Home Main Features Music Film Fashion T.V. & Radio Alt Web Art Books The Roster Joćo Gilberto - O Mito
by Dave Richards
Back in 1989 I used to work in a HMV shop in London. It was a cack job really and the only perk other than pilfering and occasionally being in the presence of E-List pop celebs promoting some crud single (In Store Today: Princess ! Fuzzbox ! Brother Beyond !) was getting to borrow anything you wanted for a night. Plenty of good tunes out at the time got taped and to this day I still love "Let It Roll", "Afrodisiac", "Doowutchalike" and a few others from that summer's Orbital Party playlist. But once I'd taped all the obvious stuff I started to bring home some other bits and bobs, sometimes just because the LP had good cover art. One night I took one back with a cool beatnik-daddio cover called Getz/Gilberto. And that's how I got to hear Brazilain legend Joćo Gilberto for the first time. The record was a real late night tablet-comedown-spliff mellow out classic, featuring Joćo on the nylon string acoustic providing the smooth Bossa Nova rhythms for Stan Getz's saxophone to solo over. The most well known track on the record is "The Girl From Ipanema", and this is the definitive version of the 5th Most Covered Song Of All Time (apparently McCartney's "Yesterday" is the number one - and Pantera's "Primal Concrete Sledge" a surprise number two) with Joćo's missus-at-the-time Astrid providing the out-of-tune vocals.
There was something about that guitar sound that grabbed me and I had a look in work to see if there was any more Joćo Gilberto stuff in the shop, but there was nothing, so I had to make do with my mingy casette copy for a few years, until one day when I had moved back North I saw a Joćo Gilberto CD ("Desafinado" on Saludos Amigos records) for a fiver in town. This one didn't have any Stan Getz sax or Astrid vocals on it, it just featured Joćo singing (in Portuguese) either unaccompanied or with a small horn and rhythmn section. And it blew my head off. Who the fuck is this Joćo Gilberto fella ? Turns out he's a total hero in Brazil where's he's known as "O Mito" (The Legend) and he's regarded as the father/inventor of the Bossa Nova, along with genius composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, whose songs Joćo covered extensively.
Right. A quick word here about "Bossa Nova". To many people the word conjurs up a world of cack rhythms on early Casio keyboards and a Lounge Austin Powers world of Easy Listening dirge. Some of that's true, particularly because of the recordings of some American jazz and vocal artists who jumped on the early 1960's Bossa Nova bandwagon ("Ipanema" was a huge US hit) and couldn't properly nail the nuances of the style and ended up producing "lift muzak". Even Elvis got in on the act with "Bossa Nova Baby"- further proof that The Burger King would have been truly immortal had he only been sent to 'Nam in late 1958 for his 2 year National Service stint, and then got impaled on some Viet Minh bunji pit spikes as the insurgency cranked up a gear. Brazilian Bossa Nova is an evolution from a traditional soft Samba vocal style called Samba Canēćo combined with jazzy guitar/keyboard chords over a stripped down Samba beat. As with most copies, it's far better to stick with the originals, though one honourable exception is Frank Sinatra's collaborations with Jobim, which are ace, as The Shittest Don The Mafia Never Had had the perfect vocal style to sit on top of Jobim's compositions. The internet has made it easy to pick up the originals, and if you want to listen to other stuff you can't go wrong with Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, Roberto Menescal, Tamba ("Nike Advert") Trio, Sergio Mendes, the Blue Brazil series, and many more.
A quick Google of Joćo Gilberto will pull back loads of sites where you can get his discography and biography. And considering he's been around since the late 50s, he hasn't been exactly prodigious in his recorded output. There has only been a handful of official releases, with a few cheapo reissues and repackaging of the early stuff. He has only ever recorded one song in English (George Gershwin's "S'Wonderful" on 1977's "Amoruso" album) - though this is no real stumbling block if like me you think that all lyrics are basically shite, he doesn't write his own songs just records other people's, and he has got a worldwide reputation as a particularly quirky and cantankerous performer - there have been many examples of him pulling his variation of Van Halen's patented "No Brown MandMs" tantrums, usually over inadequate microphones. E-Bay has got a couple of live DVD's of him performing, mainly in Italy and Argentina, but these are quite recent shows and there seems to be nothing visual available of him in his heydey. There is also plenty of biographical information in an excellent Brazilian book translated into English called "Bossa Nova" by Ruy Castro - the same writer did a famous biography of iconic footballer Garrincha as well, which has also recently been translated (Garrincha: The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil's Forgotten Footballing Hero).
If you want to get into his stuff, the pick of the bunch is the late 50's early 60s recordings that he did for Brazil's Odeon records (now extensively available on the Italian label "Saludos Amigos" - amazon has got them all and they are all good), plus the two-for-one CD "Amoruso/Brazil" package from 1977 and 1981. His later releases are mainly recordings of live concerts from all over the world and they are all much the same - "Joćo Live In Montreux" is as good as any. A real find is a 1990 CD entitled "The Legendary Joćo Gilberto" which contained all the tracks from his first (and essential) three records for Odeon. This was released on EMI subsidiary World Pacific records, and has now criminally been deleted - some of the utter wank that passes for music on EMI that you can still get, that's right - EL fucking O, and this masterpiece is unavailable. I've seen copies of it go for over £50 on E-Bay, but I managed to get hold of it myself for a tenner when the EMI Brazil version of it (entitled "O Mito") slipped under the radar.
Over the last few years Joćo's name has resurfaced in England thanks to the success of his daughter Bebel Gilberto (she's not Astrid's daughter, but a child from his later marriage to a famous Brazilian singer called Miścha). Her acclaimed debut album "Tanto Tempo" was an electronica influenced update to the classic Bossa sound, produced by (the late) Suba who also recorded some similar projects under his own name (try "Sao Paulo Confessions"). Joćo himself still tours occasionally, and has played in Paris, London and Barcelona in recent years. I was lucky enought to see him live as part of Barcelona's Teatre Grec festival in July 2000. He performed a solo 2 hour set in the open air Ancient Greek style auditorium in Montjuic (sporting a natty tan suit, dark blue polo, prisitine pair of Reebok Classics ensemble !) , and it was pretty dang special. Especially seeing as the crowd was 90% Brazilian expats and full of chonging Socrates ringers and coffee skinned Carioca honeys. Be warned though - the stone seats kill your arse. Take a cushion.
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