Artist Profiles: Luiz Gonzaga

Luiz Gonzaga

Luiz Gonzaga do Nascimento, Sr. was born December 13, 1912 in Exu, Pernambuco, Brazil.

Several years after his death in 1989 and several decades after his prime, Luiz Gonzaga still arouses strong and quite mixed feelings among his compatriots. Many regard him as one of the greatest Brazilian musicians of the 20th Century. Many others will scoff and tell you he was a backcountry hick who had a crude talent for entertaining the unwashed masses.

He was born in 1912 and raised in the sertao of northeastern Brazil, a region of hardscrabble farms and tapped-out mines. He fled as soon as he could, accordion in hand, to seek fortune and fame in Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio he endured ridicule of his half-moon leather hat (the typical headwear of bandits in the sertao) and sustained himself playing in low-class bars and brothels until 1941, when he managed to get into a song competition broadcast live on the radio. He won the competition with an original song in the xomego style of the sertao. It was the first time anything like that had happened in the capital of Cool, and it made Luiz Gonzaga a hero to the hundreds of thousands of northeasterners who had migrated to the southern cities.

Gonzaga performed on the radio innumerable times after that. Eventually he hosted his own television program. And by the time he was done he had recorded over 500 songs. He didn’t simply play the old northeastern styles (arrasta-pe, xote, xaxado, coco, forro) for nostalgic northeasterners, he turned those styles into something new – bai’ao – that all Brazilians could enjoy.

Luiz Gonzaga died August 2, 1989 in Recife.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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