If you’ve read my previous blog posts about my journey into Brazilian music and Finding Seu Jorge, you’ll logically see how it eventually led me to Tom Zé and his music.
Tom Zé holds a special place in many people’s lives including mine in that he has consistently shown us the freedom of originality and unique artistic expression.
My personal friendship with the band Novos Baianos was a turning point for me in many ways. Their influence on Brazilian music is profound, much like João Gilberto who was one of their mentors early on.
Connecting the dots, it comes as no surprise that Tom Zé, João Gilberto, and Novos Baianos founding member Luiz Galvão had all been friends early on when they lived in Juazeiro, Bahia.
As I had mentioned in my last post “João Gilberto, Novos Baianos, & Me”, my experiences with NB led me to write an article about them for Wax Poetics Magazine, telling their story for the first time in English to a North American audience.
In the course of creating that article, I was able to interview band members Luiz Galvão, Moraes Moreira, Paulinho Boca De Cantor, and Dadi Carvalho, plus Tom Zé, who graciously filled in some of the blanks for me in the role he played in the formation of the group.
If you’ve never heard the music of Tom Zé or Novos Baianos, you’re in for a special treat. It’s been an extraordinary experience for me to be in the company of such profound people and I now give you a deeper dive into that back story.
Tom Zé (photo: unknown)
The group was initiated by Luiz Galvão early in 1967, who found Moraes Moreira through the recommendation of Tom Zê. Zé had a strong instinct that the pairing of poet/lyricist Galvão with singer/songwriter Moreira would be a great success on par with Tom Jobim/Vinicius De Moraes.
As it turned out, he was spot on.
Galvão had studied engineering, graduated in accounting and typing, and worked in a marble mine that his father owned in Juazeiro. He met Tom Zé in his native land, Irará, where Zé was working as an engineer and through their common passion for music, forged a friendship that has lasted a lifetime. Upon first glimpse of his early lyrics, Tom clearly saw Galvão’s raw talent and really felt that this fledgling poet could have a bright future as a songwriter.
L-R Moraes Moreira, Luiz Galvão, Paulinho Boca De Cantor, 1969
Moraes first encountered Tom Zé while waiting for his course in medicine to begin at the University of Bahia, but was instead bitten by the music bug.
At the time, Tom had studied composition, orchestration, counterpoint, musical analysis, and cello at the Music Seminary of the University and was giving private guitar and theory lessons. His fees were very expensive and it was clear by Moraes’ poor rural clothing that he didn’t have much money, yet he was insistent upon studying with Tom, stating that he too was a composer.
After hearing half a dozen original songs, Zé saw that there was the beginning of an artist inside Moraes, and decided to teach him for free.
He taught one lesson a month, with very dense subjects and when Moraes returned for the next lesson, he had everything transposed and repackaged, with several examples of composition, using the new resources.
“After two months I finished what I could teach and he already played much better than me. which made me very happy.”
~ Tom Zé
Galvão immediately moved into the same boarding house where Moraes and his brother were living and by the end of two weeks, the pair had finished nearly a dozen songs. Soon after, they recruited singer Paulinho Boca De Cantor as another main vocalist and front-line personality. Paulinho had previously been singing international repertoire with The Avanco Orchestra, taking his stylistic influences from Nat King Cole, Sinatra, João Gilberto, Roberto & Erasmo Carlos, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix et al.
During this same time period there was a local psych-rock band called Os Leifs (The Leaves) that featured brothers Carlinhos, Jorginho and Pepeu Gomes.
Pepeu was an outstanding young guitarist who idolized Jimi Hendrix and brought forth a noticeable star quality to the band. So noticeable that Gilberto Gil saw Os Leifs performing on TV, called the station to find out who this young talent was, and went straight to his home to offer him a job.
In 1969, just before Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil left for England, there was a farewell concert in Bahia, featuring several groups ~ among them Galvao/Moraes/Paulinho and Os Leifs. That night, two worlds collided and it made sense that the initial crew bring Pepeu Gomes and his brother (drummer Jorginho) into the fold. A third, and very important key participant that evening was a ball of fire who sang with the ferocity of Janis Joplin and Elza Soares.
“Baby was introduced to us through our common friend Ediane Ferro, but we soon learned that she was a minor, that she had run away from home, and that her mother was looking for her. She had come from Niterói-Rio de Janeiro. Her name was Bernadete Dinorah, but a character called Baby Consuelo in the ‘Caveira My Friend’ movie (from which we were making the soundtrack) inspired her stage name. Soon she conquered us, started hanging out, and then met Pepeu.”
