The brief: translate an interview about musician Marcos Valle from Dutch to English for Agogo.nl. Original article by Peter Schong published in http://www.popmagazineheaven.nl
The word prodigy springs to mind when asked to describe Marcos Valle (72). The Brazilian singer, songwriter and keyboard player scored his first hit more than 50 years ago. In the early 90s he was rediscovered by London’s acid jazz scene, and more recently by American rappers like Jay-Z and Kanye West. ”That gave me a whole new lease on life,” Valle tells us in this interview.
Valle was barely 20 when he was named songwriter of the year in 1963. His debut album, Samba ‘Demais’ had just been released. ”It was a huge surprise and honour. But I also felt overcome by pressure to create new material that was at least as good,” remembers Marcos Valle when he talks to me on the phone from Rio de Janeiro. The great Antonio Carlos Jobim, godfather of bossa nova and one of the writers of the classic The Girl from Ipanema, took the promising young talent under his wing.
”He taught me about the business side of the music scene. When Summer Samba became a hit in the US, he went there to work with Frank Sinatra. That meant he could show me the way in the American music industry as well. Jobim was a father figure to me. At one point we lived across the road from each other and saw each other a lot. If my piano was being tuned, I could always go and play at his house, and vice versa.”
Valle describes the bossa nova scene in 1960’s Rio as tight knit. He jammed with bossa royalty thanks to his old school mates Dori Caymmi and Edu Lobo, sons of the famous musicians Dorival Caymmi and Fernando Lobo.
”We took turns hosting the jam sessions. We would play each other the songs we had written that week and exchange ideas. We made sure we wrote great material in order to impress each other. That’s why the bossa nova of the time was of such high quality.”
A new trend began to emerge in Rio de Janeiro in the late 60s. The Tropicalia movement, which combined Brazilian music with Western rock, inspired Marcos Valle to begin experimenting. He re-emerged in the early 70s as a multi-faceted and adventurous pioneer of the MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira), with the introspective rock of his Vento Sul album and the irresistible funk of Previsao do Tempo.
”Many people disliked Tropicalia at the time, but I welcomed the musical openness. I was never really part of the movement, though. I preferred the Clube da Esquina, the no less progressive collective which was centred round Milton Nascimento from Minas Gerais. But Tropicalia stimulated me to voice my opinion freely. In Mustang Cor de Sangue, for instance, I sang about the dictatorship, about how the rich threw their money around without even once considering the poor.”
Valle felt weighed down by the yoke of the military dictatorship. ”We always had to go and explain our lyrics to the censors. Sometimes we were denied permission to release entire songs.” In the early 70s Valle and some other rebellious musicians signed a declaration that they would boycott a prestigious music festival in protest against the censorship. Quincy Jones and Paul Simon were scheduled to perform there as well as all of Brazil’s top musicians.
”The military police came to get me at home, as well as Chico Buarque and Egberto Gismonti. We sat and waited in a small room for two hours before a general came to tell us we were under arrest because of the declaration. And that they would keep us there until they had questioned all 30 of the people who had signed it. That was insane as some of them were away on tour. After begging and pleading to be released they finally let us go, but only on condition that we would report to them a week later, otherwise they would come and re-arrest us. We were accused of trying to overturn the government, even though we were only protesting against the censorship. They couldn’t tell the difference. In the end they left us more or less in peace. They could hardly disappear the country’s 30 best musicians.”
The hopelessness in Brazil drove Marcos Valle to the US in the mid 70s. ”I had become so disappointed and unhappy that I no longer wanted to go on stage.” Emigrating turned out to be a golden career move. During his self-imposed exile he worked with various greats, including jazz vocalist Sarah Vaughan, rock group Chicago and soul all-rounder Leon Ware. However, homesickness drew him back to Brazil in the early 80s. He stayed active on many fronts musically, though he stopped touring until his rediscovery by the dance and rap music scene. ”I needed that stimulus to get back on stage.”
As we talk about his time in the US, Valle remembers a night in 1966 when he was performing with Sergio Mendes’ orchestra. ”One night we ended up at a Hollywood party thrown by someone who had made millions selling canned sausages. He turned out to be a great music lover. His living room was full of instruments, microphones dangled from the ceiling, and there were speakers dotted round the house so that everyone could hear what was being played. The guests included many famous musicians and actors: Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis. Marlon Brando was there too. He was playing the congas, but it sounded awful. My wife at the time was a stunning brunette. When we wanted to leave, Brando grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him. I hadn’t seen what happened and asked her, ‘What are you up to?’ ‘This bastard grabbed me,’ she answered, shaking with fear. ‘What?!’ I yelled, rushing at Brando. The people around us tried with all their might to hold me back: ‘No, no, please don’t! He’s drunk. Don’t pay any attention to him.’ I could have killed him, though. I nearly beat him up. Funnily enough, Brando just picked up his congas and started playing again. As if nothing had happened.”