The last music session

Image: Carlos Cruz-Diez


Considerations on Milton Nascimento's farewell stage tour

The title of Milton Nascimento's farewell stage tour has something striking. That everything is millimetrically prepared, taken care of, worked on in Bituca's work, it needs no comments – just look at his long plays years at EMI-Odeon to denote this (and I'm talking here about the set: sound, covers, inserts and personnel involved). Virginia Bessa once told me that Milton Nascimento was the most Apollonian of all the artists in the MPB entity.[I] This echoes through everything from cover to cover that surrounds The Last Music Session.

I, who also grew up in the interior of Minas Gerais, near Três Pontas de Bituca, can't help but think of a crier coming to announce the name of the tour through the streets, as in a procession (which is an omnipresent element in Milton Nascimento). "Extra! Today! Milton Nascimento's last music session”. With unique humility, Milton Nascimento lists his numerous accomplishments in a pre-recorded video shown before the start of the show. These are not feats possible for any musician – Brazilian, black. Much is discussed, in fact, about the role of blackness in the work of Milton Nascimento. Accustomed to Yoruba influences, especially in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, Milton Nascimento scares him at first. His blackness is exercised from the influences of Congolese cultures that penetrated in the bosom of his Minas Gerais.

Congo had joined the series of Portuguese conquests in the XNUMXth century, and, unlike the case of Angola – “a conquest of the Portuguese”, in the view of Marina de Mello e Souza[ii] – the Congo case had syncope and indirect resistance as mottos from the beginning. A maní-Soyo who adheres to Christianity immediately; a Maní-Congo who converts, but continues to practice local religions without any ceremony. The Congo who landed enslaved in Brazil – the majority, in fact, of those who made the “long crossing” came from that region of Africa – and who went to Minas, soon found themselves distanced from the realities of the quilombamentos.

For countless reasons, there was a fusion, already under way in the Congo, of elements of their original cultures with European culture, producing a mestizo synthesis – but not cynical, acculturated, since with the enslaved and freed people in the lead in this – which would culminate in the coronation parties of King Congo, in the black brotherhoods, in processions such as the Corpo de Cristo – which José Ramos Tinhorão died defending as one of the only effectively democratic cultural manifestations in Colonial Brazil[iii] –, at parties such as the Folia de Reis (from which Milton Nascimento extracts “Cálix Bento”, recorded in generations, from 1976), etc.

Curious that. There is no doubting the blackness in Milton after this crucible of history. But I can't stop thinking about another musician who also deals in part of his work with our deepest interior. I'm talking about Tom Zé. In Baiano de Irará, close to the towns where Canudos was founded, Tom Zé used to say, in his own interpretation and diametrically opposed to that given by Caetano Veloso, that Tropicalismo was the result of the encounter between the culture of the Moors, of the Mozarabs, with the Aristotelian culture (this idea is well developed in his album “Tropicália Lixo Lógico”, from 2012).

It so happens that Tom Zé, as the good tropicalist that he is, operates – and I recall here something that Celso Favaretto proposed, in an overview, in the 1970s in his Tropicália, allegory, joy – a decolonization of an ideology in crisis – that of this profound, archaic country.[iv]. That is, there is the intention of freeing these tired bodies from capitalist exploitation and turning them into effective subjects of History.

Now, in Milton Nascimento the operation could not be more opposite. Starting from the same point as Tom Zé – of course, keeping the due distances and geographical conditions between the Bahian wilderness and the south of Minas Gerais –, that is, our deep, archaic substratum, Bituca takes a different path, which reinforces Virginia's speech Bessa about his Apollonian character. He laments and adheres. Let me explain: at the same time that he values ​​our archaism as a being of beauty and authenticity, he brings significant innovations in song form, adding to archaism what is as new as possible, in a “Tropicalism in reverse” – recognized by Caetano himself in tropical truth[v] – since without the cynical and uncritical acceptance of the new era of the Brazilian experience generated by the Civil-Military Coup of 1964 that Official Tropicalism (orbiting around Caetano) would assume.

I return, after that, to the beginning of this writing. Milton Nascimento does not deny the market when he brings to himself the idea of ​​a farewell tour of the stages entitled “The Last Music Session”. But together with that, comes the archaic – the crier announcing the last session of music by a living God – in an evaluative key. Forcing the argument a little, perhaps it is possible to say that if Tom Zé decolonizes something in crisis – the archaic –, Milton Nascimento colonizes it (the word is terrible, but I hope you understand that I am referring to the movement of bringing to oneself something considered as negative while maintaining the integrationist aspect).