~ Paulinho Boca De Cantor
(with Baby Consuelo aka Baby Do Brasil at Blue Note NYC)
There was undeniable chemistry culminating that would eventually lead to new sounds in Brazilian music.
“One day I went to Bahia to sing at a friend’s house. Arriving there, I fell back, because I suddenly found the group of Novos Baianos fully formed. Moraes and Galvão met with Paulinho Boca de Cantor, Baby Consuelo and sang songs that made me enthusiastic.”
~ Tom Zé
The show (O Desembarque dos Bichos Depois do Dilúvio Universal) was a stronghold of the Bahian intelligentsia – a very crazy show that left the audience appalled and showed Novos Baianos that they needed to leave Bahia.
Later, in São Paulo Tom Zé was with his producer João Araújo (father of the singer Cazuza), and learned that (producer) Carlos Imperial had brought Novos Baianos to Rio and had left them stranded. Hearing this, he said to Araújo,” Look, I don’t have the ability to give you professional advice about any band, but I beg you, for God’s sake: listen to this band, when you go to spend the weekend with your family in Rio.”
It was perfect. When João returned, he brought the group with him and took them to the businessman Marcos Lázaro. The next day they were singing on TV Record, which was the highlight of Brazilian music, beginning their professional career.
Their first album release, Ferro Na Boneca (recorded in 1969) mainly featured the vocals of Paulinho and Moraes, with nominal participation from Baby. Pepeu’s guitar playing was prominently featured (he also played bass on some tracks), but the album was mainly comprised of studio musicians, with outstanding horn arrangements and organ playing by Chiquim Do Moraes.
There was also one other arranger. At that point they didn’t yet have an entire band, only the singers, so Moraes collaborated with the arranger/maestro of the sessions, who based everything on his guitar concepts.
É Ferra Na Boneca cover 1969
NB had moved from Bahia to Sao Paulo and was residing at a hotel for a brief period, making television appearances and recording Ferra Na Boneca.
They would soon find themselves living together in an apartment in Rio, in the neighborhood of Botafogo.
Luis Galvão, (the band’s mentor) thought it was of great importance to the band’s creativity to cohabitate. One of the frequently mentioned stories of that era was of the epic futebol matches that they regularly held inside the apartment.
The band had picked up two percussionists when they were living in SP named Bola, and Baixinha, plus dancer Charles Negrita, but they were still in need of a bassist who could handle Pepeu’s intricate arrangements and the craziness of all the band members. This is when Dadi Carvalho entered the picture.
“I was at Arpoador with my friend, hanging out, playing guitars together on the beach. Marilha (Moraes’ then-wife) 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.”
During their time living together in the neighborhood of Botafogo, they were visited several times by João Gilberto, who had been friends with Galvão from when the two had lived in Juazeiro, Salvador.
And as the famous story goes, the first time he visited the apartment, Dadi heard a knock at the door, looked through the peephole, and thought Gilberto was a police officer, immediately throwing everyone into a complete state of stoned out panic.
Acabou Chorare, the band’s second release, showed a radical change in the band’s sound. They took heed in João Gilberto’s tutelage, combining elements and influences of Frevo, Bossa Nova, Samba, Baiao, etc, with their already hard-rockin’ sound. Pepeu’s secret weapon was a custom-made distortion pedal made from Baby’s television set.
She had bought the TV to watch the World Cup, and one day came home to find it broken, but couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working.
“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 Salmão who built it. ”
(with Moraes Moreira in Bahia, 2016)
It was during this same time of change that the band moved to a ranch on the west side of Rio (Jacarepaguá), where they could live together without the constant headache of being hassled by the authorities for being hippies.
It was a sprawling area, with up to 40 people living there at once according to Gil Oliveira (current NB percussionist and son of Paulinho Boca). They even formed their own football (soccer) team which played proper matches and had several professional ringers, plus other big celebrity members such as Chico Buarque for example.
According to the band members, the futebol actually took precedence over the music. The youth at the time, disillusioned by the state of the governmental dictatorship, felt a kinship with Novos Baianos, their music, lifestyle, and outlook on life, and began following the band in large numbers.
