Long before Guinga made his first album as a leader, many of Brazil’s most influential and beloved artists had recorded his music.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, samba stars and jazz improvisers, pop icons and choral masters found his exquisitely crafted melodies irresistible, leading to classic recordings by artists such as Elis Regina, Clara Nunes, Elsa Soares, Chico Buarque and Miúcha. Even the great French composer Michel Legrand got in on the act, recording Guinga’s “Passos e Assovio.”
But when the guitarist and vocalist finally began recording his own albums—singer and producer Marcos Valle launched Velas Records with Guinga’s 1991 debut album Simples e Absurdo, the first of his six recordings for the label—Guinga was not interested in reclaiming his. tunes from the artists who introduced them.
“I had an incredible repertoire when I started recording as a solo artist,” he said, speaking in Portuguese. “But I made a promise to myself that I would only record new stuff. I like to compose. I’m obsessed with composition, composition, composition.”
Back in California this week to attend Brazil Camp in Cazadero, where he mentored some of the Bay Area’s most interesting composers engaged with Brazilian music, Guinga is playing a series of concerts across the region that showcase the diversity of his work. He kicks off his Bay Area run Saturday at Sound Room in Oakland, where he’ll be joined by Rio de Janeiro singer/songwriter Anna Paes as special guest.
On September 4th he is a featured artist at BrasArte’s free Brazilian Day and Lavagem festival in Berkeley. This year’s outdoor procession and concert is dedicated to the longtime champion of Bay Area Brazilian culture, dancer, choreographer and founder of Casa de Cultura Conceição Damasceno, who died in April after a long illness.
Guinga also performs concerts in Kuumbwa on September 7 and at San Jose’s Hammer Theater on September 8 with reed expert Nailor “Proveta” Azevedo, a founding member of São Paulo’s famous Banda Mantiqueira, as special guests with vocalist , the Santa Cruz composer, pianist and percussionist. Klaudia Villela.
Villela first discovered Guinga’s music in the mid-1990s on a visit to Rio, where he was born and raised. Sifting through bins in a small Copacabana record store, she came across one of his early Velas albums, and while she didn’t know his name, “I knew a whole bunch of people who played on it,” she recalls. “I fell in love with his music, which is so sophisticated and beautiful. I learned how to contact him and went to his house.”
Their friendship has evolved beyond music. Instead of depending on composition for a living, Guinga studied dentistry and opened a practice with his wife, who is also a dentist. For many years he took care of Villela’s teeth whenever she was in Brazil (and her two daughters too). She connected him with her cousin, the renowned guitarist Jean Charnaux, and they have become inseparable musical companions, playing and writing songs together.
It’s no surprise that Villela and Guinga bonded, as they both fell deeply in love with jazz. “I spent my teenage years listening to jazz three or four hours a day,” he said. “It was a self-imposed discipline after I discovered it and at the age of 11 I started consciously thinking about being a musician, and it was this jazz that really attracted me.
For the Kuumbwa and Hammer concerts, the three musicians will perform in various configurations, including solos, duos and the full trio. “We will try to continue with all these songs,” said Villela. “Guinga really likes a song that Ricardo Peixoto and I wrote, so we will play it together. I’ve never actually worked with Proveta, but I really admire her. His playing is just beautiful and elegant, not flashy or exaggerated at all.”
Born Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Guinga has always been known by a single nickname, like many Brazilian musicians and footballers. A precocious talent, he first became known at the age of 17 with his entry in the Second International Song Festival on TV Globo in 1967.
Raised in a working-class family in the countryside, he acquired a wide range of Brazilian idioms such as samba, coco, baião, modinha, choro and frevo, styles that later appeared in his compositions. Although he immersed himself in jazz and classical music, “I realized later how deeply Brazilian music was planted in my subconscious,” he said. “It was the music that was played at home, where everyone played and everyone sang.”
Contact Andrew Gilbert at [email protected].
With Anna Paes: 8pm August 27 at The Sound Room, 3022 Broadway, Oakland; $22.50-$27.50; www.soundroom.org
At the Bathing Festival: Presented by BrasArte, the event runs from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. September 4; 1901 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley; $35 all-day pass; www.brasarte.com.
With Claudia Villela and Nailor “Proveta” Azevedo: 19:00 September. 7 at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; $21-$42; www.jazz.org; 20:00 September. 8 at the Hammer Theater Center, 101 St. Anthony Walk, St. Joseph; $15-$45; hammertheatre.com.