Released in Brazil in the fall of 1996, Maria Bethânia’s Âmbar received world-wide distribution through MetroBlue. This CD marked Bethânia’s 50th birthday and followed her two previous best-selling CDs and video production of a Canecão show in Rio. Âmbar brings Maria Bethânia Vianna Telles Veloso (Bethânia’s real name) doing what she does best: passionate renditions of both classic and contemporary Brazilian Popular Music (Música Popular Brasileira, MPB). Since her first hit, “Carcará” (1965), Bethânia has evolved tremendously both as a singer and stage performer. In her 1973 release, Drama, Luz Da Noite, Bethânia sang Brazilian classics and introduced Portuguese and Brazilian poetry and prose to many of her fans: Antônio Bivar, Isabel Câmara, Luiz Carlos Lacerda, Clarice Lispector and the incomparable Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. In her 1974 follow-up show and record, A Cena Muda, Bethânia continued a similar path singing Gonzaguinha, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Paulinho da Viola and Suely Costa (on poems by Fernando Pessoa and Cecília Meireles). Drama and music were constantly being mixed in Bethânia’s releases. Bethânia was as innovative then as she is now. The power of her stage presence and voice delivered her songs like no other Brazilian performer has ever done.
In this latest release, Bethânia is exploring the new music of Brazil with Adriana Calcanhotto, Chico César and Carlinhos Brown at the same time that she sings classics by Sílvio Caldas, Orestes Barbosa, Ary Barroso and Vicente Paiva. Of course, familiar names, such as her brother Caetano Veloso, Suely Costa and the poetry of Manuel Bandeira complete this full circle.
The title track opens with Jaime Alem’s guitar in a “bluesy” feeling accentuated by Steve Tavaglione’s trumpet solos:
Tá tudo aceso em mim
Tá tudo assim tão claro
Tá tudo brilhando em mim
All’s lit up in me
All’s so clear this way
All’s shining in me
And shining is the way Bethânia takes us from song to song. Bethânia’s enunciation in “Chão de Estrelas” is precise and poetic. It is a well-deserved tribute to Sílvio Caldas and Orestes Barbosa with Alem’s guitar and Jotinha’s soft piano bringing out the simplicity in this classic Brazilian tune.
Chico César’s first composition featured in this release, “Onde Estará o Meu Amor” is a soft country tune evoking the style of Renato Teixeira’s songs. Tony Morgan’s harmonica gives Jaime Alem’s arrangement its natural countryside feel. One cannot help but feel the loneliness in the night as the singer aches singing “onde estará o meu amor, onde estou eu, onde está você” (where will my love be, where am I, where are you). It is, however, in the other Chico César song, “Invocação,” that Bethânia shows her extraordinary voice and interpretation. This haunting melody and words begin with the string section setting the mood for the invocation. There is darkness in the music and there is mysticism in the words Bethânia sings almost like a prayer. Virgínia Rodrigues provides the ghost-like voice, like a prisoner and slave crying. This chant contrasts dramatically with the drum and bass accompaniment:
Deus dos sem deuses
Deus do céu sem Deus
Deus dos ateus
Rogo a ti cem vezes
Responde quem és?
Serás deus ou deusa?
Que sexo terás?
Mostra teu dedo, tua língua, tua face
Deus dos sem deuses
God of the godless
God of the godless sky
God of the atheists
I pray to you a hundred times
Answer who are you?
Will you be a god or goddess?
What sex will you be?
Show your finger, your tongue, your face
God of the godless
When Chico Buarque joins Maria Bethânia singing Ary Barroso and Luiz Peixoto’s “Quando Eu Penso na Bahia,” the tone is very relaxed and fun. Having performed together in a Canecão show in the 70’s, Bethânia and Chico feel very at ease in each other’s presence. Bethânia’s homage to the Brazilian greats does not stop here. Vicente Paiva and Jayme Redondo’s great exultation prayer “Ave Maria” is probably not as well-known as “Aquarela do Brasil” and “Rio de Janeiro (Isto É o Meu Brasil).” Nevertheless, “Ave Maria” is a peaceful and beautiful song praising Brasil: our land, rivers, field, serene nights, cascades, butterflies and the skies. Like those other familiar songs, “Ave Maria” paints the colorful Brazilian landscape in a very sensitive performance by Bethânia.
Caetano Veloso’s “Eterno em Mim” feels to me like a song especially written for Bethânia. I cannot help but see Bethânia in every line of this song. From the opening words, “não há nada no mundo que possa fazer eu deixar de cantar” (there is nothing in the world that will keep me from singing), until Bethânia’s last breath, she puts a lot of emotion in those words. Her voice carries the weight of someone who truly believes and lives Caetano’s lyrics.
The CD comes with a beautiful booklet with photo close-ups of Bethânia and her jewelry. Lyrics are enclosed. The CD itself has an intricate amber design on its face. Maria Bethânia is artistry at its best! With both simple and elaborate arrangements — not overdone — and perfect delivery, Bethânia’s songs take the listener on a musical journey through the new and the classic in Brazilian song.
EMI Brasil 854174 2 (1996)
- Âmbar (Adriana Calcanhotto)
- Chão de Estrelas (Sílvio Caldas – Orestes Barbosa)
- Iluminada (Jorge Portugal – Roberto Mendes) w/ Zap Mama, Sabine Kabongo & Angelique Wilkie
- Onde Estará o Meu Amor (Chico César)
- Lua Vermelha (Arnaldo Antunes – Carlinhos Brown)
- O Circo (Orlando Morais – Antônio Cícero)
- Invocação (Chico César) w/ Virgínia Rodrigues
- Uns Versos (Adriana Calcanhotto)
- Allez y (Carlinhos Brown)
- Todos os Lugares (Tite de Lemos – Sueli Costa)
- Quando Eu Penso na Bahia (Ary Barroso – Luiz Peixoto) w/ Chico Buarque
- Ave Maria (Jayme Redondo – Vicente Paiva)
- Eterno em Mim (Caetano Veloso)
- Brisa (Paquito)
A modified version of this review first appeared in Luna Kafé in March 1997.