Novos Baianos Futebol Clube (photo: Mario Luiz Thompson)
It was a very dangerous period of time.
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.”
Instead of following fashion, they invented it. They had their own slang, in tune with the youth of the time exercising mysticism, zen experiences, and alchemy, all with a spirit of anarchy and positivity. Also, hallucinogens, which played a significant role in the spiritual aspect of the band and their songwriting.
L-R Luiz Galvão, Paulinho Boca De Cantor, Baby Consuelo, Moraes Moreira
“We faced repression as if in a game of futebol, giving blood, sweat, intelligence, calm, youth, soul, and other virtues to win. Of course, also, we had losses, but we members believed that we had a mission.”
Side Note: One side of the Acabou Chorare LP was recorded in a studio in Rio; the other side was recorded at the sitio, where they had converted the abandoned chicken house into a home recording studio. It had good natural acoustics so they cleared it out and equipped it with a Teac 4 track tape deck, and not much else (no acoustical treatment, for example, only their amps).
Paradoxically, the police also were fans of Novos Baianos. Sometimes the band would show up at the sitio and a cop car would be parked in 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.”
In 1973, a German TV company hired Solano Ribeiro to direct a documentary about anything he wished in Brazil, so he chose Novos Baianos.
The outcome was Novos Baianos F.C. (Futebol Clube), a 43-minute film that depicts their daily lives together living on the ranch, making music, playing soccer, raising their children, cooking elaborate communal meals, and sharing in their philosophies of life.
At the time, aside from Germany, it was only aired on a couple of Brazilian TV channels, but in recent years has been widely circulated on the internet. To look at it now, there is a certain haunting aspect to it because of the faded graininess of the actual film, but also because of the time capsule that it is.
It’s Cinema Verité at its finest, and the depth of candid joy and love really shines through, especially taking into account the dark times Brazil was then faced with.
The audio was recorded on a Nagra tape deck (the highest quality/industry standard portable reel to reel tape deck at the time) and they only used one ambient boom mic and one handheld mic for the vocals, yet miraculously you can hear everything, even the acoustic guitar.
“It was very cool to experience – we lived together at the ranch in Jacarepaguá (Rio De Janeiro) and managed to show the philosophy and way of life that charmed everyone. We were a tribe playing with peace and love. And the fact that we recorded live on a Nagra recorder with a single microphone showed an extraordinary performance, a result of the wonderful moments we spent living together in a community, making music and playing futebol.”
Bob Marley & Moraes Moreira
In 1974 Moraes made the difficult decision to leave the band and embark upon a solo career.
At that time, he and his wife had started having kids, and the living situation at the sitio was far from optimal for them. They didn’t always have money; there were always people coming and going, and sometimes they didn’t have basic things like milk for the children.
Among all of them, there was no one with the talent to organize the living logistics. According to Moraes, Marilinha (Paulinho’s then-wife) did her best for a long time. She really 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.
Dadi followed suit soon after, taking employment as bassist with Jorge Ben (first appearing on Ben’s Africa Brasil LP in 1975). Pepeu’s younger brother Didi (then 17 years old) took up the bass chair in the band and NB went on to make four more albums and live on the sitio until 1978.
At this point, Paulinho Boca De Cantor went on to a solo career as did Baby and Pepeu, who became two of Brazil’s biggest rock stars of the ’80s. They married, had six children, and remained together for 20 years.
The band reunited briefly in 1997, releasing a live album entitled Círculo Infinito (Infinite Circle) but remained dormant for another 19 years because of everyone’s busy solo careers.
In May of 2016 under the coordination of Pedro Baby (son of Pepeu & Baby), Novos Baianos took to the stage once again, embarking on a nationwide tour agenda that has been going strong ever since. Their live DVD/CD release Novos Baianos Se Encontram (Som Livre label) recently won them 2 Premios (The Brazilian equivalent of the Grammy) in the categories of Best Rock/Pop Act and Album Of The Year.
“We put all our lives as young revolutionaries in this work, we believe that we were changing the world, and we dream of a better world, even knowing that the system is gross. And today we see how important it was to have dreamed and fulfilled our dream. We helped the world to dream of a time of peace and love and we’re still dreaming. We cannot stop dreaming.”
With Paulinha Boca De Cantor, Rio De Janeiro 2017
Stay tuned to read about my new musical adventure with Tom Zé in the next installation!
Ciao For Now & See You On The Flip Side