Chico Buarque - Biography

By Nick Castro


         Born Francisco Buarque de Holanda in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1944, "Chico" Buarque became one of the more controversial, yet best-loved musicians to emerge from Brazil's internationally popular bossa nova movement of the 1960s. His historian father, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, provided Francisco with a highly intellectual and well-rounded upbringing, and his friendship with several of the early bossa nova musicians, including legends such as Baden Powell, Oscar Castro Neves, and Vinícius de Moraes, helped to inspire Chico's lifelong career in music. As a teenager, Chico became particularly enamored by the music of João Gilberto, the most famous exponent of this new bossa nova sound of the late 1950s. He soon began singing, playing, and composing music of his own, much to the detriment of everything else in his life, including his college career. He had begun studying architecture at the University of São Paulo, but found himself all-too-often cutting classes to hang out with his musician friends, and soon music would win out over college.


       At the ripe age of 21, Buarque began to be noticed for his musical talents. He began playing at festivals and schools, he composed music for the theater (another love of his), and had some of his songs recorded by the great bossa nova singer, Nara Leão, and inevitably released his own first singles, "Pedro Pedreiro" and "Sonho de um Carnaval". In 1966 one of the songs Nara Leão had recorded, "A Banda", became an enormous hit and made him famous. A song which is still seen as a classic of the time, "A Banda" led the way to Buarque becoming a viable recording artist of his own, and by 1966 he had released his first of over forty albums to date. He played concerts all over the country, made numerous TV appearances, and had many further hits.


    By the mid '60s the bossa nova movement was fading, or rather transforming, into a style known as Música Popular Brasileira (MPB), which, though embracing the older bossa nova form, with its samba rhythms and acoustic guitar, was a more inclusive and varied amalgamation, as the title suggests, of pop music, all with a distinct Brazilian flavor. Though Barque's music was at first essentially bossa nova in form, he later became one of the first "stars" of MPB, the sound with which he is most commonly identified.


   Among the new MPB movers of the late 1960s, there was a radically progressive subsect of young musicians who called their music "Tropicalia". The enigmatic Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, and Gilberto Gil were among the main exponents of this somewhat more rock-inspired movement, and they often criticized Buarque for being too conservative. But whatever his ability or inability to appeal to the cutting-edge of the Brazilian music world, his ability to write original and catchy music, coupled with his immense talent for clever, and moving, lyric writing, and his photographic good-looks, made him one Brazil's first bona-fide "pop stars".


   But his pop-star status in no way is indicative of his being middle-of-the-road or in any way inept. He has actually always been quite uncomfortable with his pop-star status and has preferred to be seen as the true artist that he is. And despite his somewhat less avant-garde sound (when compared to the Tropicalistas), his music was rife with social consciousness and progressive attitudes. In 1968 his controversial side became apparent when he wrote and scored a play called "Roda Vida", which on one level was a depiction of his own discomfort with his fame. The plot was dark and surreal, concerning the inflated adulation of a pop-star, who is literally torn apart by his fans, who then offer the meat to the audience to eat. The dictatorial Brazilian government of the time regarded it as subversive, and tried to shut down the production, actually throwing Buarque into jail for a short time.


   After the harassment over his play, Buarque felt that the climate in Brazil was not safe for him any longer. He exiled himself in Italy in 1970, where he continued working on music. Returning to Brazil after a year and a half, he discovered that the situation he had fled had worsened. Many of the Tropicalistas were also in exile, among them both Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and the ones that remained had to succumb to rigorous and vexing government censorship.


    But Buarque was not discouraged and immediately began work on his new album Construção (Philips-1971), which became arguably his most famous and most important record. With it he made a great step forward, away from his earlier bossa nova style, composing more complex and broad-scoped songs, often cleverly veiling themes of political and social protest under complex layers of lyrics. He had to comply with the strict censors, so often the only way to get his messages through was to disguise them with cryptic analogies, which in many ways suited his literary sensibilities. Though most of his material was sadly rejected, he nonetheless managed to pass much secretly controversial music through the censorship. One such song, "Apesar de Você", became something of an anthem for the democratic movement before it was finally banned some time later.


    The censorship became so strict against him that in 1974 everything he submitted was rejected outright. The situation forced Buarque to create a pseudonym for himself, "Julinho da Adelaide", a fictitious character that was presented to the public as a real one, with his own history and style. Through this outlet Buarque was able to release many important political songs, such as "Jorge Maravilha" and "Acorda Amor". He was eventually exposed, but never abandoned his political and social crusade.


   When Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil returned to Brazil in 1972 they patched up their differences with Buarque and openly accepted him as an important and talented figure in the politically progressive music scene they embraced (Buarque even recorded with both of them in the 70s). Indeed, he had come a long way since the bossa nova days, and had branched out to writing novels and plays as well as music, much in the name of social and political reform, though still disguised in order to pass the censorship.


Throughout the 80's Buarque continued to work on music for plays as as well writing his own plays and novels. He has received many accolades from music historians for his long career in music.

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