Banda Black Rio is a Brazilian musical group from Rio de Janeiro that was formed in 1976. It has a repertoire based on funk but also including samba, jazz and Brazilian rhythms. The band has recorded four albums: "Maria Fumaca", "Gafieira Universal", "Saci Perere" and "Movimento". This last album was remixed by the label 'Mr Bongo' and released with the title "Rebirth" in England in 2002. The group recorded its own compositions as well as those of other composers, but with a singular arrangement such as "Na baixa do sapateiro" (Ary Barroso), "Casa Forte" (Edu Lobo), etc. Compared to other foreign soul-funk groups, such as Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind and Fire, Banda Black Rio developed a kind of instrumental soul music that was gladly accepted in other countries. In 1999, the group restructured itself and its new leader, William Magalhaes, replaced Oberdan Magalhaes, his father and the founder of the group that died in 1984.
At this time there was a natural movement coming: musically it linked soul to samba, but it was not a movement restricted just to music. It had a variety of names: Black Power, Soul Power, and the most famous one, Black Rio. The names are in English, because the idea was to fuse languages, to break down individualism, to open up gaps, to confront the purists.
The scene of these events was in Rio de Janeiro, but not down in the Zona Sul, the upper middle class, white district which bred the bossa-nova, but in the city that the postcards hide, the Zona Norte, the hills, the favelas and the escolas de samba (samba groups that perform at Rio’s Carnaval). There, the Black Rio movement established itself, through dances at the weekends, which became more frequent and more hugely attended, often taking place in the squares of the escolas de samba. Who went to these dances? A mass of people, essentially black who, influenced by the civil rights activism of America, were trying to understand the information in terms of their own environment.
Visually, instead of the style of the Malandro Carioca (someone who is considered to be a great dancer of samba established through the sambistas), there were afro hairdos, platform shoes coloured clothes and ivory necklaces. Musically, funk and soul music livened up the dances and gave rise to groups like Soul Grand Prix, Black Soul, Black Power, Arte Negra among others (some still active today). It wasn’t an exclusive movement: it wasn't a case of 'out with samba, in with soul'. Instead, it was a union of both.
At this time, WEA had just been established in Brazil, and they wanted to create a band which could be the pioneer of this movement; so they contacted Oberdan Magalhães, a renowned saxophonist, that accepted the challenge and formed Banda Black Rio. Born and brought up in Madureira (an area of the Zona Norte), he was the cousin of Silas de Oliveira, (the great composer of many sambas enredo and one of the founders of the Escola de Samba of the Império Serrano) and the godson of Mano Décio da Viola (another great name of the escola), he had the tradition of samba in his family but other musical background too.
Influenced as much by Pixinguinha as by Coleman Hawkins, and split between Cartola and Stevie Wonder, he had taken his plans of musical fusion into the Rio night-club scene, where he had begun playing at the age of 15. A student of Paulo Moura, the Brazilian sax master, he then joined the group Impacto 8, where he started to outline what would much later become the sound of Banda Black Rio. In Impacto 8 Oberdan brought together musicians like the trombonist Raul de Souza and the drummer Robertinho Silva, playing a mixture, still in its early stages, of soul, jazz and samba. From there, after a short period alone playing in bars, he joined the pianist Dom Salvador’s band, the “Abolição”, where he met the drummer Luis Carlos, the trumpet player Barrosinho and the trombonist Lucio. Between shows and as a session musician for recordings with other artists, Oberdan also met the guitarist Claudio Stevenson, the extraordinary bass player Jamil Joanes and the pianist Cristóvão. It was with these musicians that he created his core group, Rio 40º.
When the call from WEA came, Oberdan called up his musical partners that, at this time, were playing in different places. Oberdan elaborated a musical work that united the grooves of samba and funk with the musicality of jazz, with references to the gafieiras, the traditional dance halls of Rio, where, for decades people had been dancing together to the warm mixture of jazz with samba, played by local big bands (the most famous of which was led by Paulo Moura).
The band recorded three albums: the instrumental “Maria Fumaça” (1976), “Gafieira Universal” (1978) and “Saci Pererê” (1980). They were also invited to take part in other artists’ albums, such as Luiz Melodia and recorded a live album with Caetano Veloso entitled “Bicho Baile Show”.
Oberdan also performed sax solos on albums by Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Ney Matogrosso and Maria Bethania. Unfortunately he would never know if the sound he created would have a long life. In the early morning of 9th January 1984, returning from a show in Jardim Botânico, Oberdan lost control of his car and hit a tree in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, dying hours later in hospital, aged 39.
These albums and songs continued to be played in Europe, specially in the UK, Germany and also in Japan. After about fifteen years, in 1999, the band’s activities were retaken by his elder son, William Magalhães, a pianist, arranger and producer that has worked with various artists such as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Ed Motta, Marina Lima, Cláuido Zolli, Cassiano, Sandra de Sá, Milton Nascimento, and others. William started studying music at the age of seven and was brought up in an extremely musical environment where he not only attended to his father’s rehearsals but also took part in the serestas (musical events where musicians are invited to play traditional Brazilian music such as chorinho, sambas and bossa-nova) of his grandmother Yolanda, the rehearsals of the escola de samba of the Império Serrano, where his family actively participated and the Sunday lunches in Serrinha at his aunt's house, Tia Maria, where it is preserved till today the tradition of the jongo – a pure African dance. During his adolescence he studied jazz and was a student of the pianist Sonia Vieira and at the age of 18 started to play with Gilberto Gil, taking part of many international tournees. In 1996 he won the APCA prize of best arranger, for his work on the album ‘Registros à Meia-Voz’ of Marina Lima. Still in the 90’s, William started to research the musical work of Banda Black Rio and studied the few musical pieces left by his father. The horn arranegements and the grooves that mixed samba with other rithms were always the trademark of this band. In 1999, William invited musicians to join the new band and brought the first trombonist of the band, Lúcio Silva, back again. The album “Movimento” was recorded in 2001 and won the prize of the best pop-rock band by the Prêmio Caras. This album was released in the UK with the title ‘Rebirth’ by Mr. Bongo records in 2002 with some tracks remixed by Fase Action and others. The title of this album translates precisely this moment of renewal.