Biography of Maria Bethania

Biografia de Maria Bethania
Biography of Maria Bethania

Maria Bethania Viana Teles Veloso, better known as Maria Bethânia (Santo Amaro da Purificação, Bahia, 18 June 1946).

Maria Bethania is a Brazilian singer who has the record of being the second best-selling female artist in Brazil, and the biggest in MPB, with 26 million copies. She goes by the nickname Abelha-rainha (Queen Bee) because of the first verse of the song on her 1979 LP Mel.

Maria Bethania is considered by many Brazilians to be one of the greatest singers in Brazilian history. She is the younger sister of composer Caetano Veloso and poet and writer Mabel Velloso.

Biography of Maria Bethania

Born in Bahia, Maria Bethania is the sixth child of José Teles Veloso (Seu Zezinho), a civil servant at the Post Office, and Claudionor Viana Teles Veloso (Dona Canô). She is the sister of writer Mabel Velloso and composer Caetano Veloso, and the aunt of singer Belô Velloso and Jota Velloso.

Biografia de Maria Bethania

Maria Bethania’s name was chosen by her brother Caetano Veloso, inspired by a famous song at the time, the waltz Maria Betânia, by the composer Capiba, a hit in the voice of Nélson Gonçalves.

Maria Bethânia became one of the main interpreters of Brazilian music, as some music critics judged her incapable of writing her own compositions. Just like Caetano, one of Brazil’s greatest contemporary singers and songwriters, who is known worldwide.

Maria Bethania was brought up in the city of Santo Amaro da Purificação and, having been brought up in the Catholic religion with Candomblé influence, she is a devotee of various saints and a traditional adherent of the African religious segment Ketu. She has sung several songs in honour of her head mother, Iansã.

Artistic career

Maria Bethânia in 1972

Today considered one of the greatest interpreters of her generation, Maria Bethania dreamed of being an actress as a child, but her gift for music spoke louder.

In her youth, Maria Bethania took part in semi-amateur shows in partnership with Tom Zé, Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. In 1960, she moved to Salvador to finish her studies and began working in the arts alongside her brother Caetano. In 1963, she made her debut as a singer in Nelson Rodrigues’ play Boca de Ouro.

The following year, Maria Bethania presented shows such as Nós por Exemplo, Mora na Filosofia and Nova Bossa Velha, Velha Bossa Nova, alongside her brother Caetano Veloso and his colleague Gilberto Gil, who were just starting out and whom she launched as national composers and singers, as well as singer Gal Costa, among others.

The official date of her professional debut is 13 February 1965, when Maria Bethania replaced singer and guitarist Nara Leão in the show Opinião because she had to leave due to health problems.

That same year, she was signed to the RCA label, which later became BMG (now Sony BMG), where she recorded her first album, released in June of that same year.

Maria Bethania’s first hit was the protest song Carcará, which also included, among others, the songs Mora na filosofia, Andaluzia, Feitio de oração and Sol negro, the latter in a duet with Gal Costa (who at the time was still using the stage name Maria da Graça).

She then released a triple compact disc, Maria Bethânia canta Noel Rosa, which included the songs Três apitos, Pra que mentir, Pierrot apaixonado, Meu barracão, Último desejo and Silêncio de um minuto, accompanied only by a guitar by Carlos Castilho.

Also in 1966, after returning to Bahia for a brief period, Maria Bethania took part in the shows Arena canta Bahia and Tempo de guerra, both directed by Augusto Boal, also competing in festivals. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, she performed in theatres and nightclubs, thus becoming nationally known.

Doces Bárbaros

Maria Bethania was also the creator of the group Doces Bárbaros, where she was one of the band’s lead singers, who released a live album of the same name together with colleagues Gal Costa, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. The album is considered a masterpiece, but curiously at the time of its release (1976) it was heavily criticised.

Doces Bárbaros was a typical hippie band of the 1970s, and over the years, this motto has been the subject of a film directed by Jom Tob Azulay, a DVD, the theme song of the Estação Primeira de Mangueira samba school in 1994 with the song Atrás da verde-e-rosa só não vai quem já morreu, they have commanded a trio elétrico at the Salvador carnival, shows on Copacabana beach and a performance for the Queen of England.

Caetano Veloso wrote about this encounter: Gil, Gal and I can discuss our attitudes and postures, but with regard to Maria Bethania there is always an aristocratic respect that the rhythm of her behaviour demands. And we’re always learning something of that majesty from her.