And this is how Milton Nascimento's last music session takes place in this key. Dressed at the beginning with a divine mantle – based on Arthur Bispo do Rosário – he announces what is coming, valuing the drums of Minas – the same ones from the parties I mentioned above. Turns out it's too late. And then, in one of the most emotional moments of the whole performance, Milton starts playing his accordion to sing “Ponta de Areia” (partnership with Fernando Brant, gathered in Minas Gerais, from 1975). And there is the whole tune that will guide Bituca’s work: “Point of sand, period / From Bahia-Minas, natural stay / That connected Minas to the port, to the sea / Old train driver, with his cap / Reminds the happy people who came to court / Maria Smoke does not sing anymore”.

In other words – it is very wrong of me to want to translate these powerful words – the capitalist modernization in vogue in Brazil – and here we are talking about an unequal and combined modernization – condemned to the end the railroad that connected Minas to the sea. He finished. There is no more space for this in this new era of modern Brazilian experience. But what about those people who have lived on it for years and refuse both to resent and abandon the “old” in favor of the new? Melancholic is not enough for the opening of a farewell concert. Apollo announces what is coming: he will value his people and bring them into his surroundings. But beware: as Vinícius Gueraldo reminds us, the original arrangement of “Ponta de Areia” contains an atonal introduction[vi]: avant-garde attitude? A minor issue, what matters is the marriage between what has been and what will come. Nothing will be like before.

given the leitmotiv After the presentation, Milton Nascimento returns to the songs that introduced him to the market in the 1960s. It is important to remember “Canção do Sal” – first recorded by Elis Regina in 1965 – and “Morro Velho”. These are songs that, right at the beginning of his career, pointed to the exploitation of underprivileged populations and the inconsistencies of life: there is an air of non-acceptance disguised as passivity in “Morro Velho” – “It doesn’t play anymore, it works” is a verse to break engaged hearts. Leaving aside all that pamphleteering pro-armed experiments in vogue in the post-1964 period, Milton Nascimento denounced it without ceasing to suffer. This defeatism, this point of view of the vanquished who do not know what else they can do to resist the destruction of everything and everyone, takes on a unique shape when we arrive at the moment when the formation of Clube da Esquina begins, with the adhesion to the progressive rock of Wagner Tiso's gang.

A key song for resolving this impasse is “Para Lennon e McCartney”, by Márcio Borges, Lô Borges and Fernando Brant, performed in the show right after the songs from the 1960s. The songs recorded by Milton are always clear in terms of affirmative messages – the result is not always positive, and can be translated into cheap clichés, as is the case with “Canção da América”, a partnership with Fernando Brant. The fact is that the answer to the dilemma experienced in songs like “Morro Velho”, this melancholy of time, the lack of a light at the end of the tunnel, comes as a clear message to the greatest idols pops of the world at that moment, the Beatles, who also influenced Milton: “I'm from South America / I know, you won't know” – “I'm from the world, I'm Minas Gerais”. There is no doubt: the answer is the same as that of so many others forcibly incorporated into the capitalist order who found themselves entitled at that point in the championship, that is, to assert their identity, without fear of rejection.

I keep imagining the power of this, in targeting the greatest musicians in terms of the market of their time – Lennon and McCartney – and having the fearlessness to affirm what one is – is what one can offer – and, as if that were not enough, to be accepted by the market (at the same time, Tom Zé was bitterly ostracized, which almost cost him everything he had done until then). It is certain, however, that this relationship with the market would change over time. After the experimentalism of Miracle of the Pisces, from 1973, almost entirely censored, comes the moment of the most explicit nod to the market, which would lead to the tree sales – of course compared to other MPB artists – of their albums Minas Gerais (1975) and generations (1976). Following Vinícius Gueraldo's line of interpretation, if in Minas Gerais there is an externalization, noted in the partnership with Caetano “Paula e Bebeto”, there would be in generations a dissolution[vii]. the case of generations it is singular, in fact, since it is a record with a high number of sales and an archaic sound, to which are added lyrics that deal with the rural world, in general – there are exceptions, of course, such as “Menino”, a partnership with Ronaldo Bastos that pays homage to the student high school student Édson Luís assassinated by the Dictatorship in 1968.

