The paper examines the biography of Airto Moreira, a Brazilian percussionist who currently lives in California. The analysis contains the history of his music and summarizes his contribution to the Los Angeles music scene. Moreover, the paper contains personal reflections on Moreira’s songs and outlines the features of his technique.
If the person who has no knowledge of the theory and history of music hears the words percussion and fusion, he/she can hardly mention some concepts and names. However, any connoisseur of jazz and drums hearing the same words will surely mention Airto Moreira. This Brazilian percussionist who currently lives in California left a significant mark in the history of jazz and world music. Moreover, the musician made a great contribution to the development of LA pop scene, connecting Western jazz with Brazilian musical traditions. At the same time, the list of Moreira’s activities is extremely long and is not limited to music.
Airto Moreira was born in 1941 in a small village named Itaiopolis in the south of Brazil. He began to develop drumming skills in the early childhood when he mastered a Brazilian tambourine “pandeiro.” Airto turned into a professional musician while he was a teenager. He quickly gained local popularity and played with various Brazilian ensembles and orchestras. In 1967, he became a part of a band Quarteto Novo created by famous Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. Shortly after that, the musician went to the US to stay with his wife, singer Flora Purim. At the same time, Airto began working with different jazz musicians. After all, he met popular keyboardist Joe Zawinul, who recommended Moreira to Miles Davis.
Airto still considers the experience with Davis the most surprising, because he talked a little with the musicians and did not explain anything. At the same time, no matter how free and creative every artist of Davis band was, everything magically became a universal ripple. As a result, Airto took part in recording the landmark album Bitches Brew in 1970 that became the starting point for jazz fusion. Moreira stood at the origins of Weather Report and Return to Forever, which were bands that have played an important role in the history of jazz. His collection of instruments grew, technique improved, and soon Moreira became one of the most successful percussionists not only in jazz but also in popular music.
The 90s raised interest in the world music genre in general and percussion music in particular. Consequently, Airto Moreira became in demand as never before. He took part in the Mickey Hart’s project titled Planet Drum and worked with The United Nations Orchestra with Dizzy Gillespie. In his solo works of the twenty-first century, Moreira, as usual, continues to experiment, combining pop, funk, hip-hop, and Brazil ethnic motives with club rhythms of modern dance music.
The 1970s resulted in numerous significant changes in the society. First of all, different movements for the human rights that emerged in the 50s or 60s continued to function in the 70s. Secondly, the hippie subculture became more popular. World War II and Vietnam War resulted in the social desire to live in the peaceful and happy world. Thirdly, the significant development of technology and scientific successes caused the appearance of post-industrial society. Finally, the sexual revolution completely changed the attitude towards human relations. At the same time, the political and economic context was also rich in events. The “new course” established by Franklin Roosevelt ended and American community was inspired to reach new limits, establish a great society, and finally overcome poverty. However, the realities of next years forced the US to concentrate on solving absolutely different problems.
The culture of the 70s is remarked by the increasing popularity of jazz music and massive festivals in the open air. At the end of the 1960s jazz began to mix different forms and techniques of improvisations with electric instruments and rock rhythms of soul and rhythm and blues. At the same time, some rock musicians began to add jazz elements to their music. Moreover, this period became the origin of such jazz sub-genre as fusion. The current genre combined the elements of jazz and other styles, such as pop, rock, folk, reggae, electronic music, and ethnic music. Fusion albums, even made by one performer, often included a variety of styles. At the same time, the whole idea of jazz music shifted from protest and individuality towards the mass-culture, commercialization, and financial profit.
Musical Analysis and Reflection
A collection of percussion instruments alongside with a brilliant and inventive playing technique and stunning sound production made Airto Moreira one of the most sought-after session musicians. At the same time, he did not lose the connection with his historical motherland. The variety of native instruments used by him was extremely impressive. For example, on Davis’ Bitches Brew Airto played the cuíca and berimbau. Cuíca is a Brazilian drum with a bamboo stick inside, and berimbau is a wooden pole with a resonator in the form of a hollow pumpkin hanging on a stretched string. However, pandeiro is considered Moreira’s favorite instrument. Pandeiro is a Brazilian analog of a tambourine with the round wooden base and the membrane of animal skin. In contrast to the tambourine, pandeiro can be set to certain height. Moreira used the instrument in his solo works that included not only jazz but also samba, capoeira, and salsa music.
Samba de Flora is an outstanding example of Moreira’s solo work. The song became extremely popular among teenagers, perhaps, because it was included in the soundtrack for football simulator FIFA Street 2 by Electronic Arts. At the same time, Samba de Flora is also a perfect example of Moreira’s percussive skills. From the first listening, the piano line drags an attention and inspires the audience. However, the more one listens to the song the more he or she emphasizes the role of percussion. If this song can be compared with the building, the piano line is a beautiful finishing, while the percussion is a solid foundation that holds the entire structure. Meanwhile, the accent on each particular stroke amazes the most in the manner of Moreira’s play. The inspiring vocals and impressive keyboard solos complement the typical samba rhythm.
Connection and Contribution to Los Angeles
Participating in numerous world music projects, Airto Moreira definitely enriched the Los Angeles scene with different ethnic music. Moreover, Moreira connects the America and Brazil in cultural meaning. Each year, Airto visits his homeland to meet with relatives and old friends, as well as pay homage to his spiritual mentors. From an early age, Airto was deeply religious. The album The Other Side of This is a kind of immersion in the music of religion. Moreover, Moreira popularized different Brazilian native percussion instruments, enriching the LA music scene not only mentally but also technically. Music community widely recognized the Moreira’s innovation and influence. Respected jazz magazine Downbeat many times nominated Airto as the best drummer in the world. In addition to jazz concerts and recordings, Moreira composes music for movies and television. In such way he influences not only musical but also cinema cultures. The soundtracks for Apocalypse Now and Last Tango in Paris are the primary examples of his movie activity.
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Airto Moreira connects LA not only with Brazil but also with the whole world. He played at the opening of the restored Alexandria Library in Egypt. The show gathered a significant number of pilgrims from around the world. Besides the priceless musical and personal experience, the performance brought resounding success to Airto. Moreover, the musician has a true gift for education. After the grandiose performances throughout the world, Airto finally realized that his dream is to teach people his musical technique and give them a part of his soul and energy. For three years, he worked in the Department of Ethnomusicology at the University of California.
One can hardly overestimate the contribution that Airto Moreira made for the development of Los Angeles music scene. He enriched it not only with his techniques and instruments but also with ideas, experience, and energy. Moreover, he implemented different ethnic traditions, which resulted in the popularity of world music. His inspiring rhythms and bright creativity will always be an example for all young musicians and the subject of thorough analysis for musicologists and jazz lovers.