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An electric guitarist at college

Unicamp professor, Budi Garcia, is rethinking Brazilian popular music

Professor and guitarist Budi Garcia

Ricardo CruzeiroProfessor and guitarist Budi GarciaRicardo Cruzeiro

Once maligned to the point of being the target of a 1967 protest march in São Paulo, the electric guitar now enjoys a peaceful coexistence with the more traditional instruments of Brazilian popular music, and this is not just on stage or in the recording studio, but also in college.  One of the people responsible for this change in status is instrumentalist and composer Budi Garcia, a professor of music at the Art Institute of the University of Campinas (Unicamp), where he teaches musical structures and electric guitar.

A Goiás State native, Budi – born Hermilson Garcia do Nascimento – was part of the initial cohort of popular music at Unicamp back in 1989.  Up to that point, he had completed two years of university studies in journalism in Goiás, where he’d begun aiming to cover the music scene.  Embarking upon a university program in classical music had not appealed to him.  When a program that matched his interests was finally established, he found a very lively cohort.  “It was probably a sign of pent-up demand, as maestro Benito Juarez fully expected when he convinced the executive board to approve  establishment of a space for popular music at Unicamp,” Garcia says.  “In Brazil, popular music has preserved its close ties to social reality, a fact that really distinguishes it from classical music.”

If there is any resistance to the popular repertoire in academic circles, the stigma is twice as bad with regard to the electric guitar.  “Brazil is the only country that uses different words to distinguish between acoustic guitar (violão) and electric guitar (guitarra),” Garcia says.  The word violão came about as a way to differentiate guitarra from the “hillbilly” guitar (viola).”  The distinction between acoustic guitar and electric guitar  came not from the instrument’s electrification (which had already occurred back in the 1930s), but from the emergence of rock music, ideologically identified as undesirable foreign music.  “What was in play was an affirmation of musical identity, which was really a good thing because in the 1960s, MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) was able to show the world that it was something unique and different,” the musician says.

Heraldo do Monte, a Brazilian pioneer in electric guitar, Garcia’s inspiration and research topic at Unicamp

Eduardo Knapp/FolhaPressHeraldo do Monte, a Brazilian pioneer in electric guitar, Garcia’s inspiration and research topic at UnicampEduardo Knapp/FolhaPress

It was in the 1970s however that Garcia, then a teenager living in Belo Horizonte, became interested in electric guitar and rock music.  He had played acoustic guitar since childhood, and the rock phase quickly became what was known at the time as fusion, a mixture of jazz and rock (with a component that also dialogued with the bossa nova and Portuguese-derived choro) that had a huge impact on Brazilian musicians like Heraldo do Monte, Hélio Delmiro and Tonhinho Horta.

“So through the electric guitar I was able to reconnect with Brazilian music,” says the professor who is currently engaged in a FAPESP-funded study at Unicamp entitled “The Brazilian design of guitarist Heraldo do Monte.”  Monte, now 80, has always devoted himself to the electric guitar, largely bypassing rock.  “His performances in the 1960s were the driving force behind the distinctly Brazilian style, heavily accented by Northeastern Brazil,” says Garcia.  One of Garcia’s academic goals was to continue the work in Brazilian popular music carried out in the field of humanities (sociology, linguistics and particularly history) at a time when only symphonic music had a place in college.

Although he had become a professor at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU) in 1994, Garcia resisted conducting academic research.  He did not feel comfortable offering theorization and felt the environment was “resistant to popular music.”  He was accustomed to performing at night in Goiânia and Belo Horizonte alongside well-known musicians (trombonist Raul de Souza and pianist Wagner Tiso along with those already mentioned) and he was reluctant to get into a world that initially seemed restrictive.  The research, although it limited his presence in recordings and live appearances, did not keep him away from big names. His 2001 master’s thesis was about pianist Custódio Mesquita, a figure from Brazil’s golden era of radio.  For his dissertation, Garcia came back to maestro Cyro Pereira, an important name in the festival phase of the 1960s, who was his professor at Unicamp.  Now he is studying Heraldo do Monte.

Priorities have completely shifted for Budi Garcia and academic tasks now consume nearly all of his time – although, given the nature of music, practice and theory go hand in hand.  The researcher ended up becoming skilled in reconciling the two activities.  Production outside the university has been rather dormant since 2007 when he released his solo CD, Azul Marin. “Today, my approach is more impromptu,” he says.

His attention is now on that place where, as an undergraduate, he was aroused by several aspects of music – among them the orchestral arrangements taught by Cyro Pereira and the inspiration that came from classical music when it “invaded” classes such as those taught by composer Almeida Prado.  “I drenched myself in that environment.  It was very transformative,” Garcia says.  His goal now is to expand his studies on Heraldo do Monte into a larger project that uses the notion of a Brazilian electric guitar to explore the development of new languages.