My favorite living composer from Brazil is Guinga (www.guinga.com). The first time I saw him was in Rio de Janeiro at the music hall named after my uncle—Sala Sydney Miller. I was floored. Great musicians were in the audience, like Yamandu Costa (arguably the best Brazilian guitarist ever), but the greatest music was happening on the stage. I couldn’t believe the lyrical quality of the melodies, combined with the sophistication of the harmonies and the driving pulse of the rhythms. It was a glimpse into an entirely new universe.
The year was 2001, and I was in Rio doing research for my dissertation. After that concert, Guinga came to feature prominently in my writing. After returning to DC to begin writing, I discovered that Guinga would be touring the DC area and I arranged to interview him. He was on the tour with “International Guitar Night.”
To prepare for the interview, I listened to every recording of his available, played all the music of his that I had scores for, and read his biography and several internet blogs about him. I totally immersed myself in Guinga.
Guinga is a dentist. He followed this career so that he could play his own music and not have to compromise in order to survive. He is proud to be a dentist, and said so on stage that evening in Sala Sydney Miller. As the interview proved, he is also one of the most generous, frank and down-to-earth people I have ever met. A group of friends and I followed him to his hotel and sat in the lobby talking about his music. His words quickly melted into musical notes as he picked up the guitar to illustrate his point. He ended up giving us a private concert and it was one of the most magical evenings of my life.
About a week later I was sitting in my little room, overcrowded with books and CDs at the yoga ashram where I lived and wrote my dissertation. I was only able to write it because of the peace and space of that life—doing yoga and meditation daily, and not rushing to fill the spaces with activity. I was sitting in my room meditating when the phone rang; it was Gigi, one of the friends who had accompanied me that night of the interview. I did not pick up the phone so as to not interrupt my meditation, but the answering machine picked up and I heard her message. She had just called Guinga and spoke with him in Brazil. She told me that as they hung up Guinga sent me a kiss “manda um beijo no Richard.”
Immediately after she hung up I began to hear a melody playing in my head. I finished the meditation and began to write it down. It was like taking dictation. I wrote the entire melody down in that sitting and later harmonized it and made a solo guitar arrangement of it. I think the melody has a lot of Guinga influence and was definitely a transmission from this gentle genius. I called it Beijo de Guinga—“A Kiss from Guinga.” Here is a rough recording of it, with clarinetist Andy Connell.