The story of Cassiano, the forgotten genius and icon of black Brazilian Soul music

Note from BBT: There is so much to cover when discussing the history and contemporary experiences of black Brazilians that often times I’ll mention a given person, organization or historical event in passing but not get around to giving full attention to that specific topic. Can’t help it. There’s only so much time in day that I simply don’t have the time to get to everything. At this very moment, there are at least three very important stories I want to get to but I don’t have the time.

Today, I want to discuss an artist and a name that has appeared on this blog so many times without a full story that I wanted to finally get to him. A few months back with the passing singer/songwriter Gerson Cortes, better known as Gerson King Combo, Brazil’s answer to James Brown, I mentioned the name Cassiano once again. It makes total sense that I mentioned Combo and Cassiano in that post because I discovered the two artists at the same time. I actually explained that in that post. Here’s an excerpt from that post in which I was discussing my introduction to Brazilian music and I how came to discover certain artists and types of musical genres in the MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) catalog:

“One CD I remember ordering was a compilation CD compiled by musician Arto Lindsay. The CD was entitled Hojé É Natal, meaning ‘today is Christmas’ and the disc featured music by artists such as Caetano Veloso and Jorge Ben, both of whom I was already familiar with. Ben remains one of my favorite Brazilian artists. But also on this CD were two artists I had never heard of, Cassiano and Gerson King Combo. The CD seemed to be a mish-mash of songs by Brazilian artists in which they seemed to be experimenting with the sounds of American Soul music. Some of the cuts had a mixture of Soul and the Disco that came to take over the American music industry starting and lasting from the mid to late 70s.

Hojé É Natal’ CD featuring tracks be Gerson King Combo, Cassiano, Jorge Ben and Caetano Veloso

The 19 tracks on the CD featured 3 songs apiece by established MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) artists Veloso and Ben, 4 by Cassiano and 9 by Gerson King Combo. The name of the CD, Hoje é Natal, was taken from the Christmas song of the same name by Cassiano, the opening track of the disc. Cassiano’s music arrangements and sensitive vocals were clearly influenced by some of the American Soul groups of the time. His style of ballads was more akin to smooth Soul groups such as the Chi-Lites and the Delfonics rather the grittier sounds of the era made famous by the artists of the Memphis record label Stax.

Some of his uptempo songs wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Barry White album of the same period, while the track “Central do Brasil” would have fit in perfectly on a blaxploitation soundtrack of the 1970s. One of these days I’ll have to do a full piece on Cassiano (see note two). Not only were his own releases important in the development of Brazilian Soul, but he also composed a few noteworthy tracks for other artists. The Hojé É Natal compilation disc was my first exposure to Cassiano and I was impressed. Soul music, sung in Portuguese. So this is how black Brazilian folks interpreted Soul; intriguing to say the least.”

Listening to that Hoje CD offered a few different takes on what was going on in American Black Music at the time. Combo took the route of Funk, Jorge Ben’s style was more of a mixture of Brazilian samba-influenced MPB with a slice of Soul and later Funk, while Cassiano represented more of the smoother stylings of the American artists I mentioned above. Without the influence of Brazil’s Soulmen and Samba Soul architects such as Tim Maia, Cassiano, Hyldon, Jorge Ben, Banda Black Rio and a handful of others, there wouldn’t be this branch of MPB Black Music.

In fact, it has become pretty common nowadays for people to take the original meaning of MPB or Música Popular Brasileira meaning Brazilian Popular Music and change it Música Preta Brasileira, meaning Brazilian Black Music. Today, that 70s Brazilian Black Music sound can be heard in a number of talented artists such as Seu Jorge, Max de Castro, Paula Lima, Ed Motta, Jair Oliveira, Luciana Mello, Funk Como Le Gusta and many others.

Out of all of the Soul influenced Brazilian artists of the mid to late 70s and early 80s, Tim Maia was arguably the most successful, being named by Rolling Stone Brasil magazine as the top singer in history of Brazilian music. Maia has had musicals, books, a film and mini-series about him. On the other hand, artists such Cassiano, Carlos Dafé, Tony Tornado, Gerson King Combo and several other Brazilian Soul artists had short-lived careers, only releasing between one to four albums in their careers.

I can only wonder what could have been had Cassiano not been affected by health issues and how popular his music would have been if he had been American and sung in English. We’ll never know, but he deserves credit for his Soul-influenced contributions to the Brazilian songbook.

