For a long time, I was thinking about doing a blog or a book or something called, “Brazilian Music for the Non-Portuguese Speaker.” I’d always considered it advantageous to not be bogged down with understanding a song’s lyrics. Because of the way songs are written, every language has grammar rules that, even unintentionally, affect the sound of the melodies that accompany them. For example, not understanding the language would give you no preconceptions about when a phrase would end–this makes melodies (and harmonies) sound mysterious. They say jazz is the sound of surprise, and a song in an impenetrable language can contain the same magic; it can go anywhere, and it often sounds as though it does.
(Almost regrettably,) I do understand enough Portuguese to know that, “A Voz, O Violão, A Música De Djavan“ means “The Voice, the Guitar, the Music of Djavan.” It was his first album, and I don’t think he’s made a better one. That would be a tall order.
This is a record I fell very deeply in love with on first hearing, and have been haunted by ever since. Though “haunted” is probably the last word you’d associate with this record–its songs are deliciously catchy and sun-drenched. Unlike most MPB from this era, the compositions aren’t leaning too hard on either samba rhythms or popular song forms. It sounds like these songs emerged together, fully-formed, and really don’t sound like anything else.
I’ve heard this album–which has also been repackaged as Flor de Lis, after its opening track–hundreds of times, often on repeat. It’s one of those things you don’t take off the turntable after at least 3 spins per side, and I even listen to it at the gym. I’m not sure if its infectiousness is increased with an understanding of the lyrics but, at this point, for me, I’m not sure it can.
Djavan’s acoustic guitar is backed primarily by bass and drums, with tasteful additions of Fender Rhodes, electric guitar, flute and backing vocals. The arrangements are by Edson Frederico, who also produced Sarah Vaughan’s well-intentioned but overstuffed Brazilian albums as well as Jorge Ben’s last classic LP, the lean, tight, disco-samba-rock hybrid of A Banda Do Zé Pretinho in 1977.
Thankfully, the album was re-pressed in Spain in 2018, which is the version I bought. The sound is clear and warm and the pressing is quiet and everything you’d want in a reissue. This is a record that should be available on Amazon at an affordable price-point, because it’s definitely the MPB record that can convince most people that Brazilian popular music is brilliant and worth obsessing about.
Listen to this record.