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Last update: 10/09/2018
Maria da Graça Costa Pena Burgos was born in Salvador, Bahia, on 26 September 1945. From an early age, she became interested in music and was encouraged by her parents to become a singer. In this vein, while working in the record store of the journalist Roni during her teens, the future artist had the opportunity to become familiar with all the compositions of the time and became a bossa nova fan. In turn, she began to sing and perform at school parties.
In 1963, through Dedé Gadelha, Maria da Graça met Caetano Velloso, but her official debut as a singer would only occur in June 1964 when the composer invited her to participate on the show that inaugurated Vila Velha Theatre in Salvador – Nós, Por Exemplo [Us, For Example] – along with several exponents of Brazilian Popular Music (MPB), such as Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethânia, Tom Zé, Caetano himself, Alcivando Luz, and others. Still in 1963, the ‘Group of Bahians’ (as the group became known) presented the show Nova Bossa Velha, Velha Bossa Nova [Nova Bossa Old, Old Bossa Nova].
When Maria Bethânia recorded her first LP in 1965, Maria da Graça participated on it with the song Sol Negro [Black Sun] (by Caetano). Next, she recorded a single with the songs Eu Vim da Bahia [I came from Bahia] (by Gilberto Gil), and Sim, Foi Você [Yes, It Was You] (by Caetano).
Maria da Graça, Caetano, Gil, Maria Bethânia, Pitti and Tom Zé debuted in São Paulo with the shows Arena Canta Bahia [Arena Sings Bahia] and Em Tempo de Guerra [In Times of War]. Both shows were directed by Augusto Boal and presented at the old Teatro Brasileiro de Comédia [Brazilian Comedy Theatre]. Then at the suggestion of her manager Guilherme Araújo, Maria da Graça adopted the artistic name Gal Costa. After signing a contract with TV Record in 1966, the group from Bahia would remain for six months at the Arena Theatre with Arena Canta Bahia.
At TV Rio’s 1st International Song Festival in 1967, Gal performed the song Minha Senhora [My Lady] (by Gilberto Gil/Torquato Neto); and with Caetano in the same year she recorded the LP Domingo [Sunday]. From there, following a trend of the Tropicalist Movement, she let her hair grow and adopted a more aggressive style in her singing. Then in 1968, she would record the songs Mamãe Coragem [Courage, Mum], Parque Industrial [Industrial Park], Hino do Senhor do Bonfim [Hymn of the Lord of Bonfim] and Baby on the LP Tropicália, becoming, according to critics of the time, the muse of the Tropicalist Movement. After that, at TV Record’s 4th Festival of Brazilian Popular Music in São Paulo, she would become better known through the song Divino Maravilhoso [Marvellous Divine] (by Caetano and Gil), coming in third place.
Gal's first solo LP entitled Domingo was released by Phillips in 1969. After that, she performed at the Teatro de Arena in São Paulo, in the nightclub Sucata in Rio de Janeiro, and gave several shows throughout the country. In 1970, the singer performed in England, and upon returning to Brazil, released the song London, London (by Caetano) at the Sucata nightclub, one of her great hits. After that she performed in Portugal and recorded the LP Legal.
In 1971, with the show Deixa Sangrar [Let It Bleed], at Teatro Opinião in Rio de Janeiro, Gal was very successful. Also that year, when João Gilberto visited Brazil, she participated in a show with him and Caetano recorded by São Paulo’s TV Tupi. The next show – Gal a Todo Vapor [Gal at Full Steam] – would be recorded as a double album and released in 1972. With this, the singer would tour the university circuit of most of the cities of São Paulo and Paraná.
Still in 1972, with the return of Caetano and Gil from exile in London, England, Gal would perform shows with them in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The following year, she performed with Gil in Cannes (France), gave a show in India and recorded another LP.
It is worth mentioning that the singer was the main spokesperson for the Tropicalist Movement during the exile of its most famous names: Caetano and Gil.
The concert and record Doces Bárbaros [Sweet Barbarians], a reunion with Gil, Caetano, and Maria Bethânia, was held and made in 1976. Also in the 1970s, Gal would record the albums Caras e bocas [Faces and Mouths], Água viva [Jellyfish], Gal tropical [Tropical Gal], and Meu nome é Gal, [My Name is Gal].
In 1975, the singer recorded Modinha para Gabriela [Sentimental Song for Gabriela] by Dorival Caymmi, the theme song of the soap opera Gabriela presented on TV Globo. The great success of the song generated the LP Gal canta Caymmi [Gal sings Caymmi] released in 1976, containing only the compositions by the Bahia master.
