Maestro Joel Barbosa has Conducted Orchestras outside of Brazil

Maestro Joel Barbosa

Maestro Joel Barbosa has Conducted Orchestras outside of BrazilMaestro Joel Barbosa

Note from BBTOne thing that I feel is really lacking these days is the sophistication of the music, well as least in popular music. Don’t get me wrong, I know you can only expect so much out of pop music, but years ago, it was the norm to hear string sections and horn arrangements in popular music. I’m glad that a few decades ago, I learned to appreciate other forms of music. I remember in the 80s, in my hometown of Detroit, I used to listen to a legendary DJ known as the Electrifying Mojo. Mojo’s programs weren’t just about spinning records. They were an EXPERIENCE!

Listening to an Electrifying Mojo program on late night Detroit radio was like listening to a type of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It had a space age, science fiction feel to it, complete with sound effects and his mesmerizing, poetic voice. Mojo was OUT THERE. He was the radio version of what Sun Ra, late 60s Miles Davis and 70s P-Funk was to black music. Although Mojo specialized in funk, especially 70s P-Funk and the 80s Minneapolis Sound, he might play ANYTHING on a given night. (Maestro Joel Barbosa)

I remember when Mojo went through a period when he started playing Classical Music on the air. For about a week of this new fascination with Classical Music, I wondered what his new playlist was all about. As it turned out, a listener had asked Mojo if he knew anything about black composers of Classical Music. Digging into his new discovery, it seemed that the Electrifying One went days, or was it weeks, playing Classical Music. I wasn’t really feeling it at the time, but some years later, I was ready to fully explore other forms of music beyond the R&B, Soul and Funk I was raised on. 

In the United States, if you’re a crate digger like me, you could find black musicians experimenting with all sorts of musical styles. I expected the same when my music explorations eventually led me to Brazil. But as it turns out, in the 60s and 70s when there were hundreds of African-American musicians turning music on its ear with a variety of experimental styles from the aforementioned Miles, P-Funk and Sun Ra to Hendrix, Sly, Parker and Coltrane, Brazil wasn’t allowing many Afro-Brazilian musicians to stray beyond the samba. It was like, if a Brazilian musician was black, he was automatically expected to play a cavaquinho or a cueca. A black woman singer was also expected to sing samba

While in the US, one could explore nearly the entire spectrum of Jazz (bebop, orchestra, fusion, contemporary) by simply analyzing the various periods in Miles Davis’s career, in Brazil, people will still find it strange to find a black man conducting an orchestra. Don’t get me wrong, in the 21st century, there is some exciting music being created by Afro-Brazilian singers and musicians (which I will be exploring further in the coming months), but I find myself wondering what type of music black Brazilians could have been making in the 60s and 70s had they been given the opportunities.

Of course I must acknowledge great musicians such as Pixinguinha, Baden Powell, Moacir Santos, Paulo Moura, Bola Sete, Johnny Alf, Raul de Souza, Paulinho da Costa, Wilson das Neves, Jamil Joanes,  Oberdan Magalhães, Dom Salvador, Dom Um Romão, Waltel Branco, Renato Corrêa, Moacyr Silva and others. But in terms of Brazilian Instrumental Music, the list of well-known Afro-Brazilian session musicians and solo artists recording outside of the samba genre simply isn’t that extensive. And this is for black men, imagine the situation for black women such as conductor Alba Souza. With the same opportunities given to folks like Miles. Monk and Mingus, perhaps there would be more people like the subject of today’s piece, conductor Joel Barbosa. 

Maestro Joel Barbosa

Meet maestro Joel Barbosa, who charms residents of the capital city of Brasília with music

The EMB maestro and teacher left Rio de Janeiro at the age of 19 and, through music, constructed achievements in the Federal District

By WG Walder Galvão

Maestro Joel Barbosa
Maestro Joel Barbosa started playing the saxophone at the age of 12

The passion for music of teacher and conductor Joel Barbosa, 61, was born in childhood. Born in Jacarepaguá, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, and raised in the suburbs of the city, he spent the first years of his life observing his musician parents in an Evangelical church. The interest in the practice came early, at 5 years old, when he told the family that he wanted to specialize. At 12, he started with the saxophone, migrated to the baritone saxhorn, conducted orchestras inside and outside of Brazil and, today, teaches at the Escola de Música de Brasília (EMB).

