My friendship with Moraes Moreira was brief – only four years, yet profound and deeply soul connected.
Moraes entered into my life only a few months after my father had died from being hit by a car. It had been a long winter with the sounds of Christmas music providing the soundtrack for this great tragedy, and then Spring arrived. I found myself in Rio De Janeiro, in the company of new friends who took me in as family – Moraes and Novos Baianos.
Novos Baianos is one of my favorite Brazilian groups and one of the most important bands in Brazil’s rich musical history.
Moraes was a founding member, songwriter, key personality, and incredible guitarist, personally mentored by one of my all-time heroes, João Gilberto.
There are so many factors about Moraes and his great influence on musical culture in Brazil, especially from the aspect of his involvement in Bahia’s Carnaval history.
And, although we shared many moments together at shows, cafes, and random encounters on the streets of Rio, there were still so many more conversations that we would never have. There were songs we had planned to work on together that never got birthed.
There was music yet to be played and guitars left unpicked.
Sadly, Moraes left the planet on April 13, 2020, from a heart attack.
He was a very social creature and had a strong presence in his neighborhood in Gavea, seen daily walking his dog, taking coffee at the local bakery, chatting with friends. Everyone loved Moraes and they say that being locked down in his home for a month due to Covid was what really did it. It was more so a broken heart than a heart attack. This was my first “Covid loss” and it seemed to happen out of the blue, taking me by complete surprise.
I’ve always felt that my involvement with Novos Baianos was predestined, that we were meant to cross paths at that specific moment in my life.
My life was forever changed by them and it became apparent to me that the role I was to play was in telling their story to an English-speaking audience.
Nothing had ever been written about them in English and it was now time.
I set out to write an article for Wax Poetics Magazine (March 2020) in which I interviewed several of the band members, including Tom Zé who was highly influential in the formation of the group.
This led me to my recent collaboration with Tom Zé and a series of blog posts telling my own story of how I became involved with Rio De Janeiro’s music community.
The following interview was conducted in a little bakery in Baixo Gavea, where Moraes loved hanging out.
Dadi Carvalho, bassist of Novos Baianos was also there with a few answers and great anecdotes about the story of Novos Baianos.
Only a few quotes from this were used in the Wax Poetics article and here it is in its unedited version from 2016.
Moraes Moreira Interview
JA: What kinds of music were you listening to in the 60s pre-NB?
MM: I listened to lots of Rock, Dorival Caymmi, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and later The Who, Pink Floyd. Also a lot of traditional/regional music from the Northeast of Brazil where I came from, which used accordion, especially Luiz Gonzaga. The very first NB album (Ferra Na Boneca) was a total Rock album.
JA: What about (guitarist) Roberto Mendez? You both play with a very similar right hand technique.
MM: We were from two different regions of the Northeast, and it is a total coincidence.
JA: Where did you learn this?
MM: Tom Zé. He was my first formal guitar teacher. He also taught me theory, but the right-hand technique is something that I developed myself.
JA: Does Tom Zé compose his own arrangements?
MM: Yes. I just read a Tom Zé interview in the Globo Newspaper, discussing his new album, which is all erotic songs. He is 80 years old now, and appears in the photo nude, with the guitar covering part of his body. He is always surprising. And crazy.
JA: How did you come into association with Tom Zé, and what year? What is your story?
MM: In Bahia, there is a school that is part of the university. It is very conceptual.
JA: Luis Galvão said that you studied percussion in the school.
MM: Actually, I was originally going to study medicine, but while I was waiting for the medicine course to begin I started getting into music and that is when I met Tom Zé. I already had music on my mind.
JA: And you became a different kind of doctor.
MM: Yes (laughs). Tom Ze appreciated my musicality and thought I had talent, so he decided to teach me to play the guitar. It was at this time that Tom Ze also met Galvão and decided that the two of us should create music together.
(Galvao was a poet and also an agricultural engineer who had designed a garden for Tom Ze.) Galvao wanted to make music with Tom Zé but Zé told him, “You’re not going to make music with me. You’re going to make music with Moraes.”
JA: So Tom Zé sent Galvão to the boarding house where you and your brother were living, and he moved in.
MM: Yes. He moved into the pensao (boarding house), and we wrote music non-stop. By the end of the first month, we had completed a dozen songs together. Afterward is when Paulinho De Boca Cantor came into the picture.
JA: Were the three of you performing music together before Baby and Pepeu joined the band? At parties, clubs, etc.?
MM: At first it was just Galvão and me, playing in the house, but soon, people in our social circle in Bahia began coming around to check us out. Baby was from Noteroi She had run away to Bahia when she was 16 years old and stayed with us. We participated together in a show that was a farewell concert for Caetano (Veloso) and Gilberto Gil before they left for London to live in Exile. Desembarque Dos Bichos was the name of the show at Teatro Velho.
