An extraordinary new retrospective celebrates the South American
country’s first home-grown soul and funk superstar.
BY CARL HANNI
Fully embodying the concept “If he didn’t exist they’d have make him
up,” Tim Maia lived the equivalent of several less exciting lives during
his tenure here on the green planet; his status on other worlds and in other
dimensions is the stuff of speculation.
YOU may not know Tim Maia, but
his status in his native Brazil
is somewhere on the far-side of legendary. In addition to being Brazil’s first
home-grown soul and funk superstar, his absurdly colorful life includes
gazillions of records sold, a copious taste for psychedelics, something like
five marriages, a few prison sentences and a career altering commitment to
Racional Energy, a UFO obsessed, quasi-religious cult. His life was detailed in
a best-selling biography, TV movie and hit musical. Need I add he died in 1998,
aged 55, after having a heart attack on-stage?
So, can the music of a legend
and larger than life character possibly be as exciting as the man himself?
Well, more or less, at least on the fifteen tracks of Luaka Bop’s new Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential
Soul of Tim Maia (World Psychedelic Classics 4) pulled from several years of recordings in his hey-day
of the 1970s. Singing in both Portuguese and English, Maia and his
collaborators deliver tracks mixing up modern, American style soul, funk and
psych with numerous strains of Brazil’s enormously broad palate of home grown
music, an approach that was pretty novel and groundbreaking at the time, but
soon took off as dozens or more likely hundreds of acts soon followed in his
Maia’s funk and soul is not the
hard, stop and start funk of James Brown, or the goofy, elastic funk of George
Clinton, but more akin to what Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield or The Temptations were releasing in the early 1970s. Some
material like “Let’s Have a Ball Tonight” are straight forward pop funk, others
like “Where Is My Other Half” are more orchestral pop, and others (“O Caminho
Do Bem”) swing towards the smooth jazz funk sound that was huge in the ‘70s.
But Maia really excelled at mid-tempo, electric piano and organ, fluid bass
driven funk like “Ela Partiu,” “Do Leme Ao Pontal,” the jumping “Quer Queira,
Quer Nao Queira” and the insistently catchy “Nobody Can Live Forever.” Psych
flourishes, particularly fuzzy guitar, suddenly show up in several tracks like
“Que Beleza” and “Bom Senso.” Social and humanist issues are addressed in
“Brother Father Mother Sister,” “Lets Have a Ball Tonight” and a few other
tracks. The epic, twelve + minute “Racional Culture” lays out Maia’s
interstellar philosophy, albeit with a slinky funk groove that sounds like a
great lost track from Sly & The Family Stone.
Through it all Maia shows a real
grasp on how to produce music that is original, funky, soulful, catchy and
accessible all at once, and the production quality and musicianship are top
shelf all the way. Maia voice is appealing and expressive, with a nice range
that never overwhelms (or underwhelms) any of the material.
Tim Maia was the man. Chances are good that whatever
dimension he’s currently in, he’s still the