Por Daniella Thompson

For Guinga on his 70th birthday

The shock and marvel I experienced upon hearing Guinga’s tunes for the first time are still fresh in my mind.

His chromatic melodies and harmonic modulations were so unlike anything I had encountered in Brazilian popular music. For comparison, I drew on Kurt Weill and Nino Rota, two other composers who are instantly recognizable by their sound, and whose work straddles an indefinable line between popular and serious music.

In June 1999, while I was visiting Rio, Sergio Natureza offered to introduce me to musicians he knew, and I immediately asked to meet Guinga. Our first meeting took place at a sports club where the composer regularly played football. I thought I was going to watch him kick the ball, but instead, he sat on the sidelines with me and talked about music. On that occasion, I learned how vast his knowledge of music history is.

Guinga’s appreciation for older music was a revelation. On the spot, he would sing verses from 1930s Orlando Silva hits like “Página de Dor” and “Última Estrofe.” Also revealing was his way of analyzing the difference between American songs (“they flow easily”) and Brazilian songs (“they do it the hard way”). Was he talking about his own meandering melodies?

And yet, despite composing music that has been variously described as unconventional, difficult, and surprising, Guinga places the emphasis elsewhere. As he told me in one of our meetings, “Many musicians think only of music. They play many impressive notes. João Gilberto plays only three chords and touches your heart. There is only one valid path in music, and that is the path of emotion.”

Daniella Thompson