Arthur Verocai: Brazil’s best kept secret
You may not have heard the name Arthur Verocai, but if you’re a music fan you’ve undoubtedly heard his music. His holy grail 1972 LP has been sampled by the likes of MF Doom, Ludacris, Curren$y and Little Brother to name just a few. It’s a cult masterpiece to tastemakers like Gilles Peterson and Egon. Madlib once famously commented: “I could listen to this album every day for the rest of my life”. Oh, did I mention that the original pressing sells for upwards of $2,000 on Discogs?
Born in Rio de Janeiro on 17 June 1945, Arthur Verocai is a guitarist composer and conductor. He trained for a career as a civil engineer, but with a natural talent for music he spent any available time outside of his nine-to-five playing, writing and arranging.
His first entry into the music business was a writing credit on Brazilian star Leny Andrade’s song “Olhando o Mar”, from his 1966 album We Are There. By 1969 Arthur was able to leave his day job behind. He became the musical director and guitarist for the show “E a major”, and in the same year wrote orchestra arrangements which were performed at music festivals in both Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo.
As his reputation for writing and conducting arrangements grew, so did the number of opportunities. In the 1970s he was hired by TV Globo, Brazil’s largest TV station, as its musical director. During his time at the station he wrote the arrangement for many of the stations biggest shows. He also provided orchestrations for albums by some of Brazil’s most popular musical artists including Marcos Valle, Gal Costa, Ivan Lins and Jorge Ben.
While much of this work brought him national acclaim, it was his work with the singer Celia which afforded him the opportunity to produce his own record on his own terms.
“I also produced two albums by a singer named Célia for Continental,” recalls Verocia. “The president of the company was delighted with the results. He invited me to produce an album using my own compositions and I agreed as long as I was able to choose the musicians to perform with me.” The musicians in question were some of the greatest talent Brazil had to offer. Among the session players on Arthur’s LP were Nivaldo Ornelas (of Milton Mascimento’s band), Toninho Horta, Robertinho Silva, Edson Maciel and Oberdan Magalhaes of Black Banda Rio.
Recorded at Studio Somil, Rio De Janeiro in 1972, the album was entirely produced, arranged, directed by Arthur Verocai himself. It’s hard to categorize such unique music without sounding conceited. There are elements of funk, jazz solos, touches of folk, a mix of acoustic and electronic sounds…all backed up by a 20 piece string orchestra. It’s a complex mix of elements, but Arthur Verocai’s gift for arrangement, not to mention the calibre of musicians involved, make for an entirely cohesive experience.
“I used to list to Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Stan Kenton, West Montgomery, Jimmy Web, Frank Zappa, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and Miles Davis, Milton Nascimento, Bossa Nova, amongst others,” explains Verocai. “In Brazil we had many musical influences, and by that there wasn’t a hegemonic one in the market. In this way my album reflected a search and musical experimentation. I was in an adventurous mood on this album and that led me to explore new melodic, harmonic and rhythmic paths.”
The self titled LP was released in 1972, almost halfway through the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil for more than 20 years. It sold dismally. Verocai moved on and began a successful career as a music advertising executive, producing albums for brands like Fanta, Brahma and Petrobas. He was even honoured with the Colunistas Prize in Advertising. In 1983 he became the proprietor of Studio V – House of the Sound.
Nothing good stays lost forever.
In the early 2000’s interest in Arthur’s album was growing among the record collecting community, fueled by a combination of the obvious quality of the music and the rarity of the record itself. A 2003 reissue by Luv N’ Haight capitalised on this, sparking a much wider resurgence of interest in his music. By 2007 Arthur has been recruited by British label Far Out to record a new album titled Encore and travelled to London in the same year to perform both old and new material. By 2009 he was performing with a full orchestra to a packed Los Angeles theater as part of Mochilla’s timeless series.
He may not have been appreciated in his own time, but Arthur Verocai is most undeniably appreciated in the present.