Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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GONZAGA, Luiz

(b '12, Exu, NE Brazil; d '89) Composer, singer, accordionist, revered in NE Brazil as architect of new arrasta-p (knees-up) musical forms, especially forro (or bai]ata[o). From humble origins in the sert]ata[o (desert) region of the interior of Pernambuco state, he initially played accordion with his father Januario Jose de Santos, began singing, then composing with lyricists Humberto Teixeira, Ze Dantas, Herve Cordovil, Jo]ata[o Silva. He developed a new band format dominated by his highly original piano accordion, with triangle and zabumba (a drum), later adding guitars and vocal backings. With a strong, deep, lilting voice and simple uncultured personality, he performed in a vaqueiro's (cowboy's) leather jacket and hat, and gave expression to the marginalized culture of the sert]ata[o region. His song 'Asa Branca' ('White Wings', with Teixeira) became an anthem of the region (sung by Carmen Miranda in the film Nancy Goes To Rio '50) with a typical melancholy theme: cattle dying in a drought, departure of white-winged bird means life is unsustainable, singer leaves home and sweetheart and dreams from afar of returning. The years '45--55 saw him at a peak of fame all over Brazil; then he declined following the bossa nova craze and his own poor showing on TV, but a revival began in the late '60s and he became a legend. He did his last show '89 in a wheelchair. He recorded from 1941 and there have been many compilations; his best-known songs include 'Assum Preto', 'Bai]ata[o', 'Respeita Januario', 'Juazeiro', 'Lgua Tirana'. The forro music/dance form he invented is still highly popular in NE Brazil; the dance resembles an elegant, erotic quickstep with hiccups. Other forro artists include Gonzaguinha (his adopted son), Dominguinhos, Eliane, Elba Ramalho and modern groups Mastruz Com Leite and Mel Com Terra.