JA: Os Leifs were also part of the show ?
MM: Os Leifs was Pepeu’s group, featuring his brothers Jorginho, Carlinhos, and their friend Lico. They played music of The Beatles and other bands, putting their own Portuguese lyrics to the melodies mixed with portions of the original English lyrics (sings “Hey Joe”, then Portuguese… laughter)
JA: What role did Caetano Veloso have in the formation of NB? He helped you guys, no?
MM: We already knew Caetano and Gil from their fame as young composers when they recorded their first albums pre Tropicalia. We were already fond of their work, but when they started the Tropicalia movement it was what inspired them to also become artists.
JA: How would you say that Tropicalia differs from NB, because some of it is very similar, especially the first album.
MM: At first, it Was very similar, but it was the influence of João Gilberto that really brought us into our own thing and set us apart.
JA: Which brings me to the question, when João Gilberto introduced the song Brasil Pandeiro to the band, how did he present it? Did he have a record of it?
MM: No. He played and sang it for us in our home. João Gilberto had a dream of being part of communal living with music, and when he found out that Novos Baianos were all living together and making music he sort of lived out his dreams through them. He would come to our house and hang out with us, playing music all night.
JA: Is it true that he also came to you guys to buy weed?
MM: Yes. He knew that there was smoking going on in our place and wanted to also partake.
JA: And João Gilberto was a singer for a short time in Anjos Do Inferno, the group that had originally recorded Brasil Pandeiro. Assis Valente (author) had originally presented the song to Carmen Miranda but she didn’t want to do it.
MM: João’s background had been in vocal harmony groups like Garotos Da Lua, Anjos Do Inferno, etc. He loved vocal groups like Os Cariocas and would assign different vocal parts to the members of Novos Baianos.
Do you know the song De Um Rolé? When João first came to meet us, the first song we played for him was De Um Rolé – Rock N Roll, Blues…
João said that it was all right but “you guys need to look into yourselves”, meaning that we should look into our Brazilian heritage. He wanted us to be more Brazilian so he showed us Brasil Pandeiro, Aquarela Do Brasil, the music of Ary Baroso, and other classic Brazilian singers. At that time, Novos Baianos were more focused on international music and Rock, so we began to change our sound, mixing Brazilian traditional music styles with Rock instruments.
JA: Did Leo Avilar of Anjos ever hear the NB version of Brasil Pandeiro and what did he think of it?
MM: When we released Brasil Pandeiro, people just assumed that we had written it because we really personalized it in our arrangement and expression. That is when we had to come forth and let people know that song was actually written by Assis Valente.
JA: Did you know Dorival Caymmi? What did he think of Novos Baianos’ version of Samba Da Minha Terra?
MM: He liked our recording of his song, especially the way we put the Be Bop scat singing into it.
JA: What did Caymmi think of Pepeu’s guitar part?
MM: (smiles) He liked it. I think his son Dori wasn’t that into it because he likes more traditional styles, but the other son Danilo (or Daniel?) really dug it.
JA: Do you have a favorite record that you loved as a kid and still listen to, that never gets old to you?
MM: (thinks for a while) Everything/Anything by Luiz Gonzaga. He was a huge influence on me.
JA: (joking) Then why didn’t you play the accordion?
MM: I did. It was my first instrument.
JA: It was mine too. I was 4 years old when I played the accordion. I switched to guitar when I was eight.
MM: When I was young, I learned the guitar part to Richie Valens’ La Bamba and I thought I was the best guitarist. I was the big shot of the whole Certao (laughing)
Years later, João Gilberto would visit our house, he would play the guitar for us, using his own special chord voicings that we’d never seen before. Pepeu and I would watch him intently, studying what he was doing, and as soon as João would leave we would ask each other, “How many did you get?” Pepeu: “I got six.” Moraes: “I got five.” And then we would play them and compare notes. That is how we learned the vocabulary of Bossa Nova.
JA: What about the story of Pepeu taking the television apart and using some of the parts to make a distortion pedal?
MM: There was a guy living with us on the sitio (ranch) named Salmão who was like “the MacGuyver of electronics”. He removed the tubes from the TV and made the distortion pedal. It was Pepeu’s idea, but it was Salmao who built it.
JA: Yes, because I had heard the story that Baby had bought the TV to watch the World Cup, and one day she came home and it was broken and she couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working.
JA to Dadi Carvalho: Who played the bass in the band before you joined? Who played bass on Ferra Na Boneca?
MM: Pepeu played bass on two of the songs. The other bassist was a studio musician but I don’t remember his name.
JA: Who was the organist?
MM: Chiquim Do Moraes who was also the maestro. There was also one other maestro. At that point (1969) we didn’t yet have an entire band, only the singers, so I went to the arranger/maestro of the studio, who based all the (orchestral) arrangements on my guitar concepts.
