You can start listening to the album Vidas pra contar (Lives to tell) by skipping the first track, only as an exercise of analysis. What you will find is a Djavan exercising his acclaimed style to the limit. Só pra ser o sol (Just to be the sun) is one of those killer songs; the kind that will play on the radio forever (and sound brand new), the kind that sticks to your ears. Shaped by Marcelo Mariano’s bass lines and counting on the unusual horn lines played by Jessé Sadoc (trumpet) and Marcelo Martins (tenor sax), the song soon wins us over through its melodic fluency within a surprising harmonic structure, full of modulations. And in the lyrics, the poetics of Djavan, refined in such a way that nobody else would do; the use of slang ("uhu" – meaning “yay”) amidst surprising images (such as the young lady trawling through the closet): "Yay, you said you’d come and you did/I couldn’t believe it/And I even shivered/I thought of you trawling through the closet/To get to me/How great! To see you/So beautiful and desired".
Now think of the last time you listened to a pop song so well rounded in the technical sense, so easy to listen to, and even so, so different from everything, such as this description of a man’s astonishment before the beauty of the woman he is in love with.
But you can also start listening to the album, in another exercise of analysis, as it should be, by the first track. And then you will find an unexpected Djavan, exercising another style, and apparently less personal one. The xote [a Brazilian music genre and type of dance similar to the forró] called Vida nordestina (Northeastern life) depicts the composer in a dialogue with one of his most important, despite less obvious, influences: Luiz Gonzaga. The song has Gonzaga’s simplicity, with that kind of melody that seems to have always existed but was thoroughly created by a composer. That’s how Vida nordestina came to life: classic, and with lyrics that, I tend to believe, Humberto Teixeira himself would sign, especially for the paradox proposed when it states in the first verses, "Life is not made of parties/For the people from sertão" [sertão is a sub-region of the northeastern region of Brazil] and, some of the verses below, poetically deny the initial idea: "But when it is party time/All the people from sertão/Dance to shake off the dust/From the heart/The young ladies already so pretty/Get even prettier/And the men can’t believe/ what they see".
Now, think of the last time you listened to such a typical northeastern song, which is oddly original, at the same time. As, by the way, life in the sertão is or any life, as a matter of fact, original and always the same. Or, as in the lyrics of Vida nordestina: "Even a home in which bread is scarce/Has its days of happiness".
Vidas pra contar, Djavan’s 23rd album, tells stories of lives such as those, real but through the poetic filter, lives surprised by detail. The album reveals such a mature composer, one that is personal, be it exercising his acclaimed style, as in Só pra ser o sol, be it experimenting other languages, as in Vidas pra contar.
Such maturity takes Djavan to the exercise of his most striking style in different genres of popular music, calling attention to the fact that his musical education first started, when he was still a boy in Maceió, through a school friend’s father’s eclectic album collection and also through the not less eclectic live audience radio shows on Rádio Nacional, which he used to listen to with his mother. As a matter of fact, the autobiographical song Dona do horizonte (Owner of the horizon) talks exactly about Djavan’s relationship with the music based on his mother’s influence, who had him listen to Orlando Silva, "Dalva de Oliveira and Angela Maria/Everyday...".
As he walks through different styles of popular music, Ânsia de viver (Anxious to live) is a syncopated samba by Djavan that reminds us of the fact that he has written some classics of the genre (Flor-de-lis, Fato consumado, among others). Não é um bolero (It’s not a bolero) is an stylized bolero in the music structure and a typical bolero in the lyrics that cry over the absence of love: "It’s not a bolero/It’s sincere love/One that lives through everything/Not having you next to me/Upsets me/And nothing is sadder/Life is but a little thing/Those who don’t love/Don’t live in peace". Se não vira jazz (Otherwise it’s jazz) dialogues with jazz itself in the strength of the instrumental introduction, in the free singing form (which includes some scat) and in the harmonic complexity; for the lyrics that, as opposed to a bolero, celebrates reunion and true love: "Living is so good/When love comes along/It’s too much perfection". Vidas pra contar, on its turn, is an extremely original song of Iberian influence, with touches of flamenco, reminding us of this important heritage Brazilian music has absorbed, especially in the Northeast of the country.
The song O tal do amor (That thing called love) dialogues with French waltz, and its light music enlivens the extremely light lyrics ("Smile at me/It’s almost a garden/Where birds fly"), whereas Encontrar-te (Finding You) is one of those dense love ballads that were born to become a standard (just listen to the trumpet introduction, by Jessé Sadoc, emulating the great love songs by Gershwin or Jobim). Primazia is found in between; it is a love song, almost a foxtrot, light as a waltz and dense as a ballad. Together, the three songs form a curious trilogy that reveals, after all, Djavan’s ability to talk about love through songs in many forms, always faithful to his style.
Other two songs from Vidas pra contar may be grouped in another possible set, a diptych in which the dialogue does not actually happen between two traditional genres of popular music, but rather with Djavan’s own style. Aridez (Dryness) is one of those songs that does not need to be signed, as it shows Djavan’s characteristic way to talk about love, in the accelerated, exuberant and unclassifiable music and lyrics: "I cross the dark desert/To run away from loneliness/You are my lighthouse/Don’t let me get lost/You are the one who will get me out/ of such dryness". Enguiçado (Broken), with a jazzy touch, is a critical observation of human behavior: "So many crooked guys/Broken/who keep doing the wrong thing/Inclined to comply with everything/If the deal is solid/ they could go either way".
The stunning musical diversity, which confirms Djavan’s creative potentiality, is turned into musical language by both his band and his own arrangements. We could certainly say that Vidas pra contar is an album by Djavan and band. It has its rhythmic core formed by Paulo Calasans on piano (and keyboards), Marcelo Mariano on bass and Carlos Bala on drums. Electric and acoustic guitars are played by João Castilho and Djavan himself, and horns are played by Jessé Sadoc and Marcelo Martins. Singer, composer, songwriter, guitarist and the arranger of all songs in the album, Djavan has his musical voice well presented by this virtuoso band. A voice full of style, which talks to the entire tradition of the popular music, introduced to him by his mother, during his childhood. Just like someone who sings to his own mother (as he confesses in Dona do horizonte: "I’d sing there for her to listen"), with loving care, Djavan seems to sing in this Vidas pra contar.
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