love

Beginning with the tropicalismo movement of the late 1960s, there’s no better sampling of sedate professional rivalry among Brazilian relations than the love and affection shown by pop singer Caetano Emanuel Viana Teles Veloso (born August 7, 1942) for his younger sister, Maria Bethânia Viana Teles Veloso (née June 18, 1946), both of who come from the Northeastern town of Santo Amaro da Purificação, in the state of Bahia.

They have shared the musical spotlight on numerous occasions, and, to their mutual benefit, have kept up a reasonably amicable working relationship on and off the world stage for nearly 40 years. If anyone knows of an incident where this has not regularly been the case, please let me know.

Carmen & Aurora Miranda (allclassics.blogspot.com)

Factually, there is some historical precedence for this behavior in the effervescent nightclub routines of the great Carmen Miranda and her younger sister Aurora, who at one time appeared together at the Cassino da Urca in Rio de Janeiro during the early 1930s.

While Carmen later hit it big in Hollywood wartime musicals, little Aurora Miranda managed to sustain her own, not-insignificant solo career; some condescending old-timers even insisted she had a lovelier singing voice than her more vivacious blood relative, but no matter.

For those interested in making the comparison, Aurora sings and sambas her way, along with Walt Disney characters Donald Duck and Zé Carioca, in the colorful cartoon epic The Three Caballeros from 1945. Its stunning visual design and zany, surreal presentation predates the Beatles’ own animated foray, Yellow Submarine (1968), by a full generation. She also appeared in a handful of forties crime dramas, most memorably in Phantom Lady (1944), with Franchot Tone and Ella Raines, and directed by Robert Siodmak. It’s considered a minor classic.

From Tinsel Town we journey further eastward, to the core of the Big Apple — New York City, to be precise — the rather incongruous birthplace of Brazilian pop stylist Bebel Gilberto (Isabel Gilberto de Oliveira).

Bebel has carved out an impressive niche as a sophisticated re-interpreter and original composer of bossa nova, a style of music mastered long ago by her curmudgeon of a paterfamilias, vocalist-guitarist João Gilberto. One of the few living legends still active in the field today, Joãozinho is an artist who has spent considerable time in the States as a former resident of the borough of Manhattan.

Bebel’s entertainer mother, carioca artist Miúcha (real name: Heloísa Maria), is the Bahian musician’s second wife and the sister of another famous celebrity, lyricist, author, and singer-composer Francisco “Chico” Buarque de Hollanda — so much for impeccable pop credentials!

A bold proponent of the current trends in Brazilian popular music, Bebel is considered by fans to be an influential part of the contemporary “new wave” of performers to have made a market splash here, as her marvelous compact disc debut, Tanto Tempo from 2000, pleasantly proved.

For this inaugural effort she was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2001, and — talk about déjà vu — in the same artistic categories that Maria Rita later competed in. Her follow-up album, the self-titled Bebel Gilberto (Six Degrees, 2004), continued to push the musical envelope in newer and ever more dynamic directions, with a bit of “electronica” thrown in for good measure.

Its success in the jazz and pop arenas has aided immeasurably in increasing the exposure and vitality of modern bossa nova at a time of decreasing public awareness and sagging record sales.

Another in a long line of inspired native-sons of Salvador da Bahia is the incomparable Dorival Caymmi, whose prolific song output has served as the melodic equivalent to the literary works of Bahian novelist Jorge Amado.

Dorival has sired several exceptionally gifted offspring of his own that include singer-guitarist Dori Caymmi, songstress Nana Caymmi, and flutist Danilo Caymmi. While most jazz buffs may only be familiar with the first of these three performers, each has contributed his or her own fair share of talent toward keeping their father’s surname alive in the minds of music lovers on both hemispheres.

In fact, Dori (Dorival Tostes Caymmi) has often been featured as a guest artist, instrumentalist, arranger, composer, performer, and producer on an incredible variety of studio releases over the past three decades alone.

Apropos of his versatility, Caymmi enjoys a formidable reputation among smooth jazz colleagues David Benoit, Larry Coryell, Don and Dave Grusin, and many others, as a highly competent and in-demand session player as well as a premier vocalist.

Dori Caymmi (irom.wordpress.com)

His distinctively deep and mellow baritone voice, so reminiscent of his father’s unique timbre, can be heard on the soundtrack to the 1990 Sydney Pollack-Robert Redford film Havana, issued by GRP Records. Dori also shows up, in the flesh, on CTI’s Larry Coryell: Live from Bahia (1991) outing, singing his own delectable mid-seventies composition, “Gabriela’s Song.”

Older sister Nana (Dinahir Tostes Caymmi) is no slouch, either, in the song department, as demonstrated by her lyrical partnership with Chico Buarque on the sensitively intoned “Até pensei,” written by Chico, to be found on her EMI album Nana Caymmi — Resposta ao Tempo (1998).

The ballad is a highlight, too, of Mr. Buarque’s compilation of cuts (from 2002) entitled Duetos, on the RCA/BMG label, and produced by longtime associate Vinicius França. Included on the disc with Chico is the Jobim/Moraes work, “Sem você” (“Without You”), taken from the songbook Vinicius de Moraes (1993), with the ever-popular Rio-born composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, at the piano.

