Tim Maia: The father of Brazilian Soul Music would be 78 today

Tim Maia

Tim Maia

Note from BBT: If and when you get into MPB, Brazilian Popular Music, it won’t be long before you come across the name and music of singer/songwriter Tim Maia. When I started digging back in the year 2000, it was probably only a few months before I discovered the legend of this innovative singer. If you’ve never heard of Maia, you might be wondering what’s so great about him. Well, to get right to the point, Tim brought Soul, both the musical genre and the voice to the Brazilian music repertoire. I’m not saying that Brazilian Music didn’t/doesn’t have good singers; but I am saying that you could divide Brazilian singers into BT, Before Tim and AT, After Tim.

For me, listening to Maia’s husky, soulful voice in comparison to the way others were singing in Brazil at the time is almost like listening to a Pat Boone record first and then hearing Little Richard. Hearing Frank Sinatra first and then hearing James Brown. Again, not saying that Boone or Sinatra weren’t good singers, their styles were just clearly different from the two artists I paired them with. Kinda like the difference between eating Thanksgiving dinner in a vanilla suburb and then eating in a chocolate city. (I’ve had both and I can attest to the difference) 

To get an idea of what I mean, in my exporations of Brazilian music over the years, with a focus on black singers, I’ve come across a number celebrated artists. TIn my research, I’ve come across great singers such as Agostinho dos Santos, Jair Rodrigues, Wilson Simonal and Emílio Santiago. All great singers, but all of them at one time or another sounded to me as they would do well singing the Rat Pack’s Greatest Hits.

Tim Maia
Rolling Stone Brasil magazine selected Maia as Brazil’s greatest singer

This is why Tim Maia’s contribution to Brazilian Music is so huge. And it’s not just me who thinks so. When the Brazilian edition of Rolling Stone magazine listed its top 100 Brazilian singers of all-time, Maia wasn’t just in the top 10, he was crowned number one. Now don’t get the idea that I’m a fan of all of Maia’s music because there are a number of his songs that I wouldn’t miss if I never heard them again.

Depending on the type of music he was singing at a given time, the songs could be a little too sappy for my taste or a little bit to strong on the Disco side. But when you hear the tracks where he nailed it, you can forgive most of the other albums that, at least for me, would make a good substitute for a frisbee.

The six-year special edition of Rolling Stone Brasil Magazine presented a ranking of the 100 greatest voices in the history of Brazilian music. The ranking was compiled by 60 specialists, with the great Elis Regina coming in second and Ney Matogrosso, third. The list of the top 10 broke down like this:

1 – Tim Maia
2 – Elis Regina
3 – Ney Matogrosso
4 – Wilson Simonal
5 – Maria Bethânia
6 – Roberto Carlos
7 – Gal Costa
8 – Caetano Veloso
9 – Clara Nunes
10 – Milton Nascimento

Back in 2000, I was learning about Maia, his crazy life and how he managed to make it in the music industry. Then when I discovered the story of the infamous last concert where he simply walked off stage after falling ill and dying shortly afterward, I wondered what Brazilians thought of the singer. I remember the first Brazilian with whom I had steady contact two decades ago and her reaction when I asked her what she thought about Maia. First, not even remembering who he was, it finally clicked her head: “Oh, that fat guy that died,” I remember her saying. Damn, that was the first thing out of her mouth about Brazil’s greatest singer. This is the same man who has had a book, musical and movie about his life. That’s quite an accomplishment when you consider that black Brazilians are rarely the focus of any of these three genres.

Tim Maia
Maia in later years

If someone who didn’t know anything about Maia were to ask me the same question I’d say, think of a sort of Rick James type character. No, Maia looked nothing like the 70s/80s King of Punk Funk (in some photos he reminds me of singer Baby Huey), but the humor, the drugs, alcohol and outspoken personality they definitely shared. Like James, Maia had his share of legal issues. For example, before becoming famous, James fled the US to avoid being drafted into the military and escaped to Canada, where he honed his skills as musician with a band called the Mynah Byrds, featuring Neil Young. Maia lived in the US for a short period, and even cut a record with a group called The Ideals. He ended up being deported from the United States in 1963 because of marijuana possession. James, let us not forget, wrote a song about his love for marijuana. I know, I know, that was stretch,  but interestingly, the two died at nearly the same age. Maia died six months shy of his 56th birthday in 1998, James in 2004, about six months past his 56th birthday.

