Three Women of Bossa Nova

By Audio Pervert - 12/04/2020

Astrud Gilberto, Elizeth Cardoso and Rosinha de Valença. Three women of Bossa Nova. This article is taking a short journey into the lives and times of three women, and their music which proliferated Bossa Nova in Brazil and later around the world. Women who left their traditional pathways, embracing music, song-writing, singing, playing guitar and piano. Transcending for decades within the fabric of post-colonial music of independent Brazil. Three female icons, amongst the many, who managed to escape centuries-old colonial depravity and cultural hegemony - to be able to transform into artists and consequently into international ambassadors, of a truly Brazilian sound, Bossa Nova. Even as João Gilberto invented the genre circa 1961, it was rapidly embraced by musicians from Brazil, transforming into an endemic music trademark of Brazil. The voices of Brazilian women weaved the popular narratives from the onset of Bossa Nova. The lives of these women is inspiring, emotional, at times euphoric and at times heartbreaking. Today 40 years on, their music and melodies are coming back, as waves of feminism, nostalgia, yearning and 'saudade' is playing-up on the new generations... 

Astrud Gilberto was born in 1940 in Salvador Bahia, a region historically known for generations of slavery, incarceration, european immigration and portuguese sugar mercantilism. Astrud's mother Evangelina, a Brazilian, and father Fritz (an immigrant professor) were transnational in their outlook. They named their daughter Astrud, after a goddess legend from Germany. Fritz Weinert taught languages, and Astrud grew up to be fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and English. Early on she learned to sing, play the piano and paint. Even as Astrud Gilberto is most famous for 'The Girl From Ipanema' - her legacy as an singer and song-writer is vast in terms of the influence and effect on the following generations of Bossa Nova. Astrud recorded songs in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian German, English and even a few in Japanese. Some of her Portuguese songs were plagiarised by Frank Sinatra, and translated into english. Example - 'Fly Me To The Moon'. Initially not credited on the famous LP, Getz / Gilberto, Astrud eventually gained the rightful exposure and fame over the following years, as 'The Girl From Ipanema' became a hit across Brazil, US and parts of Europe. Astrud went on to sign up with Verve records in 1966, resulting in 11 albums over the next two decades. With variety of musicians (Brazilian, American and European) she toured across the world, through the 70s and 80s to over 20 nations. Astrud Gilberto received the American Latin-Jazz Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, and was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2002. 

A voice and persona that avoids self-grandiosity is not something we see with most divas of the day. Not having given a single interview in more than two decades, in a 2002 interview she had declared "First, a general disillusionment with the fact that so often my words have been distorted, omitted, "edited", taken out of context, or misinterpreted. When I first started singing, I gave interviews, and often I would get upset when I would see the final product, but, also an important factor is that I truly do not like to talk about my private life... often would find myself in the unpleasant situation of being asked questions about my private life..." Newspapers publicised rumours that she was involved in an illicit affair with Stan Getz. She never sang again in Brazil and was not present when 'The Girl From Ipanema' was blasted during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The appropriation of her music, male domination and unwarranted rumours did little damage, as Astrud's legacy remains effervescent in popular Brazilian music. She turned 80 this year. The maudlin lyrics, the peculiar fusion of aesthetics and transformative effect of her voice remains alluring, soothing and hauntingly fresh.

Early into her childhood Elizeth Cardoso dreamt of becoming an artist. She and her father went around Morro De Mangueira (a region north of São Paulo) to entertain villagers, for what was then called a '10 pence performance'. The post-colonial scene of São Paulo was a melting pot of sorts, with native, european, african and jazz music colluding to create the foundations of Bossa Nova, Samba and Choro. Over time, Elizeth gained confidence, as an autodidact learning how to sing, dance and even bits of acting and theatre, entertaining rural folks to earn a living. Her first break into limelight, came at the age of 16, at a party in Sao Paulo, where Pixinguinha , Dilermando Reis and Jacob do Bandolim were convinced of Elizeth's vocal talent. Her career grew wings as a radio singer and announcer, with consequent offers by record labels from São Paulo, Salvador and Rio. There on began a conflict between Elizeth and her father, about her increasing popularity and changing lifestyle. Even as her father had been a professional serenader (crooner) for well over 30 years, he was of a rigid patriarchal mindset about his daughter's talent and career. By 1951 Elizeth had moved to São Paulo, working her way up to form bands, host radio shows and collaborate with leading composers such as Jacob do Bandolim and Araci de Almeida, Moreira da Silva and Noel Rosa. While Cardoso was not primarily considered a bossa nova singer, she is the vocalist on the original version of the Bossa classic Manhã de Carnaval - which became the title track of Orfeu Negro

