Brazilliance was launched ten years ago today, on the 1st of June 2011 — A big thank you to all you readers and aficionados of beautiful music for a great time!
And as if he had known, Mateus Ribeirete surprised me with a birthday present when he asked me for an interview. It was a very special pleasure for me and I send my thanks to him and the magazine Jornal RelevO in Curitiba!
I was allowed to answer in as much detail as I wanted and so the story of Brazilliance was published in two parts in the May issue and in today’s June issue. Click here for the full Portuguese version at Jornal RelevO.
Part 1 | Jornal RelevO: Our first question is… why? I mean, please talk a little bit about who you are and what generated your interest in Brazilian music.
AD: I was born in 1964 and live in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. In a previous life I studied fashion design, fashion graphics, pattern drawing and tailoring in Vienna, Austria. Despite some initial success after my return I did not like the industry and quit after three years. In my current life, I work in the office, which wasn’t exactly the plan, but that was just one of the twists and turns.
It was the summer of 2007 when I was browsing through my music collection for something that I hadn’t heard in a long time, and came across an album by João Gilberto which I later discovered was compiled from his first three solo albums. I was familiar with the bossa nova that Brazilians recorded with jazz musicians in the US, but suddenly realising that this was the original sound, I asked myself: How did the bossa nova sound in Brazil? What did the rest of the music sound like at the time? Who were the musicians and singers?
JR: What came first, your curiosity for Brazilian album covers or for music?
AD: Searching the internet, I was surprised to find websites whose owners spent endless hours digitising out of print records and their covers and making them available to fans for download. The best one was Loronix by Zecalouro, a musician in Rio de Janeiro with a network that included a few of the musicians from back then. Loronix was a formative musical paradise, although it only existed three years. For several years the number of these websites increased steadily, but today there are only a few that are still actively continued, such as Parallel Realities by Milan Filipović in Serbia and Toque Musicall by Augusto TM in Brazil. I was lucky enough to be searching at exactly the right moment.
Here in Europe there was and is only a relatively small repertoire available on CD, but the vinyl downloads offered the true extent, and that is how I discovered singers and musicians that I have loved since then, such as Elza Laranjeira, Miltinho, Édison Machado and Moacyr Marques, and songs of beauty I never knew existed like Não Me Diga Adeus, Derradeira Primavera, Você Passou and Murmúrio.
A friend who was equally impressed with what I have found asked me to be the DJ at his New Year’s Eve party 2007, and we projected a slideshow with 300 covers onto a screen so that the guests could see what they were listening to. And while we were balancing on ladders to set up the projector and the screen, I had the idea to make a book out of these gorgeous covers. That is how Brazilliance started as a book only for myself and a private audience. As the first draft was taking shape, I got in touch with a printer recommended by a friend who worked in the publishing industry. When I traveled the 200 kilometers to visit the printer in order to discuss the choice of paper and cover, I was more than surprised when he told me that he also had a publishing house and wanted to publish my little book. It took three and a half years from the idea on the ladder to hold the printed book in my hands.
JR: About the book … Brazilliance is much more focused on design, right? How did the website come about?
AD: I had considered adding text to the book, but decided it should be a purely visual gallery. There are a couple of similar books, but while mine was still purely private at the time, I had no intention of competing with them. Bossa Nova e Outras Bossas by Caetano Rodrigues and Charles Gavin was the first and still is the best one. Unfortunately, only a limited edition was published in 2005 which quickly sold out. At least I managed to get hold of a used copy, unlike Gavin‘s next book titled 300 Discos Importantes da Música Brasileira which he published in 2008, and which also sold out quickly. Then there is Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s, released in 2010 by Soul Jazz Records in London, lovingly designed but far less extensive and with a few editorial errors.
While finishing my book, I also started building the website, because how else would the world find out about Brazilliance? Besides, the website enables the music inside these fabulous covers to be experienced. In order to combine the two, the web articles were based on selected double-page spreads from the book, from whose covers I chose singers and musicians for portraits and playlists. Naturally, this concept couldn’t be continued forever, which is why I ended it after 45 articles and started with the song features.
JR: Have you ever been to Brazil? Apart from music, do you have any relationship with Brazilian culture?
AD: No, I have never been to Brazil and have hardly ever met Brazilians, although around 6,000 are said to live in my area.
JR: You had commented that you don’t speak Portuguese. How does this affect your research? Do you have a Brazilian (or Portuguese) friend to help you – or do you even need it?
AD: Over the years I have learned a few words from the lyrics, just as I learned a few words in Italian from operas. Speaking the language would of course help with research, and maybe one day I’ll start learning it, but it works quite well with translators online.
As for the song features, it’s important to me to include the lyrics as well, and luckily most of them are available online. Not always correct, however. That’s why I always compare them acoustically with the original recording before using them in the article.
