Smoked out, Snoop dedicates Alcione song to Dodger fans; but who is Alcione? For 45 years, the ‘Brown One’ has been one of Brazil’s most beloved singers
By Marques Travae
It always trips me out when I read about Brazilians making a big deal about some American acknowledging a person or some aspect of Brazil or Brazilian culture. I’ve lost count of how many times it made the news in Brazil when an American artist is shown listening to a song by a Brazilian artist on their social media platform. I’ve seen this happen when some American artist posted a video of them grooving to Annita, Ludmilla and IZA, for example. I also notice this desire to be connected with the United States with the consistent comparison of a Brazilian artist with an American artist and introducing the Brazilian as the Brazilian version of such and such.
A few years ago, it seems that Brazil’s media was obsessed with promoting any attractive female entertainer, model or dancer of visible African descent as “The Brazilian Beyonce”. It wasn’t just with Beyonce. Any Brazilian artist could pick up a similar tag. Another good example was the recent controversy when a screenwriter for a TV series about the life of slain Rio city councilwoman Marielle Franco said that there were no “Brazilian Spike Lees”, which caused a huge uproar within black Brazil’s audiovisual community. As they and I have long pointed out, there are numerous talented Afro-Brazilian filmmakers who simply need more opportunity to reach the level of success of a Spike Lee.
This desire to be connected with a prominent American simply represents Brazil’s low status in terms of power on the world stage. Brazil’s fortunes have fallen in recent years after such promise of a booming economy at the end of the last decade, the awarding of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The fact is, the United States remains the financial, cultural, military, political, business power on the global stage and this power is communicated through the English language. As Portuguese is Brazil’s official language, this is one of the main reasons that it’s difficult for Brazilians to attain widespread global success. As such, any mention of Brazil or Brazilians in the American media is always celebrated as some sort of achievement.
Which brings me to this latest story about American rapper Snoop Dogg, aka Snoop Lion, aka, Snoop Doggy Dogg, aka Calvin Broadus, making headlines in Brazil’s media after he posted a video of himself getting smoked out to one of singer Alcione’s hits, “Você me vira a cabeça”. Dedicating the song to fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, the video was only about 70 seconds long, but that was enough to make news in Brazil.
Learning that Snoop was seen smoking out to one of her joints (no pun intended), Alcione herself commented on him via Instagram and sent several kiss emojis to the American star. Soon, other Brazilian stars commented on Snoop’s video including folks like Maria Gadu, Duda Beat, Alice Caymmi and popular rapper Mano Brown, who wrote: “Viva! Great Alcione”.
Singer Anitta, who recorded the song “Onda Diferente” with Snoop and singer Ludmilla, also chimed in writing to Snoop: “I don’t believe you’re listening to Queen Alcione”.
I’m starting to wonder if Snoop has some sort of thing for Brazil. First, there was his 2003 hit “Beautiful”, the video of which was recorded in Rio de Janeiro with producer Pharrell Williams. In 2011, he recorded the song “Obrigado, Brasil” with popular rapper Marcelo D2. Then there was the recent colloboration with “Onde Diferente” with singers Ludmilla and Annita. Next thing ya know, he’s gonna start calling himself Snoopinho Dee Oh Double Ginho…Now we see him getting smoked out to Alcione.
But just who is Alcione? If you live outside of Brazil, you most likely have never heard of her for the very reasons I mentioned above. But for Brazilians, Alcione is a singer who has been a mainstay in Brazilian popular music for more than four decades.
In November of 1977, the journalist and music researcher Sérgio Cabral wrote, “Alcione, currently, is a sure name in the first places of the charts of success. One of the best Brazilian singers, endowed with an extraordinary musicality”.
With these words, Cabral described the characteristics that would lead to Alcione’s successful career: lyrics similar to some the best of torch singers and emotional vocals that have made her one of the country’s top-selling artists, selling an estimated 10 millions records over her career.
Since my exposure to Brazilian music began nearly two decades ago, I came to LOVE Alcione’s early, samba-based music. But I can’t claim to really be a fan of the stuff she started singing by the 80s. A friend of mine compared her to French cabaret, torch singer Édith Piaf. While I hear a bit of that, when Alcione started moving away from her samba roots, it kinda reminded of when I got into American singer Nancy Wilson’s Jazz albums and then purchased her 1967 LP Lush Life and wondered, “Where’s the Jazz?” It was slightly there, but just buried over overblown orchestral arrangements.
