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Wilson das Neves: Senzala y Favela

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Wilson das Neves: Senzala e Favela
The world will miss the humanity of Wilson das Neves. His music lives on...

On the glorious repertoire of this celebração, Senzala e Favela, it isn’t the proverbial ghost of Banquo that graces an altogether festa para os ouvidos – a feast of samba music really – but the blithe spirit of the legendary Brasilian composer, vocalist drummer and vocalist Wilson das Neves. And rightfully so, for he belongs here albeit the fact that he passed away tragically just days before the musicians were to enter the studio to lay down the tracks for what was to be his last – and most certainly – a palimpsest of his most significant music. As proof, we are treated to 18 spectacular originals that have been laid down as part of this spectacular album.

Battling cancer for a significant length of time did not prevent Wilson das Neves from making important contributions to music and when he died at 81 years of age he had been a professional musician for half a century [many more years than that if you count his years as an occasional amateur accompanist of many great musicians]. In fact, as a teenager [just 14 years old] he began to learn his craft at the feet of another legendary musician – Edgard Nunes Rocca – and at barely 21 of age he was already playing with celebrated big bands – Orquestra de Permínio Gonçalves, the group led by Ubirajara Silva, and the Orquestra Sinfônica do Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, to name just three.

Senzala e Favela a tribute to the legendary Wilson das Neves

Mr Das Neves made great contributions to Brasilian music with his joyous samba compositions and his star rose to eminence during the glory days of Música Popular Brasileira [MPB]. But his greatest contribution to Brasilian music may have come from his being a thinking man’s drummer. To be exact, Mr Das Neves divined that there was a very special role for the drum set – a distinctly African American invention attributed to the great Warren “Baby” Dodds – to play in the musical topography of Brasil, in particular in the development of the unique sound of traditional Brasilian sambas.

But his music was also informed by a deep sense of justice that stemmed from knowledge of slavery and the experience of colonialism. This, as an Afro-Brasilian, shaped his conceptual thinking. As a result, he deployed traditional Afro-Brasilian instruments such as surdo, agogô and cuica – integral to the sound of the music of erstwhile Afro-Brasilian slaves – into his music expanding the subliminal meaning of the music through the colouration and attack of his particular style of playing the drum set. Not only was racism and the brutal effects of colonialism a backdrop for much of Mr Das Neves’ music, but his thinking also reflected the global plight of the Black African diaspora – whether it was the lack of integration on racial grounds [apartheid], and modern forms of disenfranchisement.

Putting the two pedagogic disciplines – sociological and musical – into practice Mr Das Neves created a signature sound that adorned the percussion sections of the ensembles of Beth Carvalho, Clara Nunes, Tom Jobim, Elizete Cardoso, Roberto Carlos, Elis Regina, Eliza Soares, and international stars such as Sarah Vaughan and Michel Legrand. But he will always be remembered also as one of the formidable percussion battery that – along with Joãozinho da Percussão de Juiz de Fora, Chico Batera and Nilton Delfino “Mestre” Marçal – who firing on all cylinders often graced the performances of the great Chico Buarque notably on his iconic album Ao Vivo – Teatro de Zenith, Paris [RCA, 1989/1990].

The legendary Wilson das Neves [June 14, 1936 – August 26, 2017]

No wonder it is Chico Buarque together with Mr Das Neves and his young acolyte, Emicade opened proceedings on this definitive album with the song Senzala e Favela. Sixteen songs later the album ended in a soaring finale with Mr Buarque singing a duet with Mr Das Neves on the exquisite song Chefia. In between we are treated to one dazzling song after another by a constellation of stars who have come out to pay homage to one of the greatest Brasilian drummers of all time who is also represented here [as mentioned earlier in this critique] by eighteen songs that he wrote with Paulo César Pinheiro, of which 13 have never been released before.

Ordinarily, on an album such as this, where 18 songs are performed by different musicians, each taking the lead, it would be hard to maintain consistency from one performance to the next. But the album was helmed by Alexandre Segundo, the celebrated producer of the documentary O Samba é Meu Dom, a biography of the master-drummer’s life. This was a winning start, despite the fact that Mr Das Neves died suddenly before production of the album could begin. Having Mr Buarque and Emicida perform the very chart that was so dear to Mr Das Neves’ heart was another win for the producing team.

In another act of inspirational helmsmanship Mr Segundo brought on board a team of splendid arrangers: family friend and close musical associate, the great bassist Jorge Helder, as well as the inimitable Kassin, Cláudio Jorge, João Rebouças and Stephane San Juan. Each of the musicians produced masterful arrangements that anchored the music in the otherworldly realm inhabited by Mr Das Neves himself yet were open to interpretation. And the participating musicians did not disappoint. From Mr Buarque and Emicida and Seu Jorge to Zeca Pagodinho a constellation of stars turned out to pay homage to the legendary drummer.

