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HHermeto Pascoal Rehearsal
Figure 9: O Grupo in rehearsal, 1992. Itiberê Zwarg and Márcio Bahia. Photo by Andrew Connell


       Hermeto and the band also welcomed musical guests during their concerts and club performances. If the mood seemed right, Hermeto would even make a general call for “any musicians in the audience” to come up on stage with their instruments. I took part in one of these occasions at a show in 1992 that took place in Sala Cecília Meirelles, a theater in Rio’s central district. Besides myself, Cacau, Hermeto’s saxophonist from the late 70s, and Daniel Pezzotti, a Swiss cellist, were also sitting in. In contrast to most “jam” situations in which the musical guest is given a space to solo within an already established arrangement, Hermeto viewed this expanded ensemble as an opportunity to do something new. He composed a simple frevo on the spot, teaching everyone their parts from the piano. After performing the frevo, he created another piece around a series of sampled bird calls, this time adding the parts for the audience to sing.[27] Soon the entire theater was engaged in a symphony of horns, percussion, bird calls, and blasts from Hermeto’s ram’s horn. After the concert, Cacau told me that this type of spontaneous performance was typical of the band’s shows even back during his time with the band.

      This type of flexibility and willingness to experiment became a hallmark of the band and something that their audiences came to expect. Jovino described a 1983 concert in Minas Gerais in which the entire show was improvised:


Hermeto collected all our music folders two minutes before the show and told us that on that day no one was going to read anything. Instead, he composed all of the music we played onstage. He started on the piano then cued us in until the themes were in full swing. No one in the audience noticed what was going on. At other times, some spontaneous ideas were so good that we would then incorporate in the next show.

That was the case of the bandinhas [little bands]. Once, in 1982, while playing at the IBAM theater in Rio, we started to leave the stage with piccolo, two saxes, tuba, and percussion and [we went] out of the theater to the streets playing some themes that Hermeto had written for the line–up. The audience followed us outside. We paraded for a while and then went back in to finish the show. That proved to be such a hit that we ended up doing it at a great number of concerts all over the world. This created some extremely funny situations, such as our climbing aboard city buses, entering bars, and sometimes going miles away from the venue. At times we had literally thousands of people dancing behind us through the streets.[28] (Gilman 1996)


      One of Hermeto’s consistent characteristics is his sense of theater and the absurd. Concerts, such as the one I described above, often took on a circus–like atmosphere. No one in the group embodied this spirit more than his percussionist, Antonio Luis de Santana, better known as Pernambuco. Hermeto met Pernambuco in 1977 while he was producing an LP by the northeastern singer Fagner. Pernambuco played on the sessions and seemed to have a special quality about him that fascinated Hermeto. After the record was finished he asked Pernambuco to join his band. Pernambuco occupied a unique place in Hermeto’s work in that his role in the group was as much that of an actor as it was being a musician. For the most part, Pernambuco played pandeiro, triangle and several triangle–like instruments on the baiãos and frevos that required the constant 16th–note ride so characteristic of those styles.[29] But he often sat out on some of the more complex pieces. What Pernambuco had was a bent for doing whatever crazy act Hermeto thought up for him. Itiberê described a typical incident:


Sometimes, while Carlos Malta was soloing—quebrando tudo [breaking everything, i.e., “getting down”]—Hermeto would go across the stage to Pernambuco and tell him, “enter crying and then leave laughing.” So Pernambuco would come in crying, and the guy soloing wouldn’t understand what was going on. So he would get angry and start playing free while [Pernambuco] cried. Then he would leave laughing. I mean, it was pure theater. Pernambuco has a beautiful charisma, he always captivated the audience.

We used to say that Pernambuco wasn’t a percussionist, he was percussion. Hermeto played him [laughter]. He was the group’s actor.

 . . . Hermeto was always very theatrical. He always said that a musician had to live music when he is playing just as an actor is living a character, with a lot of strength. (Itiberê interview 1999)

Pernambuco's Percussion Instruments

Figure 10: A sampling of Pernambuco’s percussion instruments. Note the “redongulo” (leaning against the table). the reco-reco made from a VW hubcap in the background. The teapot “trumpet” is played by Hermeto. Photo by Andrew Connell


Pernambuco taught me to release my playing. . . . Hermeto takes him, gives him a slap, squeezes him, and he cries out, so, he is a percussion instrument. Pernambuco, then, outside of being played as an instrument of percussion, has that theatrical thing. What did I learn from Pernambuco? The act of setting [yourself] free, the freedom for you to create. For him, gestures, cries, words, acts . . . all this is percussion. Hermeto awakened this in Pernambuco and [Pernambuco] awakened it in me. That thing of acting on stage. Pernambuco has a freedom that is impressive. (Bahia interview 1999)


      In 1989, just as he was completing his sixth recording for Som da Gente, Mundo Verde Esperança (Green Earth Hope), Hermeto had a falling out with the owners of the label. Jovino told me that the mixing sessions took place during the 1989 elections and the studio was busy recording political advertising, tying up the studio for long periods. Hermeto was repeatedly told to wait or reschedule his work. Finally, he became so frustrated that he simply abandoned the recording just short of its completion. Jovino says that there have been various attempts to buy the master tape from Som da Gente, but the record remains in limbo, and Hermeto no longer has a desire to finish it. It is a shame because, judging from the mix I have heard, it is an amazing record. In the end, Hermeto was once again left without a record label. The band continued on its usual schedule of rehearsing and touring, usually playing for packed houses. Hermeto told me because the group’s shows were always changing and full of improvisational possibilities, his audiences always knew that they would be in for many surprises and new compositions. Thus the group’s appearances were almost always sold out regardless of whether Hermeto had a new record or not.

            In 1991 the band signed a contract with Polygram/Brazil. According to Jovino, the label wooed Hermeto with the promise that the CD would be released simultaneously in both Brazil and the U.S. The label had recently signed a number of Brazilian artists such as saxophonist Leo Gandelman, singer/composer Joyce, and guitarist Ricardo Silveira, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of Brazilian music in the late 1980s. With this in mind, Hermeto decided to aim the CD, to be called Festa dos Deuses (Festival of the Gods), towards the international market. The band included a reharmonized version of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” and an Afro–Cuban piece entitled “Irmãos Latinos.” The cover art included a bilingual text in Portuguese and English. In addition three tracks were sound/music collages employing a process that Hermeto called som da aura (sound of the aura).


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[27] These bird calls appeared on his 1992 CD, Festa dos Deuses, in a track named “Quando as Aves se Encontram, Nasce o Som.”

[28] The “bandinha,” the “portable” version of O Grupo, consisted of Jovino (flute/piccolo), Itiberê (tuba), Hermeto (saxophone), Carlos (sax/flute), and Márcio, Fábio, and Pernambuco on percussion.

[29] These instruments included a recording tape reel that Hermeto dubbed a “redongulo,” a play on words that combined “redondo” (round) with “triangulo” (triangle).