:: This article was originally published in
:: Brazzil magazine.


Guinga rising

Thirty-four years into his career,
the composer finally looms
larger than his interpreters.

Daniella Thompson

November 2001

He’s one of Brazil’s great virtuoso guitarists, but he considers himself above all a composer.

He’s never written a lyric, yet he’s primarily a songwriter.

His tunes are made to carry words, but they’re often recorded as instrumentals.

He thinks he’s a poor vocalist, yet nobody interprets his songs better.

He’s known as an avant-gardiste, yet he says he’s the velha guarda.

His music is very Brazilian, yet also universal.

Contradictions aside, when people talk of innovative Brazilian music, his name is often the first to be mentioned. Hermeto Pascoal said about him, “He’s someone who appears only once in a hundred years.”

His name is Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar, but everyone knows him as Guinga. The nickname has a nice musical ring, but in fact it goes back to his childhood. Called Gringo for his lily-white skin, the little boy repeated “Guinga.” The adult Escobar appreciates the conciseness, musicality, and African sound of the name.

Nickname notwithstanding, these days Guinga is permanently tanned, a testament to a steady regimen of walking and soccer playing. But he also spends hours upon hours with his guitar, working and reworking musical passages. More than a quarter-century has passed since the male vocal group MPB-4 made the first recordings of Guinga’s songs, and his career has been gaining slow but steady momentum ever since. However, it wasn’t until the second half of 1990s that the composer, who’s 51, finally broke out of his cult status. Propelled by five solo CDs—all released by Velas (his first album was also the label's first)—and by Leila Pinheiro’s breakaway Catavento e Girassol, Guinga’s songs took wing and made themselves a home in the standard Brazilian repertoire.

Tunes like “Choro pro Zé,” “Baião de Lacan,” “Nítido e Obscuro,” and “Di Menor”—all songs with lyrics—have become obligatory fare as instrumentals in other musicians’ albums (see discography). Since the mid ’90s, not a year has gone by without at least half a dozen prestigious recordings of Guinga tunes by the cream of Brazil’s artists, and the number keeps climbing. To date, I’ve counted 144 existing recordings of Guinga’s songs in 92 non-Guinga albums, one video, and one future CD [as of December 2003, the number has grown to 155 recordings in 102 albums]. A Guinga Songbook, containing 35 songs and 15 instrumentals, is due to be published by Irmãos Vitale [it was finally published in 2003].

While most popular composers are usually associated with specific songs, Guinga established his reputation primarily on his unique sound. Regardless of the genre in which he works—canção, choro, frevo, waltz, bolero, samba, coco, baião, modinha, foxtrot, or jazz, vocal or instrumental—the outcome is unmistakably his. Like Kurt Weill and Nino Rota—two other composers who are instantly recognizable by their sound—Guinga straddles an indefinable line between pop and serious music. He’s been called “an intuitive genius” and “a visionary.” His chromatic melodies and harmonic modulations are often described as “unconventional,” “difficult,” and “always surprising.” Yet the composer places enormous importance on emotional content and hopes above all to move his listener. Like Rota, he transforms memories into the soundtrack of life. Like Weill, he swings easily between the lyrical and the modernistic. It’s not uncommon for him to create a melody from the deconstruction of an old tune by Ernesto Nazareth, Abel Ferreira, or George Gershwin, or to base a harmony on the work of Ravel or Cyro Pereira. Synthesizing numerous sources, including Impressionist music, opera, older popular songs, and jazz, he distills an intoxicating brew all his own, enriched with audacious lyrics by a handful of partners past and present.

“In all my discs the concept is the same—my daily life.”

Guinga was born on 10 June 1950 in Madureira, the Rio working-class suburb that is home to the great escolas de samba Portela and Império Serrano. His father, born in the suburb of Penha, was an air force sergeant—the “Sargento Escobar” of Guinga’s fourth disc, Suíte Leopoldina, nominated for the Latin Grammy this year. His mother was a housewife born in Olaria, not far from Penha. Both Olaria and Penha are served by the trains of the Leopoldina line.
The composer reminisces:

Our family was poor, but with a refined musical taste. My childhood consisted mainly of school in the morning and soccer playing in the afternoon. Until I was twelve, we lived in Vila Valqueire, a non-urbanized community with a country atmosphere; many farms, horses, cows. I passed my adolescence in the suburb of Jacarepaguá, where the cultural level was high; people saw great films and heard good music. The musical climate of that place helped me a lot.

