Roberto Carlos

O Rei

A blend of obsessions, religious fixation, and pure talent, the Brazilian singer remains at the height of his musical powers, still charming new generations of listeners.

Text: Daniel Setti
       
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Photo: getty images
It’s always something of a conundrum to parse the evolution of an icon, an artist who could have gone out of style long ago but instead enjoys a constant renaissance of cool.

Such is the case of 74-year-old Roberto Carlos Braga, Brazil’s classic singer/songwriter who makes his return in May with a series of performances throughout Latin America and who – following a decades-long musical career – is being rediscovered as a star by a new generation of hipsters.

In the mid-1970s, Brazil’s most popular singer embarked upon a journey that resulted in a varied collection of romantic, religious and environmentally themed songs, all conceived with the aim of reaching a wider audience.

Between 1964 and 1971, Roberto Carlos already had made his name with nine classic albums that placed him somewhere between the jovem guarda (a genre of Brazilian rock in the 1960s) and soul. He also starred in adventure films and became a contender for his country’s pop music crown.

 

The Eternal Formula

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Photo: getty images

Roberto Carlos Braga was born in 1941 in the city of Cachoeira de Itapemirim, in the state of Espirito Santo, but for nearly 40 years now, he has lived in nearby Rio de Janeiro, in the neighborhood of Urca under the shadow of Pão de Azucar.

O Rei (The King) began singing at age nine and released his first record at 18: João e Maria / Fora do Tom. Since then, his clear, velvety voice – influenced by singers like João Gilberto, Tony Bennett, and Elvis Presley – has become a familiar presence in the emotional memories of millions, thanks to an expansive catalog of 200+ sincere, confessional compositions. It’s a success that he has shared with his old friend Erasmo Carlos, who co-wrote many of the songs.

With more than 120 million albums sold, the career of Roberto Carlos has been truly impressive. His first release in the Spanish-speaking world was 1965’s Roberto Carlos Canta a la Juventud. For years now, great performers from around the world have recorded covers of his works, including Sylvie Vartan and Andrea Bocelli, as well as countless Brazilian artists – like Nação Zumbi and Seu Jorge – who consider him an essential influence.

 

An Eccentric Legend

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Photo: getty images
Part of Roberto Carlos’s status as a vintage hero owes to the eccentricities of this unique artist. He’s famous for a long list of rituals and behaviors that serve as his trademark: he dresses only in white and blue, he always leaves through the same door that he came in, and his hairstyle always frames his face. Likewise, since 2005, he has given annual performances aboard a fan-packed cruise ship, and he has insisted on releasing an album every year, inevitably titled Roberto Carlos and boasting his melancholy visage on the cover.

“The mythology of Roberto Carlos is built around the image of the simple, typical Brazilian man, with his fragilities and romantic illusions, but also monumental doses of tenderness, transparency, sincerity, sensitivity, and simplicity,” wrote music critic Pedro Alexandre Sanches in 2008. The author of a book on the singer entitled Como Dois e Dois São Cinco (2004), Sanches describes him as “the most Brazilian of all Brazilians.”

Throughout his 56-year career, Roberto Carlos has reinvented himself time and again. The first and perhaps most noteworthy rebirth took place in 1967, when the artists of the Tropicalia movement – led by Caetano Veloso – included Roberto Carlos as a kitschy icon of their avant-garde inspirations. For the movement, which included the likes of Os Mutantes and Gilberto Gil, the romantic rebellion of Roberto Carlos’s early songs – like “É Prohibido Fumar” and “Eu Te Darei O Céu” – was as essential as the bossa nova rhythms of Tom Jobim and João Gilberto.

In his 1997 book Verdade Tropical, Veloso mentions Roberto Carlos 35 times, calling him part of “the transformative ideal.” The two artists are good friends to this day.

“O Rei” experienced another rebirth in the late 1990s, when DJs began drawing on the work of artists from the two preceding decades, marked by a more raw and spontaneous sound. And thus, Roberto Carlos made his return to the dance floor.

Along the way, the Brazilian star became fervently religious: his beliefs have had a profound impact on his music and imply various restrictions for his creative output. He also swears that he has never recovered from the 1999 death of his third – and last – wife, Maria Rita.

And so, Roberto Carlos has been making the same kind of music since the late-1970s, and he has also renounced a significant part of his oeuvre due to his beliefs.

Just the whims of a capricious – but unrivaled – king. in

 

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Photo: getty images

inPLAYLIST

Enjoy the work of this great artist right now: check out our selection of songs at in-lan on Spotify under O Rei.


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Quero que tudo vá pro Inferno
(1965)
As Curvas da Estrada de Santos
(1969)
Jesus Cristo
(1970)
Detalhes
(1971)
Emoções
(1981)

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