Manu Lafer has written more than 300 songs, more than 100 of which have been recorded. In 1995, he started performing with a trio. In 1997, he began recording his first CD, Baião da Flor. That same year, Manu graduated from medical school and began practicing, specializing in Pediatrics.
He was influenced by his mother’s music collection (in the words of singer Marlui Miranda, “there was only truly quality music there,”), and by the tradition and magnetic draw of Brazilian popular music. In 1998 his CD was released by Paulo Tatit and Sandra Peres’ record label Palavra Cantada, officially launching his musical career.
Manu has a unique style of composition. He is fascinated with artistic experimentation and variation, which explains the impressive number of albums (for a pediatrician) he has released, and the variety of sounds and rhythms on these albums. His original compositions weave in an astounding range of harmonies and rhythms, with deceptively simple and captivating melodies based in Brazilian traditions that influenced the country’s popular songs, established with Brazil’s golden era of radio singers (1930s-1950s).
During that period, the Brazilian song solidified its identity, as foxtrots and boleros were melded into new genres like samba, baião, and marchas. In his compositions, Manu draws upon all of these influences, along with influences from U.S. musicals, big bands, radio hits, jazz, and pop from the late 1950s to the 1970s, creating a truly pan-American sound.
Manu studied medicine at São Paulo’s prestigious Escola Paulista de Medicina (UNIFESP). He went on to earn a doctorate in pediatrics, and has worked as a visiting researcher at Columbia University in New York and with the Food and Drug Administration in Maryland. His focuses include Native Americans health, vaccines, virology, and Community and Family Practice; he collaborated the Ministry of Health and Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein (the Brazilian Albert Einstein Hospital) in São Paulo. Though Manu was pressured to choose between the two careers, he decided to pursue both, and was lucky enough to have his musical activity benefited, rather than undermined, by his medical career. Manu says his obstinacy allowed him to avoid two things in life: becoming an amateur musician and becoming a professional musician.
In biblical Hebrew, shir (song) means something cyclical, which makes you want to sing again, as colonial time Brazil “cantigas de roda” (something similar to nursery rhymes to be danced in a circle). Shir also means something that leaves an impression, a residual effect: in the words of Irving Berlin, “the melody lingers on.” Maybe that definition best explains the purpose of music for children and adults seeking joy. Manu continues to compose, building upon the works cited here in the discography, and expresses his profound gratitude to his many partners, collaborators and supporters.
Musical Background: Manu studied guitar with Luiz Tatit (his greatest influence); Cezar Mendes Nogueira (Paulinho Nogueira’s nephew), and Ítalo Perón. He studied singing with Ná Ozzetti, Fernanda Gianesella and (speech level singing method) Wagner Barbosa.
Discography: Beginning with the release of Baião da Flor (1998), Manu has produced 15 CDs, including many with guests (Danilo Caymmi, Mateus Aleluia, Germano Mathias and Luiz Brasil), along with the DVDs A Lente do Homem (2008) and the latest The Word (2017). His recent albums have a growing English repertory
Partners: Manu’s closest partner is Danilo Caymmi, who tracked Manu down after seeing him perform on a TV show (before social media’s boom). Manu has also composed with Luiz Tatit, Dori Caymmi, Fabio Tagliaferri, Guilherme Wisnik, Alexandre Barbosa de Souza, Bruno Cara, Luiz Brasil and others. He wrote a Portuguese refrain of “Perfect Afternoon”, by John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey upon their request (and made a whole version Canto Casual, that John filled with his 7 string guitar and scat). Manu is admires and collaborates with tapdancers, specially with Steve Zee, Kika Sampaio and Susan Baskerville.
Producers: Almost all of Manu’s projects have been produced by Alê Siqueira (Os Tribalistas), but also by Swami Jr. (Omara Portuondo), Fabio Tagliaferri. His 2 dvds were directed by Deo Teixeira (first one) and awarded driectors, Juliano Salgado, Stefano Capuzzi and Filippo Capuzzi.
Arrangers: Manu has collaborated most closely with Lincoln Olivetti (for 11 years, including two complete albums), Jacques Morelembaum, Luiz Brasil, Dori Caymmi, Andre Mehmari, Jetter Garotti Jr and Fabio Tagliaferri (the arranger of all his live performances). He is currently working with Sandro Albert.
Singers: Nana Caymmi, Danilo Caymmi, Dori Caymmi, Ná Ozzetti, Mateus Aleluia, Germano Mathias, Karina Zeviani, Mariana Bernrdesm Monica Salmaso, Cris Aflalo, Josyane Melo, Marcelo Pretto, José Miguel Wisnik and Jeanne Gies, among others, and more recently by Maude Maggart and John Pizzarelli (Perfect Afternoon).
English Version Reviewed by Victoria Broadus