Everyone in my family played and sang: my mother always sang seresta [romantic songs of the type recorded by Vicente Celestino and Orlando Silva], and my uncles, her brothers, played—all amateurs, with the exception of my uncle Cláudio Lemos, who recorded several discs. My father had a complete collection of Orlando Silva’s records and liked classical music. At home we heard Bach, Chopin, Villa-Lobos, Gabriel Fauré, Tchaikovsky, and the operas of Puccini and Verdi.

A neighbor in Jacarepaguá, Paulinho Cavalcanti, used to play and sing João Gilberto’s repertoire exactly like João. I would watch him play bossa nova in the street, and at home I’d hear classical music and seresta. And there was as much American music as Brazilian, because one of my uncles was a great jazz collector. When I was eleven, we got Stan Getz’s album Focus, composed and arranged by Eddie Sauter. Nobody listened to it but me; I played it again and again. Eventually the family sold the disc. Years later I heard it and asked a friend to buy it for me in the U.S. It’s still one of my favorites.

When Guinga was eleven, his uncle Marco Aurélio taught him to play the guitar. He began composing when he was fourteen, influenced by his friend Paulo Faya. In 1967, at the age of seventeen, his song “Sou Só Solidão,” co-authored with Faya, reached the first eliminatory round in TV Globo’s second Festival Internacional da Canção. Among the winners in that festival were Milton Nascimento’s “Travessia” (second place) and Chico Buarque’s “Carolina” (third). At the age of 26, Guinga began his five-year classical guitar studies with Jodacil Damasceno.

During the ’70s Guinga accompanied Beth Carvalho and João Nogueira and recorded with Clara Nunes, Cartola, and Raul de Barros. He also began his first major songwriting partnership, the collaboration with Paulo Cesar Pinheiro that produced songs recorded by Clara Nunes, Elis Regina, Nelson Gonçalves, Miúcha, Michel Legrand, and American jazz musicians like singer Mark Murphy and trumpeter Brian Lynch.

There was an instant of commercial success in 1975. Like Ary Barroso in 1930, Guinga was able to marry and establish a household on the proceeds of a single song. “Valsa de Realejo” was recorded by Clara Nunes in her hit album Claridade. This LP sold 300,000 copies in one month and netted the composer the equivalent of R$30,000 (approximately $15,000). But composing was never sufficient to pay the bills, and, says Guinga, “I didn’t want to play other people’s music.” Besides, his father insisted that he obtain a university degree.

The obedient son entered dental school in 1970 and received his diploma in 1975. At school he met fellow dental student Fátima, now his wife. They raised two daughters, Constance and Branca, namesakes of the tunes “Constance” (in Suíte Leopoldina) and “Melodia Branca” (in Cine Baronesa). For the next sixteen years, Guinga made his living solely from dentistry, and he continues to practice until today, albeit only two mornings a week.

Over the years, Guinga has been moving away from the suburbs toward the Zona Sul. The family lived first in Rio Comprido, then in Copacabana, and now in Leblon. His work has taken him from Estácio to Penha, Cachambi, and Grajaú. Several years ago Dr. Escobar closed his Grajaú office to share space in the dental clinic of a colleague in Copacabana. What hasn’t changed through all the geographical moves is the suburban heart of Guinga, who continues to draw on his past for inspiration.

New partner, new presence

Throughout the sixteen “dental” years, Guinga never stopped composing, but he remained an unknown as far as the Brazilian public was concerned. Not until 1989 did he headline a show, when he appeared with Paulo Cesar Pinheiro and singer Ithamara Koorax at the bar Vou Vivendo in São Paulo. The following year he found himself without a lyricist when his partnership with Pinheiro came to an end. Through Raphael Rabello he had made contact with Aldir Blanc, whose own great partnership with João Bosco had dissolved in 1983.

Like Guinga and Pinheiro, Aldir is also a suburban carioca, and the new collaboration reflected their shared sensibilities. Their first completed song, “Esconjuros,” landed in Leila Pinheiro’s 1991 album Outras Caras (where it was called “Esconjuro”), Sergio Mendes’ 1992 Brasileiro, the 1998 German disc Maracatú by mandolin & guitar duo Ilka and Roland Hoffmann, and the American clarinetist Richard Stoltzman’s Danza Latina, also released in ’98. More recently, Mônica Salmaso sang “Esconjuros,” at the 2000 Heineken concerts and recorded it for her next disc.

