Sérgio Ricardo: The hour of the nightjar

Antonio Lizárraga (Reviews Journal)


Commentary on the work of the musician and filmmaker.

Sérgio Ricardo (1932-2020) enjoyed a discreet upswing last year, when his song “Bichos da Noite” (1967) was included on the film’s soundtrack Bacurau. Chanted by the cast in procession through the streets of the village of Bacurau, the dense song by the composer from São Paulo (de Marília), more than a mere musical background, becomes one of the souls of the film by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles. “It’s many hours of the night/ it’s nightjar’s time”, begins the midnight song composed for the theatrical play The Colonel of Macambira (1967) and probable origin for the baptism of the fictional Northeastern city in the nocturnal uprising and rebellion film by Mendonça and Dornelles.

Bacurau it reminded one of Sérgio Ricardo's great qualities, the way he harmoniously intertwined the crafts of music and cinema. The bikers from the film, also present in The Scarecrow's Night (conceived and directed by Sérgio in 1973), constitute one of the many indications present in Bacurau, prodigal in allegorizing various productions of the new cinema, by Glauber Rocha and others. Glauber, by the way, was another master of music-cinema harmony, especially when he gave Sérgio the task of creating the (strong and arid) soundtrack for God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun (1964), also transformed into a historical record entirely interpreted by the author.

Sérgio debuted on an album in 1957, two years before the advent of bossa nova and four years before he also launched himself as a film director, with the short film white pants boy (1961). The first LP, Dancer No. 1 (1958), was only instrumental, with the musician playing his own songs on the piano, standards and “Tarde Triste”, by newcomer Maysa, one of the first to record a song by him (“Bouquet de Izabel”, also from 1958).

The next two discs, I don't like me anymore - The romantic bossa of Sérgio Ricardo (1960) and after love (1961, no original songs), presented Sérgio Ricardo singer, still far from defining his own style and very modeled on bossa nova and on the interpretation of João Gilberto (who would be his close friend throughout his life). Forever Sérgio would remain an erratic member of bossa nova, never quite in, never quite out.

The likely only discordant moment of the love songs of that first stage would become an example of the fiber that the artist would develop in the following years: “Zelão” was the first protest song of the 1960s, when no one still thought of baptizing a genre as protest music. “The whole hill understood when Zelão cried / nobody laughed or played and it was carnival / (...) it rained, it rained / the rain threw his hut to the ground / it wasn't even possible to save the guitar / that accompanied the song down the hill / of all the things that rain took”, said the song that marked the indignation against the favelization process in Brazil. This would be, from then on, another of the distinguishing characteristics of the work of Sérgio Ricardo, who in the future would live, himself, in the Rio de Janeiro hill of Vidigal.

Recorded on the mythological label Elenco, the next LP, A Mr. Talent (1963), consolidated SR's musical and ideological identity and grouped together cinematographic songs such as "Barravento", "While a Tristeza Não Vem", "A Fábrica", "Menino da Calça Branca" and "Esse Mundo É Meu". The latter would baptize the first feature film directed by Sérgio, released in 1964 (also on disc), as the film God and the Devil.

This world is mine, the film, became one of the inaugural pieces of cinema novo and consolidated the combative line of the artist's work, whether in cinema or music. Today less popular than other films of the movement, This world is mine was influential in its time: the beautiful scene of the protagonist couple on the Ferris wheel is more than likely inspiring for Gilberto Gil in the construction of his most cinematic song, “Domingo no Parque” (1967).

Sérgio competed with Gil at the 1967 Record festival, with “Beto Bom de Bola”, which was booed wildly by the audience and motivated another summary moment of “Sérgio Ricardo”, this one of a stigmatizing nature. It was when Zelão's guitar, instead of being washed away by the rain, was smashed on the floor of the auditorium by its owner. The complete scene is immortalized in the documentary One Night in '67 (2010), by Renato Terra and Ricardo Calil, which also features an unpublished statement by the musician. Sérgio would write an excellent book (not only) around the episode, Who broke my guitar – An analysis of Brazilian culture from the 40s to the 90s (1991), in which he denounces the climate of competition and egos behind the scenes at the festival.

As happens again now with a multitude of artists, the civil-military dictatorship of 1964 clouded Sérgio Ricardo's musical and cinematographic work, something already symbolically imprinted in the images of the guitar breaking. Juliana of Lost Love (1968) and The Scarecrow's Night (1973), of an increasingly underground nature, would be the last feature films in its history, were it not for a belated return in 2018, with Flag of Patchwork.

The siege was also closed in music: the persecution by the official censorship intensified in the brave and today little known The great music of Sérgio Ricardo (1967, the disc containing the song by Bacurau and cover by Ziraldo) and Surf (1971). SR did not let go of his always progressive socio-political convictions, a characteristic he kept intact until his death.

On the cover of the LP Sergio Ricardo in 1973, the artist inserted a white stripe in his own mouth, in a photo taken from the 1967 incident. The opening song, “Calabouço”, was named after the restaurant in Rio where the young student Edson Luís de Lima Souto, murdered in 1968 by military police (any resemblance to the days of Marielle Franco is not mere coincidence). “Cala a boca, moço”, played “Calabouço”, the meaner sister of “Cala Boca Bárbara” and the play Calabar (1973), by friend Chico Buarque.

The soundtrack ofThe Scarecrow's Night came to light in 1974, with newcomers from Pernambuco Alceu Valença and Geraldo Azevedo as interpreters (in addition to actors in the film). Sérgio let out another piercing scream on the children's trail. Yellow Woodpecker Site (1977), with the theme of the doll Emília, who composed and sang with joy “no matter how much the sun hides and crosses are carved at the break of day”. “Poor me, Emília, bring me some good news”, she would ask, certainly aware that the good news would still take some time to come.

Sérgio Ricardo followed his path with discretion, often invisible, half by his own temperament, half by silent media boycott. He has released a mere six albums over the last 45 years, among them the beautiful and mature Starting point (2008). She died when she lived in the dead of night, among the nightjars.

Pedro Alexandre Sanches, journalist and music critic, is the author, among other books, of Tropicalismo – beautiful decadence of samba (Boitempo).

Originally published on the magazine's website capital letter [embed link] https://farofafa.cartacapital.com.br/2020/07/23/a-hora-do-bacurau-sergio-ricardo/


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