Sueli Costa

Ceri Richards, Still Life with Music, 1933


Commentary on the trajectory of the recently deceased composer

Someone who composed “Coração Ateu”, “Jura Secreta”, “Face a Face”, “20 anos blue”, can only have a heaven for himself. That's what I thought when I heard about Sueli Costa's death. Therefore, I write a few lines about the composer so dear to the recent memory of Brazilian music.

The voices we heard interpreting MPB songs, in a period of television and radio hegemony, carried melodies that rocked life in Brazil spent in front of TVs, showing soap operas and their soundtracks. In this way, our audiovisual aesthetic was carried by words and songs that spoke of love and its impasses, pure and simple.

Sueli Costa, composer, melodist and musician, is part of this list of musicians who, from the 1970s onwards, composed, meloded and sang lyrics that deal with affections linked to a very particular romanticism, closer to the general public. Songs that, in a way, opened space amidst the dominance of samba and bossa nova, at the same time that, carrying these foundations, they embraced the references of the pop at the end of the 1960s. These are songs that manage to echo from the love ballads of French and Italian music of the 50s and 60s, to jazz genres, this, while maintaining a strong bond with modern poetry. In time: see Sueli Costa herself at the piano interpreting “20 anos blue”. It's impossible not to immediately think of names like Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald.

From Cacaso to Antônio Cícero, there may be few composers who claim to be poets, electively occupying this chair within literary production. However, we, readers and listeners, can claim the position of poet for composers like Fausto Nilo, Sueli Costa, Abel Silva, Paulo César Pinheiro, Tite Lemos – these, Sueli Costa's partners in several of his works – and many others.

Just to outline the argument, let's look at the artist's compositions, such as “Coração Ateu”. With its hard writing, with difficult-to-manage verses, lulled by a sad but welcoming melody, it still carries the form that has become the standard of these compositions. In “Codilheira”, a partnership with Paulo César Pinheiro, we find these verses: “I want to read the hearts of commanders, condemning their soldiers for the orgy of fakes (…) of the god Mars”. A certain symbolist heritage embedded in the writing of modern poetry.

In “Face a face”, composed with Cacaso, the words fight for the voice of the narrator-character. This one, found in full clash with its small destinies and “lucky tricks”, which is done in a metrical challenge by the tone of a precise melody. A romantic on the run “spinning like mad, until the hurt runs out – until the rage unleashes”.

These verses are not always simple, but they were heard with the direct and accurate simplicity of a songbook that manages and understands well the affections and feelings of our people. In “Cão sem Dono”, we could hear the voices of Maísa or Dolores Duran singing the resigned laments of her verses:

It's the nights that I don't sleep
Between the glass, the record player and the smoke
That I build the tower of my abandonment
And I fall from grace
Loneliness is the dark executioner
And the longing lashes
If I sing joy, it comes out false
If I shut up the sadness begins”

In the end, the character prefers dancing, gets up, straightens up, goes, but is silent. Well-aimed verses for the imagination of the Brazilian people.

The phonographic market and the media spread this genre of MPB as romantic music, as it was said in past decades. A genre that earns this blemish much more for the musicality of its melodies and the style of its interpreters in the country of female singers, as it was said. Today, we allow ourselves more austere readings and listening. Love may even have gone elsewhere. Which does not mean that such verses have lost any meaning, as they are remembered and reproduced among the public across the last generations. Perhaps, we just name in other ways (or do we avoid symbolizing?) that affective content of the compositions.

The departure of Sueli Costa also evokes forgetfulness and neglect towards the Brazilian popular music composer, a true national problem. In a country that likes games and has a strange relationship with life, Sueli Costa's trajectory could now gain the prominence it did not have. If we give credit to a popular saying, maybe this happened because the height of his career happened at a time when, said Tom Jobim, the country did not forgive those who were successful.

* André Ricardo Dias Professor of Philosophy at the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Sertão Pernambucano (IF Sertão PE).

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