there is something in generations interesting to note. This record appears to be the most accomplished expression of Milton Nascimento's authorial project, since it brings together the lyricism of MPB - "O que ser (à flor da pele)", by Chico Buarque, who also participates in the phonogram - with popular traditions – the aforementioned “Cálix Bento” – passing through the denunciation of this process of capitalist modernization – “Promessas do Sol”, a partnership with Fernando Brant and a rare song by Milton that does not point any way to the problem posed, as Sheyla Diniz reminds us[viii] – and for the resistance of life in its most sublime form – “Volver a los 17”, by Violeta Parra, recorded in partnership with Mercedes Sosa.

It is, in short, an album that brings together several Brazils in one and the same way. Symbolic, by the way, that Milton Nascimento intones the portion destined to popular traditions in his work at the moment of his farewell to the stage: “Cálix Bento”, “Peixinhos do Mar” and “Cuitelinho” appear in a potpourri which reinforces the argument that there is a concern to keep alive something that no longer exists.

And then something extremely melancholy comes in: without Milton Nascimento, who will make all of this continue alive, pulsating, insisting on existing when people preach that one should leave the past in the past? Yes, it is true that Milton Nascimento has been waving to the new generations – during the pandemic he made a live with Liniker (who even sang with Milton Nascimento on the farewell tour) and Xênia França; Zé Ibarra plays a leading role in the band that performs “The Last Music Session” – but none of these members will be able to replace the power of Milton Nascimento.

Bringing into play traditions and social practices already on the verge of oblivion, in a modern form, but critical of modernity – which reminds us of indirect resistance, resistance from within the black brotherhoods, for example – and, nevertheless, with a leading role in the market, using it to keep alive what was condemned to death, seems to me the great legacy of Milton Nascimento.

In any case, Bituca preaches that we sing, dance, talk at the bar – a reference to “Saudades dos Aéreas da Panair”, a partnership with Fernando Brant – at a time when, in the light of the “neoliberal revolution”, masterfully described by Dardot and Laval[ix], any interiority seems annihilated by the triumphal procession of the victors. Perhaps Milton Nascimento is the Ailton Krenak of our music, and losing his presence on stage, in what is one of the most dramatic hours in our history, is certainly a loss beyond measure.

May Milton Nascimento, like Apolo, like a Congolese sage, remain present throughout Brazil and, with him, the mark of those who have been silenced for so long by the “lowered and inglorious horizon of victorious capital”[X] in the never-ending hope, no matter how harsh the reality, that at some future moment, albeit late, they will become subjects not only of their stories, but of our History. Long live Milton Nascimento!

*Vitor Morais Graziani is a history major at the University of São Paulo (USP).



[I] Personal communication, 25.09.2020.

[ii] SOUZA, Marina de Mello e. Angola: a Portuguese conquest. In: Beyond the visible. São Paulo: Edusp/Fapesp, 2018, pp. 85 – 141.

[iii] TINHORÃO, José Ramos. Festivities in Colonial Brazil. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2000, pp. 79 – 86.

[iv] FAVARETTO, Celso. Tropicália, allegory, joy. Cotia: Ateliê editorial, 2006, pp. 120 – 121.

[v] VELOSO, Caetano. Tropical Truth. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997, p. 276 – 277.

[vi] GUERALDO, Vinicius Jose Fecchio. In search of consensus: Milton Nascimento and the loss of community ties. Dissertation (Master in Brazilian Cultures and Identities). São Paulo: IEB/USP, 2017, p. 78.

[vii] GUERALDO, Vinicius Jose Fecchio. In search of consensus: Milton Nascimento and the loss of community ties. Dissertation (Master in Brazilian Cultures and Identities). São Paulo: IEB/USP, 2017.

[viii] DINIZ, Sheyla Castro. “Cigana cloud”: the trajectory of Clube da Esquina in the field of MPB. Dissertation (Master in Sociology). Campinas: Unicamp/IFCH, 2012, p. 105.

[ix] DARDOT, Pierre/LAVAL, Christian. The new reason of the world. São Paulo: Boitempo editorial, 2016.

[X] SCHWARZ, Robert. Martina versus Lucrécia. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012, p. 110.

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