1958, a transformative event occurred in Elizeth's life: she found a newborn in a basket on her door, and fell in love with the baby. Motherhood emerged in her heart and she told her husband Leonidas that she was going to adopt the child. He refused, and consequently another difficult period of inter-personal conflict dogged Elizeth's career. As as single mother, Elizeth persisted, to continue her music career and raise a child. By early 1970s, she had recorded and released over 20 albums with several Brazilian musicians - additionally hosting her own radio-show, that regularly showcased new Bossa Nova, Samba, Jazz and Choro talent. Despite her admirable persistence, dedication and talent, she experienced constant financial difficulties and several broken relationships. She consistently worked to raise funds for hospitals and orphanages, in and around São Paulo for years. Following her tour of Japan in 1987, Elizeth fell sick, and was diagnosed for stomach cancer and consequently underwent surgery. May 7, 1990 Elizeth Moreira Cardoso aged 69, died in the neighbourhood of Bota'Fogo, south of Rio De Janeiro. Known as the 'Divine One' in Brazil, Elizeth is widely considered as an inspirational model of female liberation and a woman of color who challenged and overcame patriarchy.

Born in July 1941, Rosa Maria Canellas took to the acoustic guitar early in her childhood. Watching the rehearsals of her brother Roberto's regional ensemble, Rosinha was fascinated by the various styles one could express on a single instrument. Circa 1950, encouraged by her brother, she began to practice the guitar, listening to music on the radio and picking up various forms of music, endemic and imported. At the age of 14, while performing at a local fair in Valença, Rosinha was noticed by famous writer and radio-host Sérgio Porto , who later said "it was as if she played for an entire city..." - Sergio also gave her the moniker 'Rosinha De Valença'. Over the next few years, she performed at famous clubs in Rio de Janeiro such as 'Bottles' and 'Au' - as a solo artist and with other emerging musicians. The following years her fame propelled further, as a result of the epic the collaboration with Baden Powell, featured regularly on popular television shows such as O Fino da Bossa. Rosinha's 1966 album 'Ao Vivo' is simply exemplary, witness to her talent as a composer, guitarist, producer and occasional singer. Rosinha's trajectory as an artist swayed outside Brazil, gradually veering towards audiences in France, Portugal, Spain and as far as USSR and South Africa. By the mid-1970's Rosinha de Valença was considered an icon of the Bossa Nova guitar tradition, even as she had not clinched any major awards ever. She shred the guitar with passion! Inspired by Rosinha's energy, women like Nara Leao also strived to forge fruitful careers. "Rosinha is a truly unique personality in Bossa Nova, because she could navigate her talent as a musician, song-writer and composer, not having to depend on producers and record label bosses... that the guitar was her first and last lover" stated Tom Jobim in an interview(1989) Her artistic spirit is best encapsulated in the 1971 album, 'Um Violão em Primeiro Plano' (A Guitar in the Foreground). The guitar remained at the centre of her repertoire throughout her career. She was awarded the Order of Musicians of Brazil for her outstanding role as an 'ambassador of Bossa Nova'. In 1992, Rosinha suffered a heart attack leading to a devastating coma, which would last for 12 long years, as she lay in a 'vegetative state' with her two elder sisters and brother by her side - eventually passing away quietly, in June 2004. Rosinha was buried in Riachuelo, in the center of Valença.

  • Share:


0 -