Bossa Nova would not have been entirely what it was without Nara Leão, known as "the Muse" of this movement. Nelson Motta called her "the most intelligent voice of Brazil", discrete, balanced, profound and sensitive. She was all that, and much more! As a middle class young lady back in the mid-50s in Rio de Janeiro, she broke barriers for the women of her time who were not allowed to mix with musicians ("not a respectable profession"...this still sounds familiar...), let alone play the guitar (accordion was good enough for girls!) or sing in public (God forbid!!) She did it all!
In the early 60s, in spite of her apparent fragility and the image of muse, Nara walked out on the Bossa Nova to follow her political and musical ideals regardless of the censorship and of what was expected of a woman with her social background. She took another path rescuing composers of MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) and bringing their music to the limelight. She declared at the time "the lyricists of Bossa Nova write meaningless lyrics. So I went looking for composers who say what they want and I found the traditional samba which contains the real essence of Brazilian popular music. I am not the muse of anything or anyone. People tried to present me as the Juliette Greco of Bossa Nova". (in, Nara Leão: uma biografia, Sérgio Cabral , Companhia Editora Nacional, 2008).
Nara passed away in June 1989, at the age of 47. She sang until the very end, and made up with the Bossa Nova in her final years recording 4 albums between 1985 and 1989 in Brazil and in Japan, all produced by her lifetime friend Roberto Menescal.
In 2011, I stumbled into a song called "Nara" by Roberto Menescal & Joyce Moreno. (click and you can listen to it with Roberto Menescal on guitar)
I got very emotional and thought that only someone who deeply loved Nara Leão could have written such a beautiful song. When I asked Roberto Menescal about the story of this song, he said: “Nara was indeed composed especially for her, an amazing person and a rare artist. Joyce and I composed "Nara" for a big concert for the 40th anniversary of Bossa Nova in Tokyo, because we felt that Nara had somehow to be present in this show for all her involvement with Bossa Nova from the very beginning.”
The song Nara is a Menescal/Joyce tribute to Leão, and my recording is a tribute to the three of them :-) ♪♫♫