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Cyro Baptista Remembers Naná Vasconcelos

8.2.44 – 3.9.16

Naná Vasconcelos (photo courtesy of Antilles Records)
Naná Vasconcelos (photo courtesy of Antilles Records)

In 1972 I was living in Amsterdam, and a friend arrived from Paris, telling me that the city was covered with posters of Naná’s face. Who was Naná?

Around that time, I was being seduced by Milton Nascimento’s albums, and intrigued by the unusual and mysterious sounds behind his voice. Who or what was that? Naná?

I started to connect the dots, and years later the puzzle was solved with the ECM releases Dança das Cabeças and Saudades. That was Naná Vasconcelos and Egberto Gismonti! I listened to those albums so much I made a hole in the vinyl.

Years later, in 1980, with my heart full of dreams, I came with my berimbau to the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, N.Y., where I met Naná for the first time. He was surrounded by beautiful girls, trying to repair the berimbau of one particularly angelic-looking blonde. Then he accidentally broke her berimbau—a very embarrassing moment.

I immediately offered him my berimbau, so he could save face. From then on he took me under his wing, and for the next 20 years he became my mentor and compadre. Whenever we weren’t on tour we would be together. We had a band called the Bushdancers, with Teese Gohl on keys and bassist Sergio Brandão, and released an album, Rain Dance, on the legendary label Antilles.

We toured for a while in Europe, and in every town that we played a concert, in the morning we would give a workshop at a school, a hospital or a community center. Naná enlightened me in so many different ways musically that it is difficult to explain here. He also taught me how to carry myself as a musician, survive in this business, cook an amazing bacalhau and, more than anything else, be a better human being.

Originally Published