Legacy and Alchemy presents to you ... "VELEIROS NEGROS"
Composer: Carlinhos Brown
Original Artist: Carlinhos Brown (2010)
Language: Yoruba and Portuguese
Track Produced by Robert Hebert / Arranged by Larry Williams
Carlinhos Brown is as an extraordinarily engaging stage performer … perhaps the most charismatic live stage act of his Brazilian generation. He also is one of the world’s most talented percussionist / multi instrumentalists, a powerful vocalist that can deliver a story, one of the most successful international music producers, a member of two Brazilian super groups (Tribalistas and Timbalada), and the owner of a multimedia empire in his hometown of Salvador, Bahia. In Robert Hebert’s words: “The late American superstar Prince was about as close to Carlinhos Brown as any of us has ever seen … but Prince came up short of Carlinhos by a very far margin.”
That “coming up short” is not just because of the outward, embracing, world view of Carlinhos Brown … but, it is because Carlinhos is a major TV presence in Brazil (with 3 major TV shows: “The Voice”, “The Voice Kids”, and an animated TV show); and, his commitment to Salvador, Bahia … a town of 3 million (over 2.4 million of whom are of African descent) … has seen his almost single-handed transformation of the impoverished Candeal Pequeno favela (that he comes from) into a community that has empowered literally thousands of young people and artists.
And, while Carlinhos Brown is a guest performer on “Amazon Farewell” on the project, we focus on one of the most misunderstood, breathtaking things imaginable … Carlinhos is one of the world’s great composers. That might seem obvious, right? It is well understood that over the past 20+ years, Carlinhos has been producer / songwriter of dozens of songs for many of his Brazil and Latin America contemporary superstar singers. But, what has been missed is that Carlinhos’ song catalog extends to the classic music and stars of Brazil music – from Bossa Nova to Samba to MPB and on and on. We get it.
Carlinhos originally recorded “Veleiros Negros: in 2010, on the “Diminuto” album of 10 of his more beautiful, previously unreleased compositions. Considered one of his most surprising solo albums, on “Diminuto” Carlinhos showcased his sensitive side rather than his superstar-driven “hit track” side. The album saw him at his most engaging as a vocalist … All Music compared it to the work Brazilian stars Djavan, Milton Nascimento, and Ivan Lins … as opposed to the high energy Olodum or Timbalada parts of the Brown repertoire. All Music goes on to indicate that one cannot identify the highlights of the album, “as all the material seems cut from the same fine silk cloth, with Brown's soothing voice amidst piano and string arrangements, plus a few more uptempo numbers that crop up on the second half of the record.”
On the album, Carlinhos mixes genres and collaborators: a bolero with Chico Buarque, a reggae with Os Paralamas do Sucesso there, a dreamy closer with Tribalistas partner Arnaldo Antunes, a few perfect sambas, and the enchanting xote ("Veleiros Negros"). There is no doubt that the Diminuto album categorically demonstrates that Brown can compose and sing with the best.
When we learned that we could only release the song Carlinhos appears on in the U.S. only (he is Guest Vocalist and Percussionist on Djavan’s composition “Amazon Farewell”) … we saw an opportunity to fix an oversight, and record one of Carlinhos’ compositions. So, in early March … literally weeks before the release … Robert called Carlinhos to say: “Irmao, we are stopping this album to produce one of your songs. I am sorry we didn’t do this before; but, we’ll do it now.”
In true Carlinhos Brown fashion … he said: “I’ll be honored … and, I guess you better hurry.”
Robert called Alexandra … and, said: “Okay, choose the song … Make it one that you and the cats can make an artistic statement, and let’s make it happen. We can do it in 3 weeks.”
Alexandra chose “Veleiros Negros.”
At first, we thought … Cool. This song is about the African-Brazilian slave trade. It just had to be about “the black sailors” (the enslaved Africans on the ships). Let’s go!
Well, it’s deeper than that. The master lyricist Carlinhos had crafted something in the Yoruba language that imagined this extraordinary tale about Greeks and black boats. The lyric was written from a male point of view, so we decided to run with the music – African/Brazil/American, and the hook.
Over several weeks, Alexandra worked with vocal arranger Darryl Tookes to find the approach. The mission was to free ourselves from the lyrics, and to vocally interpret the sentiment.
While that was going on, Robert assembled an all-star group of Brazil jazz musicians in Rio de Janeiro (Paulo Calasans, Joao Castilho, Andre Siqueira, Teo Lima and Arthur Maia) to interpret the vision of the musical synergies / and commonalities of African music, Brazil music, and American Blues and Jazz.
Robert’s idea was to let the Brazil guys work it out in the studio … but, he needed a master arranger to craft the framework for the guys to interpret. Thus, Robert went to album co-Producer Larry Williams and simply said: “Larry, it’s all about the Blues man … Somewhere in that intersection of Brazil and African music, we need the cats to find Stevie Wonder meets Pat Metheny.”
As usual, Larry nailed it.
Before the Rio de Janeiro session, Robert kept pushing the guys to do what they would do anyway, and that they indeed would find that intersection. And, they did. Each of the 5 guys arrived at the same place: xote. And, that was Carlinhos’ original musical inspiration.
On this production, the guys arrived at playing an African-Brazilian rhythm (Arthur Maia explains that it is Bahia by way of Angola) within the framework of American Blues and Jazz. Amazing, really. It’s all on video. True collaboration. The music gumbo was seasoned with Robert extending the song, and instigating the cats to “Play!” … turning loose Paulo, Joao and Andre, while Arthur and Teo held down the groove.
And, Carlinhos loved it.
Then, back to the U.S. … where Robert asked Curtis King to step in to help craft the “Wonderlove meets Yoruba” musical (vocal) story. It was then decided that the best way for Alexandra to free herself, was to interpret Carlinhos’ melody without words + the Hook; and, to Whistle the 3rd verse.
Alexandra and Curtis delivered. And, Carlinhos loved it again. In his words: “It’s a new song! No lyrics. Alexandra beautifully interprets the Yoruba language, and the synergy of the cultures … with great players: Paulo, Teo, Arthur, Joao, Andre and Curtis. Thank you Robert.”
As with all the tracks … We endeavored to do the job. To pay homage to great artists, and to great legacies. And, to offer a path forward with collaboration … trusting this path would yield an Alchemy.
And, so it goes.
The song is billed as “ALEXANDRA JACKSON featuring PAULO CALASANS. JOAO CASTILHO, ANDRE SIQUEIRA & CURTIS KING.
ALEXANDRA JACKSON: Lead vocal and Whistle
Guest Stars: Paulo Calasans, Joao Castilho, Andre Siqueira, Curtis King
Robert Hebert: Producer
Larry Williams: Arranger
Paulo Calasans: Piano and Rhodes
Joao Castilho: Acoustic Guitar and Electric Guitar
Arthur Maia: Acoustic Bass
Andre Siqueira: Percussion
Teo Lima: Drums
Featured Vocalist: Curtis King
Engineered by: Flavio Senna Neto and Luther Banks
Mixed by: Andreas Meyer
Mastered by: Andreas Meyer