By Jacob Newman
Joao Donato’s 1973 masterpiece album Quem e Quem is sometimes forgotten among the tidal wave of classic Brazilian albums from the 1970’s. This is a terrible disservice to a record that I consider a true masterpiece. The only other album that I know which can so tastefully preserve a single mood over the course of half an hour is Kind of Blue.
Sharp, pattering drums whisper behind an ethereal Rhodes keyboard. Donato’s gentle voice sometimes evokes Michael Franks, but he is willing to venture into strange territory with raspy whispers and Dylan-esque bouts.
What is so special about this album is that it feels like one great song. It is so easy to follow Quem e Quem to the very end, and it almost feels unnatural to do otherwise.
“Chorou, Chorou” opens the album, displaying many of its great qualities all at once. Donato’s tender voice croons over the joyful Rhodes and a gently pitter-pattering drum. “Terremoto” introduces a flute and backup vocalists, further demonstrating the album’s versatility. “Amazonas” is an instrumental featuring three more horns. What won’t this album do? Somehow, with the varying instrumentation and changing paces, there remains an incredible unity to the album’s sound.
Quem e Quem is somewhat difficult to get your hands on. Like many classic world albums, it lives on YouTube, thanks to the efforts of whatever passionate Brazilian grandpa uploaded a recording of the record into Apple Slideshow. It is not on Spotify (like many great world records), and it costs north of $200 on eBay. Distribution of many great Latin records in the U.S. was limited.
This album, therefore, is a great example of why I feel so fortunate to be a child of the digital age. Many of the adults that I look up to who were ‘in the know’ about great music when it came out at this time did not have access to records like this. All my generation needs to discover these great tunes and others is a computer and some dedication.
Donato is an extremely talented musician, his voice and keys carry this record into coveted territory. He had great bossa albums before Quem e Quem, and a collection of records to follow. Many elements came together to create this album, which I consider almost perfect. Although the composer never again made such a tender record, this one stands tall not only among his own collection but against the background of Brazilian pop at the time as a whole.
This album sounds like a picnic on Lake Michigan, or a stroll at the foothills of Chautauqua Park. There is no place where this record wouldn’t sound good, and if you don’t believe me, turn it on and see. Either way, please just tune in and enjoy this classic.
“Nana Das Aguas”