The Timelessness of Arthur Verocai

In honor of Arthur Verocai's recent show in L.A. celebrating his influential 1972 self-titled album, this is Jeff Weiss' 2009 interview with the legendary Brazilian composer for The Los Angeles Times.
By    August 11, 2023

Image via Arthur Verocai/Discogs

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This post originally ran on the LA Times’ Pop & Hiss blog in 2009. Because it’s no longer available online, I’m re-posting it here for the sake of posterity. You can catch Arthur Verocai on his first-ever American tour in New York (8/11), Chicago (8/15), and Berkeley (8/19).

Ask your average music fan about Arthur Verocai, and you’ll probably be met with a blank stare. Even among those well-versed in Tropicalia, Verocai lacks the name recognition of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes or Jorge Ben. And in the ultimate sign of contemporary anonymity, Verocai has no Wikipedia page (ed. note – as of ’09). But while unsung in his prime, the songs of the Rio de Janeiro-raised composer-crooner have been recently rediscovered, and cited as a touchstone for younger generations of musicians — making him akin to the Tropicalia version of Shuggie Otis, Vashti Bunyan or Son House.

In particular, the former civil engineer’s self-titled masterpiece has rightfully received lavish acclaim, with DJ/production maestro Madlib, MF Doom and Ludacris all sampling his samba and sunshine-soaked soul. Recorded partially in response to the repressive military junta then running Brazil, “Arthur Verocai” synthesizes soul, classical, funk, folk, samba, rock and jazz, occupying a psychedelic middle ground between Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and Frank Zappa’s “Hot Rats.”

Verocai’s self-titled opus received little fanfare upon its release in 1972; weak sales persuaded him to pursue more commercial opportunities (he spent much of the ensuing two decades working as a music advertising executive). But Sunday night, backed by a 36-piece orchestra, Verocai will receive the long-overdue living legend treatment. Beforehand, all-world DJs Madlib and DJ Nuts (Brazil’s most prominent turntablist) will spin, in this third installment of Mochilla and Art Don’t Sleep’s “Timeless Series.” Verocai chatted with me about the details of making his seminal album.

What do you think it was about your 1972 album that has sustained such interest and relevance, nearly 40 years after its original release?

Arthur Verocai: Maybe it’s because this album had a great diversity of influences. Soul, folk, samba, rock and jazz, and I had the good fortune of making it with total musical freedom and using a rich quality and quantity of the best popular musicians and players in Brazil. The only intention I had in making this record was to make something I can be proud of. I had no idea people would love it 40 years later. I did what I felt like doing.

When the album was recorded, Brazil was governed by a repressive dictatorship. What was it like to be an artist during this period?

Arthur Verocai: Musically, the phonographic market was very closed to new ideas and the lyrics were very censored by the repressive dictatorship, and the work of art was made by allusions and images.

How did the political situation influence the themes and ideas of the record?

Arthur Verocai: In that time, there was music in my mind. Musically, I made what I wanted. Maybe it was one reason why the album wasn’t accepted by the market.

Did this repression help to foster a sense of community within the world of Brazilian musicians?

Arthur Verocai: The military repression provoked a series of protests. Many composers, such as my partner Victor Martins, used music to send metaphorical messages against the military dictatorship.

Your sound was heavily influenced by American funk and soul. Who were your favorite American musicians?

Arthur Verocai: In that time I was hearing: Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Stan Kenton, Frank Zappa, J. Web, Burt Bacharach, Bach, Villa-Lobos, Tom Jobim and Milton Nascimento.

What was it about those types of music that you felt such a strong connection to?

Arthur Verocai: I was working with Ivan Lins, who began making a type of soul music. The soul music was coming in Brazil — it was a new style with a new swing and a new beat, with a new way of singing, and the principal artist was Tim Maia. But I added a new harmony with a rhythm of Rio de Janeiro — samba mixed with soul. Today in some tracks, I see that I was influenced by English rock and American folk songs.

You worked for many years as a music advertising executive. What was it that drew you to that job? How did your own time as a musician help you to succeed?

Arthur Verocai: Unfortunately, after this album, my style of arrangement wasn’t approved by the phonographic market. They said that I was crazy. So I found a new way to keep making music and a way to support my family.

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