Chico Buarqué ‘Chico. The definitive collection 1970-1984’ (Wrasse) 4/5

Singer-songwriter extraordinaire Chico Buarqué de Hollanda to give him his full title is a key figure in the development of what is now termed Brazilian Popular Music or MPB and it is surprising that no-one has previously seen fit to compile an anthology of his works in the UK so this is a welcome addition indeed. While he has long been popular in both Italy and Portugal, it took a French fizzy drinks commercial on a Rio beach in the summer of 1989 to the accompaniment of an old Buarqué samba from 1970 ‘Essa moça te diferente’ to catapult him back into the public’s imagination in Europe and this precipitated both a tour and new recordings. In Brazil, however, Chico Buarqué had already become one of the rising young stars by the mid-1960s, at first aping the then still in vogue bossa nova, but he was soon at the forefront of new sounds for a younger generation that became politically active in the face of repression from the military state. Indeed many of Buarqué’s most enduring songs contained within managed to overcome censorship at the time with carefully crafted allegories and he is adored all the more for his wordsmith talents in this respect alone. 

While some knowledge of Portugese significantly enhances the listening experience since the lyrics are imbued with a poetic quality and full of meaning, everyone else need not despair because the music is highly rhythmic and works perfectly well on that level alone. Among his most loved songs, ‘O que será’ (A flor do terra)’ is known by just about every Brazilian on the planet and was even translated into French by Claude Nougaro and became a hit all over again. Other major hits included ‘Construçao’, ‘Vai passar; and ‘Vai trabalhar vagabundo’, but Buarqué’s importance to Brazilian music goes well beyond simply chart sucess. He is one of the most influential of singer-songwriters of all time. For those in search of a rootsier Afro-Brazilian groove, they need look no further than ‘Apesar de vocé’ while ‘Fado tropical’ has a quasi-Portugese folk flavour which one might expect from a homage to that nation’s predominant traditional style. Samba inflections flow on the excellent ‘Samba do grande amor’ and even more so on the 1974 duet with guitar legend Toquinho who together offer a ‘Samba pra Vinicius’, in homage to another musical poet, the great Vinicus de Moraes. In fact there is also an unusual tribute to a thief ‘Homenagem ao Mallandro’ which interestingly was the very same subject of an Astor Piazzolla composition and it would come as little surprise if Buarqué had been inspired by the tango maestro, such are Chico’s wide-ranging musical tastes. If this anthology has whetted your appetite, the earlier mid-1960s recordings are equally well worth investigating and exist in several volumes on CD in France and Brazil. Tim Stenhouse

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