Alcione’s early Sambas are some of the best in the genre, but the problem with Samba, at least for me, is, like Blues, after awhile all of the songs start to sound the same. Perhaps that why Alcione started to try diversify her repertoire as the years went on. Cool. It’s just at that, at times, the arrangements in her songs sound a little too much like the show tunes you might here in a Las Vegas club, high on the glitz, gloss and schmaltz. Some of Alcione’s stuff kinda reminds me of the stuff you’d hear people like Marlene Dietrich, Carmen McRae or Julie London sing. Which, again, is cool, I just have to be in a certain mood to listen to it.
From what I’ve read over the years, music critics also see some of her catalog this way, even though she’s scored a number of hits over the years such as “Não deixe o samba morrer”, “Sufoco”, “Gostoso veneno”, “Estranha loucura”, “Garoto maroto”, “Nem morta”, “A loba” e “Meu vício é você”.
With 42 albums and 9 DVDs over the course of a 47-year career, “Marrom”, meaning the “Brown One”, has earned her status as one of the greatest and most recognizable voices in Brazilian music. Finding success in both the samba and romantic pop genres, her voice has taken her to more than 30 countries for shows, accumulating numerous important awards along the way.
Alcione also developed a reputation for helping top preserve cultural traditions of her native Maranhão and her undying support for Rio’s legendary Mangueira samba school, contributing to various social projects and becoming one its greatest representatives.
Born Alcione Dias Nazaré in São Luís, Maranhão’s capital city, on November 21, 1947, to a humble family, her entry into the world of music was natural as her father, João Carlos Dias Nazareth, was music teacher and police band maestro. As a little girl, she became proficient on several wind instruments, including clarinet and trumpet.
In the 50s, when Alcione was growing up, her father woukd warn her that trumpet was a very difficult instrument to master, but Alcione had heard the great Jazz master Louis Armstrong and was determined to play like him. She later knew she would never been able to play like Satchmo, but she did her best and eventually learned to play with her father’s guidance.
Even not becoming a virtuoso on the instrument didn’t discourage her love of music and a path to a future successful career as she would soon begin to impress her family with her voice even without having taken singing lessons, performing for family and at folk parties in the area.
At the tender age of 12, Alcione performed on a stage for the first time with the Orquestra Jazz Guarani, of which her father was a member, replacing the crooner of the group, who had become hoarse. Performing the orchestra numbers with ease, she soon began to sing regularly with group while still in school. By age 18, she had become a primary school teacher, but would only remain in the profession for two years as she soon decided to pursue a career in music full-time. Around this time, the mid-1960s, she had performed on TV in Maranhão, but knew that to really make it, she needed to be where the action was, so she moved to Rio de Janeiro, in 1967, to pursue her passion to make music.
In the beginning, to make ends meet, she started off as a clerk at a local record store while familiarizing herself with the city’s bars and nightclubs, including the Little Club, located in the famous in Copacabana neighborhood, a place that was historically a stronghold of the Bossa Nova, the rhythm that captivate the world with its mixture of Brazilian Samba with American Jazz. Alcione soon began to rehearse and perform in nightclubs of both Rio and São Paulo, the main cities where established acts and aspiring stars had to make it to earn a name in national music. She also entered her name in programs for new talent, winning the first two qualifiers of the program A grande chance (the big chance), of radio/TV host Flávio Cavalcanti. With this success, she would go on to land a contract with TV Excelsior, where she performed for six months on the program Sendas do Sucesso.
Soon afterwoard, Alcione began to receive invitations to tour Latin America and Europe, which would eventually lead to her living in Italy for some time. In the early 1970s, she met famed Samba singer Jair Rodrigues, who took her to Polygram, where she became acquainted with successful producer Roberto Menescal. Menescal took a liking to Alcione and her voice, wanting to mold her into a competitor of singer Clara Nunes. Alcione recorded her first albums for the label between 1972 and 1975. With a contract secured, she settled in an apartment in Copacabana. Her first LP, A voz do samba (the voice of the samba) was released in 1975, with the hits “Não deixe o samba morrer” and “O surdo”, which helped her earn her first gold record.
