Note from BW of Brazil: Before we delve into the latest example of the social ill known as Brazilian racism, I would like to show the proper respect and admiration for the individual that was the target. Let me first say that of all of the legends of Brazilian music that came out of the era of 1960s and 1970s which includes artists such as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Tim Maia, Gal Costa, Jair Rodrigues, Elis Regina and others, the artist born as Jorge Duílio Lima Menezes, or simply Jorge Ben Jor or Jorge Ben, has always been this writer’s favorite! Ben’s original blend of Samba, Bossa Nova, Rock, Soul, Funk and Maracatu has left an indelible mark on Brazilian music that can be felt even today in the sounds of the latest generation of MPB and Hip Hop artists.
And for good reason!
Ben’s catalog of music features songs that nearly every Brazilian knows by heart. His first big hit and arguably most well known hit “Mas Que Nada” continues to get new interpretations still today. People outside of Brazil may be familiar with the 1966 version by Sérgio Mendes or the 2006 edition by American Hip Hop group Black Eyed Peas, featuring Sérgio Mendes. The song has also been covered by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Jarreau, Herb Alpert, José Feliciano, Trini Lopez and even Coldplay. Other hits in the Ben repertoire include “País Tropical”, “Take It Easy My Brother Charles”, “Taj Mahal”, “Xica da Silva” (title song of the 1976 film), “Chove Chuva”, “Menina Mulher de Pele Preta”, “Por Causa de Você, Menina”, “Bebete Vãobora” and so many more. The song “País Tropical” is such an anthem that one could say that one isn’t truly Brazilian if he or she doesn’t know this song.
But to really appreciate the career of the 73-year old (or 75 or 70 depending on which info you believe) Ben, you must be familiar with his full albums. It wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that from his 1963 debut Samba Esquema Novo to 1978’s A Banda do Zé Pretinho Ben’s albums were nearly all classics, well at least for this writer. For others his peak period may extend into the 80s or 90s but it was this 15 year span that cemented his place as a legend on the world’s popular music stage. Along with the aforementioned contemporaries on the Brazilian scene, Ben’s name belongs among other great black singer/songwriter/bands from this amazing era. Names such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Earth, Wind and Fire (whose great leader Maurice White recently passed away), Fela Kuti and Bob Marley to name a few.
It’s a difficult task to choose Ben’s best album from this period, so I will name my top 5 in no particular order. Again, every album in this period is worth checking out, but here’s my favorite 5.
- O Bidú: Silêncio no Brooklin (1967)
A Tábua de Esmeralda (1974)
África Brasil (1976)
A Banda do Zé Pretinho (1978)
Some signatures of the Jorge Ben sound are his rhythmic guitar playing that is often punctuated with horns and string arrangements and his trademark, almost yodeling style of singing that some have postulated may have been due to the influence of his Ethiopian mother. And speaking of Africa and, by extension blackness, some of Ben’s songs also demonstrate the importance of these themes to the artist. A few of those songs include “Negro é Lindo” (black is beautiful), “Menina Mulher da Pele Preta” (girl woman of black skin), “Zumbi” (about the 17th century black leader of Palmares, Brazil’s largest quilombo/maroon society consisting of fugitive slaves), “Xica da Silva” (a negra/the black woman) and “Umbabarauma”, a song about an African futebol player. The classic 1976 LP África Brasil represented Ben’s full transition into using electric guitar instead of the acoustic guitar that constructed most of his music. Perhaps his most important album, the production style throughout the disc mixes elements of black American Soul and Funk with his own funky Samba-based rhythms. The style of album wouldn’t sound out place in a select group of albums taken from the 1970s blaxploitation soundtrack era in American black-oriented films and music.
Three other interesting little facts about Ben, the musician, in terms of the international music scene are 1) In 1989, the artist changed his name from Jorge Ben to Jorge Ben Jor for a number of reasons, one of which is said be that some of his songwriting royalties accidentally ended being sent to American Jazz/Pop/R&B artist George Benson, 2) A case involving the plagiarizing of the Ben classic “Taj Mahal” found British artist Rod Stewart settling the case out of court. Listening to the two songs, there are clear similarities between the melodies of the chorus of Stewart’s huge 1977 hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” ad the “Tê, tetêretere/ Tê, tetêretere/ Tê, tetêretere/Tê”, teríamos” refrain in the Ben song. Stewart actually admitted to visiting Brazil and hearing the song at the time (1). And 3) In 2002, also participated in the tribute CD Red Hot + Riot for the late Nigerian Afro-Beat musician Fela Kuti. Ben collaborated with American Hip Hop artists Dead Prez, Talib Kweli and Soul singer Bilal in a remake of the Kuti classic “Shuffering and Shmiling”.
Of course this is only a brief summary of some of Ben’s career highlights just to introduce the importance of the artist who is the focus of today’ story. Below, we share yet another unfortunate incident that once again proves that, one can be a doctor, a lawyer, well-known media personalities or even a much-loved musician such as Jorge Ben, who has contributed so much to Brazilian music in his 53 year career, and still be reminded that one is still just a “nigger” in the eyes of some. Ben wasn’t actually called the infamous English language racial insult, but, as we have explained in previous posts, the term “crioulo”, in Portuguese, is sometimes used in the same pejorative manner.
Jorge Ben is target of racism in a show in Rio
Pioneering singer/songwriter/musician of Brazilian Popular Music (MPB), Jorge Ben Jor, was a target of racism during a concert on Saturday (13), in Rio de Janeiro. The singer stopped the show and argued with a man who was in the audience; after the confusion, calmed by other members of the band that separated the two, the musician explained what happened; “This guy was calling me a “crioulo sujo” (dirty nigger). “I will not accept that. I’m carioca (from Rio de Janeiro) and Brazilian. What is a subject like this doing at this show?” he said.
Courtesy of Brasil 247
Singer-songwriter Jorge Ben Jor was a target of racism during a show held on Saturday (13), in Rio de Janeiro. During a solo of wind instruments of the song “Take it My Brother Charles,” the singer interrupted trombonist and addressed someone in the audience who whistled loudly.
Moments later, the man was brought to the stage by security guards and an argument between him and Ben began. The situation was calmed by other members of the band that separated the two.
After the melee, Jorge explained what happened. “This guy was calling me a “crioulo sujo”. “I will not accept that. I’m a carioca (a Rio de Janeiro native) and Brazilian. What’s a subject like this doing at this show?” he asked.
“But I will not spoil the evening. We’re going to have a great time, I’ll call my muse!” he said inviting the singer Marisa Monte to participate in the show
Source: Brasil 247
Interestingly, Stewart’s “Sexy” song also lifted the main instrumental melody of his song from a tune by American Soul star Bobby Womack, “(If You Want My Love) Put Something Down on It”.