Mario Reis’ eternal return

Singer gets a biography to celebrate his legacy

Marco Antonio Barbosa
Bossa nova forerunner, first Brazilian singer that was able to use the resources of amplified sound, "spiritual father" of João Gilberto: many titles can be tagged on to Mario Reis, the "dandy of samba", the man who buried the semi-opera style of the singers in the 1920s and ‘30s and opened up the doors for more subtle performances. The singer’s history and career are on the book Mario Reis: O Fino do Samba, written by journalist Luís Antônio Giron. The book exposes the multiple revolutions, headed by Mario, that took place in Brazilian music, as well his perfectionism and strategic retirement moves – the first one at age 28.

The author believes that Mario Reis’ greatest influence over MPB was the introduction of electric amplification (via microphone) in Brazilian recordings. "In 1928, samba artist Sinhô – Mario's guitar teacher - first used an electric recording machine, with microphones. Mario Reis worked on it in order to come up with a Brazilian style of singing, influenced by his master Sinhô."

Reis’ "spoken" songs and characteristic Rio de Janeiro accent (as opposed to the lyrical approach of the stars at the time, such as Vicente Celestino and Francisco Alves) were very successful and polemic. Giron claims that there would be no João Gilberto without Mario Reis. At least, not as we know it. "Gilberto’s subtle melodies and accent from Bahia wouldn’t have been possible without Mario’s technique. João brought Mario’s bossa further until discovering the bossa nova. At the time, bossa was a term used to describe a soft way of singing, enriched with wise irony."

The book also discloses personal aspects of the singer’s life, such as the never confirmed fact that he was gay. "There are three versions of the artist’s sexuality: he didn’t do it; he was a lover that always hid his sources of pleasure, or he was a closet homosexual, in a time when that category didn’t even exist", Giron claims. "Since he didn’t have any heirs and his personal objects disappeared, it’s become very hard to rebuild details of his life."