ELIS REGINA – Portrait of a Brazilian Superstar
Arguably the greatest female singer in the history of Brazilian music, always an explosive and controversial figure, Elis Regina, with her jazz-influenced improvisation, made a significant contribution to Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB). Herein lies the story of her journey to success and ultimately her tragic death from an overdose of cocaine and alcohol.
Born in 1945, in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, near the boarder with Argentina, Elis Regina’s first public performance dates back to a local radio show at the age of eight. Her first influences were in fact North American, especially singers such as Billie Holiday and later Aretha Franklin and the South African chanteuse Myriam Makeba.
“We borrowed elements in particular from North American music because it was in general a music played with a great deal of force – in my home town, the music was almost exclusively folklorical.”
However, the arrival on the Brazilian music scene of Antonio Carlos Jobim (who died 8th December 1994) was to change matters, as Regina was quick to acknowledge: “In my opinion, he has had a major influence which is impossible to quantify. Along with Joao Gilberto and Johnny Alf, Tom Jobim had the courage to break down the ‘sound’ barrier. I believe that it is A.C. Jobim who has made the music we listen to today such as Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento. In truth, AC. Jobim is the father of all Brazilian musicians today.”
Her first album, Viva a Brotolandia, a mixture of rock and samba songs, was a complete flop. In fact the next three albums suffered a similar fate. However, the turning point in her career came in 1964, a year when there was a coup d’état in the country and when she decided to move to Rio de Janeiro to further her career prospects.
She began working with TV Rio and then in nightclubs in the famous Beco das Garrafas district of Copacabana. Elis quickly earned a reputation, partly due to her ambitious nature, but also due to the aggressive tone of her voice, which was the total opposite of the cool bossa nova divas such as Nara Leão. Indeed the famous poet/composer/singer Vinícius de Moraes nicknamed her Pimentinha, or little spicy one.
Another career change took place in 1965 when, inspired by the student movement that wanted to take popular music into the theatres, she moved to Sao Paulo. Regina participated in the first festival of MPB broadcast by TV Excelsior. One of the songs performed, Arrastão (written by Edu Lobo and Vinícius de Moraes) won Regina her first prize. This was the start of her monumental national success, succeeding the bossa nova craze, which she had little time for. It was one of her live performances with Jair Rodrigues at the Paramount theatre, Dois na Bossa, which would become the biggest selling record in Brazil at the time. With the highest wages in the land, Regina was hired by TV Record to produce the programme 0 Fino da Bossa, on which celebrities would contribute (three volumes of this programme recorded between 1965 and 1967 are now available on a three CD set ‘No fino da bossa – Ao vivo’).
During the late 60’s, Elis Regina began to record what are now regarded as some of her classic albums. Including Elis in 1968 (several of her albums have the same title – so beware!), with a wonderful version of Upa Neginho, Corrida de Jangida, and Como et Porque. At the same tune Elis Regina gained notoriety abroad, recording Elis Regina e Toots Thielmans in Switzerland (1969) and Elis Regina in London (1969). Subsequently she would record an album with Tom Jobim in the States (Elis e Tom 1974) and Elis Regina at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1979 (including Hermeto Pascoal).
Check the fabulous versions of Upa Neginho and Madalena complete with funky bass and percussion (courtesy of Chico Batera). Personal and professional lives often converged and she married for a second time to the composer and pianist César Camargo Mariano.
However, Regina continued to explore new avenues and there was clearly a stylistic development during the 1970s (listen to the Tania Maria-ish feel to Meio de Compo and Ladeirz da Preguica from Elis 1973), culminating in the aforementioned recording with Tom Jobim (including Aguas do Março), Elis (1977) and the jazzy-pop influenced Essa Mulher (1979).
It would be wrong, though, to judge the importance of Regina’s contribution to Brazilian music solely on her vocal performance. She acted as a catalyst for a number of composers, of whom the most famous include Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil, Joao Bosco and Aldir Blanc collectively and Ivan Lins. Encouraging new composers was a policy she placed great emphasis upon:
“I believe it is very important to look out for people who are not well known. There are so many composers putting forward their own work, yet record companies are in general unavailable to them. Therefore someone has to promote them.”
It was at the height of her career that Elis took her life into her own hands on the morning of 19th January 1982 in her adopted city of Sao Paulo. The country was left in a state of shock and a vacuum created, which even the laudable efforts of Joyce and Mama Monte have only partially been able to fill.
Selected Discography as published in ukvibe 1995
(All Phillips Recordings unless otherwise stated)
Samba eu canto assim (LP 1965)
Dois na bossa (LP/CD 1965)
O fino do fino (LP/CD 1965)
Dois na bossa No.2 (LP/CD 1966)
Elis (LP/CD 1966)
Dois na bossa No.3 (LP/CD 1967)
Elis Especial (LP/CD 1968)
Elis, como e porque (LP/CD 1968)
Elis Regina & Toots Thielmans (LP/CD Fontana/Verve 1969)
Elis Regina in London (LP 1969)
Em pleno verão (LPICD 1970)
Elis no teatro de Praia (LP 1970)
Ela (LPICD 1971)
Elis (LPICD 1972)
Elis (LPICD 1973)
Elis & Tom (LPICD 1974)
Elis (LP/CD 1974)
Falso Brilhante (LP/CD 1976)
Elis (LP/CD 1977)
Transversal do Tempo (LP/CD 78)
Elis Especial (LP/CD 1979)
Essa Mulher (LP/CD WEA 1979)
Montreux Jazz Festival (LP/CD WEA 1979)
A arte de (DLP/CD Fontana 1975)
O Melhor de (LP/CD Fontana 1979)
Interpreta Joao Bosco e Aldir Blanc (LP Fontana 1983)
A arte mater de (DLP Fontana 1983)
Elis Vive (DLP Fontana 1984)
Intepreta Milton Nascimento (LP Fontana 1984)
Personalidade (LP/CD 1988)
Fascinaçao (CD 1988)
O Melhor de (CD France 1991)