João Donato: straight ahead

Veteran composer releases E Lalá Lay-Ê, his fourth album in 2001, and is more active than ever

Marco Antonio Barbosa
Nobody beats him: João Donato is certainly the most hyperactive MPB artist in 2001. Composer of the classic songs A Rã and Simples Carinho, João is going through a very productive phase (he’s already released three albums in the past couple of months: Brazilian Time, The Frog and Remando na Raia) and strikes again, with E Lalá Lay-Ê30'' excerpts. It’s a peculiar album in his career, for different aspects: the composer has finally signed to a Brazilian label (Deckdisc); there are unreleased songs, written by João and his brother, lyricist and poet Lysias Enio; the composer is singing, which he has rarely done; and most of all, the CD is produced by Rafael Ramos, a rock musician and producer in his early 20’s.

Donato’s new album brings back the unreleased songs he hadn’t written since 1995. The previous idea was to record a bunch of songs co-written with Lysias. "I made 22 songs with Lysias. Some are really new, like Então, Que Tal? and Bateu Pra Trás, which were made last year and hadn’t been recorded yet. But there’s also some old stuff we worked on. Vento do Canavial, for example, is an instrumental theme that I recorded in the 60’s to which we added new lyrics. Our work was very productive", explains Donato. It was so productive, the tireless pianist and composer has already gathered 11of the songs he made with his brother that didn’t make the CD to be part of his next album. "It will be the second volume of E Lalá Lay-Ê. We shall call it Managarroba."

"Lysias has always been a poet, and it’s not the first time he teams up with me: he already had written lyrics to some of my songs, in the 70’s", says Donato. The first time that happened was in the 1972 album Quem É Quem, precisely where Donato sang for the first time. His brother also wrote the lyrics to Amazonas, one of Donato’s classics. "Our partnership worked in an interesting way; I would suggest themes to guide him through the lyrics. Some smooth material, loving stuff, like the phase I’m going through. But without interfering in his work."

Donato "blames" his productive phase on the familiar mood that involved this work and also on his inspiring muse, wife Ivone Belém. "The album was all done within the family. Beside my partnership with Lysias, my sister Eneyda made the cover and my son, Joãozinho, played keyboards on it", claims Donato. The marriage with Ivone - in February 2001 - has rejuvenated the artist and his creativity. "I was disheartened. After I met Ivone, I stated to work much more. When I realized, I had already recorded seven albums… Now, there’s no stopping me", reports an absorbed 66-year-old Donato.

"I’m a non-singer", explains Donato, about his reluctance to sing - in spite of doing it in Sem Legenda and in the title track on E Lalá Lay-Ê. "I was one of the people freed by João Gilberto; he demonstrated it wasn’t necessary to have a great voice to record music", admits the composer. Donato’s vocal ease on the album was influenced by producer Rafael Ramos, who, according to João, "refreshed" the final result. "He came in with a fresh mind, full of ideas from the rock bands he’d produced, pop stuff", claims Donato. "I think our relationship was very good both for me and for him. But if I had to soften some of his ideas, because if I let him, the album would have been more noisy."

"I like to mix different things, to gather people with different backgrounds", says Donato. "I wanted to have many special participations on this album, with people like Marisa Monte, Carlinhos Brown… but it didn’t happen. I’m always open to new things. Once in a concert, I even improvised a song by (young funk duo) Claudinho & Buchecha… I don’t think there should be bounds between, say, the bossa nova and the rock people." There are no participations on the album (except for keyboardist Fábio Fonseca), but a great team was brought in to record it: Jurim Moreira (drums), Jamil Jones (bass) and Ricardo Silveira (electric guitar). And the novelties on the CD weren’t restricted to the choice of the producer. The album also features a 12-minute interview with Donato, to be watched on the computer. This restless bossa nova forerunner with a 50-year-old career is more active than ever, and seems totally at ease in this interactivity (and hyperactivity) era.