Dino's seven strings are eternal

Aged 82, the greatest 7-string guitarist in Brazil is still active, giving lessons and recording, and he does not hide the satisfaction with being the biggest promoter of the instrument

Nana Vaz de Castro
Few people know so much about "baixaria" like Horondino José da Silva. More known as Dino 7 Cordas, the guitarist did not invent the instrument that gave him a stage name, but was the one who created its technique and language - which is necessarily related to what is referred to, in choro meetings, as "baixaria", a type of melodic counterpoint using the lowest strings on the guitar. Moreover, Dino created a style for 7-string guitars in Brazilian music. "They say I've created a style. I think that's fantastic. When anyone talks about 7-string guitars, they talk about Dino", the master says.

Turning 83 in May, Dino is still very active. He doesn't participate in as many recording sessions as he used to, 20 years ago, when he would spend 12 hours in studios ("couldn't even have a lunch break"), but he keeps on promoting his art through lessons that he gives four times a week at the most traditional music shops in Rio de Janeiro. He claims: "I want to die holding my guitar".

He learned the method and the instrument by himself. "I'm a self-taught musician, never had a teacher", he proudly declares, pointing out that he did take a few theory classes back in the 1940s. Dino's relation with the guitar began with his father, and amateur musician. Dino would try and imitate everything that he heard on the radio. In 1935, he met with flutist Benedito Lacerda, leader of the most prestigious folk group at the time. "Jacob do Pandeiro [Jacob Palmieri] introduced me to Benedito. He wanted to see if I could really play, grabbed a guitar and handed it to me. I played mercilessly", laughs Dino.

Dino and Meira, a brand name
In the following year, the official guitarist for the group Regional de Benedito Lacerda, Nei Orestes, fell ill. "He went to Argentina, took a cold shower and fell ill. Then Canhoto (who played the cavaquinho with the group) suggested my name, and stopped by my house to tell me about it, saying that Benedito wanted me to replace Nei", Dino says. Things happened in such a way that Orestes died without having ever returned to the group, and Dino became the definitive guitarist. Shortly after, Jayme Florence, a.k.a. Meira, joined Regional, also as a guitarist, establishing one of the longest lasting MPB duos, around for over 40 years. "Guitars: Dino and Meira" was turned into a brand name, present in nine out of ten choro and samba albums produced in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s.

Back then, Dino was still playing the regular, 6-string guitar, participating in famous recording sessions with Pixinguinha (tenor sax) and Benedito Lacerda (flute) in the 1940s. For guitarists like Maurício Carrilho, the experience was important for the development of the instrument's language. "To me, Dino was largely influenced by Pixinguinha, when the latter was performing as a duo with Benedito Lacerda. With his saxophone, Pixinguinha did the counterpoint in lower keys, which is what Dino would do later with the seven strings", claims Carrilho. Luiz Octávio Braga, who was the very first musician to use nylon strings on the 7-string guitar, when he joined Radamés Ganttali's Camerata Carioca, in 1983, agrees: "In a way, Dino undertook the role of Pixinguinha's tenor sax".

The inspiration for the seventh string came from guitarist Tute (Artur de Souza Nascimento), who played with some of the bands led by Pixinguinha (Oito Batutas, Grupo da Velha Gurada, Orquestra Victor). Before Tute, the references to 7-string guitars are almost inexistant. According to guitarist and researcher Luis Filipe de Lima, guitarist Otávio Vianna, a.k.a. China, Pixinguinha's brother and a member of Oito Batutas, also played the 7-string. "There is a picture from 1910 that shows China holding the instrument. Which doesn't mean that he was the first. After all, Tute and him were generation mates and played with the same groups", says Lima.

