In the mid-1950s, Brazilian musician Joao Gilberto’s father was so disconcerted by the strange sounds his son was performing, he sent the young man off to a psychiatric institution. Among other things, Gilberto had written a tune called Bim-bom, in which tried to echo the rhythms of washerwomen’s hips as they walked by with loads of laundry on their heads.
As he took an evaluation interview standing by the window, Gilberto told the doctor that the wind was tearing out the trees’ hair. “But trees don’t have hair, Joao,” she replied, as Ruy Castro reports in his authoritative Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World.
The young musician retorted: “And some people have no poetry in their souls.”
When news of Joao Gilberto’s death at the age of 88 was announced on Saturday, his iconic tunes flooded social media as fans around the world paid tribute to the musical poetry and and his Brazilian contemporaries began to create in the mid-1950s. Their spare sound, which melded the propulsive rhythms of samba with the lush harmonies of jazz, was called bossa nova, the new wave.
The first boss nova record ever to be released, sung by Gilberto and composed by his friend Antonio Carlos Jobim, was the ironically titled Desafinado, Portuguese for “out of tune”.
That 1957 hit inspired musicians around the world, from Croatia to Japan, to attempt their own versions.
In India, Desfinado appeared on an album called Sitar Goes Latin, released in 1968. The album was arranged by the accordion player Enoch Daniels and featured the sitar player Jayram Acharya.
“This is a presentation of the sitar, with a difference,” said the liner notes. “A touch of Eastern melody emanating from the delicate strings of the stair lends a mysterious and irresistible quality” to these 12 tunes.
In 2010, another group of subcontinental musicians revisited Gilberto’s tune. The version by the Sachal Studios orchestra from Lahore in Pakistan got a much larger audience than Acharya’s track. It was released around the world as an album titled Sachal Jazz: Interpretations of Jazz Standards & Bossa Nova and the group even performed in New York alongside jazz great Wynton Marsalis.