Note from BBT: The sudden death of the musician, arranger, producer and bandleader Letieres Leite last month saddened me for several minutes when the news hit me. When I began to read numerous Brazilian singers and musicians suddenly paying respects to him, I didn’t want to believe to what these testimonials seemed to be saying. After a few minutes of reading some of these posts on social media, a quick search confirmed the sad news.
For me, the passing of Letieres Leite leaves a huge gap in the world of Brazilian music. Not only was this man a gifted musician, arranger and bandleader, but he was also keenly aware of the contributions and importants of black music around the world. In truth, I had only discovered the talents of Leite in 2017 when I went to see the award-winning musical Elza, about one Brazilian Popular Music’s most important singers, Elza Soares. Leites was responsible for giving fresh interpretations to Soares’ biggest hits.
The musical adventures of Leites’ productions should be remembered alongside the hundreds of greats in the world of black music. In reality, I still have much to explore in terms of the music Leites left behind. You see, beyond the Leites led the Orchestra Rumpilezz, his work in the quartet format (both in my listening rotation), arrangements of the Elza musical, the maestro was also behind recent works or contributed to the music by other artists such as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia, Ivete Sangalo, Elba Ramalho, Carlinhos Brown, Daniela Mercury, Olodum, Ilê Aiyê, Nara Couto, Larissa Luz, Cascadura and Hermeto Pascoal. There are probably others beyond this list which demonstrates the level of importance and influence and the huge void that Leites’ passing leaves.
Brazil has long produced influential black music greats. Brazilians and non-Brazilians alike are familiar with names like Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Carlinhos Brown, Jorge Ben, and many others who have managed to reach superstardom status in the country as well as gain international fame. But it is also true that black Brazilian artists face certain obstacles in reaching such success.
We’ve seen numerous examples of this. Johnny Alf was recognized as the ‘father’ of Brazil’s most famous rhythm outside of the country, Bossa Nova, but he is little known by brazilian music fans and mostly unheard of around the world while world music fans are familiar with the likes Antonio Carlos Jobim and others who may owe their styles and fame to his influence. For decades, Afro-Brazilian women singers were steered into the Samba category even when they wanted to explore careers in more lucrative musical genres. Even in Brazilian Hip Hop, we see that the road to fame and fortune is often easier for white rappers.
Letieres Leite was able to hone his talent through a number of opportunities that most black Brazilian musicians will never have. Today, reality talent programs such as The Voice Brasil have given vocalists the opportunity to share their talents with the world and perhaps earn a living from it. But even so, there are numerous black Brazilian performers whose careers never really went anywhere or they never really achieved the fame and prosperity that they deserved.
Singer Thalita Pertuzatti has wowed Brazilian audiences with her Whitney Houston covers for years, but she has yet to gain status as a top singer in Brazil’s music industry. Vanessa Jackson wowed Brazilian music fans with her soaring, soulful vocals on the Fama television talent reality show in 2002. Jackson has released a handul of albums since then but never became a household name.
Her experience in the industry seems to be somewhat similar to that of her uncle, the legendary pianist Dom Salvador. Salvador (I know, another important Afro-Brazilian musician of whom I need to do a full post on) is an important figure in the creation of the style known as Samba-Jazz. Salvador was also one of the few, if not only, black pianists performing on the Bossa-Samba-Jazz scene in the popular trio format. In 1971, Salvador released the groundbreaking album Som, Sangue E Raça with his band Dom Salvador E Abolição.
On this album, Salvador followed the path of Brazil’s first soulman, singer Tim Maia, and delved into the Soul-Funk genre, mixing the influential African-American style with Brazilian samba, northeastern elements and a little of Jovem Guarda. On the cover of the album, Salvador and his all black band Abolição (meaning abolition) look like a backup band for influence funk-rock band Funkadelic with a disc that presented lyrics touching on the taboo topic of race.
As a solo artist or leader of the bands Rio 65 Trio, Salvador Trio, Grupo Abolição, the Dom Salvador Quartet, and Dom Salvador Sextet, the musician has released only around 12 full studio albums in a near 60-year career. He has been a studio musician on numerous albums and has lived in New York City since 1973, making a living as a club pianist. For The Guardian, Salvador is one of the many black talents ‘dismissed by their own country’.
I’ve said it for years, this is how Brazil treats its black citizens, including musicians. With the slight opening that is happening for Afro-Brazilians these days, I can only hope that artists such as Letieres Leite aren’t forgotten and the new generation of black musicians get the opportunity and full support of Brazil’s music industry that they deserve. It’s not just Brazil that will be missing out on their talents, but the entire world.
The Voice Brasil, Letieres Leite and the black music that breaks prejudices
By André Santana
The fledgling music program from Rede Globo, The Voice Brasil, started its tenth edition in October. Two nights were enough to confirm the outstanding performance of black artists in programs of this genre. The excellent performances made the jury turn their chairs and dispute for the talents on their teams.
The fledgling music program from Rede Globo, The Voice Brasil, started its tenth edition this week. Two nights were enough to confirm the outstanding performance of black artists in programs of this genre.
The excellent performances made the jury turn their chairs and dispupose the talents in their teams. The public also reacted with comments and compliments on social networks.
The performances of singers WD, Hugo Rafael, Thais Pereira, Bruno Fernandez, Ammora Alvez, Dida Larruscain and the Angolan Lysa Ngaca, to name a few, showed musical potencies spread throughout the country and hidden by the lack of opportunities.
