“My favourite music is always from places near the water. There is a flow near water that influences guitar playing for sure.”
When Agustín Pereyra Lucena first went to Brazil, the sixteen year old Argentinian set off on the almost two day long bus journey with the hope of seeing Baden Powell & Vinicius De Moraes live in concert. On arrival he realised he had neither the money nor the right clothes to get into the show, and he returned home having spent what he’d saved for the concert ticket on a handful of records. But in that short trip, Rio de Janeiro had already made its impression.
“The spirit of the people from Brazil is what stands out to me the most. It might be nostalgic but it always leaves you feeling a little better. Maybe the mix of races, the culture, I don’t know what it is but their collective spirit always makes you feel better.”
Born in Buenos Aires in 1948, Agustín Pereyra Lucena was aged twelve when he first started learning the guitar. “I had a professor, I was very bored playing two chords of Argentine folklore with him, something was missing.” Upon listening in on his older brothers playing early jazz, Ravel and Debussy records, things began to open up for the adolescent Agustín. But it was the music of bossa nova innovators João Gilberto, Tom Jobim and Roberto Menescal, played by his brother’s friends on two acoustic guitars in his living room, that caused Agustín’s most profound musical epiphany. “That night I couldn’t sleep from the emotion it had provoked.”
Agustín spent the following few years studying the records of Gilberto, Jobim, Tamba Trio and Luiz Bonfa among many other Brazilian greats. “I was a member of the Centro Cultural del Disco, I reserved them, I went every week and asked if they had come out, I was interested to know what Baden Powell was doing, with whom he was recording and who produced it.” In an interview in his later years, Agustín mourned what he saw as the decline of a deeper engagement with music. “Today they put together MP3s with thirty-thousand songs, but it seems to me that in the end you don't hear anything, a student of mine told me that his friends might like a song, but they’re not interested in looking for anything else by the artist, and that disinterest is weird, for now I don't understand it.”
Returning to Rio a few years later (this time in an old Citroën) with a well rounded knowledge of the city’s contemporary music scene, and an exceptional talent for, and dedication to the acoustic guitar, Agustín met and befriended one of his greatest inspirations. In a chance encounter at an Ipanema bar, Agustín was introduced to the great guitarist Baden Powell’s mother, who gladly invited him home to meet her son. “We stayed three hours with Baden. I could not believe I was nervous to meet him. He was a teetotaler, he gave us beer and he drank milk.” Thanks to Baden Powell, Agustín soon found himself in with some of the biggest names of bossa nova and MPB: Vinicius de Moraes, Dorival Cayymi, Toquinho, Maria Bethania and Chico Buarque all became good friends and regular collaborators. “He introduced me to more musicians and I slowly started making a name among them.”
On the sleeve notes for Agustín’s debut LP, Vinicius De Moraes wrote: “I think I never saw, with the exception of Baden Powell and Toquinho, anyone more linked to his instrument than Agustín Pereyra Lucena. It would give the impression that if the guitar were taken away from him, he would fade into music as one dies from the amputation of an arm”
As well as his devotion to his instrument, Agustín’s new community of musicians in Brazil noticed something different about his playing. “I met Brazilians who listened to me play and asked me: 'What part of Brazil are you from? Because something appears that we cannot identify… Perhaps in my way of interpreting Brazilian music there was a certain melancholy that can come from tango, which is a little different from their saudade."
In 1976, following increasing social unrest, deepening economic issues and a military coup, Argentina fell into the hands of an authoritarian dictatorship, under which tens-of-thousands of were killed or disappeared. Candeias, a band set up by Guilhermo Reuter in Argentina, of which Agustín was a member, had just seen their debut album Sambaiana released in Europe to some commercial success. In order to escape his home country’s worsening political situation and to pursue a full-time career as a professional musician, Agustín quit his job in architecture and moved to Madrid.
Fellow Candeias members Reuter, Rubén Izarrualde, and Carlos Carli arrived soon after and in the summer of 1978 the quartet took up a residency at a club in Benidorm on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Called up to play with famed Flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, Carli departed soon after, and Agustín and the group were left to find a replacement drummer. Rubén Izarrualde recalls “one of those nights, in the audience there were three Norwegians: one was drummer Fin Sletten, his wife, and a girl called Bjørg Eriksen. Bjørg was the booker of a very important night club in Oslo called Club 7. Fin asked us if he could get up on stage and play some songs with us. We were very surprised at how good he was and immediately invited him to join us for the rest of the season. Bjørg invited us to Norway and arranged a set of places for us to play. And so we went. Suddenly we were performing on the same stages as the most important musicians in the world. We would see Chick Corea play and then it would be our turn.”
With Norwegian audiences captivated, the Agustín Pereyra Lucena Quartet saw great success on the country’s live scene, as Agustín remarked in one interview: “Remembering my days in Oslo with my quartet, we were successful because they only knew Brazilian music through jazz, through Stan Getz, so what I did was different, refreshing, and they liked it.”
Between touring, exploring nature, experiencing the alien phenomenon of the endless daylight during the summer months, hanging out at Club 7 and enjoying all that being exotic young Argentinian musicians in Norway brings - as Ruben remembers: “we met a lot of great friends, incredible musicians, unforgettable parties and of course… girls!!” - in 1979 the Agustín Pereyra Lucena Quartet recorded La Rana at Ny York Studio, Oslo.
Released in 1980 by Oslo-based label Plateselskapet Mai, La Rana featured Agustín’s stunning arrangements of compositions by Ivan Lins, Jobim and Agustín’s friend and hero Baden Powell. In addition to these, and a number of Agustín’s own compositions including the fifteen-minute masterpiece “Encuentro De Sombras”, the album’s title track is an idiosyncratic take on Joao Donato’s “A Rã” (Eng: The Frog/ Esp: La Rana) from his 1973 album Quem É Quem.
Throughout La Rana we hear not only Agustín’s fabled guitar playing, but his talent as a vocalist. He also provided the heartening illustration for the cover art, which perfectly fits the cordial, inviting tone of the music. Inspired in equal measure by South American rhythms and Norwegian glaciers, mountains and waterfalls, La Rana is filled with the warmth, humility and sincerity of a man seizing a joyful moment in life through music.
Perhaps it was mere coincidence, but like the frog the album is named after, Agustín always seemed to find himself near a body of water. From Buenos Aires to Rio, to the Mediterranean coast and Oslo, La Rana could be seen as a reflection of Agustín’s natural pull towards the deep blue.
In his lifetime, Agustin Pereyra Lucena recorded nine albums, including one with legendary Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. He had his music released in Argentina, Japan, England, France, Norway, Spain, Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela, and he became known as Argentina’s undisputed ambassador for Brazilian music.
Buy the album below or from Bandcamp