Born in 1942 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; raised in Tres Pontas, Minas Gerais, Brazil; mother's name, Lilia. Recording artist, 1967--. Appears on daily Brazilian music radio program, Catarento. Has appeared in several films, including Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo and Ruy Guerra's Os Deuses e os Mortos, also composing music score for the latter. Founded Minas Music School in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Addresses: Home-- Minas Gerais state, Brazil. Record company-- Columbia (Sony Music Distribution), Sony Music Entertainment, P.O. Box 4450, New York, NY 10101.
Multi-talented Milton Nascimento is frequently acclaimed as Brazil's greatest musician. His haunting voice is often described in terms of something from heaven, "an agonizingly pure tenor that often slips into an ethereal falsetto," Larry Rohter wrote in the New York Times. As a songwriter and harmonist, he weaves a startling blend of musical influences, including Brazilian and African folk strains, European classical music, the Brazilian bossa nova, even the rock sound of the Beatles, creating melodies which Jon Pareles in the New York Times noted can "seem as simple as nursery chants or as serpentine as jazz tunes." His Portuguese lyrics range from themes of universal love and the spiritual unification of the child and adult, to expressions of the struggle of oppressed people in Latin America and throughout the world. He has collaborated with and inspired numerous Latin American musicians, and has won the admiration of diverse American artists, including jazzmen Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Pat Metheny, and rock stars Paul Simon and Sting. In the opinion of Pareles, Nascimento reigns as "one of the greatest musicians alive."
Nascimento has been a major star in Brazil and Latin America for over twenty years. One concert in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 1984, drew upwards of over 150,000 fans, and in recent years Nascimento has also commanded sold-out performances in major U.S. cities. Outside of Brazil, Nascimento is often categorized as a jazz artist, yet as Robert Palmer observed in the New York Times, "many of the songs he writes and performs are complicated and tricky enough to tax the interpretive abilities of the best jazz improvisers." Nascimento is uncomfortable having his music described as jazz. "It's not that I don't like jazz," he told Rohter. "It's that I don't like labels. Here in Brazil, we listen to everything, and in my little town in the interior of Minas Gerais we never worried about it. We just sang whatever appealed to us."
Nascimento was raised by adoptive white parents in the small town of Tres Pontas, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. To this day, he considers the countryside of Minas Gerais his center. "Minas is my alimentacao, my nourishment," he told Pamela Bloom in Musician. "Everything I am, mentally, physically, spiritually resides in Minas." It was in his isolated village that Nascimento developed what Rohter called his "sophisticated harmonic sense." He and his boyhood musical friends, which included his keyboardist Wagner Tiso, would listen to radio broadcasts from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and the transmissions were partially interrupted by the surrounding mountains. "They'd play a song we like, and we'd copy the lyrics and the melody, but we had to invent the harmonies out of our own heads," he told Rohter. "Months later, we'd get to a big city to play the song and see that our harmonies were completely different from the original."
Nascimento travelled to Sao Paulo in 1965, and as an unknown bass player struggled to find work in a saturated club scene. His compositions began to gain recognition, however, and the famous Brazilian singer Elis Regina, who recorded several of his songs, secured him a performance on the national television music program, Fino da Bossa. His big break came in 1967, however, when three of his songs were showcased at the prestigious First International Pop Song Festival in Rio de Janeiro. Unknown to Nascimento, who was wary of competitions and the egoism involved, a singer-friend entered the songs for him. After his impressive showing in the song festival, he became highly sought-after by recording companies in Rio. Nascimento's first two albums, Travessia (1967) and Milton Nascimento (1969) established him as a major new talent in Brazil, and with his 1969 A & M album Courage, he was touted to American musical audiences as the successor to bossa nova stars such as Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Nascimento felt uncomfortable, however, with the recording business in North America, preferring the more intimate, collaborative nature of the music scene in Brazil. "I'm used to being the friend of my songwriting partners," he explained to Rohter. "So I would get there to the United States, and first you had to talk with the agent, then the publishing company, then the lawyer. The last thing would be the person himself, and by then I'd generally be tired and discouraged." He also found American producers interested in steering him away from the originality of his conceptions and ideas, so for many years Nascimento concentrated on recording in Brazil. Not until the 1980s, with his stature as an international star secure, was Nascimento able to work with the American recording industry on his own terms.
Nascimento has continually exerted his musical independence, despite barriers in his own country. In 1985, a civilian government was restored in Brazil after twenty-one years of military rule, and throughout much of his career, Nascimento has had to work within censorship guidelines, often at personal risk. His 1973 album, Milagre dos Peixes, was produced under the severest of restrictions, and many Brazilian musicians at the time had opted to work outside of the country. "We'd write something, the censors would send it back, stamped No Way, " he told Bloom. "We'd have to write the same thing in a way that the censors wouldn't notice but the people would understand." Nascimento's solution, as Bloom related, was "'to transform my voice into an instrument' that could register all his defiance, anger and sadness that lay behind his censored lyrics." Many of Nascimento's songs, including "San Vicente" and "Maria, Maria," have become anthems in not only Brazil, but throughout the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. His song "Coracao de Estudante" became a rallying cry for many Brazilians who in 1984 took to the streets demanding free elections in Brazil and an end to military rule.
