So, back from four lovely weeks in Brazil; but rather than posting some new groovy sounds (which I will do in due course!), I’ll finally write a long-due post on Dorival Caymmi, without a doubt one of the greatest Brazilian composers of all times. As well put by NYT jazz critic Ben Ratliff in 2001, Caymmi was perhaps second only to Tom Jobim “in establishing a songbook of this century’s Brazilian identity.” But while Tom Jobim brought ‘that Rio feeling’ to the rest of Brazil (and the world), Dorival Caymmi did something similar for Bahia. (And indeed, it was after spending a most pleasant week in Praia do Forte, Bahia, that I decided Caymmi would be the theme of the first post-vacation BMoF.)
Dorival Caymmi had a long and prolific career: born in 1914, and after some musical success in his hometown Salvador, in the late 1930s he left Bahia and moved to Rio de Janeiro to study law. Instead, he spent most of his time writing music, and his songs became radio hits. In 1939, the brightest star of the Brazilian music scene at the time, Carmen Miranda, recorded a song by Caymmi, which then helped launch her international career and remained emblematic for the rest of her life: “O que é que a Baiana tem?” (Such a great song, I posted it here a while ago.) (Carmen, by the way, was in fact Portuguese and grew up in Rio...)
Caymmi died only 4 years ago, at age 96, and remained an icon of Brazilian music throughout his life (see here for the NYT obituary). Every single great Brazilian composer or musician (Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso) cites Caymmi as a crucial influence (see here for a lovely song by Gilberto Gil dedicated to Caymmi, ‘Buda Nagô’). Over the decades, he composed an impressive collection of classics of Brazilian folk music; Caymmi was also a fantastic singer, with a powerful low register. As if it was not enough, his three children (with his wife of 68 years, singer Stella Maris) all became talented musicians themselves: Nana, Dori and Danilo. The three recorded a beautiful album (and the inevitable accompanying DVD) for their father’s 90th birthday, Para Caymmi, de Nana, Dori e Danilo: 90 anos. (I spent a significant part of 2004 and 2005 listening to this album.)
It is almost impossible to choose just a few songs from Caymmi’s oeuvre, but here’s what I will post: first, ’É doce morrer no mar’, composed in the 1940s in collaboration with writer Jorge Amado, a life-long friend of Caymmi’s (and equally responsible through his books for the image that non-Baianos have of Bahia), here in a recording of 1959 (the song was also recently recorded by the late Cesária Évora and Marisa Monte). The life of fishermen was one of Caymmi’s main themes, and this is the über-classic among his fishermen songs (‘A death at sea is sweet’). Second, ‘Vatapá’, which is a delicious dish from Bahia, here in the 2004 version by his children. Third, the classic ‘Saudade da Bahia’, in a duo Caymmi-Tom Jobim. Impossible not to have saudade of Bahia after listening to these beauties, even for those who have never been there.