It’s ironic, I decided to write this post earlier this month when I learned that Maia’s birthday was in September. His name has come up a number of times over the years but I never got around to dedicating a full post to him. As fate would have it, as I was preparing this piece about Tim, another black Brazilian famous for his American-influenced Soul/Funk style, Gerson King Combo, just passed away last week. In my stories on Brazilian Soul music, I have often mentioned Maia, Combo and Tony Tornado together. Today, September 28th, 2020, the day that Maia would have been 78 years, I present today’s post in his memory.

Tim Maia
Tim Maia: Father of Brazilian Soul Music

Tim Maia, the father of Brazilian soul music

Tim Maia’s life was a reflection of his hyperbolic personality, intense, fun and at the same time dramatic. The youngest of 12 siblings, born in the Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, in 1942, his relationship with music and compositions began early. At the age of seven he was writing his first lyrics.

In 1956, he formed his first musical group Os Tijucanos do Ritmo. The following year, at the age of fifteen, he set up with Roberto Carlos, Edson Trindade (author of the song “Gostava tanto de você”), Wellington Oliveira and Arlênio Lívio (who would join the group Renato and his Blue Caps), the vocal group The Sputinks, even performing on the Clube do Rock program of Carlos Imperial. These boys, along with Erasmo Carlos, Jorge Ben and José Roberto (known as China), were part of the Bar do Divino gang, where they got together to listen and sing rock’n roll.

Tim Maia in the 1960s

In the late 1950s, he went to live in the United States. There, he discovered Soul music. He even recorded with an American group, The Ideals. He initially lived in Tarrytown, working in coffee shops, and later in New York, but after deciding to travel with three more friends across the south of the country, carrying out small thefts as a way to finance the trip, he ended up being arrested in Florida for marijuana possession and deported to Brazil in 1964.

Back in Rio, Tim Maia was faced with the success of his friends from the Bar do Divino group. This, however, did not mean easy access to the mainstream of the nascent Brazilian music industry. Tim had to submit to some aesthetic standards to participate in the Jovem Guarda movement’s television programs. On the other hand, acting as an arranger and producer of some albums and providing compositions for Roberto and Erasmo Carlos, he became responsible for introducing Soul music to the fans of Iê-iê-iê (yeah, yeah, yeah) (see note one).

After 4 years living behind the scenes of music, Tim Maia released his first solo work, a simple 45 composed only of two tracks, in 1968, by CBS. Success, however, would only come two years later with the recording of his first LP. Entitled simply by Tim Maia, the album features some songs that have become classics of what is known as MPB, or Brazilian Popular Music: “Azul da cor do mar”, “Primavera” and “Colonel Antônio Bento”.

Another three homonymous albums were released in the following years, raising the name of Tim Maia, who recorded new successes with each release, as Gostava tanto de você, Não quero dinheiro and Réu confesso,to the post destined only to great artists.

Behind and beyond his powerful voice, capable of reaching low notes, as well as high, by means of falsettos, the groove and swing of his beats that oscillated between ballads and frenetic sounds, as well as the dramatic or dazzling content of his compositions, Tim Maia inaugurated what became known as modern black Brazilian music. Together with Cassiano, Banda Black Rio and Hyldon, Tim built a new space for blacks in Brazilian music, dissociating himself from samba, which until the 1960s was practically their only way of musical expression.

In the mid-1970s, Tim became involved with Cultura Racional, a doctrine created by Manuel Jacinto Coelho, and embedded in his dogmas he released two albums known as Tim Maia Racional (volume I and II). Although these works, at the time, basically had the role of disseminating the sect that promised rational immunization, through letters of essentially doctrinal content, the records are considered true masterpieces.

