Collaborative Musical Production and Identity: The Case of Milton Nascimento and the Clube da Esquina
Holly Holmes, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
The Clube da Esquina [Corner Club] is a collective of popular musicians and lyricists led by Brazilian performer-composer Milton Nascimento that first found success in the early 1970s. Nascimento has released more than 30 albums and continues to tour extensively throughout Brazil and the world, but to hear his music of the 1970s as that of the solidification of an audacious solo career—while perhaps accurate in commercial terms—is a misunderstanding of how the music was created and produced. This work seeks to explore the unique nature of collaboration employed by the members of the Clube da Esquina that led to them being understood as not only a musical collective, but a distinct “sound” or approach to MPB (música popular brasileira, or Brazilian popular music). In exploring the nature of collaboration, this research also explores its limits. Among the group’s groundbreaking achievements was the flexible sharing of performing roles—in which a single musician might perform piano, bass, drums, percussion, lead guitar, or lead vocal depending on the needs of the track—and lyrical duties within the collective. Though the Clube da Esquina is defined by these negotiations of artistic, commercial, and aesthetic production, their trajectory was also profoundly shaped by limits, such as divergent goals and critical reception.
Holly begins by situating the Clube da Esquina (the collective, and the Milton Nascimento album that inspired it) in historical and geographical context. This leads into an overview of Milton’s (Holly notes the Brazilian convention of using first names) career and popularity and a discussion of the mountainous town in which the Clube da Esquina was situated.
The personnel of the collective shown in the first photo includes Milton, Toninho Horta, Ronaldo Bastos, Fernando Brant, Lô Borges and Márcio Borges. How did the collective’s collaboration start? Milton was a bossa nova singer/crooner in his early career. Marcio worked as a poet; he challenged Milton to become a composer rather than an interpreter of songs. The paper observes that this is partly an origin myth (Milton had modestly written songs before).
The collective addressed creativity across multiple songs – if particular words or phrases were overused in several songs, individual instances were taken out to control the overall artistic balance. The collective’s sense of fraternity was not only a shared ethos and a lyric trope, but also a fact of the practicalities of collaboration (8-hour bus rides to sessions are cited).
At the time double albums were becoming popular in the USA (e.g. The Byrds) but none had yet been released in Brazil. Record label investment created optimal conditions for songwriting, arranging, in situ studio soundchecking and recording. Drummer Robertinho Silva in a later interview notes the creative liberty he was afforded, and how different music from Minas to his ears. We now hear ‘Tudo que vocé podia ser’ (Lô Borges / Márcio Borges 1972):
We now see a track by track table layout of the instrumentalists and multi-instrumentalists on the album, highlighting the collective approach to instrumental duties on the album session. The next song is Pelo Amor de Deus (for the love of God).
Limits on collaboration are explored – more albums are cited (Minas 1975, Geraes 1976 and Clube da Esquina II 1978). Interestingly, subsequent recording are credited only to Milton, despite the contribution of the rest (and many other new collaborators) on these later albums. Some members of the collective went ‘collectively solo’ – notably in the 1973 album Os Quatro no Banheiro (‘Four Guys In The Bathroom’). New, contemporary collectives are discussed briefly towards the end of the presentation.