From then on, the hits kept coming, as Alcione built a solid career, recording new one LP after another and earning a reputation as a live performer. The 1977 album Pra que chorar would see her establish herself nationally and a key voice in Samba. The next year would her release the album Alerta Geral, which was the same name of the musical she would present on TV Globo for two years, under the direction of Augusto César Vannucci. Until the beginning of the 1980s, Alcione continued to represent the samba de raiz (roots samba), featuring several songs, highlighting “Gostoso veneno” (penned by Nei Lopes and Wilson Moreira), which, in 1979, ranked her at the top of the country’s main main music charts.
The mid-80s would see the singer distance herself a bit from the traditional sambas that earned her stardom and started moving toward a more pop and romantic repertoire. Although some music critics criticized her new path, the change gave her a prominent place on radio, with a broader range of hits that appealed to mainstream audiences.
The change in her sound also brought a new look, complete with sparkles, jewelry and false nails -, a trademark she soon became known for. The change in direction was criticized by several music critics who saw her new sound as low quality and a “waste” of the singer’s vocal talent. By the 1990s, the criticism of her musical styles hadn’t ceased. In 1991, one critic spelled it out in a not so subtle way. Speaking of her 1991 release Promessa, Mauro Ferreira wrote that “Samba loses the throne for ballads on an average LP”.
Starting in the mid-90s, as she neared 50 years of age, Alcione entered the most mature phase of her career, releasing albums with a varied and eclectic repertoire, mixing recordings of new talents, established samba dancers and big names in MPB, and also experimenting with remakes of international hits. On the one hand, the singer’s repertoire continued to draw criticism, but at the same time it broadened her musical range and helped her attain a greater market appeal. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, it’s important that black Brazilian female singers manage to explore other genres of music outside of the world of samba as Brazil has long tried to restrict talented black women’s voices to this genre.
Although I’m not going to always like the type of music Alcione chooses to sing, I support and applaud her courage and right to sing whatever type of music she chooses. Last year’s Rock in Rio saw Alcione share the stage with one of Brazil’s most promising new singers, IZA, in homage to the late Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, singing one of her classics, “Chain of Fools”. In 2018, Alcione praised the rising superstar via Instagram, writing that, “We, Brazilian people, deserve the artist that you are.”
The trumpet player from Maranhão’s career has brought numerous important achievements, such as a 2003 Latin Grammy award for best samba album, 20 awards from the Prêmio da Música Brasileira (Brazilian Music Award) and 28 gold and eight platinum records.
Alcione’s also experienced love in her life, such as her relationship with the Italian Gino, a romance that lasted for 13 years, and another replationship with state congressman and president of her beloved Mangueira samba school, Francisco de Carvalho. Although she never had children, she cherishes the company of many relatives (among them 18 siblings) and friends, among them several artists and the former president of Brazil, José Sarney, to whom she shows gratitude with gestures of solidarity rendered to him and his family. The former president and controversial figure is also from Maranhão and was once governor of the state.
Another facet of Alcione’s career that must be mentioned is her love and consistent support of the Estação Primeira de Mangueira samba school in Rio. Presented to the famed escola de samba in the mid 70s, Alcione soon became a regular participant in rehearsals and parades – often being presented as one of its main attractions. “Marrom” soon began singing and honoring the school known for the green and pink in shows in Brazil and overseas. Her close link with the school went even further when, in 1987, she founded the children’s samba school Mangueira do Amanhã, of which she is the honorary president. The idea of embracing the socio-cultural project arose, according to her, from her visits to the hill:
“I saw those idle children. I thought: ‘I’m ashamed to arrive at this beautiful school just for the parade. I need to do something here,” the singer said in 2015.
In 1994, the artist was honored by being the theme of the Unidos da Ponte samba school. In 2015, she was one of the personalities revered by the school so dear to her heart, when she who was honored with the theme about the “women of Mangueira”. The honors didn’t end there. During the 2018 Carnival, Alcione was honored again, this time by the Mocidade Alegre samba school in São Paulo, whose parade paid homage and celebrated the singer’s 70 years and 45 year career.
Snoop may have found her music good enough for the mood to get his smoke on to, but to many Brazilians, Alcione’s career can’t be summed up in a 70 second clip. And I still feel like this piece didn’t do her justice. But if you were wanted to know a little about the singer behind the video he posted, now ya know!
With information from Globo and Raça Brasil