Bruno Fernandez, a native of Campo Grande neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, moved everyone when he told us that the pandemic left him without shows, and the way out he found was to sing in train stations. The artist has maintained himself by means of what he receives from the public in the Japeri, Gramacho, and Santa Cruz stations, which he mentioned in the program. Inventiveness required from many black men and women, the main victims of the pandemic and of the irresponsible management of the crisis by the government.
Note from BBT: On The Voice Brasil, contestants can impress judges, audiences and viewers by singing a variety of songs. Singers may choose somngs from the Brazilian popular music songbook, international hits, usually by popular american artists, or even sometimes their own originals, as was the case with singer WD, whose song ‘Eu Sou’ has earned him popularity in social networks.
This season’s crop of singers have also impressed listeners with their repertoire. Singers Hugo Rafael, Thais Pereira, Bruno Fernandez and Ammora Alvez have all covered great American songs in both their The Voice appearances, as well as in video performances on YouTube. In the video sharing platform, you can hear Hugo Rafael’s enchanting versions of Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop To You Get Enough’ featuring his own acoustic guitar strumming, as well as his versions of Earth, Wind And Fire’s ‘Fantasy’, and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely’.
Bruno Fernandez won over viewers with his version of Brazilian legend Alcione song ‘Estranha Loucura’. Ammora Alves earned applause with her cover of the Nina Simone classic ‘I Put a Spell On You’, a song that singer IZA herself has also performed, while Thais Pereira can be heard singing hits such as Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’, Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Wish’ and the classic ‘Ben’ by a young Michael Jackson.
As American music is so huge in Brazil, and American singing is so respected, I think that the singers may see singing international hits as a way of attracting more attention and perhaps appeal to the ears of talent scouts in the music industry. This formula worked well at the beginning of the career of IZA, who today is one of Brazil’s most popular singers.
In Brazil and in other countries where music reality shows are successful, the performances of black artists gain enormous prominence, surprising judges and audiences and breaking the limits imposed by prejudice.
Already in the first edition of The Voice Brasil, in 2012, the country was enchanted by the performances of Ellen Oléria, in unique interpretations of Brazilian music hits, such as ‘Zumbi’, by Jorge Ben Jor, and ‘Maria Maria’, by Milton Nascimento and Fernando Brant.
Economist Hélio Santos, one of the pioneers in addressing diversity as a value, has always warned about the amount of talent wasted by the country because of racism and racial exclusion.
“Where the black population is not barred, it stands out,” Hélio Santos.
In the arts, especially in music, this prominence has revealed to the world black talents that are remembered in the musical genres themselves. It is impossible to think of rhythms such as jazz, reggae, soul, blues, salsa, and Brazilian samba without the protagonism of black artists.
Maestro revered black music
“As we have a DNA in our body, which makes you not equal to the other, with the rhythmic DNA it is the same thing. It is maintained, it comes through the black diaspora. Black people bring it to the culture of the West and transform the whole of America. When you talk about national music from the Americas, you will always be resorting to a rhythm that is a consequence of the black diaspora” – Letieres Leite, musician, composer and arranger.
This was the thesis defended by the Bahian musician, composer and arranger Letieres Leite, 61 years old, who died suddenly on October 27, another more victim of the Covid pandemic.
In this excerpt from an interview to journalist Luciano Mattos (el Cabong website) and in several other opportunities, either in the press or in his concerts, Letieres always highlighted the inventiveness of African music, whose fertile cells contributed decisively to world music. And how this rhythmic DNA was still preserved in a body memory.
That is why the musician always said that ‘dance comes before music’.
The artist worked with big names in Brazilian popular music, acting for 14 years as arranger and musician in singer Ivete Sangalo’s band and as musical director of the latest albums released by singer Maria Bethânia, Mangueira – A menina dos meus olhos (2019) and Noturno (2021). One of Letieres’ last works that reached the public was the arrangement of the song ‘Pardo’, which is part of the recently released album Meu Coco, by Caetano Veloso.
Undoubtedly, the artist’s greatest work was the creation of Orkestra Rumpilezz in 2006, when he united the rich universe of Afro-Brazilian percussion with the language of jazz through wind instruments and percussion.
The name Rumpilezz is a fusion of the traditional drums of the candomblés of Bahia – rum, rumpi, and lé, ending with the double z of jazz, the most powerful black musical expression in the world.
The reverence to the Afro-Brazilian religious musicality is in the band’s name, in the formation that unites musicians from the “terreiros” (religious temples) to others of classical initiation, and, of course, in the compositions, which emphasize the rhythmic richness of Afro-Baiana in dialogue with the strands of world black music.
In Letieres’ speeches, there was an attention to the rigor and complexity of the musicality of black rhythms, qualities often only admired in music considered erudite or of European origin.
Educator and talent revealer
Letieres’ creative geniality fed his work as an educator. Besides the generation of musicians who had the privilege of playing with the master, Letieres created the project Rumpilezzinho, a musical laboratory for the formation of young musicians.
By systematizing the UPB (Universo Percussivo Baiano) method, he proposed music education based on the transmission of Afro-Bahian clefs and rhythmic designs, allied to a reflection on the formation of music generated by the African diaspora.
The projects created by Letieres and the dreams inspired by him should continue to reveal talents and strengthen this transforming art, which eliminates segregation and generates opportunities.
The rhythmic force admired by maestro Letieres and for which he has dedicated years of research is the same that is preserved in the body and ancestral memory of dark-skinned artists made invisible by racism.
Lacking material opportunities to express their talents, art itself moves them to face obstacles.
May this art overcome prejudice and shine, be it in terreiros, squares, train cars, or on TV shows.
And may Letieres find music in Orun!