Tim Maia
Maia 1971 album cover

The fact that he stopped smoking, drinking and consuming other psychoactive substances, made his voice reach a unique quality. For many critics and admirers, the two albums capture his best performances. Allied to this, the “fase racional” (“rational phase”) arrangements had a striking Soul and Funk touch.

It was also during this period that Tim Maia created his own label, Seroma, in reverse of the word amores and an abbreviation of his own registration name. It is also worth noting that the launch of Tim Maia Racional Vol. I coincided with the birth of his son Carmelo Maia.

Just as he had entered “head first” in the Cultura Racional, the father of Brazilian Soul music suddenly abandoned the teachings of master Manuel and returned to secular music and his life of excesses.

The end of the 1970s brought the album Tim Maia Disco Club, in which, taking advantage of disco music fever, Tim recorded two of his greatest hits, “Acenda o Farol” and “Sossego”.

The 1980s were marked by the consolidation of his name among the great Brazilian artists. Countless songs reached the top positions on radio stations across the country: “Do Leme ao Pontal”, “Vale tudo”, “Descobridor dos sete mares”. Great duets were recorded, such as those with Gal Costa, Roberto Carlos, Jorge Ben Jor and Sandra de Sá. Tim also sealed successful partnerships, like the one celebrated with the composers Michael Sullivan and Paulo Massadas, authors of “Me dê motivo” and “Um dia de domingo”.

As throughout his career, he accumulated enmities and legal disputes with major record labels, in the 1990s he resumed the project of Seroma publishing house and Vitória Régia Discos, becoming one of the first mainstream artists to join the independent music movement. During this period, Tim Maia started to be re-recorded by a new generation musicians and bands and artists such as Marisa Monte, Paralamas do Sucesso and Titãs.

Tim Maia

In 1993, the great Brazilian music frontman returns to the charts with the re-recording of Como uma Onda (Lulu Santos/Nelson Motta) and an unusual tribute made by his friend Jorge Ben Jor in the chorus of the song “W/Brasil”, in which he calls him the Examiner of Brazil.

He went on to record frantically, even releasing 5 albums in 1997, showing all his versatility when interpreting everything from funk, bossa nova and soul to American standards and hymns from Rio de Janeiro futebol clubs.

Having accumulated several health problems, resulting from the exaggerated use of legal and illegal drugs, in addition to being overweight, Tim Maia, winner of the Prêmio da Música Brasileira (Brazilian Music Award) six times in the best singer category, said goodbye to the stages and life in the blackout of twentieth century lights, coincidentally or not, also called The Century of Extremes.

Nevertheless, his name and his work continue to echo through tributes, homages, re-recordings and in the memory and ears of millions of Brazilians.

Actor Babu Santana as Tim Maia in 2014 film ‘Tim Maia: não há nada igual’

On March 15, 1998, after spending seven days in Hospital Universitário Antônio Pedro, where he was taken after feeling ill at the beginning of a show at the Teatro Municipal de Niterói (Niterói, Rio de Janeiro), the singer, composer and instrumentalist Sebastião Rodrigues Maia, better known as Tim Maia, aged 55, died, the victim of cardiovascular complications.

In addition to Carmelo, responsible for the Vitória Régia Discos archive and holder of his father’s copyright, Tim left two other children, José Carlos da Silva Nogueira and the singer Léo Maia.

The life of this brilliant artist was told by Nelson Motta, in the book Vale Tudo: o som e a fúria de Tim Maia (2007), which became the basis for Mauro Lira’s film, Tim Maia: não há nada igual, released in 2014.

Source: Palmares


  1. The term Iê-Iê-Iê, a Brazilianized version of the Beatles phrase “yeah, yeah, yeah”, was the term used to define Brazilian rock’n’roll of the 1960s. The era ushered in a new experimentation of traditional Brazilian music with Rock influences. Acoustic guitars were replaced with electric guitars with the piano being substituted by the organ. The new style would later be christened the Jovem Guarda (young guard) era.

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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