Guinga’s first disc was created almost wholly in guitar sessions at the home of composer Moacyr Luz. Also participating were Aldir, Fátima Guedes, Ivan Lins, Herbert de Souza (Betinho), producer Paulinho Albuquerque, and Paulo Cesar Pinheiro. Before long, Guinga and Aldir had enough songs for an album, and Aldir embarked on a crusade to expose his partner’s work. He was joined in this mission by Ivan, Leila, and saxophonist/producer Zé Nogueira (with whom Guinga recorded Nino Rota’s “Amarcord”).

Countering the simple and absurd situation of Guinga’s not having an outlet, Ivan and his partner Vítor Martins founded the Velas label to launch the composer’s debut disc, aptly titled Simples e Absurdo, in 1991. It’s an entirely vocal CD, sung not by the composer but by a stellar team of his admirers, among them Leila Pinheiro, Chico Buarque, Zé Renato, and Leny Andrade (see Guinga’s albums). His composing style was already in place, alternating agitated tunes like “Canibaile” and “Zen Vergonha” (which might be classified as falling in the Hermeto line) with slow, evocative melodies such as “Lendas Brasileiras,” “Quermesse,” and “Nem Cais, Nem Barco” (in the Impressionist/Villa-Lobos/Jobim/Edu Lobo line). All the songs in Guinga’s first album were distinguished by Aldir’s verbal pyrotechnics and frequent references to icons of popular culture—be it Brazilian, American, or French—setting the course for the discs to come.

In his second CD, Delírio Carioca (1993), the composer sang ten songs, leaving the title song to Djavan, “Choro pro Zé” to Lucia Helena, and “Baião de Lacan” to Leila Pinheiro. Loaded with compositions later recorded by others, this may have been Guinga’s most influential album. It includes two songs with lyrics written by Paulo Cesar Pinheiro: the hauntingly beautiful “Saci” and “Passarinhadeira” (the latter influenced by Jobim and sung with Fátima Guedes), while the rest are partnerships with Aldir, a number of which have become his best known: “Nítido e Obscuro,” “Catavento e Girassol,” “Choro pro Zé,” and “Baião de Lacan.”

Curiously, the most unusual song on the album is not one of the former—revolutionary as they sounded when they first appeared—but &“Age Maria,” in which Guinga comes as close as he ever has to an operatic aria, accompanied by Leandro Braga’s organ-like keyboards (electronic keyboards also made an appearance in Simples e Absurdo; it was hard to get away from them in the early ’90s, and they date that disc somewhat). The rest of the arrangements on Delírio Carioca include mostly acoustic instruments, with an occasional use of a string quartet or a wind quintet.

Delírio Carioca began to spread Guinga’s name abroad, and he received his first European invitation to participate at the Brasiliana festival in Madrid in 1993. In consequence, Guinga’s third album, Cheio de Dedos (1996), was almost entirely instrumental—a conscious effort to appeal to international audiences, as well as to allow his compositions to speak for themselves without the added interpretation of lyrics. The disc’s tone was the richest and most assured yet in the composer’s discography. Gone are all traces of keyboards and electric guitar.

Opening the album, the title track offers us the acoustic guitars of Guinga and Lula Galvão, followed by “Dá o Pé, Louro,” a baião with repetitive phrasing arranged by Carlos Malta for two guitars, acoustic bass, percussion, cello, and flutes. “Impressionados,” one of two vocals, is a song in the French mode, complete with accordion and string accompaniment, with lyrics that make numerous references to the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters. “Inventando Moda” is a slow choro dominated by Sérgio Galvão’s soprano sax. It is followed by the now famous “Nó na Garganta,” which isn’t played by a bandoneon but could easily have been.

Next there’s Latin jazz in the tango-beguine “Me Gusta a Lagosta,” featuring the Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez, the Cuban string quintet Diapasón, and percussionist José Eladio Amat. Mauricio Carrilho arranged the following track, “Picotado,” as a traditional choro, with Paulo Sérgio Santos playing soprano and alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet (Santos has since become a regular feature in Guinga’s live appearances). “Ária de Opereta” is the second vocal, a waltz whose lyrics talk of operas and whose melody recalls Tom Jobim turned on his ear, with string arrangement by Leandro Braga.