JA: Where was the album recorded?
MM: Studio Caseta in São Paulo
JA: And what about Tangolete? This song is genius. You wrote it?
MM: Galvao and I wrote all the songs on the album.
JA: Was it the same arranger?
MM: It was an Argentinian arranger.
JA: I feel like Acabou Chorare is the classic NB album that everybody recognizes, but Ferra Na Boneca is an entirely separate genius piece of work. Where are all the written orchestra parts now? Does someone have them?
MM: I don’t know. It was my first time in a recording studio. I had never seen a studio before in my life. There were no headphones (in that era).
JA: Because you need to make a big show of this material in Japan.
JA: How long did it take to make the album?
MM: Not even a month. João Araujo (father of Cazuza) was the producer and kept everyone on task.
JA: You guys turned the chicken coop on your ranch into a recording studio. True?
MM: Yes, Acabou Chorare was recorded on a Teac 4 track. We would record the band and bounce the mix down in order to have an open track for vocals. There are NB tapes pre Acabou Chorare that have ever been released.
JA: Why don’t you guys release this stuff?
MM: It’s raw material. We just got the tapes back. First, we’re going to listen to everything and see what is usable.
JA: Did you have acoustic treatment in the chicken coop?
MM: We cleaned out the chicken coop and put some amplifiers against the walls. There was no proper acoustic treatment, only the natural ambiance/reverb of the room.
JA: Did Novos Baianos ever play in the US?
JA: What about drugs? Whenever I read articles about Novos Baianos or Galvão’s book, there is always mention of drug use, primarily weed and acid. What do you have to say about this? Are you comfortable talking about it?
MM: I am fine with it but I don’t mention it much during interviews because Baby doesn’t condone it anymore. I used acid nonstop.
JA: Would the acid lead you to musical ideas?
JA: Any specific songs?
MM: All of them (laughs) Most all were created under the influence.
NB would have never been the same without the acid. Someone had told the police about an American here in Brazil who had 200 hits of acid, so the guy gave them all to Marilia (ex-wife), so we had a good supply. We would play shows while tripping.
We never used cocaine; only LSD and smoke.
JA: It’s a good combination.
MM: It wasn’t like today, where people take acid to go to parties and raves. It was used as a spiritual guide.
Dadi Carvalho: I remember Moraes, one day at the sitio, tripping, and playing a riff on his guitar, searching for the new song.
MM: Galvão’s lyrics never followed a set meter like 4/4 (for example). There were occasional areas in his poetry that would have a few extra beats or something rhythmically unorthodox (in respect to clave) that I would have to navigate around and find an organic musical bedding for.
JA: Pepeu talks about a “magical tree” on the sitio.
MM: All the trees were magical. (everyone laughs)
We would read the bible and it was apocalyptic. We saw a big black cloud and believed that Christ would descend from it.
JA: And speaking of the Bible, Galvão was very into Indian philosophy, Zen, alchemy, etc.
MM: Yogananda. Self-realization. I was at the Self Realization Center in Santa Monica. I was in LA and all I wanted to do was to visit the SRC. It was João Gilberto who gave me the book of Yogananda. This was the book that really guided the spirituality of Novos Baianos. We were influenced by all the major Indian gurus. Baby was very spiritual and (for example) if the car broke down or ran out of gas, she would take a piece of spiritual fabric, place it on the car, and believe that our spiritual energy would fix the car.
JA: Would you say that Novos Baianos then became a big influence on the youth movement?
MM: Yes, and it is interesting that we had an influence on the youth of the ’70s and now we are becoming influential on the youth of today.
JA: How did Dadi join the group?
Dadi Carvalho: Novos Baiaonos arrived in Rio from SP to play a show with only Moraes, Paulinho, Galvão, Baby, and Pepeu, but they needed a bass player. Marilia knew me and she knew that I played bass. I was at Arpoador with my friend, hanging out, playing guitars together on the beach. Marilia and Baby happened to come up to us and she told Baby that I play bass. They took me to the apartment where I met Moraes, Pepeu, and the others. At the time I didn’t understand their Bahian slang and accents.
MM: Dadi easily absorbed and adapted to all our craziness. Before Dadi, Pepeu had tried other bassists, none of whom were adept enough to handle Pepeu’s intricate bass parts (Pepeu is the band’s arranger.), but Dadi had no problem, and the rest is history.
JA: When did Didi (Gomes) join the band as a bassist?
MM: Some years later (5 years, 1975)
Dadi: After I left the band.
JA: But why did you leave the band?
Dadi: Because Moraes had recently left the band (1974) and the harmony/vibe of the group wasn’t the same. Galvão was really great as our mentor but he could also be a taskmaster. It wasn’t as fun anymore.
