My dinner with Guinga
A punctual carioca.June 1999
The composer Guinga is a rarity: a punctual carioca. We had agreed to meet at the buffet restaurant Couve-Flor in Jardim Botânico at 6:30 pm. When I arrive at 6:33, hes already there, filling his plate. He greets me with a joyous Pontualidade americana! (American punctuality!), which instantly makes me feel very guilty for being three minutes late.
Guinga is considered by music critics and many fellow musicians to be the most important composer currently working in Brazil. He released four much-lauded solo albums and (with lyricist Aldir Blanc) composed all the songs on Leila Pinheiros prestigious disc Catavento e Girassol. Hes also one of the top guitarists in Brazil. Yet this idol of many cant make a living from music. What pays the bills is his dental practice. Guinga is on the verge of fifty (although he looks considerably younger; fit and trim, hes also a crack soccer player), is happily married and the father of two daughters, and says he cant afford to buy an apartment in Rio.
The first time I met him, I didnt expect to have a conversation. Guinga is famously shy and speaks no English. Im shy as well. I had been invited to a club where he regularly plays soccer and would have been perfectly happy simply to sit on the sidelines and watch him kick the ball. When he showed up (punctual to the minute), it wasnt to play but to talk. And when he talks about music, the words flow of their own accord (in Portuguese, naturally). Guingas knowledge of music, Brazilian and other, is vast. He talks about his admiration for the great American popular composers: Duke Ellington, Gershwin, Cole Porter, about how so much of American music was created by Jewish composers (he is not Jewish, and I dont think he knows that I am).
Like many Brazilian composers, he admires Ravel, but also Puccini and Wagner. He loves the music of Charles Mingus, Michel Legrand, and Kurt Weill (we hum Speak Low together). I tell him that I compared him to Weill in an interview, and that the interviewing journalist called his music almost classical. We muse on the musical tastes of the young, and he tells me that the writer Nelson Rodrigues, when asked what advice he would give the young, said, Get older.
Guinga is a modern composer who adores older music. He asks what old Brazilian music I listen to and is extremely pleased when I name Ary Barroso. Guingas father owned a complete collection of Orlando Silvas records, and now Guinga sings bits from Orlandos 1930s hits: Página de Dor by Pixinguinha and Cândido das Neves Índio and Última Estrofe, which Índio wrote alone. Guinga compares Orlando Silva to Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, suggesting that Orlando was as good as Sinatra. I perceive that hes trying to spare my American feelings and assure him that I consider Orlando Silva a better singer than Sinatra. Relieved, he agrees.
About American songs he says that they flow easily, whereas Brazilian songs do it the hard way, their melodies meandering all over the place. He illustrates his remarks by singing melodic snatches. He points out that American popular music is piano-based and Brazilian music guitar-based, circumstances he attributes to economics. Among jazz pianists he singles out Bill Evans. I mention Thelonius Monk, and Guinga concurs that the man was a genius, saying, Monk played Monk, everybody else plays jazz.
Copyright © 19992011 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.