Collaboration and musical sharing is essential to Nascimento, who works with several lyricists, but predominantly Fernando Brant. Nascimento views music as an exchange across barriers, and a way to reach many. "I can sing in Portuguese and still communicate with people who don't know the language," he told Palmer. "You can get your own feelings and images from the music, and when people do that, it makes me very happy. Every time I sing a song, it will have a different feeling for me, because the music changes as I change in my life, I work from the heart, and the heart speaks for itself." Palmer described such an exchange in his review of a 1984 Nascimento concert at Carnegie Hall. "Perched atop a stool with his guitar in hand, he communicated with sunny smiles, casual gestures, and richly textured singing that seemed to sketch exceptionally fine shadings of emotional nuance.... The intent of most of Mr. Nascimento's songs--longing, desire, evocations of childhood, hopes for a Latin America freed from racial, social and economic inequality--came through strongly." Musicians throughout Latin America have travelled to Brazil to work with Nascimento, as have many from the United States. Jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter met Nascimento in 1974 and the following year their collaborative Native Dancer was released, an album that many consider to be one of the most influential jazz recordings of the 1970s. Nascimento treasures the bond with other musicians, and lists among his influences American jazz artists Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Hubert Laws, and Shorter. "There's something very beautiful that happens with music," he told Bloom. "It's as if you are walking down the street looking at many different faces, and suddenly you feel strongly they have something in common with you."
Nascimento's vast array of influences are showcased throughout his over twenty-five albums. Clube da Esquina (1972), "The Club on the Corner," was a landmark collaboration re-creating the street music scene he was a part of in Minas Gerais. Minas (1975), noted Bloom, "surveys a stark interior landscape of contrapuntal voices (notably chanting children) that intersect Milton's at odd angles," and, according to Palmer, is "a dream-like album of drifting, luminous moonscapes that is perhaps Mr. Nascimento's best single disk." Geraes (1976), added Bloom, "charts a regional folktrail, while songs like 'Girou, Girou,' with its sudden wordless vocal flight, suggest a bruised sensuality struggling for release." The above three albums display vintage Nascimento, according to Palmer: "Deft musical transitions and snatches of sound from the countryside or from city streets are used subtly to give each album its particular flux of moods and to impart a song-by-song narrative flow of almost cinematic clarity." Several of Nascimento's albums of the 1980s have become easily available to American record buyers, and amply showcase his harmonic and songwriting talents, including Anima (1982), Encontros e Despedidas (1985), Yauarete (1987), and Miltons (1989).
Nascimento's 1982 Missa dos Quilombos is a mass-oratorio dedicated to the story of blacks in Brazil from slavery to current times. In working on the ambitious project, Nascimento discovered that many slavery documents had been destroyed over the years by government officials, "to eliminate the black spot on Brazil's history," as he told Stephen Holden in the New York Times, and he had to travel around the country to interview people. Since the restoration of civilian rule in Brazil in 1985, Nascimento has had the opportunity to be more forthright with the messages in his music. In recent years he has especially spoken out on the preservation of the Amazon river region. His 1991 album, Txai, focuses on the plight of indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin and the destruction of the rain forest, and incorporates the haunting folk music of several jungle tribes. "Those of us who hold microphones become the voice of those who do not have microphones," he was quoted as saying by Geri Smith in Americas. "We have to alert others to what is happening in this world. We have to talk about preserving our planet, the earth, green things, animals, human beings--talk about how people treat each other."
Nascimento's popularity continues to expand outside of Brazil. Steve Heilio wrote in Beat: "Milton appears before huge audiences in his home country, and his select smaller performances overseas at such events and places as the Montreux Jazz Festival and Carnegie Hall are both celebrations of pride and joy for expatriate Brazilians and eye-openers for open-minded music lovers of all nationalities. A quarter-century after his career began, Milton is an international music treasure whose melodies and messages know no borders."
by Michael E. Mueller
Milton Nascimento's Career
- Selective Works
- Travessia, Sigla, 1967.
- Milton Nascimento, EMI/Odeon, 1969.
- Courage, A&M, 1969.
- Clube da Esquina, EMI/Odeon, 1972.
- Milagre dos Peixes, EMI/Odeon, 1973, Milagre dos Peixes ao Vivo, EMI/Odeon, 1974.
- Minas, EMI/Odeon, 1975.
- (With Wayne Shorter) Native Dancer, Columbia, 1975.
- Milton, A&M, 1976.
- Geraes, EMI/Odeon, 1976.
- Clube da Esquina 2, EMI/Odeon, 1978.
- Journey to Dawn, A&M, 1979.
- Sentinela, Ariola, 1980.
- (With George Duke) A Brazilian Love Affair, Epic, 1980.
- Cacador de Mim, Ariola, 1981.
- Missa dos Quilombos, Ariola, 1982.
- Paixao e Fe, EMI/Odeon.
- Anima, Ariola, 1982, reissued, Verve, 1990.
- Milton Nascimento ao Vivo, Barclay, 1983.
- Encontros e Despedidas, Polydor, 1985.
- A Barca dos Amantes, Polygram, 1987.
- (With Sarah Vaughan) Brazil Romance, [New York City], 1987.
- Yauarete, CBS, 1987.
- Miltons, CBS, 1989.
- Txai, CBS, 1991.
September 3, 2003: Nascimento won a Latin Grammy Award for best (Portuguese language) Brazilian song, for "Tristesse." Source: "4th Annual Latin Grammy Awards," latingrammy.aol.com/awards/winners.html, September 4, 2003.
- Americas, July/August 1988.
- Beat, Volume 10, Number 2, 1991.
- Cash Box, December 2, 1989.
- Down Beat, September 1984; November 1989.
- Jazz Times, August 1986.
- Musician, September 1986; September 1987; October 1988.
- New York Times, June 1, 1984; June 4, 1984; May 4, 1986; June 25, 1986; June 28, 1986; July 27, 1988; July 30, 1988; November 16, 1989; April 4, 1991.
- Village Voice, June 12, 1984; July 1, 1986.