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Wednesday’s wise woman …

September 26, 2012

When Amy Winehouse died last year there was much discussion about the ways in which talented rockstars met untimely deaths.  We talked of Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix and Brian Jones and the ‘curse’ of 27.  It would seem that she now belongs to the Forever 27 Club.
Since my daughter moved to Brazil I have become directly and indirectly interested in Brazilian popular music and culture.  I have a growing collection of cd’s and recently acquired an album by Elis Regina.  I have since learned that she too died young of an overdose in 1982.
Elis was according to various sources a woman who made the greatest contribution to Brazilian musical history.
She burst onto the music scene when she won a national singing contest televised in 1965.when she was 18.

It was clear that Elis had the finest voice of her time.  She released a series of records that made her the Queen of MPB (Musica Popular Brasiliera)  Her voice was a mixture of technique and soul; able to  express deep emotion while keeping perfect control.
While Elis’ records at the beginning of her career were apolitical as she progressed she became more politically outspoken. Her songs criticised the military government, capitalism, racial and sexual injustice and other forms of inequality. For example during a show the singer Marcos Valle was singing and playing his guitar Terra de ninguem (Nobody’s Land).  When he got to the chorus the heart of the lyrics a spot light illuminated a tiny woman; Elis, whose voice filled the entire theatre sung:-
‘But the day will come,
And the world will know
You cannot live without giving yourself
Those who work are the ones who have
The right to live
Because the land belongs to nobody’.

It was a miracle according Guy Castro in Bossa Nova ; the story of Brazilian music that seduced the world, how those 2000 people managed to resist leaving the theatre and overthrowing all the major landowners there and then!

Elis said in an interview that Brazil was run by gorillas; and aware that many musicians of her generation had been persecuted and exiled.  It was suggested that her popularity kept her out of prison.
She joined the Workers Party; but upset her comrades when she sang the Brazilian National Anthem in a stadium show.  Elis was forgiven; the party understood that as a mother and daughter she had to protect her family from the dictatorship.
Tragically Elis became something of a Edith Piaf figure, she struggled with drugs and alcohol for most of her career and died alone in 1982 at the height of her power.  

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