Oct 12 2003

Simone Guimarães: Piracema

Swimming Upstream



Piracema Born on July 12, 1966, in Santa Rosa de Viterbo (São Paulo countryside), Simone Vagnini Guimarães is more than a Brazilian music singer. She also writes some of the music she sings, and her repertoire covers toada, samba-canção, baião as well as ballads. Her musical influences include Heitor Villa-Lobos and Antônio Carlos Jobim, but perhaps because her hometown is close to the border of the state of Minas Gerais, some of her compositions will likely make you think she is a member of the famous Milton Nascimento’s Clube da Esquina. There is a certain feeling in her music about things that are part of the culture of that state, such as an ox cart, for example. The fact is, however, that the Minas Gerais influence in Simone Guimarães’s music comes really from Milton Nascimento himself. She was a student in Nascimento’s Escola Livre de Música in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais. One of her instructors was guitarist Juarez Moreira. Her voice is of rare beauty and at times she might even make you think you are listening to Elis Regina. I recall, as a matter of fact, that it was that very resemblance that first hit my senses and made me search for more recordings by Guimarães. The first tune of hers I ever heard was “Aguapé,” a duet with Zé Renato and title track of her 1998 album.

Piracema was based on a soundtrack co-written with Paulo Jobim for the TV documentary O Canto da Piracema. The term “piracema” comes from one of Brazil’s native languages, Tupi-Guarani, and refers to the phenomenon of fish swimming upstream when it is time to lay eggs. The documentary, produced by EPTV (Emissoras Pioneiras de Televisão, a Globo network affiliate), received the Líbero Badaró award in the telejournalism category in 1992. It was a scientific, artistic and professional program with significant repercussion in the media. From the original soundtrack, Simone Guimarães then recorded the album Piracema in 1996. Since it was initially an independent release, the album was hard to find, but finally in 2003 the CD was reissued commercially.

In this first album, Guimarães clearly presents her thematic proposition as a new star in the Brazilian music scene. With original work as well as those of other songwriters, Piracema sketches Guimarães’s concern with the environment, nature and animals. Those are themes that repeat throughout what she writes and sings. Let’s look, for example, at the first track, “Tamanduá.” The song, incidentally, was written by Olmir Stocker “Alemão,” a member of the famous group Brazilian Octopus, whose only album is a rarity among collectors. The war and destruction sung in this song have their origin in the hands of men, as they build dams, spray insecticides, kill animals and go against nature. Among those atrocities, the lyrics say:

Já faz tempo e ele não sabia
Eu pensei que ele aprenderia
Já passou tanto tempo
E parece que ele não aprendeu
Ele tem cara de santo mas é um fariseu.

It’s been a while and he didn’t know it
I thought he’d learn
But time has long passed by
And it seems he hasn’t learned it yet
He looks like a saint but he a pharisee.

This melody flows so smoothly and beautifully, and it matches these verses like a watercolor of sounds and images. Stocker’s arrangement and acoustic guitar lend a special touch to the song. In another section of this song, there is a touching description of the woods, rivers and waterfalls before the human destruction:

E a água cristalina escorrendo na cascata
Se embrenhando pela mata
Em seu curso original
Vem o homem e constrói uma represa
Ele contraria a natureza
E ainda diz que é racional.

And the crystalline water flows down the cascade
And goes into the forest
In its original course
Then comes the man and builds a dam
And goes against nature
And he says it’s rational.

Watercolor by Bassano Vaccarini

Watercolor by Bassano Vaccarini

This beautiful nature theme goes on in “Céu de Estio,” with Paulo Jobim’s guest appearance. The union of his hoarse voice with her semi-crystal voice shines through and highlight these verses about rivers and hills, rain and an adobe house. The song introduction will certainly remind you of “Águas de Março,” showing the wonderful influence of Jobim, the father, on his son, who wrote this arrangement. This theme about river and countryside goes on in the next tracks, “Canoa, Canoa” and “Rocinha.” The latter song contains no lyrics and is a lament with voice overdubs. Guimarães does all vocals and plays all guitars on the track.

Guimarães’s first song in the album is “Festa da Piracema”. In a very regional style and making reference to cantadores, she sings about what will happen if one day there is no more fish in the river. The title track song, “Piracema,” features the songwriters João Pacífico and José Márcio Castro Alves singing this main theme along with Guimarães. We then have an interlude with the instrumental “Lambari,” a forrô where the piano takes the place of the traditional acordeon. The next track is a tribute to a river life. The melody in “A Vida do Rio” is light, soft and serene as a boat adrift in tranquil waters. In “Laranjeiras,” Guimarães is joined by José Márcio. That song serves as a preface to the closing of the album with “Felicidade.” The trips through rivers and forests sung in Piracema are centered in the search for happiness:

Felicidade eu te busco até nos ares
Quatro mares, mil lugares
Vinte léguas sai de graça, viu

E com saudade ela esconde um abstrato
Mas comigo não tem trato
Vou te achar, felicidade.

Happiness, I search you even in the air
Four oceans, a thousand places
Twenty leagues is just kid’s play, you hear.

While longing, she hides the abstract
But there’s no hiding for me
Because I will find you, happiness.

The strong verses offer a beautiful contrast in the slow introduction sung by José Márcio in this duet. The song grows as the optimist search ends. The conclusion is decisive in Guimarães’s voice. She sings that when she finds happiness, she will destroy its address so that happiness lives forever in eternity.

Also in 1996, Simone Guimarães participated in Songbook Tom Jobim (disk 4) in a duet with Paulo Jobim singing “Pato Preto.” Still in 1996, together with Olmir Stoker “Alemão” and Zezo Ribeiro, Guimarães recorded the album Cordas Versos Cordas, which has never been released.



Simone Guimarães
Independente 199.000.807 (1996)
Re-issued: CID CD 00658/3 (2003)
Time: 30’50”


  1. Tamanduá (Olmir Stocker “Alemão”)
  2. Céu de Estio (Paulo Jobim – Danilo Caymmi – Ronaldo Bastos) w/ Paulo Jobim
  3. Canoa, Canoa (Nelson Ângelo – Fernando Brant) w/ Paulo Jobim
  4. Rocinha (Mário Martinez)
  5. Festa da Piracema (Simone Guimarães – Virgínia Amaral)
  6. Piracema (João Pacífico – José Márcio Castro Alves) w/ João Pacífico e José Márcio Castro Alves
  7. Lambari (Instrumental) (Mário Feres)
  8. A Vida do Rio (Simone Guimarães – Virgínia Amaral) w/ Celso Sim
  9. Laranjeiras (Instrumental) (Simone Guimarães – Cristina Saraiva) w/ José Márcio Castro Alves
  10. Felicidade (José Márcio Castro Alves) w/ José Márcio Castro Alves