The MPB and Bob Dylan

Aged 60, the American folk singer has left his fingerprints all over Brazilian music

Marco Antonio Barbosa
AllBrazilianMusic leaves its "100% Brazilian music site" motto behind, for a moment, in order to pay homage to Bob Dylan – born 60 years ago. The deference is justified, because Dylan has definitely left his fingerprints in the history of our music. Having been active since the late 1950s, the singer/songwriter revolutionized the pop music in his country. First, by rescuing the dignity of Woodie Guthrie’s folk music and adding political awareness to it; and then, he wired the same folk music, annoying the purists and firing a collection of classic albums (Highway 61 Revisited in 1964, Blonde on Blonde in 1966, John Wesley Harding in 1968...). And he went through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s re-inventing himself.

And what does Brazilian music have to do with it? The fact is, along the years, Dylan’s songs have influenced artists as different as Skank, Caetano Veloso and Engenheiros do Hawaii. "Dylan is a very important reference to anyone who’s involved in rock’n’roll. I’d say, to anyone who picks up the guitar so as to write a song", claims Zé Ramalho, an admitted fan who has written versions in Portuguese of two of Bob’s songs: Knocking on Heaven's Door (tuned into Batendo na Porta do Céu) and Hurricane (or Frevoador). Dylan’s influenced can be noticed in Zé’s music especially in the beginning of the Brazilian singer’s career – the spoken word, the acoustic guitar, but always mixing it with Brazilian northeastern traditions. "Frevoador is the title track of my 1992 album. I turned Dylan’s song into a frevo", he remembers.

Out of curiosity, singer and pianist Cida Moreira also rode the Hurricane road, giving a more literal name to her version: Furacão (literally, Hurricane). "In the ‘70s, I used to listen to his music a lot. And that song was especially important to me. His voice is so touching, as well as the lyrics."

Translating Dylan’s songs from English into Portuguese is less unusual than it seems. Besides Zé Ramalho’s attempts, Caetano Veloso has also had a shot – with a version of It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, which became Negro Amor. The version first came out in a Gal Costa record, in 1977. It returned in 1999, when the band Engenheiros do Hawaii put it on the album Tchau Radar. "Caetano’s version is cool, as good as the original", says Engenheiros’ vocalist/bassist/songwriter Humberto Gessinger. What is Dylan’s influence as a songwriter in Humberto’s music? "I’m into his troubadour trip, kind of a hero. I identify with it. His songs with The Band are very good."

Another northeastern Zé – Zé Geraldo – liked Caetano’s version so much that he recorded Negro Amor twice, on the albums Aprendendo a Viver (1995) and Zé Geraldo Acústico (1996). And Another Geraldo – Geraldo Azevedo – wrote his own version of Tomorrow Is a Long Time on O Amanhã É Distante, in 1996.

The ears have been open for Bob Dylan’s music in Brazil ever since the jovem guarda movement. "We first heard Dylan’s songs as performed by the group The Byrds, still in the ‘60s", says Renato Barros, vocalist with the pioneering Renato & Seus Blue Caps. In 1981, the Blue Caps covered the big 1964 hit Mr.Tambourine Man. The arrangement is based on the Byrds’ version (from 1965).

It is not hard to find versions and covers of Bob Dylan’s songs interpreted by Brazilian artists. Caetano Veloso himself has reviewed Jokerman on the album Circuladô Ao Vivo (1993). A year later, Renato Russo recorded the melancholic If You See Him, Say Hello on his debut solo album. More recently, Vitor Ramil recorded two Dylan songs on the album Tambong: You're a Big Girl Now and Gotta Serve Somebody.