Frances Livings O Barquinho My-Little-Boat Brazilian jazz Bossa Nova

O Barquinho ~ My Little Boat

 

Frances Livings O Barquinho My-Little-Boat Brazilian jazz Bossa Nova

Finding new songs for my foreign-language repertoire always involves a lot of musical archaeology. It is definitely a most enjoyable process. It’s like stepping into a dark, mysterious castle with only a spotlight at hand, never knowing what you’ll find. That was how I came across O Barquinho (Little Boat) from 1961, a very playful and cute Bossa nova song about a boat sailing along on a calm summer day as the evening falls.

I had only recently discovered the American vocalist Karrin Allyson through a search for interpretations of the French chanson Sous le Ciel de Paris, which I was adding to my French repertoire. Her version of this 1951 classic from the French film with the same title, is from one of her early albums, From Rio to Paris. I very much took to her grounded voice and her elegant intonation – despite finding her interpretation a little humourless. She frequently spikes her songs with very delightful and short, not endless, self-indulged scatting sequences.

So, while enjoying a cooking session in my kitchen, I flipped through the other songs in French and Portuguese. I immediately took to her very cute and enticing version of O Barquinho, sung in both beautifully phrased Portuguese and English. Later, I understood why The New York Times, had called her a “no-frills singer with a feline touch and impeccable intonation, […] is an interpreter who cuts to the chase, but with minimal psychodrama.”

 

Brazilian Jazz Rhythms ~ The Bossa Nova

I have now been performing O Barquinho after learning the Portuguese lyrics for a couple of weeks now. In its lightheartedness and cheerfulness, it very much reminds me of tunes like Summer Samba (also known as So Nice and in Portuguese Samba de Verão). So Nice is a song I also enjoy singing because of its cheerful bounciness. It was written in 1964 by the Brazilian composer Marcos Valle, with English lyrics by the American lyricist Norman Gimbel and original Portuguese lyrics by the composer’s brother, Paulo Sérgio Valle.

O Barquinho was written three years earlier and also has very buoyant lyrics. Its rhythmical temperament makes it a very typical bossa nova song.[2] When playing these kinds of songs live, it is crucial for the right tempo to be counted off. If it’s too slow it will lose it’s lightheartedness and cheeriness. When only a bit too fast, it’s like singing the title melody to a breath taking car-chase. Another element of course, is the groove itself. While So Nice is a Samba and O Barquinho is a Bossa nova, Brazilian jazz tunes like these have in general their very own rhythmic feeling – like the Bossa nova composer Carlos Lyra, described  in reference to one of his own songs, Influência do Jazz. He said that overall, the rhythm has a “swaying” feel rather than the “swinging” feel of jazz. The samba rhythm moves “side to side” while jazz moves “front to back”.[3] 

 

O Barquinho (The Little Boat) 1961 ~ The Topic of the Sea

This swaying notion lends itself of course perfectly to the topic of the sea. Indeed, Roberto Menescal used references to the sea in many of his songs – like in O BarquinhoRoberto Menescal was born on October 25, 1937 and is a Brazilian composer, producer, guitarist/vocalist and important to the founding of bossa nova.
The idea for the song came when Menescal, Ronaldo Bôscoli (another composer), and some other friends were in a boat just off the coast of Cabo Frio, a city near Rio de Janeiro, when suddenly the boat had problems and the motor broke down. To pass the time, Menescal started playing the guitar and making up a tune. By the time another boat came and rescued them, he had created the main parts of the song. He and Ronaldo Bôscoli completed it the next day. The English version, My Little Boat was written by the songwriter, musician and producer Buddy Kaye in May 1967.

The topic for the song was obviously already present but the Portuguese children’s song, that carries the same title, O Barquinho may have also influenced him. You can read the Portuguese lyrics and an English translation here.

 

O Barquinho was first recorded in 1961 by the guitarist João Gilberto. A year later, in 1962, it was recorded by the American guitarist Charlie Bryd – and many times since then. That year, the American entertainment magazine Billboard (also known for its music charts, including the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200), listed Charlie Byrd’s recording of O Barquinho in the column of singles with “strong sales potential”. Indeed, it was to become one of Menescal’s most famous songs.

O Barquinho Brazilian Jazz 1961 Roberto Menescal
 

And here’s João Gilberto’s version from 1961:

Further Info & Reading on Brazilian Jazz:

~ For some more insight into this music genre check out the book Brazilian Jive: From Samba to Bossa and Rap” by David Treece, professor of Brazilian studies, author and founder of the Centre for the Study of Brazilian Culture and Society.

~ Watch the documentary filmCoisa Mais Linda: Histórias e Casos da Bossa Nova (This is Bossa Nova: The History and Stories) released in 2005: Menescal and fellow trailblazing composer Carlos Lyra tell the stories of the people, places and performances that put Brazilian music on the international music scene in the early 1960s, culminating in a 1962 performance at Carnegie Hall in New York.

~ See also this playfully illustrated and informative website called Mama Lisa’s World that collects international children’s songs from around the world.