Another jazz tune, “Divagar, Quase Pairando,” showcases Paulinho Trumpete’s fluegelhorn against a solo guitar, accompanied by Armando Marçal’s steady percussion. The tempo picks up with the bossa nova “Rio de Exageros,” then slows down for “Blanchiana,” a lyrical tribute to Aldir Blanc and Villa-Lobos, with vocalese by the composer and a quotation of “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5” in the guitar. Another change of pace, and the baião returns in “Por Trás de Brás de Pina,” where the group Nó em Pingo D’água guests. A tango with Piazzolla overtones, “Desconcertante” is played by Diapasón, with Leandro Braga’s piano and Marcos Esguleba’s pandeiro. The disc closes with a guitar duo in “Sinuoso” and the return of “Cheio de Dedos,” this time arranged for a variety of wind instruments, all played by Carlos Malta.

It was with Cheio de Dedos that Guinga finally gained international acclaim, being widely recognized as one of Brazil’s best living composers, if not the best. Direct comparisons were made between him and Villa-Lobos, Tom Jobim, and Egberto Gismonti. He won three Sharp awards, including one for Best Instrumental Disc. There were more invitations to perform in Europe: in 1996 he appeared at the International Guitar Festival in Cordoba, Spain, and the following year in Copenhagen. Since then he’s toured Italy and played in Cuba. But even before the release of Cheio de Dedos, Guinga broke into mainstream Brazilian music through Leila Pinheiro’s Catavento e Girassol, a critical and commercial success that extricated the singer from her bossa novista image and turned the composer into a living legend.

Trips into the past

Guinga’s fourth album, Suíte Leopoldina (1999), was a continuation and an amplification of Cheio de Dedos. It sprang from a collection of guitar pieces evoking the composer’s suburban past and developed into a major instrumental work studded with five vocal tunes. The disc opens with “Dos Anjos” and closes with the waltz “Constance,” both featuring the harmonica of Toots Thielemans, who was unable to choose only one track to record. Toots described them as soundtracks for a film’s opening titles. It’s a fitting metaphor. Both tunes were arranged by Gilson Peranzzetta for harmonica, piano and strings (in “Constance” there’s also bass) in a haunting, pensive atmosphere.

The mood changes abruptly with “Parsifal,” a humorous samba-choro about an upright and strict major who fell for an extravagant young passista from Mangueira—an innocent Blue Angel—and died in misery. “Di Menor,” with lyrics by Celso Viáfora (who recorded the vocal version in Cara do Brasil), began in the original guitar suite as a choro dedicated to bassist Jorge Helder. Inspired by an uncle of the composer’s—an elegant though hard-up figure halfway between a malandro and a tango dancer—it’s arranged here as a dancehall samba with typical gafieira instruments: bass clarinet and clarinet (again at the hands of Paulo Sérgio Santos), Guinga’s and Lula Galvão’s guitars, Jorge Helder’s bass, and an array of percussion instruments (in care of Armando Marçal).

“Sargento Escobar” a brief choro for solo guitar, is a love song from the composer to his father. Another mood change brings the baião “Chá de Panela,” dedicated to Hermeto Pascoal. This Sharp award winner has been recorded by Leila Pinheiro and is here reprised by the nordestino star Alceu Valença in an arrangement by Carlos Malta. The nostalgic mood returns with “Choro Perdido,” composed for Guinga’s mother and played with great feeling by Zé Nogueira (soprano sax), Leandro Braga (piano), Jorge Helder (bass), and strings. “Noturno Leopoldina” picks up the tempo, imitating the cadence of the suburban trains in Guinga and Lula Galvão’s guitars, backed up by Armando Marçal’s percussion.

The rhythmic and disturbing moda de viola “Guia de Cego” follows, sung by Ivan Lins and Guinga and arranged by Rodrigo Lessa for guitars, flute, clarinet, bass, percussion, and strings. The lyrics were written by Mauro Aguiar, who like Guinga grew up in Vila Valqueire and who later collaborated with the composer in “Baião da Guanabara,” recorded by Carol Saboya. Next, the happy “Perfume de Radamés,” dedicated to legendary composer/arranger/pianist Radamés Gnattali and the musicians of his celebrated quintet: guitarist Zé Menezes, accordionist Chiquinho, drummer Luciano Perrone, and bassist Vidal. Needless to say, the tune is arranged for the same instrumental formation.