Dino hung out in the same places where Tute used to perform, just to see him play. "I found it so beautiful, watching Tute play that guitar, but I didn't want him to think that I was ripping him off, so I only took up playing the 7-string after he died", he says, making a reference to the first half of the 1950s. Dino ordered a 7-string guitar to Silvestre, the luthier who worked at the music shop Bandolim de Ouro, and began studying the instrument, using a cello string as the seventh string, a fashion that is kept to this day. The group Regional do Benedito had become Regional do Canhoto, led by the cavaquinho master, and the sound produced by Dino with the new guitar, whose spare string was tuned in C, became successful.

Dino never let go of the 7-string, anymore, and along the decades, he developed a whole language for the instrument, setting different roles for the 6 and the 7-string guitars in samba and choro groups. During the 1960s, he was invited by Jacob do Bandolim (whom he had met in the 30s) to join the group Época de Ouro, with whom he still performs. Since he was known only as Dino, Jacob talked him into incorporating 7 Cordas into his name. But, as a songwriter, he uses his real name, Horondino Silva. "Horondino is a songwriter, and Dino is a guitarist", he explains, choosing Isaurinha Garcia, Orlando Silva, Déo and Silvio Caldas as the best interpreters of his own songs.

Ball guitarist
A little later, the Jovem Guarda explosion turned things harder. Recording sessions and shows were scattered, and Dino was forced to do something radical: to buy an electric guitar. "I traded the acoustic for the electric, because no one was calling me to record, anymore. Then, somebody called me, and I started peforming with Paulo Barcelos, who played in balls, and we had gigs every weekend. I used to get very upset, because I really like the choro, which was outdated, then", he recalls. The bad phase passed, and in the 1970s Dino was recording again, first with the pioneering yearly samba-enredo compilations, and then the samba recording sessions returned. What did he do with the electric guitar? "I sold it as quickly as possible."

Some of his most remarkable works were done in the 1970s, such as the two Cartola albums released on the label Marcus Pereira, regarded as the best lesson by all of the 7-string guitarists around (read statements). Dino is credited for the arrangements and musical direction. "Cartola went like this: he played the guitar - badly - and I would write, and then I started writing the arrangements. I would modify the chords, do them differently from him. I would do the basses... I just worked on the harmony, and people started saying that I had written the arrangement", he says.

Raphael & Dino
There were plenty of invitations for Dino to make his own album, but he kindly turned down everyone of them with the same excuse: he's not a soloist, he is a back-up musician. The only person who talked him into having his name printed on the cover of a disc was his most renowned disciple, Raphael Rabello. Together, they wrote the arrangements and recorded Raphael Rabello & Dino 7 Cordas in 1991, on the extinct label Caju Music (currently featured in the Kuarup catalogue). Raphael's love for Dino is confirmed by everyone who spent time with them. There was a time when Raphael - who would call himself Rafael 7 Cordas - grew so obsessed as to wear clothes identical to Dino's, made by the same tailor. "I wore glasses, he began wearing glasses. I used to wear a ring on this finger, he started to wear a ring on the same finger. All to look like me. It made me very happy", he smiles. Some even say that, in choro meetings, Dino would twist his arm so that the pupil could not imitate his "baixarias". "That's fantasy", he denies. But some swear it is true.

In the past ten years, Dino slowed down the pace, concentrating more on the lessons than on recording sessions. He retired in 1972. "If I owned a copy or every album I've played in, they would not fit in this house", he says. In the apartment where he lives with his wife and son, Dininho (bassist who accompanies Paulinho da Viola and other musicians, besides being a member of the group Toque de Prima), Dino only likes to listen to choro and samba. Preferably, when he's playing.

There's no use trying to make him say the name of a modern 7-string guitarist that he regards as being good. "I won't point out A or B, they're all a bit doubtful", he claims. Conservative, Dino does not appreciate foreign music, maybe because he only left Brazil once, to go to Uruguai: he likes tango, fox and fado, though, but "only if they're very well performed". He's also unpredictable, when revealing that he does like The Beatles. In order to set the record straight, he grabs the guitar and strums Yesterday on it, even singing a bit. The 7-string guitar, which has taken over the world - "mainly Japan and United States, where people enjoy the choro" - is at home in Dino's hands, and the style does not matter.

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