Initially the disc was to be recorded in the studio, but at the suggestion of Gal and Maria Bethania, it was the show that was recorded on disc, with four of those songs recorded shortly before on the double studio compact disc, with the songs Esotérico, Chuckberry fields forever, São João Xangô Menino and O seu amor, all rare recordings.

The 1980s

From the 1960s, when the Festival of Brazilian Popular Music (TV Record) specials appeared, until the end of the 1980s, Brazilian television was marked by the success of the shows broadcast that presented new talents, registering record ratings.

Maria Bethânia took part in the special Mulher 80 (Rede Globo), one of these remarkable moments on television; the programme aired a series of interviews and musicals on the theme of women and the discussion of the female role in society at the time, addressing this theme in the context of national music and the widespread preponderance of female voices, with Elis Regina, Fafá de Belém, Marina Lima, Simone, Rita Lee, Joanna, Zezé Motta, Gal Costa, Maria Bethânia and the special appearances of actresses Regina Duarte and Narjara Turetta, who starred in the series Malu Mulher.

Taking advantage of the post-dictatorship and feminism strand, she also sang, albeit with little individual participation, in the chorus of the Brazilian version of We Are the World, the American hit that brought voices together and raised funds for Africa or USA for Africa.

The Nordeste Já project (1985) took up the cause of the Northeastern drought, uniting 155 voices in a collectively created compact disc with the songs Chega de Mágoa and Seca d’Água. Praised for the competence of the individual interpretations, it was nonetheless criticised for its inability to harmonise the voices and the framing of each of them in the chorus.

Maria Bethania was the first Brazilian singer to sell more than a million copies of a single album (Álibi, 1978, which featured special guest appearances by samba singer Alcione and Gal Costa on the songs O meu amor and Sonho meu) and this success was repeated on her two subsequent albums: Mel and Talismã (1980), which also achieved significant sales (the latter even saw 700,000 copies in a fortnight with the participation of singers and composers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil on the track Alguém me avisou), and she innovated in the acoustic genre with the next two albums, Ciclo (1983) and A Beira e o Mar (1984), in total contrast to the sound of the time, the commercial albums, with arrangements and keyboards by Lincoln Olivetti, which didn’t have the same popular appeal.

On this first album, considered by the artist to be the best of her entire career, the record company’s publicity errors compromised the success of the disc, where Fogueira was the only song to be featured and was included in the soundtrack of Lauro César Muniz’s global soap opera Transas e caretas, having been praised by specialised critics and received strangely by the general public, It featured a repertoire of eleven songs, nine of which were new, and only two re-recordings (Rio de Janeiro – Isto é o meu Brasil and Ela disse-me-assim) and on the LP A Beira e o Mar, which originated from the show A hora da estrela, whose title refers to the famous book of the same name by Clarice Lispector, the repertoire mixed new songs and re-recordings (Na primeira manhã, Nossos momentos, ABC do Sertão,

Somos iguais and Sonho impossível – the latter recorded for the third time, since it had previously been recorded on the albums A cena muda and Chico Buarque e Maria Bethânia – ao vivo and thirteen years later, again on the CD Imitação da vida), was also poorly publicised and marked her first departure from the Polygram label (now Universal Music), where she had been signed since 1971 (with the album Maria Bethânia Viana Teles Veloso – A tua presença, a success with audiences and critics) and to which she would only return five years later. The disc that marked her return was Memória da Pele (Memory of the Skin). During this time, she had a brief spell with her first record company, RCA, with whom she signed a contract to record three discs, but only two were produced. They are: Dezembros and Maria, released in 1986 and 1988 respectively.

The anthological interpretation of Na primeira manhã surprised Milton Nascimento, inspiring him to write the song Canções e momentos in partnership with Fernando Brant, which was included in the repertoire of the album Dezembros, in which he also played a special part, which also included, among others, the hits Anos dourados, Gostoso demais and Errei sim.