Ed Motta vocalizes the wordless “Par Constante,” a beautiful song Guinga wrote for his wife Fátima, inspired by the guitar work of Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, Kenny Burrell, and Hélio Delmiro. It’s followed by the instrumental baião “Cortando um Dobrado,” in which Lula Galvão solos on guitar and Guinga plays cavaquinho in his own arrangement. Lenine sings “Mingus Samba,” which, as the name implies, mixes samba and jazz in a driving, danceable rhythm arranged by Rodrigo Lessa. In its previous incarnation, this song was called “Dobrando a Mantiqueira,” an instrumental dedicated to Banda Mantiqueira and released in a CD that accompanied the July 1998 special issue of Guitar Player magazine dedicated to the best guitarists in Brazil. The penultimate track is Guinga’s guitar solo in the choro “Dissimulado”—as usual, full of surprises.

Guinga’s latest CD, Cine Baronesa, again harks back to his’s years in the suburbs. Cine Baronesa was the name of a movie theater in Praça Seca, Jacarepaguá, where the composer spent many adolescent hours watching American musicals. After the movies, he and his neighbor Hélio Delmiro picked the film tunes on their guitars. The disc opens with the moving “Melodia Branca,” arranged by Gilson Peranzzetta for piano, strings, and Paulo Aragão’s eight-string guitar. Guinga composed this waltz for his younger daughter, who, according to her father, failed to appreciate it. Coming full circle, as in Cheio de Dedos and Suíte Leopoldina, the opening tune also closes the album, this time with the composer’s solo guitar.

About the next track, “Cine Baronesa,” Guinga says that American film songs mixed with Brazilian waltz inspired the theme. It’s performed by the Maogani guitar quartet in Paulo Aragão’s arrangement, with Fátima Guedes and the composer vocalizing the melody. “Vô Alfredo,” says Guinga, was inspired by the brass bands that played in bandstands in the plazas of provincial Brazilian towns. This bumptious tune that recalls Nino Rota’s film scores is given the full brass treatment by reed player Nailor “Proveta” Azevedo, who arranged the piece for a team of cracks.

A new partner, the lyricist Sergio Natureza, makes an appearance with “Nem Mais um Pio,” an idea of the Brazilian tropical universe in the Villa-Lobos line, according to the composer. Guinga sings movingly of sea, sky, river—natural elements and their native deities, accompanied by guitars, percussion and strings. He calls the following song, “Yes, Zé Manés,” a carioca ballad with the esthetic influence of American song, saying, “I made it as if Billie Holiday were singing it. My daughter Constance is crazy for Billie Holiday, and from hearing her records so much, I also picked up a passion for her.”

Chico Buarque sings this gentle blues, in which English and Portuguese phrases mingle with funky electric guitar and bass lines. Guinga composed “Caiu do Céu,” a waltz in the mode of Villa-Lobos, in honor of his young friend, the prodigy guitarist Caio Márcio (son of Paulo Sérgio Santos, who also recorded the tune in his new CD Gargalhada). The witty title, meaning ‘fell from the sky,’ is only one example in many of Guinga’s way with names and puns. This waltz is arranged for guitar and strings in a manner that recalls once again the classic film scores.

The funky samba “No Fundo do Rio” follows, a spirited tribute to Rio de Janeiro sung by Guinga and lyricist Nei Lopes, with ad-libbed asides by music historian Sérgio Cabral. Guinga calls it “a samba of completely carioca essence, with the swing of black cariocas and a progressive harmony.” A tribute to Tom Jobim can’t fail to appear, and here we get the lyrical choro-canção “Estonteante,” arranged for guitar, flute, piano, and percussion. Another instrumental, “Geraldo no Leme,” is a lively baião made in homage to the father of Nailor “Proveta” Azevedo and arranged by the son for an ensemble of wind instruments.

“Fox e Trote,” with lyrics by Nei Lopes, was inspired by the Gershwin foxtrot “Walking the Dog,” featured in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film Shall We Dance. The lyrics amply illustrate the disorientation one experiences in the face of mixed idioms (see song lyrics)—what better way to describe Guinga’s work? “Como Eu Imaginara” is an expansive modinha composed for a recently born baby called Nara and arranged for guitar and strings. Before “Melodia Branca” brings the disc to a close, Guinga sings the slow progressive samba “Orassamba,” which he and Aldir Blanc conceived with the idea of a Rio de Janeiro oppressed by the present. This song is to be recorded by Sergio Mendes for his next album.