However, English translations of the lyrics, which accurately reflect the diction and style – and thus expression and emotion – would be the perfect completion of the song features. Without knowing the lyrics, we non-Brazilians are definitely missing out on something.
Automatic translations have no grasp of the intricacies of a language, and many of my visitors are from North America, Europe and Asia and very few will understand the original words. It would be great if this artistic part of the songs could also be understood by everyone, but for that I would need someone who is willing to do the translation work, which would be a literary task.
JR: In all these years, what is your biggest surprise when dealing with Brazilian music (including the covers)? In the sense of “my God, this is a hidden gem!”.
AD: In the first few years, of course, every new song, singer, band and artwork felt like a treasure hunt that unearths gems. However, the most surprising surprise was when Eddie Moyna’s grandson and son wrote to me within ten minutes.
In the 50s and 60s, graphic designers were initially not worth mentioning for record labels, and large labels like RGE have not changed that later. Therefore, unfortunately, very few names are known. César G. Villela was apparently the first who managed to make a name for himself, which was also printed on the back covers, but nothing can be found about others such as Joselito, Maurício, Moacyr Rocha, Mafra – or Eddie Moyna. So it was a very special, because so completely unexpected, pleasure to be able to write A Special Feature on Eddie Moyna after his son Carlos provided me with some information, because as far as I know it is the only available portrait of this graphic artist.
JR: Are you a record collector? Do you have the physical albums of these covers that caught your attention?
AD: A few years ago I downsized my physical collection substantially but my digital collection consists of around 50,000 songs, of which around 15,000 are Brazilian. I am definitely at risk of addiction, but now I set my laptop’s hard drive as the limit.
Apart from about 80 CDs and 20 vinyl albums, my Brazilian collection is digital because it is difficult to buy the original vinyl records from Europe. Hence, I especially appreciate my copy of Djalma Ferreira‘s Convite ao Drink from 1960 with its fabulous gatefold sleeve by Joselito and the photograph by Mafra. Since I don’t speak the language, there is no point in opening an account at Brazilian second hand sales portals where there is plenty of choice. Buying records abroad can also become costly because of possible customs duties. But Youtube can also be a great source for finding old recordings. I even found a few gems in a Romanian MP3 portal.
Part 2 | Jornal RelevO: Have you read Marc Fischer’s Ho-ba-la-lá? [Note: book in which the author, a German, comes to Rio de Janeiro obsessed with finding João Gilberto.] By the way, in terms of books, specifically, I guess some of Ruy Castro’s work was translated to English, but I really have no idea about what else might have reached Germany coming from Brazil. Do you happen to know anything?
Ruy Castro’s Bossa Nova – The Sound of Ipanema [Chega de Saudade] is an excellent book, very entertainingly written with great backstories. Marc Fischer’s Ho-ba-la-lá is worth reading because of its very personal perspective. In addition, I have read a few books published in Brazil and the US in English, but I don’t remember them, so they obviously weren’t too instructive for me. Antonio Carlos Jobim: An Illuminated Man [Um Homem Iluminado] by his sister Helena Isaura Jobim is still on my list.
JR: Do Brazilian people get in touch with you because of Brazilliance?
Only occasionally, either to compliment, which of course is always a pleasure, or because they are looking for an album or a song. But every now and then something special happens.
Once someone got in touch about the 1957 album Orquestra de Danças by Orquestra do Sindicato dos Músicos Profissionais do Rio de Janeiro. His uncle had composed three of the songs and participated in the recording. The union was preparing its 50th anniversary but did not have a copy of the album which was nowhere available. It was of course a pleasure for me to be able to at least make it available to them digitally.
Another time a couple from the US wrote to me wondering if João Gilberto and Jobim had performed on their 1962 cruise from Rio de Janeiro to New York and asked me if this could have been possible. After some research, I had to answer that this could hardly have happened, as both were probably performing their legendary concert series at the Au Bon Gourmet in Rio at the time, where Só Danço Samba, Garota de Ipanema and Samba do Avião made their public debut, but it was a downright touching question.
And then of course there is Gary from Canada. He’s my most loyal fan and we became pen pals.
JR: What do you usually listen to? In general, not only in Brazilian music. By the way, do you play any musical instrument?
I grew up listening to jazz records and the pop music on the American Forces Network (AFN) because my mother didn’t like German radio. My favourite program as a teenager were the US charts from 1935 to 1950 every Sunday morning on AFN, with which I discovered the orchestras of Tommy Dorsey and Harry James and singers like Billie Holiday and The Pied Pipers.
