Manu Lafer

Músico e Compositor

associated notes, trimmings and semblances

from 2016 to 2023

The Word

Translating poetry from one language to another is like trying to tie a knot in a drop of water. As you can see, that is a direct translation of an idiom in Portuguese and, though it is expressive, serves as an example of how tough the task is. Lafer has taken on and overcome this arduous artistic challenge, that could be labelled a fool’s errand in syncretic terms (although, just what does syncretic actually mean?), repeatedly and, most notably, in the album whose title writes itself: “The Word”. The songs in The Word are sung by Maude Maggart, a gentle reminder God sent to Earth that, in the realms of music and vocals, there are only two things that can be done by a voice: sing, or have Maude sing. Showing rare merits, the album, featuring arrangements by guitarist  Howard Alden, also translates the songs and provides the celestial setting for Maude Maggart. Twelve of the thirteen sons are English translations of songs originally birthed in Portuguese (PT), specifically that of Brazil (PT-BR) and, even more specifically in the Brazilian Portuguese of Manu Lafer (PT-BR-ML). To make it clear that poetry and music are fundamental, dominant steps in asceticism, the album ends with a song sung in its native language: “Céu”.


Could “Passos” be by Gilberto Gil? There is no question some would think so and, with all the authority of one who knows neither the person nor the piece – that is, absolute authority –, I can confidently state that Gil also wishes it were. However, this impression quickly evaporates. An album that celebrates an anniversary – 20 years since the launch of Baião da flor, Lafer’s first album – while appearing to be timeless. Some works are dated, but who cares? Machaut’s “Messe de Notre Dame” dates from the 14th century… much to the delight of the 15th century. Gimme 5 however, is an “undated” work, a dateless one that seems to belong to a variety of decades and contains multiple compositional voices. It is within this multiplicity and proficiency that, were it of a literary nature would remind us of Balzac, that we find the composer. Gimme 5 appears to belong to everyone and, yet, could be by no one else. Gimme five, gimme another twenty years of Manu.


Frum is not an entirely authorial, or even an especially authorial album, but it makes the list because it is Lafer’s first album that – using the most mistaken term possible – unmistakably exposes his Jewish origins. In this sense, “Frum” composes a trinity with the subsequent albums “Rezar pode, é do prazer” and “Ore-me fé efêmero”, names that, in the name of stating the obvious, are palindromes. Palindromes are one of the constants in Lafer’s work and radically investigated in the songs, “A cara rajada da jararaca” and “Bustrofédon”. The album contained two, at the time unreleased pieces, “Frum” and “Zhonguo”, in addition to bringing back A Lente Do Homem – or just “A lente”, as we who are intimate not with the man, but the work, call it. “Civilização judaico-cristã” is a theoretical construct that I do not know how to use; nevertheless, I dare say that “A lente” is an apogee of Jewish civilization, Christian civilization and – why the hell not? – of Judeo-Christian civilization, too! Don’t live your life without listening to it.

Indo pra Minas

There are abilities that have been so elevated and perfected by certain individuals that they end up taking their names. Zidane did a Zidane. A Woody Allen, by Woody Allen. Toninho recorded a Toninho – this is what happens whenever Toninho Horta records any song. Everything Toninho plays becomes a Toninho. He plays and sings gold. Lafer, a miner of music and aware of this gift and bounty, composed these two songs, which were jewels even before they went to Minas.


“Definitive” is a terrible declaration. Definitive version. Definitive recording. A definitive production defines an end, an impossibility, or an evitability of trying again. Who arbitrates that end? A good translator makes the work his own; Graça Braga makes the work no one elses – only hers – definitively. Sambadobrado is an album that we will be listening to when that definitive condition faces us; and “Sambadobrado”, the song, will be looping eternally – which is, precisely, the definition of Heaven.


The album Urtext is Lafer laid bare of the marvelous arrangements and musicians who accompanied him. Popular Brazilian music in its most intrepid and limpid state. The songs as they were born, lived and born again. V&V – an acronym in Portuguese, where “voz” and “violão” [“voice” and “guitar”, respectively] could occupy any slot. A genetic self criticism that, at the same time it plays proximity, sings a ritual distance. Any fan believes the artist is talking to them and, it is true, this Re: is mine, this response is mine.

Thesaurus Vaults

This, the acoustic version from the album Ta Shemá, is the first by Lafer that I was privileged to participate in the transcriptions, the writing of the scores. “Thesaurus Vaults” makes it sound like the launch of Thesaurus, the composer’s songbook. Like Re:, it is an Urtext album and lays bare what musical producer Alê Siqueira called “the Escher of harmony”. Lafer’s guitar punctuates and counterpoints Gil, Tatit and João Gilberto, making one hear a miriad of musical pathways leading to a fatal truth:  Thesaurus Vaults is a didactic album – but it is didactic not because it explains anything; it is didactic because it proves the impossibility of writing everything a song is. Of the music, the score will always be just a part.

Clara Maria

Launched on its own, a single, Clara Maria – the album and song – accompanies “Moira ou Lorena” in this way of changing the focus of what was said, at the exact moment in which it is being talked about. It is neither “Who is who?”, nor “Who was who?”. It is what it no longer was. And, who is who in this literary-musical work? The text that would make it clear is not there. Nor is that clarity in the song. The percussion’s driving force, present in many of Lafer’s songs and throughout the album Grandeza, is there, but it is also not there – rather: it is there, but missing when we pay attention to it. The immanent rhythm of the vocals that flows, inflows and conjoins with everything else also begs questions at the exact moment certainty arises: it is 3 + 2; at times it is 2 + 3; it is 5; it adds up to 10; it adds to 20; it adds and follows, but not always; sometimes it does not add up to an exact multiple. “Clara Maria” multiplies an infinity of inflexions that, at the peak of the questions and equations that confuse us and that we irrationally make, makes it clear: in the ability of making us go back to it, nothing overcomes the singing/song – in this sense, the singing/song is its own rival.