BY MITCHELL HIGHTOWER
On Tuesday October 1, Roniere Menezes, professor of Brazilian literature, literary theory, and comparative literature at the Federal Center of Technological Education of Minas Gerais in Brazil, explored Brazilian culture and history through mid-20th century music, in a lecture in Portugese called “Vinicius de Moraes, The Poet of Brazilian Popular Music.”
Though a poet, a playwright, and diplomat, Vinicius de Moraes (1913-1980) is considered a major figure in the history of Brazilian music, and has written lyrics to several classic songs in a variety of genres. Menezes interspersed some of these songs throughout his presentation, as he discussed various facets of Moraes’s character.
As a poet, Menezes explained, Moraes often contrasted the external and the internal in his work. “A Garota de Ipanema,” or “the Girl from Ipanema,” is one of his most famous songs, and Menezes discussed how those contrasts were reflected in its writing, and matched with the music; tight rhythmic sections correspond to descriptions of a woman’s walk, slower legato sections match up with the singer’s sadness and longing for love.
Menezes’s lecture was in large part dedicated to exploring the ways that Moraes’s work had a “brazilianized” aesthetic, how it explored and included Brazilian culture in a multi-faceted, rather than Eurocentric way. As Menezes put it, his work could “slyly pervert and translate foreign influences.” A trip to Bahia in the northeast of Brazil left him “impregnated with the spirit of the race.” The experience left him with lasting impressions of black Brazilian culture, as well as comparison between black people and ancient Greek heroes. Time spent in Los Angeles provided him with up-close experience with black jazz musicians. Such ideas led to Orfeu da Conceição (later adapted to film as Black Orpheus), a musical adaption of the Orpheus myth, and though it faced some criticism in some bigoted circles, it led to the meeting and eventual collaboration of Moraes and famous Brazilian pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim. This partnership led to Brazil’s most famous musical export, Bossa Nova.
Moraes would continue to explore black influences, working on projects like “afrosamba” and drawing inspiration from capoeira (the black Brazilian martial art), and though he would die in 1980 from alcoholism, his legacy is far from endangered. A handful of Brazilians in attendance were ready and willing to sing along whenever a Moraes song was referenced, or lyrics were put up on the screen. Not just along with “the Girl from Ipanema,” but also with “Eu sei que vou te amar,” “Lamento,” and others in the wide body of work that he created.
Mitchell Hightower is a freshman in Branford College. Contact him at email@example.com.