Monday, January 12, 2009

Jorge Ben Jor

Jorge Ben Jor (born March 22, 1942 in Rio de Janeiro) is a Brazilian popular musician. His characteristic style fuses samba, funk, and rock into samba-rock, with lyrics that blend humor and satire with often esoteric subject matter.
Born Jorge Duilio Lima Menezes, he initially took the stage name Jorge Ben after his mother's name (of Ethiopian origin), but later changed it to Jorge Ben Jor (commonly written Benjor), allegedly in response to an incident where some of his royalties had accidentally gone to American guitarist George Benson.
Jorge Ben obtained his first pandeiro (Brazil's most popular type of tambourine) when he was thirteen, and two years later, was singing in a church choir. He also took part as a pandeiro player in the blocos of Carnival, and from eighteen years of age, he began performing at parties and nightclubs with the guitar his mother gave him.
It was at one of those clubs in which he performed that his musical career took off. In 1963, Jorge came on stage and sang "Mas Que Nada" (or "no way") to a small crowd that happened to include an executive from the recording company, Philips. One week later, Jorge Ben's first disc was launched.
The hybrid rhythms that Jorge employed brought him some problems at the start of his career, when Brazilian music was split between the rockier sounds of the Jovem Guarda and traditional samba with its complex lyrics. But as that phase in Brazilian pop music history passed, and the entire world became captivated by bossa nova, Jorge rose to prominence.
Jorge Ben's first public appearances were in small festivals organised by his friends, where bossa nova and rock and roll predominated. As with most musicians of the time, Jorge was initially influenced by João Gilberto even though he was quite innovative in his own right. The aforementioned song, "Mas Que Nada", was his first big hit in Brazil, and remains to this day the most played song in the USA sung entirely in Portuguese. Outside of Brazil, the song is better known by its cover versions from both Sérgio Mendes and Tamba Trio. The song has also been reinterpreted by jazz luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Al Jarreau; as well as other samba artists of the time, such as Elza Soares.
In 1969, Jorge Ben released his self-titled album amid the excitement of the cultural and musical Tropicália movement. The album featured Trio Mocotó as his backing band, who would go on to launch a successful career on the back of their association with Ben. The album was noted for "País Tropical," one of his most famous compositions, although it would be Wilson Simonal who would take his recording of the song to the top of the charts in Brazil that same year. Instead, the song "Charles, Anjo 45", also from the self-titled album, would become Ben's biggest self-performed chart hit of the year.
In the 1970s, Jorge Ben released his most esoteric and experimental albums, most notably "A Tábua de Esmeralda" in 1974, "Solta o Pavão" in 1975 and "África Brasil" in 1976; the latter album's track "Xica da Silva" receiving a single release in many territories in Europe but retitled as "Chica da Silva" for ease of pronunciation. These three albums were not greeted with much popular success at the time but are regarded as classics today.
In 1989, Jorge changed his recording label as well as his artistic name, becoming Jorge Benjor (or Jorge Ben Jor). At the time, it was said that there were numerological reasons for his change in name, although it did in fact have more to do with problems in relation to his rights as a composer of music. Nonetheless, from this point on, Jorge's music became more pop oriented even though it did manage to maintain its swing.
While he is probably best known internationally as the composer of the Sérgio Mendes hit "Mas Que Nada", his own hit single "Taj Mahal" is recognizable (and was legally recognized in a plagiarism lawsuit) as the source of the melody in Rod Stewart's hit "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?". "Taj Mahal" originally appeared on 1972's "Ben" album, becoming a big hit on the charts in Brazil that year. An alternative version of the track also appeared on the 1977 album "Tropical"; this was an attempt to add soul and disco to his sound, after which he reverted to more familiar ways. Additionally, versions appear on Ben's 1975 collaboration with Gilberto Gil and his 1976 África Brasil album.
Some of his other hits include "Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)" (about one of his favorite subjects, football) "Fio Maravilha" (also inspired by a football player, Fio Maravilha), "País Tropical", "Chove Chuva", "Que Maravilha" (recorded with Toquinho), "Oba, lá vem ela", "Amante Amado" and "W/Brasil (Chama o Síndico)".
In 2006, a remake of Ben Jor's "Mas Que Nada" became an international chart hit for Sérgio Mendes with the Black Eyed Peas after being used by Nike in a global TV advertisement during the 2006 FIFA World Cup; this remake (the second time Mendes had covered the track) reached the Top 10 in several European countries, including the UK and Germany, in addition to reaching Number 1 in the Netherlands.
He is also a big fan of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, a Brazilian football club, located in Rio de Janeiro, where Zico, Junior and Leandro are among former stars. His passion is demonstrated in a song he wrote, called "Flamengo;" Flamengo's crest also features in the cover of the 1969 album "Jorge Ben." Ben's "Camisa 10 da Gávea" is an ode to Zico.
On 7 July 2007 he performed at the Brazilian leg of Live Earth in Rio de Janeiro.
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