 

Brazilian Jive (Reverb Reaktion Books by Treece, David

Here’s one of my Brazilian tracks, Aganjú, from my album Ipanema Lounge. It was written by Antônio Carlos Santos de Freitas (Carlinhos Brown) [EMI Blackwood Music Inc.]. My recording features a dear friend and fellow musician,  Robert Kyle on alto flute, tenor & soprano saxophone, who is also responsible for the arrangement at the beginning of the track:

Pablo-Picasso-Girl-Before-A Mirror-1932-Aganju

Aganjú ~ Music and Spirituality

 

Pablo-Picasso-Girl-Before-A Mirror-1932-Aganju
Pablo Picasso, Girl Before A Mirror, 1932

Aganjú was the last song I worked on yesterday in the studio for my new album Ipanema Lounge. I had actually gone through a bit a of a crisis with it and I think this was our third studio session working on the song.

The rhythm section, Sandro Feliciano (percussion) and Isaias Elpes (electric bass), both from Brazil, had created some amazing grooves and my vocal track was in a complementary, nicely contrasting sultry style. I was aiming for a similar style like on In The Still of the Night, a groovy nujazz version of the Cole Porter classic, which features my voice.

But I still thought Aganjú was – how can I say – ummm, boring. And that we didn’t “own” the song.

I was actually close to taking the song off the record…

I had first heard the song Aganjú on Bebel Gilberto’s album Tanto Tempo. It was written by the Brazilian musician, songwriter and record producer Carlinhos Brown, whose musical style blends tropicália, reggae, and traditional Brazilian percussion. Later, especially the Latin remix by Thievery Corporation, caught my attention. It expresses my love of a Brazilian and European Nu jazz style that never quite took a foothold in America the way it did in Europe. It was a movement derived from drum & bass that started in the early 1990’s.

Always seeking new material and ideas, I thought Aganjú would be a nice tune to play live, which we still do. Even with a very sparse instrumentation as a trio; with voice, bass and guitar, it works very well as a groovy, atmospheric lounge style song.

When it comes to recording a song that has already been recorded before, you have to make it your own. I absolutely did not want it to sound like a cover version. Or, like Billie Holiday said,

You can’t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike, and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.

I had already contemplated horn arrangements but thought it would be too costly and time consuming. But then I thought of simply asking one of my favourite saxophone and flute players to add some movement and interest with some horn tracks in a very last recording session. I booked a three hour session, which was supposed to give us enough time for recording horns, an additional vocal track, some last mixes and mastering. I admit, I did wonder whether it was a bit daunting with so little time…

Veteran jazz musicians

Robert Kyle, a multi-instrumentalist and composer, who also just released a new album himself, came in to the studio. I was thrilled with my co-producer’s idea of creating some friction and dissonances, which was ultimately the direction in which I had planned on going with the vocals. Robert played and improvised multiple amazing tracks on tenor and soprano saxophone and some beautiful and haunting parts on the alto flute that you will recognize in the intro of the song. I added another vocal track, the mix was done – et voilà! The track became a wonderful conversation between the vocals and the wood winds over a very infectious Nu jazz groove.

 

Listen and download the track here:

This is exactly where not only excellent players, who can sight read and improvise on the spot, but a production team like Greg and Nolan Shaheed are crucial for any record to sound as good as Ipanema Lounge simply does. Nolan, whose studio I have been recording in for years, is a veteran trumpet player who has toured with greats like Stevie Wonder and recorded with many others. You can hear him on two songs of the album too. He played Flügelhorn on One Note Samba and on Sway you can hear his sassy trumpet ad libs that add a flair very reminiscent of Cuban Mambo bands of the 1950’s.

Magical Connections

Suddenly, sitting there in the studio, while the end mix was being done, my thoughts started to drift. I think the fact that Nolan is also a world class, medal-winning runner made me think of the current 2016 summer Olympics. They were being held in Rio de Janeiro – the very place the song Aganjú stems from. Athletes, like any performer won’t survive if he or she is not dedicated to their craft by striving for continuous improvement and stamina. It occurred to me that this was occurring at the same time we were recording those last fragments. It all seemed magically connected and suddenly I realized, that’s exactly what the song is about.

Despite the Portuguese lyrics being really hard to translate, the essence of the song and the name “Aganjú” is that of the African deity of volcanoes and deserts, who spreads magic and protection from Brazil, whose religious culture was originally brought to the country by the African slaves. In an interview Bebel Gilberto, said about the phrase:

‘Aganjú’ ‘Aganjú’ is everywhere, in San Francisco, in New York. People get so hypnotized by this song, so maybe that is a good thing, they see the religion in my music.

Music has always had a place in the history and practice of all religions of the world through the meditative use of chant and hymns during liturgical celebrations. In his book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, the British neurologist Oliver Sacks underscores the power of music to console, nourish and even save us from despair. Both Aganjú’s lyrics and in its trance like mood – which was ultimately, what I was looking to reinterpret – are expressed as devotion to the saints for protection, good health and a better life.

aganju

I suddenly remembered another interesting link. The origins of the Olympic games in ancient Greece were deeply rooted in mythology, and attributed to the gods. The athletes believed their training honoured these gods, and that victory was a sign of favour from a deity.

Musical Dedication & Inspiration

I finally felt it was all coming together but not only musically. I was suddenly so aware of the principle of dedication and inspiration. Of how deeply connected they are. That one doesn’t exist without the other.

While olympians were performing at their highest skill level in Rio de Janeiro, after decades of practice, determination, and sacrifice, we as musicians were the same way. And during that very recording session, the god Aganjú had seemed to have blessed us with that magical spark that even, when the most virtuous musicians record or play together, can sometimes be missing.

That magical spark, the essence of spirituality was created for that song, that very link that connects us humans to music and something larger, divinity.

 

DOWNLOAD your copy of Aganjú here

 

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