She travelled to Europe with Caetano in 1978, where she performed a series of special shows and recorded for French and Italian television. Also, with Água Viva, she would win her first Gold Record.
On 11 January 1979, at the Teatro dos Quatro in Rio de Janeiro, Gal debuted with one of the most remarkable shows of her career: Gal Tropical. This continued for a full year, with the theatre always crowded, and was presented in São Paulo, the Northeast and the North of the Country, as well as in Portugal, Japan, Argentina and other countries. In 1980, she won her third Gold Record with the LP Aquarela do Brasil [Brazilian Watercolour], which contained songs only by Ary Barroso. The LP Fantasia, on the other hand, earned her the award for best singer from the Paulista Association of Art Critics, as well as another Gold Record and the first Platinum Album of her career.
Continuing her international career, in the 1980s, Gal was consecrated as one of the best MPB performers, recording the records Aquarela do Brasil, Gal Costa (which included the song Festa no Interior [Countryside Party], by Morais Moreira/Abel Silva, and was one of her career’s biggest hits), Baby Gal and Bem Bom [Well Good], among others.
Through the show Festa do Interior, directed by Waly Salomão, Gal debuted at the Maracanãzinho (Rio de Janeiro) in 1982 in front of an audience of over 25 thousand people. Then she toured throughout the country, ending the season on the occasion of the 22nd Anniversary of Brasília, where she performed for an audience of more than 300 thousand people. In addition, on the LP Profana [Profane] in 1985, she stood out with the song Chuva de Prata [Silver Rain], a bolero by Ed Wilson and Ronaldo Bastos that was played a lot on radio.
In 1990, Gal Costa recorded the album Plural, and in 1994, performed in the show O sorriso do gato de Alice [The Cheshire Cat’s Smile]. This year, at the Mangueira samba school, she met with Caetano, Gil and Maria Bethânia to present the show Doces Bárbaros da Mangueira [Sweet Barbarians of Mangueira], in celebration of the 18 years of existence of the Doces Bárbaros group. On the other hand, in the same year, this Rio samba school honoured the group from Bahia with the samba song Atrás da verde e rosa só não vai quem já morreu [Only Those Who’ve Died Don’t Follow the Green and Pink], imitating the song by Caetano Atrás do trio elétrico [Behind the Music Truck]; and then performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall with the participation of the Mangueira drum battery.
In 1994, Gal released the album and the show O Sorriso do Gato de Alice, causing controversy with its staging, when she entered the stage singing the song Brasil (by Cazuza), dragging herself along the ground and showing her naked breasts to the audience. Nevertheless, with the performance, she would win the Sharp and APCA awards of the year.
The album Mina d’Água do Meu Canto [Well of My Song] was released in 1995, containing eight songs by Caetano Velloso and eight by Chico Buarque. In 1997, celebrating her 30 years of career, the singer recorded the double CD Doces Bárbaros, with the CD and video Acústico MTV [MTV Unplugged]; and then Polygram produced the box-anthology 30 Anos de Barato [30 Years of Good Stuff] on 3 CDs, containing her recordings from 1967-1983.
In 2000, Gal participated in the millennium commemorative shows, performing alongside Maria Bethânia at a show at the Metropolitan (ATL Hall), as well as at the Rio Bossa Nova 2000 event on Ipanema Beach, both in Rio de Janeiro. In 2001, she recorded the CD De tantos amores [So Many Loves], with songs by several composers, such as Jorge Ben Jor, Toquinho, Caetano Velloso, Dorival Caymmi, Ed Motta and others.
In her career of over 35 years, Gal Costa has performed great musical successes, such as Balancê (J. de Barro/A. Ribeiro), Índia (J. Flores/M. Guerrero/J. Fortuna), Vaca Profana [Profane Cow] (Caetano Velloso), Folhetim [Leaflet] (Chico Buarque), Deixa Sangrar [Let It Bleed] (Caetano Velloso), Meu Nome é Gal [My Name is Gal] (Roberto/Erasmo Carlos), Festa do Interior [Countryside Party] (Moraes Moreira/Abel Silva), Vapor Barato [Cheap Vapour] (J. Macalé/Waly Salomão) and others. With a very eclectic repertoire, she has also recorded songs by Ary Barroso, Cazuza, Gonzaguinha, Noel Rosa, Carlinhos Brown, Cole Porter, Tom Jobim, Chico Buarque and Jorge Ben Jor.
It can be said without a doubt that the Bahia singer is one of the 20th century’s best performers, and as a first-rate star, she will never cease to shine in the Brazilian sky.
Recife, 29 June 2005.
Translated by Peter Leamy, October 2016.
Updated on 10, september 2018.
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