Joel says he started to analyze the music at home, with his mother. “She was my first teacher of musical perception, which is also a discipline. She helped me to develop this informally, which is very important for the profession,” he points out. When he turned 12, the musician decided to take on the practice for the rest of his life. “My father gave me a baritone saxhorn, and I never stopped playing. I joined the school band and started giving presentations at the church,” he recalls.

At 16, Joel received a proposal from a school teacher to join the Rio de Janeiro Symphony Orchestra, but decided to refuse. “In addition to music, I always dreamed of becoming an airplane pilot. I entered a competition for the Aeronautics Specialist School (EEAR), passed and came to Brasília at the age of 19 to be a flight controller,” he says. Two months after arriving in the capital, in March 1978, Joel’s passion for music spoke louder, and he enrolled in the Escola de Música de Brasília (Music School of Brasília). Shortly thereafter, he competed for the unit, left militarism and started teaching.

The musician decided to specialize in the profession and took a bachelor’s degree in composition, conducting and trumpet at the University of Brasília (UnB), earned a degree in music and a Master’s degree at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). Now he is about to complete his doctorate, within the line of research in the creative process. In addition, he took a course in Spain and conducted presentations in Cuba.

“When I introduce myself, people are surprised. They’re not used to it.”

”This is not a question of being preto or negro (black), it is the fact of being in Brazil. You have to go for it, because they will want to discriminate against you in some way” 

Education of Maestro Joel Barbosa

A father of three, Joel says that everyone “went” through music, but none specialized. Today, dedication to students has become a source of energy. “I work at the school from 2 pm to 11 pm. It’s very pleasant, because I have a lot of respect for my students. We can see potential in them and pull that line so that they can see their own range,” he comments. The musician doesn’t hide his pride when speaking of the students’ achievements. “I have students who are outside of Brazil, who make presentations in several other places,” he says.

In addition to his passion for teaching, the Rio native claims that his relationship with music grows stronger every day. “You don’t stop. I wake up singing. Every day there is a soundtrack in my head, a song that will define my day. There’s always something when it’s dawn,” he says. In addition to working at school, the conductor directs Orquestra Cristã de Brasília, a group that performs throughout the country.


Joel doesn’t believe in labels. According to him, the term separates people, and what’s necessary is that they are united. Asked about experiences with racism, he guarantees that all the cases wouldn’t fit in the newspaper and decides to tell only two. When trying to get a scholarship in Boston, in the United States, he went to the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development or CNPq) to find out about the subject.

“I was just entering the building when someone, who I’m not going to name, asked me what I wanted. I wanted to respond with a good morning. However, I said I wanted information about a music scholarship. Then she told me that they didn’t give that kind of thing there, and I left,” he recalls. Joel defines the situation as embarrassing and believes that the situation had nothing to do with the scholarship. It was about the color of his skin.

The other case occurred in a state he prefers not to name. The professor reports that 45 musicians were with him and that the event’s organizers asked who the conductor was. “I was talking to two people, one blond and one not too different. That person approached another group, then he went to ours and, when they indicated that I was Joel, he looked me up and down and was only convinced of my work when the orchestra started,” he details.

Joel says that usually his name comes first, and people create an image. “When I introduce myself, people are surprised. They’re not used to it,” he says. However, the conductor attributes the situation to the country. ”This is not a question of being preto or negro (black), it is the fact of being in Brazil. You have to go for it, because they will want to discriminate against you in some way,” he emphasizes. The musician also points out that the situations experienced don’t bring him down. “It doesn’t take my sleep away”, he concludes.

Source: Correio Braziliense

Post updated on September 19, 2020 at 9:28am

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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