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World Music Features

Maria Bethânia

By Eliseo Cardona
Published October 20, 2006

Bethânia is now Brazil´s most respected and celebrated female artist. But in the 1960s, she was a legend in the making.

Maria Bethânia wears her emotions on her sleeve as she talks about Vinicius de Moraes, the late, great poet of Afro-samba and bossa nova who left a legacy of graceful songs, filled with subtle beauty and deceptive simplicity.

“When he died, I felt a tremendous void in my heart,” says Bethânia, clearing her voice while speaking by phone from Rio de Janeiro. “He was not only a mentor to me, but a father, a brother, a friend. There’s not a single day when I don’t remember him.”

Bethânia is now Brazil´s most respected and celebrated female artist. But in the 1960s, she was a legend in the making, falling in love with an already established legend, de Moraes, the man responsible for giving bossa nova literary weight and structure. They first met in 1965, when Bethânia was 19-years old, and De Moraes 47.

She was an aspiring singer and actress who came to the big city of Rio from the small, conservative town of Santo Amaro da Purificaçao (in the northeastern state of Bahia); he was a famous carioca (as the natives of Rio are known) with an impressive body of songs, mostly instant classics, including “Canto de Xangó,” “Berimbau,” “Samba em preludio” and “Chega de saudade.” She was painfully shy; he was a womanizer, a bohemian.

But upon meeting they knew they needed each other. And so began a mentor and mentee relationship that lasted until De Moraes’ death in 1980. It was Bethânia who became one of de Moraes’ most inspiring muses (he wrote the gorgeous “Apelo” for her). And it was Bethânia who accompanied de Moraes on perhaps two of the poet’s best recordings: Vinicius de Moraes in Buenos Aires (aka En la Fusa), vols. 1 and 2 (1970 and 1971).

Now Bethânia is celebrating this friendship with the release of Que falta você me faz. As musicas de Vinicius de Moraes (“How I miss you. The music of Vinicius de Moraes”), a 14-track album on Biscoito Fino Records that’s part tribute, part love letter.

“I have always celebrated his legacy by recordings some of his songs in the past. But this time I wanted to do something special,” says Bethânia, 57. “We recorded lesser known songs and I also wanted to recite some of his prose and poetry. I’m very proud of how it turned out, and I’m sure my dear ‘Poetinha’ [de Moraes’ nickname] has given his approval.”

“Que falta você me faz” is a superb recording, perhaps Bethânia’s best in a 37-plus-album discography that includes such classics as Alibi (1978), Diamante