The story behind ‘Mas Que Nada’ began as a samba in Rio, not a bossa nova in Los Angeles.
Funny thing: Sambistas didn’t like the song. Until they did.
September 24th marks the day when ‘Mas Que Nada’ it made its entry onto Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart in 1966. Over the years, the song has given us several exciting versions, including hard-to-find covers by Al Jarreau and in a solo setting, one of the original guitar voices of contemporary samba jazz, Paulinho Nogeira.
But it’s the original – written and recorded by Samba newcomer Jorge Ben – that lit the fuse for Bossa Nova’s worldwide success three years before it because a hit for Sergio Mendes.
So, here’s the story behind ‘Mas Que Nada’.
Jorge Ben’s 1963’s ‘Samba Esquema Novo’ (New Style Samba) represented a sea change in Brazilian pop music. During this time, the musicians who made Bossa Nova popular in Brazil were beginning to seek new challenges and opportunities outside of their home country.
And while Brazilian military dictatorship was still a faint year in the future, a sense of Bossa’s ‘innocence lost’ began to push Brazil’s next generation in new directions. Jorge Ben, at 23, was one of its brightest stars.
Samba’s Tradition Debunked, Reborn
As debut records go, this one was a clear winner, and the opening track ‘Mas Que Nada’ became an instant hit. It also helped to propel Ben to international fame as a songwriter.
This recording yielded many great songs, some of which have become well known, such as ‘Chove Chuva’ and ‘Balança Pema’.
Surprising to other artists as well as his fans, according to Jorge Ben: “They used to say “You play wrong, but in the end it works, how is that?”. They used to say my music was a samba that was not a samba, but that was a samba. Actually, it was a new sort of samba”.
By 1963, Ben’s style had evolved to the point where the very same samba masters that he had studied with no longer knew how to play with him. When it came time to record ‘Samba Esquema Novo’ he turned to J.T. Meirelles and his jazz band, Copa 5 for back up. And there was another surprise: Jorge Ben couldn’t read or write a note of music – he wouldn’t learn those skills for another few years: “I was already a professional and I didn’t know music. I guess God spoke: ‘you will be a musician, that’s better'”, he recalled.
As was the case with many breakout albums of the time, ‘Samba Esquema Novo’ retained strong ties to Bossa Nova with a brace of its best musicians and arrangers including Bossa 3’s jazz pianist Luiz Carlos Vinha.
In fact, it’s the depth of talent surrounding Jorge Ben upbeat vocals with these big band arrangements that helps to make this alnum a joy to listen to over and over again, not just for the original version of two of his greatest hits, but as a satisfying blueprint for the future of Brazilian Pop.
There you have it, the story behind ‘Mas Que Nada’, and of course, our One Track goes to Brasil 66.
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