Nelson Angelo

Belo Horizonte, 2019. Caetano Veloso said during the show Ofertório: “I´m going to sing what I consider one of the most beautiful songs that has ever existed. It´s the mysticism of Saint Francis mixed with Buddha and Lao Tzu.” And he sang “Fazenda”. When the audience accompanied him in unison, ending in a standing ovation, Caetano shouted: “Long live Nelson Angelo!” 

Songs by Nelson with fathomless beauty and depth became classics in Milton Nascimento´s 1970s repertoire: in addition to “Fazenda”, they include “Simples”, “Canoa, Canoa” (lyrics by Fernando Brant), “Sacramento”, and “Testamento” (the latter two with lyrics by Milton himself). 

But there are other songs, more than a hundred – many never recorded, others recorded in his own albums and those of interpreters like Alaíde Costa, Boca Livre, Olívia Hime, Sergio Mendes, Simone, and Tom Jobim… Yes, none less than Jobim himself recorded “Tiro Cruzado” (“Crossfire”) (with Márcio Borges) in Miucha & Antônio Carlos Jobim, in a duet with the singer.

Composer, electric and acoustic guitarist, arranger, and singer from Minas Gerais, Nelson Angelo launched his career on the stages of Belo Horizonte in 1966, when he became friends with young Milton Nascimento. 

Around this time, Belo Horizonte began to enjoy a fraternal atmosphere among young musicians, steeped in Minas Gerais baroque and dazzled by the harmonies of bossa nova and jazz and by all that was new in rock and Latin American sonidos. Brazil and the world would come to know the resulting fusions as “Clube da Esquina” (the Corner Club), although the club´s members were only members thanks to their receptiveness and openness rather than adherence to some movement´s dictates. 

With this spirit, in the late 60s and throughout the 70s, Nelson was one of the creators of the sound in the first projects by this “non-movement”, working on the frontline of other collective undertakings that could also be included in the club´s “bylaws”. Here we´re thinking of the groups Quarteto Livre (that he formed with Geraldo Azevedo, Naná Vasconcelos, and Franklin da Flauta); A Tribo (in which, alongside Joyce, Naná, Novelli, and Toninho Horta, he launched a compact under the Odeon label); in the LPs Luiz Eça e a Sagrada Família (recorded in Mexico with Eça, Joyce, Naná, and Maurício Maestro), Nelson Angelo & Joyce (which went on to gain cult status), Naná Vasconcelos, Nelson Angelo & Novelli (recorded in France), and Beto Guedes, Danilo Caymmi, Novelli & Toninho Horta (the first album with all four, and which he produced). 

During the same period, he left his instrumentalist mark in albums by such names as Chico Buarque, Dori Caymmi, Edu Lobo, Elis Regina, Gonzaguinha, Johnny Alf, Luiz Gonzaga, Nana Caymmi, and even Sarah Vaughan in her Brazilian LP. Not to mention numerous concerts with Egberto Gismonti in the group Academia de Danças, of which he was a member.

In the 1980s, with equally gregarious spirit, he joined the group A Turma do Funil with Francis and Olívia Hime, Miúcha, Danilo Caymmi, Novelli, and Cristina Buarque and participated in the Clube do Samba, conceived by João Nogueira. 

Since then, composition has always backed the artist´s journey: he wrote more than 50 songs with Cacaso, plus so many more with Milton, Márcio, Brant, Ronaldo Bastos, Murilo Antunes, Ana Terra, and posthumously with Pixinguinha… Yes, the lyrics for “Um a Zero” are his, recorded as a duet with Chico Buarque in the CD A vida leva

In 2019, our Rocinante label had the joy of adding O Pensador (The Thinker) to a series of albums that featured A vida leva, Mineiro pau, Violão e outras coisas, Cateretê, Mar de Mineiro, Minas em meu coração, Times Square, Trilha sonora de uma viagem, Nelson Angelo 2018, Vitral do tempo, and the anthology Tempos Diferentes: O Maravilhoso Mundo Musical de Nelson Angelo (Different Times: the Wonderful Musical World of  Nelson Angelo), in which the author unassumingly features songs from different periods in his career.

Critic Antônio Carlos Miguel wrote for the site AmaJazz that O Pensador “has a guaranteed place on the list of the best songs of any year, in Nelson´s work, or that of international creative music”.

The creator´s vigor continues to unfold in project after project. These feature the lyrics for ten tracks on Rio da Lua, by Lô Borges, who wrote the tunes, released in 2019; in Cantos Espirituais (Spiritual Songs), released on digital platforms in 2021 (in which he wrote the music for ten poems by gaucho Carlo di Jaguarão); and in the latter´s film adaptation, Cantos, a documentary produced by Data Pictures and still not aired in Brazil, although already part of the program for various international festivals: ARRF Barcelona International Awards, Niagara Falls International Short Festival, International Sound Video Awards (Prague), Austin International Art Festival, ARFF Berlin International Awards, Golden Deer Film Festival, Brighton Rocks Film Festival, New York Movie Awards, San Francisco Indie Short Festival, Rome Music Video Awards, and Munich Music Video Awards. 

“Long live Nelson Angelo!” we shout in unison with Caetano.

Photography: João Atala