Big names include Áurea Martins, BNegão, Fabiana Cozza, Marcelo D2, Maria Rita, Moacyr Luz, Moyseis Marques, the great Ney Matogrosso, Pretinho de Serrinha, Roberta Sá, Rodrigo Amarante and Zé Renato. Mr Das Neves graces three tracks with his voice and one – Senzala e Favela – with his marvellous percussion colours. Each formidable interpretation is sensitive, stylistically aware of the material and the need to perform with reverence homage considering the dedicatee. The music is clearly deeply interiorised and performed – like O Dia em que o Morro Descer e Não For Carnaval, for instance, featuring considerable atmospheric power of the surdo idiomatically counter-attacking the sirens of a pervasive nature of the Brasilian police state.

Every track holds you in its thrall with the resident spirit of Mr Das Neves hovering gently around to help usher this music into the rarified realm where music of such great character ought to – and does dwell. Indeed, the dynamic variations emanate from the individual ingenuity of the performers. But in the ultimate analysis all the music evokes a volcanic mix of the rolling thunder of Brasilian percussion and the celestial spirit of Wilson Das Neves, who spent every day perfecting both music he so loved and the very special life he spent composing and playing it for his beloved audiences, for over 50 years.

Deo gratis

The iconic first track on the album Senzala e favela
Emicida and Wilson das Neves made this fine duet

Music – 1: Senzala e Favela; 2: O Dia em que o Morro Descer e Não For Carnaval; 3: Que Beleza de Nega; 4: Traço de Giz; 5: Sem Porto; 6: Samba para o João; 7: Um Novo Amor Chegou; 8: Transitória; 9: Do Que É Capaz o Tambor e o Agogô; 10: Rei de Oyó; 11: Embarcação; 12: Café com Leite; 13: O Que É Carnaval; 14: Se Você Não Me Levar; 15: Luz do Candeeiro; 16: Duas Vozes; 17: Vou Sair Daqui; 18: Chefia.

Musicians – Wilson das Neves: percussion [1], voice [1, 11, 12, 18]; Zero: percussion [1, 3,  6, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16], programming [6] and electronic percussion [17]; Armando Marçal: percussion [1, 3 – 5, 7, 10 – 18]; Pretinho da Serrinha: percussion [2, 5, 9, 16] and cavaquinho [2, 5, 6, 16]; Rodrigo Jesus: percussion [4, 10]; Alyson Oliveira: percussion [1]; Stephane San Juan: percussion [9]; Marcelinho Moreira: percussion [14]; André Tandeta: snare drums [3], drums 4, 7, 8, 10 – 15]; Márcio Hulk: cavaquinho [1, 3]; Alessandro Cardozo: cavaquinho [4, 10]; Márcio Alexandre: cavaquinho [15]; Kassin: bass [2], electric bass [9], banjo [2], sitar [2], gong [2] and programming [5, 6]; Jorge Helder: electric bass [3, 5, 10 – 16], bass [4] and contrabass [7, 8, 17]; Cristovão Bastos: piano [3, 15]; João Rebouças: piano [4, 7, 10 – 12, 18], synthesizer [8] and Fender Rhodes [13]; Cláudio Jorge: guitar [2, 5, 7, 8, 13, 16, 18]; João Lyra: guitar [3, 15]; Paulão: 7 Cordas: guitar [4]; Thiago Delegado: guitar [10]; Rodrigo Amarante: voice, guitar [9], percussion [9]; Thiago Delegado: guitar [17]; Nobru: guitar [6]; Marlon Sette: trombone [7, 12, 16]; Diogo Gomes: flugelhorn [7] and trumpet [12, 14, 16]; Zé Carlos Bigorna: flute [7, 11] and saxophone [12, 14, 16]; Felipe Pinaud: flute [11]; Jacques Morelenbaum: cello [18]; Seu Jorge: voice [2]; Áurea Martins: voice [3, 15]; Zeca Pagodinho: voice [4]; Chico Buarque: voice [5, 10]; Emicida: voice [5]; BNegão and Marcelo D2: voices [6]; Moyseis Marques: voice [7]; Ney Matogrosso: voice [8]; Rodrigo Amarante: voice [9]; Roberta Sá: voice [11]; Zé Renato: voice [12]; Fabiana Cozza: voice [13]; Maria Rita: voice [14]; Cláudio Jorge and Pretinho da Serrinha: voices [16]; Moacyr Luz and Gabriel Cavalcante: voices [17]; Chorus: Nina Becker, Mariana Bernardes, Alice Passos, Vidal Assis and Paulão 7 Cordas [3, 4, 15], with Áurea Martins [15]; Choir: Velha Guarda do Império Serrano – Aluísio Machado, Silvio Manoel da Silva, Alcir Jorge de Oliveira, Lindomar Fraga, Rachel Teixeira Valença, Vilma dos Santos Machado, Nilson Rangel Maria and Jovaci Manoel da Silva [6]; Arrangements: Wilson das Neves [1]; Pretinho da Serrinha [2]; Kassin [2, 5]; Cristovão Bastos [3, 15]; Paulão 7 Cordas [4]; Kassin and Zero [6]; Jorge Helder [7, 10, 13, 14, 18]; Cláudio Jorge [8, 14, 16]; Rodrigo Amarante [9]; João Rebouças [11, 12] Thiago Delegado [17]; Woodwind Arrangement: Jorge Helder [14]

Released – 2023
Label – FundiSom Brasil
Runtime – 1:05:40

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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