In 1992, a friend, Alan, played me two songs on the new Sergio Mendes album, Brasileiro, (Elektra) by a new songwriter, Guinga. They were really stunning. Emotionally, I was reminded of Satie's sadness and deep sympathy. In these two songs was a dazzling melodic skill and a harmonic unpredictability that suddenly lifted this unknown Brazilian musician with a one-word name onto center stage with the world's best songwriters. I played these two songs (Esconjuros and Chorado) for everyone I could, but then a friend of mine, Melanie, was going to Brazil and I asked her to look out for anything by Guinga. To my delight, and to the envy of Alan, she brought back a whole Guinga CD, Simples e Absurdo, 1991, on Ivan Lins's label, Velas. All songs were written by Guinga, with lyrics by veteran lyricist Aldir Blanc; Guinga played guitar, tracing intricate interweaving melodic patterns, and some very gifted people (Ivan Lins, Leila Pinheiro, Chico Buarque) sang the songs. To my astonishment, the inspired quality of the two Sergio Mendes songs was extended album length. It was as if Guinga had discovered a new musical language.
I later found out in an Ivan Lins interview that Ivan, a brilliant songwriter and performer in his own right, created the Velas label purely to allow Guinga to make a record. Guinga had been turned down by all the record labels, so Ivan generously created Velas and gave him a record deal. For months Simples e Absurdo was the only album on the label.
For a the details of Guinga's CDs, I recommend Daniella Thompson's discography, linked below. I was especially impressed by the many songs Guinga wrote before I came to know about him, through Sergio Mendes? Brasileiro in 1992.
His first songs were recorded in 1974, and he wrote many songs with first lyricist, Paulo Cesar Pinheiro. Since about 1992, he has worked mostly with the lyricist Aldir Blanc.
If you haven't yet discovered Guinga, Brasileiro is probably still the place to start, for North Americans. If you like those two songs, you will want to track down the solo albums, which I've found are now available in the music stores that have respectable Brazilian music sections. Of course, with the internet these days, you can get them all by mail without too much trouble.
In Chris McGowan's liner notes to Brasileiro, we read: "While in Brazil working on [Brasileiro], Sergio met a songwriter named Guinga . . . 'Guinga is the composer who impressed me the most when I was there,' recalls Sergio. 'He's like Villa-Lobos meets Cole Porter. He made me cry. He's very shy, plays acoustic guitar, and writes beautiful melodies.' One of his two songs featured on [Brasileiro] is the captivating, hypnotic 'Esconjuros', which mixes the baia and maracatu styles, with Steve Tavaglione's oboe and flute adding a classical mood at times. . . .The next to last piece is the exquisite 'Chorado', featuring the wordless vocals of Claudio Nucci, and the synth cello and oboe of Sergio. 'Guinga strikes again!' says Sergio about the tune's composer. 'It's a beautiful song and Claudio sings like an archangel on it.'" We all owe Sergio Mendes a debt of gratitude for recognizing Guinga's greatness and introducing him to us in North America.
Guinga's solo albums:
Simples e Absurdo (1991) is still one of my all-time favorite albums, one of my select desert island discs. It's one of those rare albums where everything comes together, songwriting, arrangement, performance, and where nearly every song is a revelation (there's one that doesn't measure up to the others, to my ears; I'll let you guess which one that is. But many albums that I consider classic get by with maybe three or four really great songs; this has ten.). As the highest exemplar of Guinga's art, Simples e Absurdo always makes me meditate on what creates genius in music. The melodies and harmonies are so unexpected; you think you know where he's going, and he goes a different direction. This is such a wonderful contrast to the masses of songs on mainstream media that have forgettable, throwaway melodies and predictable harmonies. Technically, the unexpected would be easy for a trained musician to accomplish. But to use unexpected melody and harmony to express the mysterious depths of real emotion: that is the gift. As with music of such disparate composers as Brahms, McCartney and Satie, there is an enigmatic, paradoxical sadness in Guinga's music that also is joyful in a way.
The rest of Guinga's albums each have four or five classic songs, along with many that are merely superb.
Delirio Carioca (1993). This introduced me to Guinga's voice, as he sang on nine songs. This has two songs by Guinga's first lyricist, Paulo Cesar Pinheiro
Cheio de Dedos (1996) has 13 instrumentals. It also has two vocals, one by Chico Buarque, the other by Ed Motta.
Suite Leopoldina (1999) has five vocals, nine instrumentals. It looks back nostalgically at the Leopoldina neighborhood in the suburbs of Rio.
Cine Baronesa (2001) also looks back to places from Guinga's youth.
Noturno Copacabana (2003) has 14 cuts, mostly songs, with a few instrumentals.
Graffiando Vento (2004), released only in Italy, is a purely instrumental collaboration between Guinga on guitar and Gabriele Mirabassi on clarinet, doing all Guinga songs.
In addition, Catavento e Girassol (1996) by Leila Pinheiro, is virtually a Guinga album. All of the songs were composed by Guinga, and Guinga plays guitar. It is a lovely, lovely CD.
True Guinga devotees will also want to obtain A Musica de Guinga, a music book published by Gryphus in 2003 with great photos, a good biographical introduction, and guitar transcriptions.
What a joy it was to see him, and to be part of an enthusiastic audience. Back in 1992, when I, Tammy and Alan first heard those two Guinga masterpieces on Sergio Mendes' album Brasileiro, it seemed like we were part of a secret club: the only people in America who knew that Guinga was one of the handful of truly great songwriters on the planet. When I got the first Guinga album, I could not find it in any music store up here; I asked a friend who was going to Brazil to look for it. It is so satisfying now to be sharing Guinga with thousands of other people here in the States.
Guinga's performance at the Hoover was, for me, electrifying. His guitar playing was, naturally, exquisite. Though his English is basic, he gamely tried to communicate with us, explain the titles of his songs, and his humor and warmth translated across language barriers. Afterwards, when I asked Guinga if he would be willing to sign some CDs, including my treasured Simples and Absurdo CD, he was extremely gracious, and signed three CDs. "I would be honored," he said.
Guinga, a songwriter and guitarist, was born on June 10, 1950, in Madureira, a Rio suburb. His real name is Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar, but an aunt gave him the nickname Gringo/Guinga, because of his light complexion. He writes only music, not lyrics.
His first recorded songs, "Conversa com o coracao" and "Maldicao de Ravel," were included on MPB-4's 1974 album, Palhacos e Reis.
Guinga worked for years as a dentist, but I believe he is a full-time musician now.
Guinga is married and has two daughters. He neither drinks nor smokes.
I would like to thank Rogerio Ferraz from Brazil for sharing some of the above information with me. I also consulted Sergio Cabral's introduction to A Musica de Guinga.
Journalist Daniella Thompson has three addresses you should look at.
First, her Guinga Discography totally supersedes my previous one, including a great section on Guinga songs recorded by other people: "Guinga Discography"
Second, she wrote an important article on Guinga,
Third, check out her wonderful site on Brazilian music, "Brazilian music"
AllBrazilianmusic.com has a good site on Guinga, with two interviews attached:
Go to "Velas Home Page"
A Brazilian Music Magazine with Guinga-related info
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