Goodbye, Luiz Bonfá

The death of the guitarist and songwriter who built the bridge between samba-tunes and bossa nova in the 50s leaves a legion of fans who will miss the crystal clear sound of his inventive harmonies

Nana Vaz de Castro
Thousands of people will be silent during three minutes "for a better world", at the opening of the Rock In Rio 3 festival. They could as well have one more minute to spare in memory of composer and guitarist Luiz Bonfá, dead last night in Rio de Janeiro.

As a songwriter, Bonfá was one of the minds behind the transition of the samba-tune into the bossa nova, with his compositions from the early 50s interpreted by artists like Nora Ney, Lucio Alves and Johnny Alf. His greatest hit, Manhã de Carnaval, was written for the film Orfeu do Carnaval (1959) and has been covered countless times all over the world.

Career abroad
Having lived in the Unted States for long years, mostly during the 50s and 60s, Bonfá is one of those Brazilian music geniuses who has enjoyed more prestige abroad than in his own country. He recorded dozens of albums, but his catalogue in Brazil is small. "He didn't make it in Brazil because he didn't sing his own songs, he was not a singer, and that's an issue in Brazil", claims guitarist Gabriel Improta. By the late 60s, Bonfá worked with Eumir Deodato in the U.S., being totally devoted to jazz, and his music was recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan.

As a performer, Bonfá displayed outstanding technical sophistication, and a clean and clear punch. "He was an icon in his own right", says guitarist Toquinho. So much so that the picture of his hand playing a chord on the cover of the 1962 album Brazil’s King of the Bossa Nova and Guitar appears on T-shirts to this day.

Only a small part of Bonfá's production is available today. Besides the disc Luiz Bonfá e as Raízes da Bossaouvir 30s, it is hard to find his albums in the stores. Some of them have been printed on CD, such as Gênios do Violão ouvir 30s, which gathered Bonfá and Gartoto, two guitarists who updated the approach to the instrument. Nonetheless, Bonfá's music has its place secured in the history of MPB, and will remain through the hands of guitarists and in the ears of fans all over the world.