Mentor to a new generation

Guinga’s sphere of influence continues to grow. As the music critic Mauro Dias pointed out in O Estado de S. Paulo, at the first competition for the prestigious Prêmio Visa de MPB, which took place in 1998 and was waged among instrumentalists, practically all the competitors played Guinga. In the next one, where singers competed, Mônica Salmaso won, singing (among other composers) Guinga. Last year, in the composers’ competition, many candidates were notably influenced by Guinga. This year it was the instrumentalists’ turn again, with more Guinga in the repertoire.

At least two of the competitors (Itamar Assiéri and Daniel Santiago) had played with Guinga, and the composer sat on the selection jury. Guinga is the subject of the tribute song “Guingando,” composed by the young team of Edu Kneip and Mauro Aguiar and recorded in Maogani quartet's new CD. The British guitar duo of Tim Panting and Stuart Blagden performed Guinga at the Festival Guitarras del Mundo 2000 in Argentina. The next generation is recording Guinga: Renato Braz, Zé Paulo Becker, Cris Delanno, Carol Saboya, Simone Guimarães, Hamilton de Holanda, Maogani, Mônica Salmaso, and Chico Saraiva have all done so.

Many are sure to follow.

Guinga expounds

On what makes good music

To make good music, it’s not enough to listen to music. You have to look at art and life.

Many musicians think only of music. They play many impressive notes. João Gilberto plays only three chords and touches your heart. There is only one valid path in music, and that is the path of emotion.

On Brazilian and American musicians

Brazilian musicians can’t play American music (Hélio Delmiro is the exception, but what he plays is different) and Latin music. American musicians can’t play Brazilian music, but they’ve recorded some lovely things, like John Williams’ bossa nova “Moonlight” that Sting sings in the film Sabrina.

On Brazilian vs. American music

Brazilian music was always more baroque than American music. American music tends to have a vertical structure: block chords at the base, with a melody floating on top. Brazilian music, primarily through the influence of choro, has a very highly developed counterpoint. It is written horizontally. You have several melodic lines intertwining. And they can form a chord, but it is something very different from the block chords of American popular song [from an interview with Bryan McCann].

On continuity in music

I believe only in the artist who has one foot in the future and the other foot in the past. It's enough if you use everything you have in a progressive manner. If a guy keeps playing choro the way it’s been played in the past, nothing will come of it. It's better to go to the graves of Benedito Lacerda, Pixinguinha, and Jacob do Bandolim, exhume them and have them play. Listening to choro played exactly as before? This is horrible; I have no patience for this. You have to take what’s Brazilian, based on what it’s been, and think ahead. Without a foundation there’s nothing.

On his legendary recording with Cartola

One of the running legends of the samba world is Guinga’s recording with Cartola in the great sambista's second eponymous album of 1976. The track on which Guinga played wasn’t specified in the LP liner notes, but the pundits have always maintained that the song was “As Rosas Não Falam.” I asked Guinga how he came to accompany Cartola on this track. His reply:

The recording was not of “As Rosas Nã Falam” but of “O Mundo É um Moinho.” It happened at the invitation of Cartola himself, with whom I worked in the show Vem Quem Tem, Vem Quem Nã Tem.

On his enduring musical influences

Beniamino Gigli, Nat King Cole, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Vernon Duke, Orlando Silva, Tom Jobim, Pixinguinha, Hermeto Pascoal, Chico Buarque, Villa-Lobos, and many others.

On his favorite composition

It’s impossible to pick a favorite tune. Among my compositions, perhaps “Constance” and “Melodia Branca,” made for my two daughters.

On working with Guinga

Paulo Aragão
A founding member of the acclaimed guitar quartet Maogani, Paulo Aragão has been called by Guinga “the best Brazilian guitar arranger of all time.”

It was the bassist Jorge Helder who first called our attention to the value of spending time with Guinga, saying that he thought a great deal about the significance of being in “proximity to a guy who’ll only be fully recognized as a genius some years hence.” I didn’t have this awareness the first times I met Guinga in 1996 during the rehearsals for the recording of Maogani’s first disc, in which he ended up participating. Since then, these encounters have been frequent, almost weekly—and only now do I begin to appreciate their importance in my musical education.