The CD Maria, which originated from the show of the same name directed by Fauzi Arap the previous year, featured special guest appearances by singer Gal Costa (on the toada O ciúme, accompanied only by the synthesiser of Benoit Corboz, who also wrote the arrangement for this song) and two international artists: South African group Lady Smith Black Mambazo (on the opening track, A terra tremeu/Ofá) and French actress Jeanne Moureau (on the song Poema dos olhos da amada, reciting a French version of the poem by Vinícius de Morais); if it hadn’t been for the success of two romantic songs in the charts, the ballads Tá combinado and Verdades e mentiras, which were part of the soundtrack for the global soap operas Vale Tudo and Fera Radical, respectively, tracks with a certain appeal for radio stations, this work would have been one of the most uncommercial of his career so far, as it had a totally acoustic reading – and this in the midst of the rise of pop/sertanejo duos and the advent of lambada.

The 1990s

In 1990, Maria Bethania celebrated 25 years of her career with the LP 25 Anos (25 Years), whose repertoire, essentially Brazilian, evoked the various cultures of the country, featuring both well-known and lesser-known songs, including re-recordings and new songs.

The disc featured the special participation of various singers and musicians, including Gal Costa, Alcione, João Gilberto, Egberto Gismonti, Nina Simone, Fátima Guedes, Hermeto Paschoal, Sivuca, Wagner Tiso, Toninho Horta, Jacques Morelenbaum, Jaime Alem, Márcio Montarroyos, Mônica Millet, Almir Sater, Flávia Virgínia, Nair de Cândia, Armando Marçal, Djalma Correia, Álvaro Millet, Gordinho (Antenor Marques Filho), Zeca Assunção, Wilson das Neves, José Roberto Bertrami, Jamil Joanes, Jurim Moreira, the string orchestra and drums of the GRES Estação Primeira de Mangueira samba school, conducted by Mestre Taranta (he appeared twice on the disc – on the opening track, a vignette glued to a text by Mário de Andrade and the song O canto do pajé – and also on the closing track, Palavra, which at the end quoted Chico Buarque’s famous song Apesar de você); the disc had two hit songs on the charts, the regional songs Tocando em frente and Flor de ir embora, which were part of the soundtracks for the rural soap operas Pantanal and A história de Ana Raio e Zé Trovão, respectively, both shown on the now defunct Rede Manchete.

The feat of recording acoustic albums was repeated on the subsequent album, Olho d’Água, released in 1992, which didn’t have the greatest repercussions due to the lack of effective promotion on the part of the record company; in its repertoire, the only highlight was the regionalist song Além da última estrela, which was part of the soundtrack for Benedito Ruy Barbosa’s global soap opera Renascer, shown the following year.

The album also showed us a foray into religiosity (Ilumina, Medalha de São Jorge, Louvação a Oxum, Rainha negra – a tribute to the singer Clementina de Jesus – and Búzio), opening and closing with a vignette of the song Sodade meu bem sodade, by Zé do Norte.

Sales success returned in 1993 with the release of the CD As canções que você fez para mim (The songs you made for me), which sold over a million copies and was converted into a Hispanic version (in this case, Las canciones que hiciste para mi) with part of the repertoire (seven of the eleven songs were converted – the title track, Fiera herida (Wounded beast, one of the disc’s hits, opening theme of the global soap opera of the same name), Palabras (Words), Tú no sabes (You don’t know), Necesito de tu amor (I need you), Tú (You, included on the soundtrack of Gilberto Braga’s global soap opera Pátria Minha, whose title refers to the famous poem of the same name by Vinícius de Morais – the successor to Fera Ferida) and Emociones (Emotions, one of Roberto’s greatest hits) – of those that were left out (Olha, Costumes, Detalhes and Seu corpo), which consisted of a tribute to the singer-songwriter duo Roberto and Erasmo Carlos, evoking eleven partnerships between the two. This disc, as well as a promotional LP for Coca-Cola with an interview with part of the repertoire (Emoções, Costumes, Olha and Seu corpo), also spawned a VHS (re-released on DVD in 2009) and a show based on the promotion of the previous disc, directed by Gabriel Vilela at the Canecão house (Rio de Janeiro), from which came the work that marks her definitive farewell to Universal Music: Maria Bethânia ao vivo, from 1995, the last to have a vinyl version, but which was already suffering from the problem of physical space pressure, with four fewer songs. They are: Fé cega faca amolada,

Details, Você Não Sabe (the last two, already included on the Roberto tribute album) and Reconvexo (recorded by the singer on the album Memória da Pele), included only on the CD. This disc included re-recordings of the old hits as well as other well-known songs and the previous studio album dedicated to Roberto Carlos.

Biography of singer-songwriter Maria Bethania

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