Papai Sabe Tudo (“Father Knows Best”)

As one of Brazil’s most widely respected and best-loved bossa nova practitioners, Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida “Tom” Jobim was himself the proud parent of similarly endowed children — namely his son, Paulo, and daughter Elizabeth Jobim, an established artisan and painter in her own right.

All of them, including second wife Ana Beatriz Lontra, were prominently displayed, along with Danilo Caymmi and his spouse Simone, on the CD/Video program Rio Revisited, in the JazzVisions series of concerts put out by Verve-PolyGram in 1989.

Filmed at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California, in 1987, this remarkable live event captured the still expressive Jobim — many pounds heavier than what we remember from his youthful, carefree visage — basking in the familial atmosphere, with these two tuneful clans providing the harmonious backdrop to his most enticing creations.

Presciently, Tom’s broad musical influence would reach far beyond his homegrown Brazilian brood. Indeed, three of the more “junior” members of this elite gathering — guitarist Paulo Jobim; cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, whose claim to fame was as Caetano Veloso’s musical director, in addition to having been a frequent collaborator with Jobim Sr. on several of his recording projects; and his vocalist wife, Paula Morelenbaum — went on to form the Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum after the composer’s untimely passing.

It consisted as well of Paulo’s own son and Jobim’s musical heir apparent, pianist and singer Daniel Cannetti Jobim. One could say that this latter-day, jazz-chamber ensemble had taken up the late and much-lamented carioca’s performance mantle where he had literally left off.

Their year 2000 recording debut, Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum (Velas Records), and an ensuing American and European tour, were both a popular and critical success. The album’s exceedingly erudite liner comments by Veloso, however, were not very idiomatically translated from the original Portuguese and struck the sole sour note.

Moreno +2 (blesok.com.mk)

And speaking of Caetano, his son, Moreno, has also turned up of late in a musically eclectic group format of his own — called Moreno Veloso +2 — on the Ryko-Palm release Music Typewriter from 2001. The other key players associated with the concept were multi-talented instrumentalists Domenico Lancelloti and Alexandre Kassin, with Moreno himself on guitar, percussion, and cello.

In his youth, the now thirty-something Veloso the Younger had toured frequently with his dad, and served as musical accompanist to such illustrious pop names as Gilberto Gil and Carlinhos Brown.

With this kind of background, then, it should come as no surprise that the most offbeat item to issue forth from his Typewriter is straight out of left field and reads like some esoteric producer’s worst nightmare: Moreno launches into a duet, at one point, with guest artist Daniel Jobim, on the Churchill-Morley tune, “I’m Wishing,” from the 1937 Disney animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the lines sung alternately in English and Portuguese.

Exactly what kind of statement Moreno wanted to make with this rather oddball number escapes me. It could, among other things, represent a personal thumbing of his proboscis at the poor state of Brazilian and American pop music per se, or whatever else his fertile mind might have conjured up at the moment. But who’s to say?

Either way, it was a decisive move on his part to have taken this more idiosyncratic song route, much as his own father had done decades before him.

And we’re not done yet, as the ubiquitous Daniel crops up once again on jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli’s newest recorded entry, Bossa Nova on Telarc (2004), the latest stateside contribution to an already crowded platform.

In a salute to João Gilberto, the genre’s trailblazing pioneer and acknowledged path breaker, the American-born Pizzarelli (himself the son of famed guitar-picker Bucky Pizzarelli) has his Brazilian counterpart, Daniel Jobim, perform the background vocals and Portuguese lyrics to his grandfather’s most popular tune, the classic “The Girl from Ipanema” — now that’s entertainment nepotism!

Another welcome guest on several of the album’s tracks is none other than pianist, composer, and producer Cesar Camargo Mariano, the talented former-husband of singer Elis Regina, which brings this genealogical survey full circle.*

All of these diverse musical examples seem to share a common enough thread: they’re not just empty coincidences, but illustrate instead the vast interconnectedness of the Brazilian artistic experience.

Taken as a whole, they proclaim, to one and all, the sheer joy gregarious Brazilians get out of participating in life’s continuous songfest — with its firm and steady grounding in the sounds and rhythms of that most captivating of Latin American countries, the always musically-exhilarating Brazil. ☼

Copyright © 2012 by Josmar F. Lopes


* Other famously talented family members include the sons of composer-guitarist Baden Powell (guitarist Marcelo and pianist Philippe); the children of sixties pop singer Jair Rodrigues (Jair Oliveira and Luciana Melo); the performing daughters of sambista Martinho da Vila (Mart’nália Mendonça Ferreira) and tropicalismo co-founder/ex-Minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil (singer Preta Gil); the sire of country-music sensation Xororó (the popular sister-brother act of Sandy Leah Lima and Durval de Lima Júnior, known collectively as Sandy & Júnior); and the guitar-playing virtuosos, the Assad family, headed by brothers Sérgio and Odair, and younger sister Badi Assad.

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