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Chico Cesar: dressed in love, stubborn from Africa

Why are protests in Brazil so boring? wonders the singer Chico César, when he talks about his conception of the claim. My revolution is a dancing revolution! “Since his debut and his famous Mama África with a big heart, chaining the double days of work in a dilapidated and abandoned country, the singer has chosen his path, that of cheerfulness and the power of love, to fight against sadness. , the pain and the harshness of the world. ” In South Africa, people were dancing to demand the release of Nelson Mandela! »

The revolution while dancing

The influence of the African soil. At the start, a simple intuition for this tiny little man with a flower black power look, born in 1964 in the rural area of ​​Catolé do Rocha, a small town in the state of Paraiba in the Northeast of Brazil, to a mixed-race Indian father and white, and of a mother descended from slaves, come, he thinks, from Angola. Then there is this suffocating two-hour stopover in Dakar in 1991, and the impossibility – for the singer then on his way to Germany and his first European tour – to cross the barriers at the airport. Chico César warns the memory of a frustrating but thrilling experience “. And above all, a tape by Salif Keïta, listened to on a loop on a road in Spain, while he was going with a friend to visit a girl who was the ex of one and the other.

His voice and his music impressed me a lot, does he remember If someone from an African village is able to do something so powerful that speaks to the whole world, I thought to myself that I could do the same “. Fascinated by the pop arrangements of the Malian, Francisco Cesar Gonçalves, alias Chico César, founded the group A Cámara dos Camarados (the room of comrades) on his return to Brazil, renamed it shortly after Cuscuz Clã (the clan of cuscuz, the favorite cornmeal of the Nordestins) and starts composing again. Africa comes naturally to him: Tambores (the drums), Dança O Povo Negro (dance the black people) and At Primeira Vista (from the first shot), where Salif Keïta alternates with Prince to illustrate the soundtrack with an intense thunderbolt: ” It was important for me to place them on the same plane. They are two representatives of the African diaspora like me, who are part of the world and who make it move, rather than observing it and defending themselves against it. “Three years later, here he is finally posing for a photo on his first album, Aos Vivos (“to the living” in Brazilian, pun with ao vivo – “live”), recorded in public on a small label in the company of a figure of Tropicalism, the guitarist Lanny Gordin, and a certain Lenine. The success is immediate. Seduced by her sensitivity and her feminine gaze, all the great stars of Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) of the time fought over the right to perform her compositions. It is the singer Maria Bethânia who will win the bet, making At Primeira Vista one of his greatest successes. Even today, he frequently asks Chico for new songs.

This fascination that the artist exerts on his public when releasing an album, Chico César discovers it at the age of 8, when he begins, with the agreement of his parents, to work with the boss of a record and book store near his school, devouring Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Amado, José de Alencar and José Lins do Rego amid the covers of Hendrix, the Stones, Kraftwerk, Luiz Gonzaga, James Brown or of the Banda de Pifanos de Caruaru. ” I too wanted to be liked by the public, to be the one who was on the cover, the one that people were going to hold and watch. And I realized that it was possible, thanks to words and music. “. At 15, when he left Catolé do Rocha for good to follow his family to the capital located on the coast, he already had several groups to his credit and a furious desire for poetry.

© Ludovic Careme
Cultural guerilla and Couscous clan

In João Pessoa, Chico César joined at the age of 18 the group of brothers Pedro Osmar and Paulo Ró, Jaguaribe Carne, radically positioned on the left and one of the first to attempt a synthesis between local folk music and experimental music. Founded under the military regime, the group launches a few alternative cassettes without any technical rigor and practices cultural guerrilla warfare. An approach dear to the singer, trained in political and social criticism from an early age by his older brother, a member of the student movement against the dictatorship, imprisoned several times and today an activist in the popular movement for the right to housing. Nicknamed Luiz Gonzaga as the inventor of the baião rhythm, he is a model for the artist, both in terms of commitment and confrontation, as well as for his energy and facetious spirit. So when Chico César moved to São Paulo two years later to start a career as a journalist, it was quite naturally towards the musicians of the Paulista avant-garde that he turned, befriending Itamar Assumpção and Arrigo Barnabé, the main figures of this experimentalist cultural movement which had its heyday in the mid-1980s.

But in 1996, no more articles and intimate concerts in alternative theaters, Chico César is a star. Mama Africa version Cuscuz Cla, the second album produced with great fanfare by Mazzola, then star of Polygram, is a hit everywhere. Chico, who poses as a crowned African king with a scepter in hand, has integrated the South African bassist and singer Bakithi Kumalo into the plethora of prestigious musicians recruited for the occasion. Cuscuz Clã is a series of iconoclastic hits, a mix of playful and tasty poetry against a background of social protest and anti-racism, in a particularly successful fusion of pop and traditional rhythms: reggae, funk, carimbó, coco, forró, vaquejada, jongo and of course African music.

Chico Céasar – Mama África/Brilho de Beleza/Pra Não Dizer que Não Falei das Flores (Ao Vivo)

The following year, it was Lokua Kanza’s turn to be invited to Beleza Mano (super, brother), his third album, which happily uses the same ingredients. Both started in the voice guitar style and had met thanks to the success ofAos Vivos. To the immense surprise of Chico César, the Congolese musician had asked him very seriously where he had been able to learn to play the guitar in a typically African style. He who had always studied alone! “This way I have of playing, singing and behaving has made African musicians always see me as a brother he says proudly. This is also what Ray Lema will later assert, who considers Chico César as the most African artist in Brazil… after Luiz Gonzaga, of whom he has around twenty albums and of which he knows how to play all the pieces; a black musician, born in the interior of Brazil, like all the great forró composers, from Jackson do Pandeiro to João do Vale, passing through the musicians of the Trio Nordestino or the combo Os Três do Nordeste. ” Thanks to an African, I realized that black music is the basis of Northeastern music, he exclaims. For once, I stopped differentiating Northeast music and African music, since it’s the same. It made me more modest compared to the one I do. “Perfect illustration of these resemblances, Francisco, Forro y Frevoreleased in 2008 on Chita Discos, his own label, is a veritable concentrate of rhythms from the Nordeste and a frenzied evocation of the carnivals of his childhood.

love in revolutions

After the superb Estado de Poesia (state of poetry) in 2015 and O Amor É Um Ato Revolucionário (love is a revolutionary act) in 2019, more committed and inspired than ever, Chico thinks it’s time to get people talking about him again in a country that praised him in the era of world sound: the France. Composed and recorded between Carpentras and Paris with Brazilians from France, Vestido de Amor (dressed in love), produced by Jean Lamoot (Les Valentins, Noir Désir, Bashung, Blick Bassy, ​​Bonbon Voodoo, etc.) is an ardent declaration of love to his African brothers who inspired him so much: Salif Keita and Ray Lema, prestigious guests on this touching opus, even in its candy pink cover and small flowers in the hair, except for the title bolsominions, where the artist fires red balls at the electorate of his hated president. ” It’s very enriching to create away from home, it changes the perspective, it forces you to have a different look and to take other attitudes. “An unbearable provocation for the deputies of his state who outright voted for a resolution disavowing the singer and secretary of culture.

Happy assemblies of popular culture, affirmation of negritude, exacerbated romanticism and politico-social criticism, the Afro-Brazilian albums of Chico César, militant of the black cause and great defender of minorities and identities are above all those of a lover of words and poetry, happy to have published several collections, including a book for children. This talent for writing earned him the presidency of the João Pessoa Cultural Foundation before being appointed at the end of 2011 for two years as Secretary of Culture for the state of Paraiba, in order to create this secretariat which did not exist. An experience that marked the artist despite difficulties due to the lack of financial means: ” if the country devoted 3% of the federal budget to culture, 2% of the budget of each state and 1% to local communities, we would have a lot of money to strengthen a creative industry, recognized throughout the world “, he regrets, before approaching, confident, the painful subject of a change of rulers. Yes, we will fire Bolsonaro this year (the general elections are taking place in Brazil on October 2 and 30, editor’s note), not only through poetry and dance, but by mobilizing the whole of society, which will have to reorganize. Brazil is no longer a republican country. We must find democracy, representativeness, the basics of any civilized place. »

Auê César, those who dress you in love salute you.

Vestido de Amor released September 23, 2022

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