Jorge Ben’s Most Famous Samba Was Sergio Mendes’s Greatest Hit

1963’s ‘Samba Esquema Novo’ represents a sea change in Brazilian pop music, with not only the debut of singer Jorge Ben, but also the first recording of ‘Mas Que Nada’ and ‘Chove Chuva’, making Ben an instant songwriting star worldwide. Let’s celebrate Jorge Ben’s birthday with a look back...
– Miguel de Leon

We are celebrating 100 Years of Samba with The Malandro Project. Today, digital downloads and streaming make it easy to enjoy classic Brazilian tunes, especially when they influence the world’s view on pop music. Jorge Ben’s ‘Samba Esquema Novo’ (New Style Samba) is one such album.

His 1963 debut represents a sea change in Brazilian pop music. Back then, Bossa Nova’s musicians were seeking new opportunities outside of Brazil. It was time to push Brazil’s next generation in new directions. Jorge Ben, at 23, was one of its brightest stars.

The opening track ‘Mas Que Nada’ became an instant hit. It also helped to propel Ben to international fame as a songwriter when it was recorded by Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. If you are a Brazilian music fan, you might be familiar with a few of the other Sambas on this album. ‘Chove Chuva’ and ‘Balança Pema’ still resonate with surprising creativity for a new artist.

The album surprised musicians and fans alike, according to Jorge Ben: “They used to say "You play wrong, but in the end it works, how is that?”. They used to say my music was a samba that was not a samba, but that was a samba. Actually, it was a new sort of samba".

You see, Ben’s style had evolved to the point where the very same samba masters that he had studied with no longer knew how to play with him. When it came time to record ‘Samba Esquema Novo’ he turned to J.T. Meirelles and his jazz band, Copa 5 for back up.

And there was another surprise: Jorge Ben couldn’t read or write a note of music – he wouldn’t learn those skills for another few years: "I was already a professional and I didn't know music. I guess God spoke: 'you will be a musician, that's better'", he recalled.

Did you miss any part of The 12 Days of Samba? Catch up here:

The 12 Days of Samba:

Day 01: An Introduction to The 12 Days of Samba and The Malandro Project
Day 02: Was Joao Gilberto a Malandro?
Day 03: Previewing Miguel de Leon's Annual Christmas Concert In Chicago
Day 04: Winter reading: 'Samba' by Alma Guillermoprieto
Day 05: Famous Malandros In Pop Culture
Day 06: A Cachaça Holiday Cocktail
Day 07: Seven Samba Stocking Stuffers
Day 08: Personal Notes: Samba Snapshots From The Malandro Project
Day 09: How To Dance Samba - Women's Version
Day 10: How To Dance Samba - Men's Version
Day 11: 100 Years of Samba and The Malandro Project
Day 12: The Malandro and 'The Lights of Christmas'

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The Malandro Project was recorded in Rio de Janeiro with saxophonist Leo Gandelman and MPB’s Leila Pinheiro to celebrate 100 Years of Samba and its iconic character, the charming, roguish bad-boy Malandro. A combination of cultural myth and historic fact, the Malandro’s roots can be traced throughout the history of Samba. The Malandro Project album will be released in early 2017.

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