“Pra quem quiser me visitar” (Guinga & Aldir Blanc, 1996 – tribute to Tom Jobim)
Fiz o meu rancho lá nas nuvens // I made my home up there in the clouds
Onde se pode conversar // Where we can talk freely
onde os anjinhos são cor de chope… // Where the little angels are the color of draft beer
Tomo cuidado só em debruçar // I’m just careful when I lean over
Vendo o mar, aí…// Looking at the sea,…
Toco piano e a virgem canta // I play piano and the virgin sings
Diz pro menino: tio tom // She says to the little boy: Uncle Tom
Senta à vontade, e a coxa santa // She sits casually, and that holy thigh
Me dá saudade de Leblon // Makes me miss Leblon
Sei das manhãs // I know about those mornings
Que só nascem de tarde // That only begin in the afternoon
Entre silêncios de alardes // Between silences of fanfare
Vi que o sol sente inveja das asas do urubu…// I saw that the sun envies the wings of the vulture
Aos meus amigos que ficaram // To my friends who stayed behind
Um portador há de levar //A carrier is sure to bring you
Um par de asas // A pair of wings
E um pára-quedas pra quem quiser me visitar // And a parachute for those who wish to visit me
“Rio Orleans” (Guinga & Aldir Blanc, 1991)
Tonto de gin // Drunk on gin
Vejo a Cinelândia piscar pra mim, sim // I see Cinelândia wink at me, yes
Bebo ao meu fim // I drink to my end
No Amarelinho outra dose de ódio // At Amarelinho, another shot of hatred
Eu sou assim // That’s who I am
Um mocinho triste, de um mau cinema // A sad boy from a bad theater
‘I need’ um sax // I need a sax
Que me conte um tema // That’ll spin a theme for me
‘I want you, I want you…’// “I want you, I want you”
Versos, maio // Verses, May
E essa dor não cede // And this pain that doesn’t give way
Eu vejo, no Rex // I see, at the Rex
O amor que se perde // Love that’s lost
Na beira-mar mais gins // On the seaside avenue, more gins
E o Rio é New Orleans // And Rio is New Orleans
A alma canta um blues // My soul sings a blues
”cause I love you’ // Cause I love you
”cause I love you’ // Cause I love you
Longe um radio // From afar, a radio
Vem no vento // Drifts in on the wind
Diz que ‘I remember you’ // It says I remember you
— Commentary —
“Eu fui e sou um fruto do rádio. Minha paixão é o radio. Meu professor de música que tem sido até hoje meu maior professor é o rádio.”
Today, June 10, is Guinga’s 65th birthday. Guinga is one of Brazil’s greatest composers and guitar players, and his two greatest musical partnerships have been with two of MPB’s most extraordinary lyricists of all time: Paulo César Pinheiro and Aldir Blanc. And just as Guinga says he uses tributes to his many musical idols as an excuse to write songs — like the tribute to Tom Jobim above, which he composed with Aldir Blanc shortly after Jobim’s death — I like to use composers’ birthdays as an excuse to write posts about them.
Born in the samba stronghold of Madureira, Rio de Janeiro, Guinga — born Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar — went directly to Jacarepagua, where he grew up. The neighborhood, he likes to mention, was home to “Pixinguinha, Jacob do Bandolim, and Candeia,” three of the greatest names in the history of Brazilian popular music.
Shortly after he was born, an aunt gave him the nickname Guinga. She died a few months later, and he says he says her role in his life was to give him his nickname, which apparently is a corruption of the word “gringo” because of his pale skin. His father was a sergeant in the air force and his mother was a “woman of the home, as they used to say.” Guinga spent his childhood listening to serestas and modas – genres closely related to choro – on the radio with his parents. He calls himself “a fruit of the radio … my music professor, to this day my greatest teacher, is the radio.”
Guinga learned guitar through observation. When he was a boy his parents separated and he went to live with a great aunt, whose son – ten years older than Guinga – played guitar late into the night, irritating Guinga, who wanted to sleep. He recounts that one day he picked up the guitar and right off the bat was able to play a bit of samba: “I snatched up the [guitar] that day and have never let go of it since.”
Guinga was never one for studying music or reading much of anything, saying he only read what he needed to to become a professional dentist. (Throughout his musical career he has continued to see dental patients twice a week.) He says he feels he gets the same pleasure and spiritual liberation from music that he thinks many people find through reading. He entered formal music studies briefly as a teenager, but they only lasted about two months; he didn’t have the discipline or motivation to learn to play other composers’ music, he claims. From that point on he focused on developing his compositions.
His first chance to compose came when he was 14. A local composer and dentist, Paulo Faia, wanted to get revenge on another neighborhood musician who had refused to write music for his lyrics. So Guinga composed the music for the song called “Pescador” (Fisherman), and found it surprisingly easy. Upon meeting Paulo César Pinheiro a few years later, around age 18, Guinga says he realized that what he wanted to do – and what he was best at – was compose music first and then have a lyricist write the words; he says working with a lyricist as brilliant as Paulo César Pinheiro, he grew “addicted” to this songwriting process.
Guinga quickly became friends with and played with some of the world’s best-known sambistas, like Cartola and Nelson Cavaquinho, having played guitar on Cartola’s first recording of “O mundo é um moinho.”
Guinga cites many musical idols, including Villa-Lobos (“The epitome of everything; a phenomenon, not a composer”); Tom Jobim (“the epitome of 20th century popular composition”); Ary Barroso (“Tom Jobim’s ‘musical father'”); Pixinguinha; Ernesto Nazareth; Jacob do Bandolim; Garoto; Moacyr Santos; Baden Powell, Chico Buarque, etc: “Brazilian music is full of geniuses.” And Duke Ellington is another favorite: Guinga jokes that Duke Ellington would have been the greatest popular composer of the 20th century if a boy named Tom Jobim hadn’t been born in Brazil.
He recalls his first recorded composition was “Conversa com o coração,” which he composed with Paulo César Pinheiro and which MPB-4 recorded and released in 1974. Clara Nunes, the tremendous portelense singer who was married to Paulo César Pinheiro, also recorded several of Guinga’s songs shortly after MPB-4, and he credits MPB-4 and Clara Nunes with having launched him as a professional composer.
Guinga released his first solo album only in 1991, after Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins opened Velas recording studio in part to give Guinga the chance to record his compositions. Singers Leila Pinheiro and Fatima Guedes have recorded several albums of Guinga’s compositions, including Leila’s Catavento e Girassol, which Guinga says he counts as his and Aldir Blanc’s, too.
Accustomed to the songwriting process that he began with Paulo César Pinheiro, Guinga has fewer instrumental compositions, and he says most of them were either “inspired by or written in tribute to” his musical idols; they include this homage to Duke Ellington:
Here is Guinga at Berklee School of Music a couple years ago playing “Catavento e Girassol”