The story of Cassiano, the forgotten genius and icon of black Brazilian music

By Joel Paviotti

Known by the new generations because of a quote in a song by the Racionais MCs, Cassiano has a very important place in Brazilian music and in the consolidation of the black movement in the country

Cassiano has his name marked in the history of music, but unfortunately he is little known by the new generations. His quality as a singer and composer puts him on the same level as Tim Maia, but unfairly, with less of a spotlight.

Genival Cassiano dos Santos was born in a poor neighborhood in the city of Campina Grande, in the state of Paraíba in the northeast region of the country. As a child, he learned his first guitar chords from his father, a close friend of the singer Jackson do Pandeiro.

When he arrived with his family in Rio de Janeiro, in the midst of a great migration process, Cassiano got a job as a bricklayer’s servant. During his hours and days off, he took the opportunity to practice guitar and mandolin chords. During the 60’s, a period in which black music, especially soul, became more and more successful, the singer joined with Hyldon and other musicians and formed the band Bossa Trio which would later become Os Diagonais, the group responsible, together with Tim Maia, for the spread of black music throughout Brazil’s southeast region.

The “Síndico”, as Maia was known, had just returned from the United States and was starting to produce when he met Cassiano in Brazil playing with his band in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro’s nightlife. Impressed with the singer’s talent on guitar, and his voice and songwriting, Tim Maia invited Cassiano to paarticipate in the creation of his the first album, in 1970. It was on this album that Tim inserted two compositions by the Paraíba native, “Eu amo você” and “Primavera”, hits that helped get Cassiano known and then move on to his solo career, taking many fans along the way.

Cassiano’s first solo album was ‘Imagem e Som’, from 1971.

On this LP, he performed “Ela mandou esperar” and “Tenho dito”, both in partnership with Tim Maia, and also “Primavera”, with Silvio Rochael and “Uma Lágrima”. The first release was a great success, which guaranteed his second recording entitled: Apresentamos o nosso Cassiano, an album in which he interpreted ten of his own compositions, among them, “Cedo ou tarde”, with Suzana, “Me chame atenção”, with Renato Britto and “Castiçal”.

Genival Cassiano dos Santos, better known as simply Cassiano

But the big explosion of success came in 1976, when he released the album with two of his best known songs: “A Lua e Eu” and “Coleção”, both becoming themes of Globo TV novelas (soap operas) and marked a generation of black music fans.

The singer’s great success helped to drive the black movement in Brazil, which gathered around the dances organized in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro under the aegis of the soundtrack composed by Cassiano.

1973 LP ‘1973 – Apresentamos nosso Cassiano’

However, with all his genius, the singer was affected by respiratory problems and needed surgery to the removal of one of his lungs, a fact that led to the weakening of his voice and, consequently, retirement. In the 80’s and 90’s, Cassiano composed songs for Alcione and other famous singers, and made a few participations in a record here and there.

Still from video “A Lua e Eu”

In the 90’s, forgotten by the Brazilian cultural industry and little remembered by the new generations, the Universal record company brings back the singer’s voice with a CD featuring songs bycountry’s trio of Soul music hit makers Cassiano, Tim Maia and Hyldon on the album Velhos camaradas, which brought together some hits of each one of the artists and was a resounding success in sales.

‘Velhos Camaradas’ CD featuring songs by Brazilian Soulmen Cassiano, Tim Maia and Hyldon

Currently, the singer is still alive, but has little involvement in the current music industry. His compositions are played every day in videokês. For the new generations, he is remembered for being mentioned in one of the tracks of the legendary Hip Hop group Racionais MCS, “Vida Loka – parte II”.

1976 LP cover of ‘Cuban Soul’

Most of the time, the singer’s name goes unnoticed in the rap beats of the São Paulo group. We realized that few understood that Cassiano was fundamental for the establishment of black music in Brazil and, without him, we would certainly have a very different Racionais than it is.

Cassiano is one of those geniuses that appear in our country, however, he is not remembered as he should be, nor according his talent and trajectory.

Here we keep a space for his legacy and his importance to Brazilian music, especially those who played in the shacks of poor communities, while the young black man combed his hair with a pick before going out on a Saturday night.

The Great Cassiano!

Source: Iconografia da História

About Marques Travae 3627 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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