JORGE BEN: Open to the Notes of Chão
Chão (sh-aa-own): Earth, ground
Welcome to the world of Jorge Ben Jor. This guys contribution to the sound of 1960’s and 1970’s Brasil is just as relevant as Getulio Vargas’ was to the celebration of Carnival. His contribution slowly fused Samba-Funk-Rock into an esoteric collaboration that took him from a child pandeiroist to a rhythm setter in the nation of MUSICA POPULAR BRASILEIRO (M.P.B) LISTEN TO MPB live from Rio de Janeiro
His style is best described in a combination of ways.
So here goes…
Mais Que Nada, Ben’s debut hit flushed throughout Brazil. He landed a record deal early on in his career while playing for a small intimate crowd. An exec from Philips Brazil was amongst the group of listeners and in a few weeks was signed. Philips put out his first album “Samba Esquema Nova” through Polygram International bought the rights and put out this album cover:
During the Military Dictatorship that took over Brazil in the 60’s and 70’s a radical music movement known as Tropicalia emerged as a musical counterattack to the oppressive police state mentality humming from Bahia to Santa Catarina. Ben was part of this movement, which also included international all stars Gilberto Gil and the exile prone Caetano Veloso.
Ben was very much the anchor of the tropicalistas namely due to his keep-your-nose-clean approach. This didn’t dilute his fervor against the Military; he simply used esoteric humor in his music to captivate the hearts and minds of the followers of the movement. Light and Innocent like Bossa Nova, yet enigmatic. One author by the name of John Dougan said it best in this analogy:
Rather than use overly theatrical performance to shock the audience or write songs loaded with political content, Ben became known as one of the country’s great musical alchemists, a furiously eclectic songwriter who combined elements of indigenous Brazilian music with a groove from the west coast of Africa.
If you listen to the song “Tamba” you can get an initial feel of what Dougan is talking about (Special thanks to CRASH for the mp3). The guitar sways into the dreamy bossa nova progression along with the light bossa clave as his voice carries that far away chant hovering over the jazz piano. Jorge Ben’s style makes you feel like your in three places at the same time. This is where the passion comes in. Passion, according to me, is a sensation that can take you into many directions at the same time and yet give you the comfort knowing your heart is being led to where it is supposed to be. A true journeyman, Ben weaves you through several genres. Just the other day I took my ipod to my local hangout in Pasadena where kids there are mostly into ind-rock, electro, and heavy sub genre emo-brit shit. I put my Jorge Ben playlist on and turned up the volume. The entire place was set into this mood, going about their business with a certain spring in their step. I couldn’t tell you how magical it was to see them accept his swingin’ rhythms. It was like John Lee Hooker meets Carols Lyra meets Jerry Lee Lewis having lunch with the man Jorge Benjor. If you listen close enough you can find some Jellyroll Morton influence into his posture as well.
If there is one thing Brazilian artists do is fall in love with the “exterior”. In portuguese “exterior” has several meanings.
In a social sense, “exterior” is everything outside of Brazil. So, I would say, “God I really love music from the exterior, it makes me feel closer to my dreams.” And that is exactly how most Brazilians carry an attitude of the “exterior”.
Jorge Ben’s “exterior” influences according to me: (Note, this is my personal opinion after years of listening to BenJor)
If you listen enough, you can feel his bluesy rock n’ roll swinging voice. Ben is charismatic and bold in tossing his words. He loves to shout and go into a frenzy much like the King, which was Ben’s expression of release. If you listen to “O telefone tocou novamente” (The Phone Rang Again), and “Nasimento de un Principe Africano (birth of an african prince) you will hear what I mean.
The dixieland swing charms Ben’s charisma. The piano back up in most of Ben’s bands compliment an old school vibe, preserved as a way to point the listener back in time while he is morphing history into a new sound. Nova Bossa. The piano is frenzied like his voice. The piano and his voice are the two elements that aren’t contained and I think are the magic poles that scurry the music into this weirdly comforting frequency. Love I guess.
Ben’s music has big band charm. And that is exactly what Basie had: CHARM. If you notice in the song “Rosa Mas Que Nada” the opening welcomes you with a strong horn section. You feel the room is jam packed with musicians. The jazz/swing structure of most of his songs from the 60’s include this Brazilian “innocent” charm in a debauchery of instrument combos. Really maddening stuff that makes you want to move. If you listen to “Rosa Mas Que Nada” (Rose Like Never Before) on repeat, each time the horn into comes in, you feel it stronger than the last. It’s as if it’s one long long freeform. Another good song to hear the Basieism in Ben is “Mas Que Nada” (Like Never Before).
Ben’s colloquial lyrics spoke to the oppressed youth of Brazil, primarily in the surreal hey day of Rio’s bossa nova innocence. There are many sides to the story and as Reed projected himself through the Velvet-Worhol pioneership of the times in New York, when art and rock was molding together to fight a post modern attack, Ben did the same in Rio with Gilberto Gil when beauty and music were peacefully in conflict.
Check out his duo with Toquinho titled “Carolina Carol Bela” (Beautiful Carolina Carol), a really melancholy and heavy worded tune with this odd forgiving nature. Ben’s lyrics has this innocence through lyrical riddles and mini story like analogies. He would blend and allude to dinosaurs, the newspaper and television programs which somehow started a violent movement in the shanty towns called FAVELAS. It’s things like that which the “exterior” listener wont catch because of the Brazilian colloquial laden torment under a nice and easygoing tune.
This is just a pinch of what I feel about Jorge Ben. I will do a follow up with more information, songs and Brasilian essence translated to the readers of the “exterior”. As for this entry, as soon as my MOG-O-MATIC generates my itunes library I will tag the actual songs by the artists listed above. So stay tuned. Again I would like to thank Crash Pryor for his contribution to this post and all the little tools that help me put out what I feel.