NARA LEAO / Nara Leao Mixtape
Nara Leao’s story is an old story, oft repeated: the backbone attracts much less attention than does the breast, yet what keeps us upright? If you like bossa nova, you would do well to listen to Nara Leao, who was sometimes known as the muse of bossa nova.
A middle-class Brazilian woman born 1942, she was not only a musician but also a professional journalist and sometimes an actor. In the early years of bossa nova, the spaciousness of her apartment is where many informal sessions were held: musical ideas floated and exchanged, new work shared in its nascent forms and old work reworked into a newly emergent form that would shortly become internationally popular. She and her guitar were there, she first voiced some of the most iconic songs of that era. But when she began to record, she cast a wide net, drawing in overlooked older work, especially songs by the black and poor of Brazil. You can hear in her early recordings a stronger emphasis on rhythm than the light bossa nova beats. Yes, her’s was a “blacker” music, and also a more political music. Which is not to say that she did not do the popular work—in 1963 she toured internationally with Sergio Mendes.
But the difference is she was also socially conscious. During the mid-sixties she spoke out and sung out against the military coup that had overtaken formerly democratic Brazil. In both recordings and stage shows she made her opinions known. Nara even spoke out against the “alienating” effects and affects of bossa nova. When the “new beat” became internationally popular it was effectively bleached so that it’s black roots were invisible to general audiences who had no knowledge of the original beats, the roots of the music.
Nara eventually moved to France and did not return until the early seventies. After her repatriation and taking a few years off for college study and to devote to family time, she released award winning music that was widely celebrated throughout Brazil. Her life took a sad turn in 1979 when it was discovered that she had cancer (a brain tumor). Rather than retiring, she redoubled her efforts and recorded eleven albums in the decade before she died in 1989.
Her third to last album, Garota de Ipanema (1986), is among my favorite bossa nova albums. Here in a spare, acoustic setting she revisits the classics of bossa nova, demonstrating that her beef with bossa nova was more about the ideology and life choices of the bossa nova artists and devotees during the period of the military regime than it was about the music itself. One result of the alienation was that the international bossa nova gaze was effectively segregated from the samba people, often called the people of the hills, referring to the impoverished favelas, aka ghettos, that exist in the hills surround the famed city of Rio de Janeiro. Although Nara’s voice is thicker than Astrud Gilberto’s, the 1986 recording still projects a relaxed feel but it is less the supper club/lounge act and more like an informal gathering of friends with whom Leao agrees to share her take on fabled songs from an earlier era two decades gone. No doubt this recording precipitated an onrush of memories that must have been truly poignant as by this time Nara Leao knew she was nearing death.
Revisiting the songs of one’s youth, songs you were among the first to sing, songs that would go on not only to define an era but also songs that would become internationally popular—what a beautiful way to conclude one’s life.
—Kalamu ya SalaamNara Leao Mixtape Playlist
Os Meus Amigos Sao Um Barato
01 Meu Ego (with Erasmo Carlos)
02 Amazonas (with João Donato)
03 Sabe voce
5 Na Bossa
06 Opiniao Birimbau (Ritmo De Capoeira)07 Deixa 08 Na Roda da Capoeira
09 Mal Me Quer
Meu Samba Encabulado 10 Meu Cantar
11 Como Sera O Ano 2000
16 Aguas De Marco17 Manha De Carnaval
18 Chega De Saudade
19 Agua De Beber
20 O Que Sera
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