The musical history of Brazil is a treasure trove of beauty, mystery, spontaneity, politics, dexterity, simplicity, instinct and magic. The hardest part upon entering this sound cornucopia is figuring out which of the many facets of the Brazilian musical landscape speaks to you. On my first trip to Brazil, confronted with such a task, all signs pointed to music of the Tropicallia movement. The stars and records from this era have been enjoying a resurgence in the last decade. I picked up records by Jorge Ben, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil to get me started. The music from this era is elastic, surprising, revolutionary and inspired. I appreciated the peek into the new world but my interest felt more intellectual, not as emotional and physical as I wanted. The politics, the rule breaking and compositional risk taking were all up my alley but there was an unknown element that didn’t reach me fully. There was a building block, a touchstone, some key to unlock the secret that I had yet to discover.
Just before I left Brazil I happened upon a cd by a woman named Elis Regina whom is (previously unbeknownst to me) one of Brazil’s biggest stars. I instantly fell in love with her voice! The record was “Samba – Eu Canto Sim.” There was something I was hearing in these 60’s recordings that was so expressive emotionally and culturally that I yearned for more. The passion, joy and vulnerability that she expressed captured my heart. On my most recent trip to Brazil, I felt confident I could find that same quality that I was so enamored with in Elis in other voices. The results of my explorations are included here. The three magnificent voices described here are certainly not the exclusive bearers of vocal beauty in Brazilian music (far from it!). But these women made music that soars through the misty regions that merge sadness, hope, tenderness, love, loss and romance and are a great starting points for those, like myself, who enjoy traveling those aural terrains.
Out of all the women profiled here Elis Regina made the greatest impact on Brazilian music. She is heralded as one of Brazil’s finest. She is reportedly the catalyst for the genre/musical tag of MPB, “Musica Popular Brasileira” (Brazilian Popular Music). In the inception of MPB the genre denoted music with a connection to the intellectual and student population often lyrically political. MPB is a music born of Brazil. It is the growth of the homegrown aesthetic merged with contemporary influences.
Born in 1945, Elis Regina Carvalho Costa began singing professionally at age 11 for the O Clube Do Guri radio show. At the age of 16 she recorded her first record (Viva a Brotolandia). 1965 she recorded the song “Arrastao” (she had won a nationally televised song contest with this tune). When released as a single “Arrastao” was so popular that she became the biggest selling recordings artist outselling Carmen Miranda. This single brought about the birth of the music catagory MPB. Her next record (a collaboration with Jair Rodrigues) “Dois na Bossa” was the first record to sell over one million copies. In the 60’s and 70’s she embraced songs of the Tropicalia movement. Politics and music became intertwined in this time. Elis found herself speaking out against the Brazilian dictatorship. Her career, her political views and her personal life all came under public scrutiny as time worn on. She stuck to her opinions and only compromised when her own freedom was threatened (she was once threatened with jail time if she did not perform the national anthem at a military ceremony). Her contribution to Brazil’s musical development cannot be overstated. She performed songs written by all of the finest of Brazil’s songwriters. She died at the young age of 36 in 1982 of an accidental drug overdose. 100,000 fans (including some of Brazil’s top singers) went to her memorial held in a soccer stadium.
Listening to Elis Regina now strikes me as fresh and innovative as it was most likely perceived at the time. Her voice is amazing and her energy and spirit radiates through the speakers as if no time has past since the day the tunes were recorded. Seeing footage of her performing only emphasizes this impression. She is a natural and her delivery seems and sounds effortless. From what I have read she was fraught with insecurities, mood swings and plagued by relationship difficulties that more than likely lead to her secret drug usage but her work ethic kept the quality of her performances to the exacting standards she had always held for herself. My favorite of her recordings were done in the 60’s and early 70’s (“Samba – Eu Canto Assim”, “Elis”, “Elis Especial” and “Elis And Tom”) where her rising stardom and the aesthetic of the time blend to provide the best material of her career (in my opinion). When speaking about the voices of Brazilian music the inclusion of Elis Regina is incontrovertible.
Alaide Costa Silveira Mondin Gomide began her singing career at the the age of 13. After winning a contest as “Best Young Singer” she participated in a popular radio show on Radio Nacional. In 1957 she recorded her first 78 rpm “Tarde Demais” and was awarded “Revelation Of The Year.” Later that year she was recruited by Joao Gilberto to record several bossa nova tunes with him and then she recorded her first full length “Alaide Canta Suavemente” for RCA. Over the next 9 years continued to perform and record, then fell in love, married and had two children. In 1966 her career slowed and she took a break from recording. In 1972 she participated in the huge success of Milton Nascimento’s “Clube da Esquina” by singing on “Me Deixa em Paz” and recorded her own record “Alaide Costa & Oscar Castro-Neves.” In the years that followed she continued to record and perform and continues to this day (releasing “Voz & Piano” in 2006).
I discovered Alaide Costa with her recently re-issued “Afinal”(her 4th album, originally release in 1963). It had been a while since she had released anything before this record so it was decided to go with the name “Afinal” (“Finally”). It was recorded where she lived in Sao Paulo when she was pregnant with her first child. For the album she chose many previously unknown composers (whom she had been associated and working with already) instead of going with well known ones. This close connection with the writers makes the record that much more personal and engaging. “Afinal” afforded her the first opportunity to record a song that she wrote herself. Her voice is warm and rich. I have several of her lps but not all carry the same weigh. I would recommend “Afinal” and her self-titled record, “Alaide Costa” for you are looking for records to buy. The liner notes say that it was the general consensus in Brazil that black performers were only capable of successfully singing sambas but Alaide proved that incorrect by delivering romantic tunes with a style and confidence that defines classic.
Claudia (a.k.a. Claudya)
I don’t know much about Claudia. I don’t even know her last name. This lack of information will not keep me from praising her magical voice. I found out that she started singing at eight years old and as a teenager she participated in several music festivals in Brazil and Mexico. She has released around 20 records the most recent appears to be “Entre Amigos” from 1994, with the Zimbo Trio.
On my recent trip to Brazil I purchased her amazing self-titled first record and her recently re-issued “Jesus Cristo” (Sao Paulo friends were all a buzz about this record). Her self titled first record is lively and colorful. The year is 1967 and Claudia visually appears to be barely a teenager but her voice begets a talent won by years of dedication to the craft. The complex melody of the tune “Ninguem Da O Que Nao Tem” is delivered with the assuredness of a veteran. “Com Mais De 30” from “Jesus Cristo” is a surprisingly funky rock song that made the dance floor at Chakas Hotnights (Sao Paulo deejay dance party) come alive! Upon returning to the states I picked up her records “Voce’ Claudia Voce'” and “Deixa eu Dizer.” The title track “Deixa eu Dizer” is amazing! It captures in one song what I think is most spectacular about Claudia. Like the song, her approach is brassy, energetic, youthful and has a full bodied confidence that jumps out of the speakers. Like Elis Regina, there is a joyful exuberance in Claudia’s delivery that can be felt even in the most melon-colic of tunes. Unlike Elis, Claudia embraces rock elements and incorporates them with aplomb and fluidity.
I am not sure why I cannot find much written on her in english because she seems to have been very prolific and has a talent that rivals the greats.
– Damon Locks