Guinga accompanied and actively participated in the entire process of the creation of our second disc, Cordas Cruzadas, contributing from repertoire selection to the elaboration of the arrangements. And we had the honor of accompanying the complete creation of his latest disc, Cine Baronesa, hearing the tunes as soon as they were ready. In fact, this process continues uninterrupted: since April (when his disc was released) we’ve been presented with various new creations. I in particular have never seen anyone combine quantity and quality in composing to the extent that Guinga does—his repertoire of unpublished compositions would be sufficient to fill not one but several discs.

In addition to being occasions for hearing his new tunes and showing our new arrangements, our encounters are opportunities to observe a very particular way of looking at music. After all, spending time with Guinga represents for me and for my Maogani colleagues more than simply being with our idol, a stupendous guitarist, and a composer of genius. It also represents the possibility to learn from and interact with a person who has one of the richest and most interesting musical personalities that I’ve ever met.

Guinga is one of the major connoisseurs of popular Brazilian music of any period. He knows Orlando Silva’s repertoire inside-out, he sings with emotion serestas recorded by Augusto Calheiros more than 70 years ago. Informally, he plays many of these songs in his style (the harmonization that he made for Custódio Mesquita’s “Noturno” is unbelievable!). He spent time with Cartola and Nelson Cavaquinho and drank as much from them as from Tom [Jobim] or Hermeto [Pascoal]. It would be fantastic if one day he’d have the opportunity to record a disc only with this repertoire arranged by him. Because, although he’s modest and doesn’t admit it, Guinga is also a marvelous arranger, who recreates in an absolutely unique way without infringing upon or damaging the original spirit of the songs.

His contact with classical music is also profound. He phones just to tell enthusiastically about a piece of Bartok or Ravel that he heard at dawn (he has the habit of awaking at dawn to listen to Rádio MEC). Or to comment about the harmony of a string quartet by Radamés [Gnattali] or the &“Sexteto Místico” by Villa-Lobos. He also gives us lessons about popular music that we’re not so familiar with. “You have to listen more to the American arrangers!,” “Have you heard Michel Legrand’s orchestrations?,” “Do you know Bix Beiderbecke?,” he asks, taking the opportunity to recall an obscure disc of Stan Getz [Focus] that he heard when he was eleven and found again recently.

All this musical baggage, coupled with the generosity and the interest to hear new things, makes him have direct and very frequent contact not only with us but with many (really many!) musicians of my generation. Exaggerating, he says that he learns from us... But the truth is that we’re the ones who benefit and add to our musicality the informal lessons that are worth more than any academy and will certainly mark us profoundly in our careers.

Nei Lopes
Nei Lopes is a distinguished sambista, intellectual, and author.

My first partnership with Guinga was in “Parsifal” [recorded in Suíte Leopoldina]. As always, I created lyrics and little stories about what the melodies suggested to me. In “No Fundo do Rio” [from Cine Baronesa] however, the idea of talking about the suburbs came from Guinga. I’d like to emphasize that, in addition to the pleasure I have in writing lyrics for such original and unusual melodies as are Guinga’s (which turns the work even more valuable, because it’s not easy), he’s a musician with a lot of prestige. The partnership with him helped me a little to get out of the ghetto to which samba artists are relegated in Brazilian music—especially those who, like me, are black and traditionally linked to the escolas de samba.

I was for many years a member of Académicos do Salgueiro and later of Unidos de Vila Isabel. This stood in the way of my progress and visibility in the media. These days I’ve appeared more owing to the books I write, but music occupies an important place in my life. The last work of importance I did was the creation of five song lyrics for themes by maestro Moacyr Santos, in the tribute disc Ouro Negro, released in May. Here my lyrics were recorded by Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, João Bosco, Djavan, and Ed Motta. I was very happy, because at the age of 59 with a 30-year career behind me, it signified a major acknowledgment of my work.

Mônica Salmaso
The award-winning singer recorded the song “Guingando,” a tribute to Guinga by Edu Kneip and Mauro Aguiar, in Maogani’s CD Cordas Cruzadas.

Guinga is for me like Dorival Caymmi, Chico Buarque, and Edu Lobo. One-hundred percent of what he creates is of indisputable beauty. He’s a composer whose music enchanted me as soon as I heard it. There are some composers who create music that doesn’t age. Songs that are for our entire lifetime, that we call classics. The music of Guinga is like that, eternally beautiful and profoundly true.


Song Lyrics

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