:: These reviews were originally published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


Serenade for a dead president

Memorial commemorates
JK’s centenary in song.

Daniella Thompson

12 October 2002

Juscelino Kubitschek

Como pode o peixe vivo
Viver fora da água fria?
Como poderei viver
Sem a tua companhia?

Juscelino Kubitschek (1902–1976) adored seresta.

He was Brazil’s most beloved president (1956–1961), and his few years in office are irradicably tied to an optimism that took hold of the country, finding expression not only in politics and economics but also in architecture, cinema, and music. Not for nothing is JK called Presidente Bossa Nova.

In these election days marked by polemics about the role of culture in the life of the nation, we may remember that Juscelino had an abiding interest in the humanities. Some of his close friends were musicians—these included Pixinguinha, Ary Barroso, pianist Bené Nunes, and Dilermando Reis, who taught JK guitar—and painters like Portinari and Di Cavalcanti. Having moved the federal capital to Brasília, JK commissioned Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes to write Sinfonia da Alvorada.

In private life, this mineiro from Diamantina loved to sing old sentimental songs in his deep voice laden with a heavy vibrato. In 1968 JK recorded a number of favorite old songs with Grupo Seresta de Diamantina. One of the tunes was the modinha “É a Ti, Flor do Céu” , whose authors, Modesto Augusto Ferreira and Teodomiro Alves Pereira, were natives of Diamantina. The song is the town’s unofficial anthem, a staple of its seresta outings even before the birth of Juscelino.

“É a Ti, Flor do Céu” is one of fourteen songs assembled in the remarkable CD Memorial, a tribute in song to the late president, who will have celebrated his 100th birthday in September 2002. The project is the brainchild of mineiro pianist Wagner Tiso and singer Zé Renato, who wasn’t born in Minas Gerais but who possesses one of Brazil’s most beautiful male voices and has been honing his seresteiro skills for almost a decade with tributes to Sílvio Caldas and singing the modinha movement in Francis Hime’s Sinfonia do Rio de Janeiro de São Sebastião.

Wagner Tiso & Zé Renato

The songs selected by Tiso and Renato make up a string of pearls representing the eight decades of Kubitschek’s life, with each tune a reminder of a certain period, although in most cases there is no direct connection between song and person or event. One of the few notable exceptions is “Peixe Vivo,” considered JK’s personal signature and sung by a multitude of 100,000 at his funeral. In Memorial, “Peixe Vivo” acts as an instrumental prelude, grandly orchestrated for piano, accordion, strings, piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, and clarinet.

Well chosen and well aged, the songs aren’t arranged in chronological order. “Peixe Vivo” was an opening that stood for the end, and it is followed by “Tristeza do Jeca” (with a guest appearance by Milton Nascimento), a classic caboclo melody of 1922, the year Juscelino entered medical school. One of the most poignant passages in the album is the torch song “Quando Tu Passas por Mim,” which Zé Renato interprets to perfection in his lyrical tenor voice, accompanied by Tiso’s perfectly matched piano, plus bass, guitar, percussion, and strings. The year is 1953, when Getúlio Vargas returned to power and JK was voted governor of Minas Gerais.

The quintessential seresta, “Malandrinha” is linked to the young Dr. Kubitschek’s medical internship in Paris and Berlin. It is followed by the samba “Pois É” of 1955, the year JK won Brazil’s presidential elections. Tiso’s jazzy piano provides a nice complement to Renato’s gentle vocals.

Noite Cheia de Estrelas,” a serenade of 1932, marks JK’s marriage to Sara Gomes de Lemos. Renato and Tiso maintain the same romantic note at the beginning of a medley by Tom and Vinicius, which represents the years of JK’s presidency. The flowing strings soon give way to Bossa Nova sycopation in piano and percussion. From 1960 we’re taken back 20 years to JK’s time as mayor of Belo Horizonte. The waltz “Súplica” displays interesting instrumental touches like Tiso’s (Argentine) tango accordion strains and Pedro Amorim’s brief bandolim solo.

The pearls keep coming with “Rosa Morena” (everybody’s favorite ’40s samba), followed by the serenade “Amo-te Muito,” which stands here for the romantic spirit of Juscelino’s teens. The Bossa Nova “Fechei a Porta” might have described Kubitschek’s position when he closed the door of the presidential palace in Rio and moved the capital to Brasília. In the disc’s concatenation of highlights, this track stands out as a sublime blend of voice, piano, bass (Jorge Helder), guitar (Lula Galvão), trombone (Vittor Santos), and percussion (Robertino Silva).

The slow waltz “Neuza” represents the year 1938, when JK made the definite switch from medicine to politics. The newest song on the album is “Céu de Brasília” (Toninho Horta/Fernando Brant), written four years after JK’s death in a car accident but very much at home among the classics.

The disc ends where the article began, with that old modinha from Diamantina, “É a Ti, Flor do Céu,” this time in Zé Renato’s crystalline voice. Listen to an excerpt and compare it to JK’s recording.

Wagner Tiso & Zé Renato: Memorial
(Biscoito Fino BF-519; 2002); 53:35 min.

01. Peixe Vivo (public domain) 19th century
02. Tristeza do Jeca (Angelino de Oliveira) 1922w/ Milton Nascimento
03. Quando Tu Passas por Mim (Vinicius de Moraes/Antônio Maria) 1953
04. Malandrinha (Freire Júnior) 1927
05. Pois É (Ataulfo Alves) 1955
06. Noite Cheia de Estrelas (Cândido das Neves) 1932
07. O Grande Amor (Tom Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes) 1960
      Lamento no Morro (Tom Jobim/Vinicius de Moraes) 1956
08. Súplica (Otávio G. Mendes/José Marcílio) 1940
09. Rosa Morena (Dorival Caymmi) 1942
10. Amo-te Muito (João Chaves) 1910sw/ Boca Livre
11. Fechei a Porta (Delice Ferreira dos Santos/Sebastião C. Motta) 1960
12. Neuza (Antônio Caldas/Celso Figueiredo) 1938
13. Céu de Brasília (Toninho Horta/Fernando Brant) 1980
14. É a Ti, Flor do Céu (Modesto Augusto Ferreira/Teodomiro Alves Pereira) 19th Century


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