Brazilian Songs of Praise

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Caetano Veloso Photo: Fernando Young

I’ve noticed over the years that Brazilian artists often sing songs in praise of the musical heroes who paved the way for them. In doing so, they both pay tribute to their personal heroes and extend these artists’s legacies. I’ve always enjoyed these “songs of praise,” so with this post I thought I’d highlight a few of these tributes. Tropical Latin musicians and composers also create these songs of praise, but here I just want focus on Brazilian music. This week’s playlist honors a compendium of musical immortals that go back to Brazil’s music scene in the 1920’s.

Rosalia de Souza, a fine Brazilian singer based in Italy, works with a crack Italian band adept in creating good sambas. Her song “Bossa 50” shouts out the greats of bossa nova, going back to the late 1950’s when it all started. (Photo below courtesy of the artist.) 

Bianca Cardoso’s song “Maiorais do Samba” (most popular sambas) calls out the composer/sax and flute maestro Pixinguinha, who started writing songs in the 1910’s all the way through the 1960’s. Cardoso also pays tribute to Clementina de Jesus, who worked most of her life as a maid but began her singing career in 1964, when she was 63. De Jesus was celebrated in Rio de Janeiro at a big show in 1983 by artists Paulinho da Viola, João Nogueira, Elizeth Cardoso, and others. In Brazilian music circles she was known as “Mom.” Cardoso also does shout-outs to Jair Oliveira, Dorival Caymmi, Toquinho, Baden Powell, and Jair Rodrigues.

Poet-songwriter-diplomat Vinicius de Moraes wrote “Samba Da Bençao” in the early 1960’s, but I prefer French actor-singer Pierre Barouh’s version, called “Samba Saravah,” which appeared in the Claude Lelouch film Un Homme et Une Femme (A Man and a Woman) from 1966. Barouh calls himself “the most Brazilian Frenchman in the world.” Both the original and remake salute master musicians including João Gilberto, Carlos Lyra, Dorival Caymmi, Baden Powell, Pixinguinha, Edu Lobo, Oscar Castro-Neves, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and many more.

Singer-songwriter Chico Buarque has been called the Shakespeare of Brazilian poetry and music, and his song “Paratodos” (For All), praises Noel Rosa, Jackson do Pandeiro, Luiz Gonzaga, Ary Barroso, Jorge Ben, Hermeto Pascoal, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Roberto Menescal, Nara Leão, Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, and numerous other Brazilian musical luminaries.

Caetano Veloso included a song called “Pra Ninguém” (For Nobody) as the last track on his Grammy-award winning album Livro, one of my favorite albums. He names Carmen Miranda, Elizete Cardoso, Elis ReginaTim MaiaMaria Bethânia (Veloso's sister), João Bosco, Milton Nascimento, João Gilberto, and many more. Veloso not only mentions the artists, but also names some of his favorite songs performed by them.

Brazilian musicians have also composed beautiful songs about their homeland. Singer-songwriter Francis Hime’s song “Gente Carioca” (the people of Rio de Janeiro) celebrates the beauty of the city and its inhabitants. Arthur Verocai is associated with the tropicalistas, but on “Minha Terra Tem Palmeiras” he sings a song about Brazil that goes all the way back to 1847, from an exile’s perspective. He’s joined by Lu Oliveira, a Brazilian TV host. The song is similar to our final track, the famous “Aquarela do Brasil,” (Brazilian Watercolor) written by composer Ary Barroso in 1939, which also praises Brazil as a “good and delicious” land. There is a Disney cartoon version of “Aquarela do Brasil” from the 1942 film Saludos Amigos, where Donald Duck meets his Brazilian counterpart, parrot José Carioca, who teaches him how to enjoy cachaça (Brazil's strong sugarcane liquor) and samba. American film studios went to Brazil to cozy up to then-President Vargas and celebrate Latin American culture, with the quid pro quo being that America could use Brazil’s airbases to send troops and matériel to Africa to fight Rommel and the Germans. This is a must-watch!

This song by Zé Keti and Nadinho da Ilha celebrates the late Clementina de Jesus: