Apr 01 2007

Leonel Laterza: Esmeraldas

One of This Year’s Best!


EsmeraldasLeonel Laterza (Uberaba, Minas Gerais) is one of several artists in the thriving Brasília music scene. With his debut album, Esmeraldas, Leonel marks a strong presence in the Brazilian popular music.

Leonel began his career singing in night clubs around Brasília. He studied at Brasília’s School of Music and also took part in several music festivals and shows such as “Vivendo Elis” (a tribute to Elis Regina) and “Homenagem a Nelson Cavaquinho.” His voice carries the same quality of some of Brazil’s best male performers, such as Caetano Veloso, Celso Fonseca, Márcio Lott, Renato Braz and Zé Luiz Mazziotti. Leonel is both smooth and powerful in his vocals. Above all, his renditions are full of passion without any exaggeration or affectation.

Leonel conceived the album and repertoire and gave musical production to Hamilton Pinheiro. Like its name, Esmeraldas is a bright shining debut album. Rosa Passos “blessed” it with her liner notes, and the special guest stars — Simone Guimarães, Lula Galvão and Zé Luiz Mazziotti — add to the excellent performances by Brasília musicians who accompany Leonel. Some of those musicians include Hamilton Pinheiro (bass, arrangements), José Cabrera (keyboards, arrangements), Alberto Sales (acoustic guitar), Sandro Araújo (drums, percussion), André Laterza (acoustic guitar, arrangements), Almir Jorge (drums), Chico Lopes (sax) and a few others.

Leonel LaterzaThe concept for Esmeraldas shows a meticulous and perfect balance between well-known songwriters and new values. The songs definitely show a romantic predominance without being sentimental. When I asked Leonel about the repertoire, he said that since the beginning he had “already decided to include established composers such as Fátima Guedes, Sueli Costa and Rosa Passos.” It all made perfect sense because he had been performing songs from those artists all along his career. Regarding the new names from Brasília, that is also an obvious choice since Leonel works with those artists and is “surrounded by their work.” One very important point is raised by Leonel, and that is something that established performers sometimes forget: one important role an interpreter has is “to bring new names and introduce them to the public.” Leonel does that remarkably well without compromising his musical taste and artistry.

Lula Galvão

The lively opener “Folia” takes us to folkloric traditions of folias de Reis, a northeastern legacy of door-to-door performance after the Christmas holidays. The title track, previously recorded by Rosa Passos in her 1999 Morada do Samba, presents a beautiful arrangement featuring an excellent tenor sax solo by Chico Lopes. Here the listener is embraced by Leonel’s sultry vocals. Showing his composer side, Leonel presents the romantic “O Avesso do Tempo,” a song featuring a flugelhorn solo by Moisés Alves highlighting the well-written lyrics. The song was written shortly after Leonel got married, and even though it is written in third person, he says he is “actually directing those lyrics to my wife, whom I love deeply and have a beautiful family with.” The arrangement was created with that loving background in mind. Leonel asked José Cabrera to capture the moment that would be like a soundtrack. The end result was this beautiful piece with a gorgeous arrangement.

The all-guitar accompaniment in “Desacostumei de Carinho” features Lula Galvão’s solo in duet with Leonel in this very intimate Fátima Guedes song. Of course choosing guest appearances for a debut album helps a new performer. It is, however, especially nice when the guest has a history with the singer, as in the case of Leonel and Lula. They grew up together in Brasília, and one day

Lula Galvão once gave me a wonderful LP full of beautiful songs and featuring a talented acoustic guitarist by the name of Hélio Delmiro. The LP was by Fátima Guedes, the one with “Cheiro de Mato,” “Dancing Cassino,” “Mais uma Boca” and several others besides “Desacostumei de Carinho,” which I recorded.

[That Fátima Guedes album Leonel mentioned above is the 2-in-1 CD (EMI 789727 2) that combines Fátima Guedes (1980) and Lápis de Cor (1981).] So, what happened when they were all kids ended up being repeated here in Esmeraldas. Lula Galvão, Leonel and his brother André re-live that memorable moment and create an unforgettable instant in Brazilian music.

Leonel Laterza & Zé Luiz MazziottiAnother beautiful moment in the album is the duet with Zé Luiz Mazziotti in Sueli Costa’s classic “Coração Ateu.” Zé Luiz is arguably one of Brazil’s best singers, and in this duet their voices soar in the splendid arrangement of piano (José Cabrera) and cello (Francisco Orru). This friendship is yet another example that paid off big time. After having performed together in Brasília a few times, Leonel and Zé Luiz formed a true friendship that translated into musical memories. When Leonel invited Zé Luiz to record “Coração Ateu,” Leonel was aware it was going to be a very emotional time for Zé Luiz. He had once told Leonel that “Coração Ateu” was Sueli Costa’s most touching song. Needless to say that what we hear is nearly magic in its purest form.

Simone GuimarãesAs for the third special guest appearance in the album, Simone Guimarães adds her voice in the lovely duet in “Cruzada,” one of those songs rich in Minas Gerais musical tones. The contrast of Leonel’s smooth timbre and Simone’s unique voice works beautifully. Simone Guimarães also contributed one original song in the album. She had performed it in some of her live concerts, but it had never been recorded before. In fact, Leonel tells the story behind the song and this recording. It was the last song in one of Simone’s shows, and she performed it a cappella. After the show, Leonel talked with Simone and asked her if he could record it. Simone said yes, but mentioned to Leonel that “the song did not even have a name. It was very short.” That did not stop Leonel, who offered to name the song “A Noite e o Mar.” This is one of those moments that happens for a reason. Leonel even “had the idea for the arrangement,” which he says highlights the melancholic tone so “characteristic in Simone Guimarães.”

Rosa Passos said it perfectly well when she wrote that “Esmeraldas is a CD to be listened to several times with peacefulness, care and your heart!” Esmeraldas is one of the best albums I have had the pleasure of listening to this year. Truly remarkable and unforgettable!

You can visit Leonel Laterza to learn more about the artist and this album.



Leonel Laterza
Independent LFL01 (2006)
Time: 53’58”


  1. Folia (Lourenço Baeta – Xico Chaves)
  2. Esmeraldas (Rosa Passos – Fernando de Oliveira)
  3. Cruzada (Tavinho Moura – Márcio Borges) w/ Simone Guimarães
  4. O Avesso do Tempo (Leonel Laterza)
  5. Desacostumei de Carinho (Fátima Guedes) w/ Lula Galvão
  6. Flor do Êxtase (Hamilton Pinheiro – Douglas Umberto de Oliveira)
  7. Mentira da Saudade (Clodô Ferreira)
  8. A Noite e o Mar (Simone Guimarães)
  9. Coração Ateu (Sueli Costa) w/ Zé Luiz Mazziotti
  10. Ponto Final (Sandra Borges – Daniel Jr. – Maca – Renato Carvalho – Quaresma)
  11. Banzai (Hamilton Pinheiro – Douglas Umberto de Oliveira)
  12. Valsa do Pierrot (José Cabrera – Nestor Kirjner)