When I started painting and drawing at the age of 14, I went through various phases and one was East Asian. While others bought Abba records, I was buying swing music, Japanese koto music and Chinese operas, which I played loudly over and over again. That brought me straight to Puccini’s Turandot (the ultimate 1966 recording with Birgit Nilsson), and at the same time it went from Stan Kenton’s Mirage (from his 1950 album Innovations in Modern Music) straight to Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps.
At the beginning of the 80s post-punk and new wave became my musical world, but also the pop and soul of the 60s and more jazz like hardbop and cool jazz as well as singers such as Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson. I could not survive on that famous desert island without New Order/Joy Division, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Chris Connor, Dusty Springfield and everything that sounds like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and Motown. Operas, especially those by Puccini and Verdi, have a special place in my heart as do their singers like Renata Tebaldi.
The most touching music that, in my opinion, has ever been written is Gustav Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, especially sung by the unparalleled Christa Ludwig. Anyone who is not deeply affected by the unearthly beauty and truth of this music is probably dead.
What makes music so incomparable is its immediate and uninfluenced effect. We can have our preferences and find other things utterly hideous, but we can never escape the unconscious effects of music. In this respect, for me it is the most emotional of all the arts, maybe even the most human.
I don’t play an instrument, can’t read notes and, unfortunately, can’t sing either, although I find the voice to be the most beautiful instrument. But that doesn’t stop me from seeing myself as musical, because I don’t limit my taste and have the need to acquire knowledge about the music I like that allows me to understand it better.
JR: In the first part of the interview, I asked why you started Brazilliance. Now I ask you: why do you keep it?
Most jazz connaisseurs are familiar with the Great American Songbook, a collection of significant jazz standards and popular songs stretching roughly from 1920 to 1960. But the idea of a canon of the most important and influential popular songs that have stood the test of time in their life and legacy applies equally to Brazil, because so many songs especially from the 1930s to 1960s became standards in their own right: They have been recorded many times, the lyrics are well known, and they are still being loved and played. I like to think of them as the Brazilian Songbook, even if nobody calls it that. And because no one had apparently tried to put together such a collection that presents the various recordings and tries to tell something about the songs, I did just that with Brazilliance in 2014.
So far, Brazilliance has around 170 song features from 1937 to 1970, with every tenth being Brazilian versions of an international song. Manhã de Carnaval is the most extensive with 75 recordings. Mostly I present all versions that I have or can find. Only in long playlists do I sometimes do without a few if they do not offer any additional facet to the others. I still resist the temptation to feature songs that, incomprehensibly, were only recorded once, which is why two recordings is the minimum for a feature. Ideally, no songs from the same year of origin follow one another, and the order of publication should also alternate between genre and tempo as well as the number of recordings.
According to the years of origin, the focus is probably around 1960, but these were obviously very creative years with a striking number of great compositions. I particularly like the orchestrations and arrangements from that time, and stylistically these years were also very diverse. I am especially fond of Sambalanço, for example, which, despite its popularity only corresponded to a short-lived taste of the time.
Research is sometimes difficult because the sources are not as extensive as they are for music genres from the US or Europe. The two most important archives are Instituto Memória Musical Brasileira and Dicionário Cravo Albin da Música Popular Brasileira. However, no source is error-free, and in order to be able to provide reliable information, I have to compare a lot of online content and be critical in doing so. It is often like a jigsaw puzzle where you have to sort out faulty pieces while putting them together. Yet even my content is unlikely to be entirely free from error.
I do not cite any sources because that would increase the effort enormously. But I check everything as well as possible for correctness and if in doubt I refrain from providing information. My References page incompletely lists websites dealing with the music I am presenting, even though some of them are discontinued.
In addition to the song features, other chapters have hopefully added new facets over the years:
From the Vault, with which I offer my private compilations, started in 2017 when I had little time for new song features, but since this series seems to be enjoying some popularity, it will continue.
In 2020 I started Reutilisation, a series about recordings for which existing arrangements or backing tracks were reused. In most cases, the original recording featured a vocalist, while the second one featured an instrumentalist. A closer look reveals that in each case both recordings were released by the same label or one of its subsidiaries, which clearly indicates that they just wanted to cut production costs or to benefit from popular versions a second time. However, the results are usually very worth listening to. Besides, this is perfect collector’s trivia.
In 2021 I started Pseudonyms, a series about musicians who have used pseudonyms in addition to their real names. As this is a new series, there is only one article on Ed Lincoln so far, who certainly had the most of them by at least 18, but more will follow.
And who knows, maybe I’ll come up with something new. Brazilliance has become my baby (and while I am writing this, my cat Elza suddenly looks deep into my eyes, even though she seemed to be asleep) and it’s still fun. So, I definitely intend to continue Brazilliance … as well as my second website, which I started in 2019 with my maiden name KEUP – My Favourite Things. One could almost think that Brazilliance is not working me out enough.