MM: We two were the rebels. And when I left, my wife and I had started having kids, and the living situation on the sitio was really bad. We didn’t have money; there were always people coming and going, and sometimes we didn’t even have milk for the children. And among all of us, there was no one with the talent to organize the living logistics.
JA: What about Paulinho’s wife, Marilia?
MM: She did her best. She tried. And whenever a new band manager would come into the picture, he would try to organize everything but would end up falling into the craziness of everything and forget about his job as a manager.
JA: It was a very turbulent time because of the dictatorship. What was it like for you guys to be doing what you did? Because Gil and Caetano were exiled. What were you doing?
MM: It was very dangerous. There was a lot of repression coming from the authorities who suspected people of being communists, but they looked at NB and thought that “these people are way too crazy to be communists”. It was commonplace to be stopped and frisked by the police on the streets because we had long hair. We finally left the city to live together on the sitio, where we could be left alone.
JA: Do you think that the exile of Gil and Caetano signified the end of Tropicalia?
MM: Yes, in a way it was the end of Tropicalia. I heard an interview of Caetano and he was asked when Tropicalia ended, he said that it ended when the police came and arrested him and Gil.
JA: What about the story when the police came to NB show and questioned everyone while you guys were tripping on acid?
Dadi: There was a guy who got busted for weed somewhere outside of Rio, and he lied to the police, telling them that he had bought it from us, so they came to our concert to get to the bottom of things. Every time one of us would exit backstage, we would be questioned by the cops, but the concert was so beautiful that they didn’t want to stop the show. Paulinho spoke with a stutter and I was watching him (in horror) speak with the police while tripping, stammering, and doing his best to convince them to allow us to come into the station the next day to answer some questions. And somehow it worked and they let us finish the show! (laughs)
MM: The police were fans of NB. Sometimes they would show up at the sitio and their car would be parked at the entrance. We would be freaking out, thinking that we were going to get busted or something, when all the cops really wanted was to hang out and talk to us (laughs) It was really magical.
JA: Do you ever miss life on the sitio?
MM: Yes. When I started my solo career I was kind of missing it. I went to take a look at the sitio, and the person who owned it at the time was selling it. So I bought it, restored it, and lived there for five years. Nowadays it’s used as a place that is rented out for parties.
JA: Do you think that someday NB might do a special commemorative show there?
MM: Yes, I have already thought about this.
JA: Vamos Agora! (Let’s go now!)
MM: Years after the sitio had closed, people would still look upon it as a special place, making pilgrimages there just to park and smoke, like their little temple. Now it’s lost some of its mystic charm.
JA: Let’s talk about the documentary. A German company came in 1975 to make a documentary about you guys for TV, right?
MM: It was a German TV company who hired someone to make a documentary about anything they wished, here in Brazil. Solano Ribeiro chose NB and recorded the audio portion on a Nagra tape deck (the highest quality/industry-standard portable reel to reel tape deck at the time). They only used one boom ambient boom mic and one handheld mic for the vocals, yet miraculously you can hear everything, even the acoustic guitar!
It was magic. We would do shows in the seventies with no stage monitors, no pickups on the acoustic guitars etc, yet you would be able to hear everything! There were no electronic guitar tuners then but everything would be in tune.
JA: (joking) Maybe it was the acid that made you think it was in tune.
MM: (slaps his knee, rubs his hands together, nodding, smiling)
We took acid because we were composers and we used it for sensorial support and I think that if the Beatles hadn’t used acid that they wouldn’t have made Yellow Submarine, Sgt. Peppers, etc. In that era, it was all about expanding your head. It was a time when we learned a great number of things in a very short amount of time. What would’ve taken 20 years to learn, we learned in 5.
JA: Was the documentary aired on Brazilian TV at the time?
MM: It went directly to Germany but it was also aired in some regions of Brazil. It wasn’t until years later that it gained wider recognition because of the internet.
JA: Because Seu Jorge showed me the documentary 4 years ago, and I said, “Who are these people? I need to find these people. These are my people. And then 4 years later I am on a plane flying with these same people from Rio to Bahia for their reunion.”
MM: (heartfelt laughter, shakes my hand)
JA: It’s very special for me. Is there anything else that you would like to say?
MM: The intensity of NB and the story we have together comes from living together and our love of music.
JA: And all of their children are amazing people as well and all very talented musicians and artists.
MM: Yes – All of the NB children are very talented musicians and creative people.
JA: Did your kids ever rebel against you when they were teenagers?
MM: No because they were free to do whatever. We were all friends. My son Davi went on the road with me.
JA: What’s it like for you to be playing again now with all of the other Novos Baianos?
MM: It’s fantastic. With every show we play, it gets even better, getting closer and closer to the NB vibe. Now it’s beginning to groove.
JA: Do you think you guys will do more shows?
MM: There has to be because there is a lot of demand for it. What really makes me tick is making new music.