“One who’d enter a record store in Brazil in 1974 could think the country had gone crazy,” writes André Barcisnki in Pavões Misteriosos, a book about Brazilian pop music in the years 1974–1983.
The 1970s were an interesting decade for music in Brazil. Between the influence of occultism theories in the music of rock and soul artists like Raul Seixas, Tim Maia, and Jorge Ben; the visual and sonic aesthetic innovation of Secos & Molhados; and former pop prince Ronnie Von cementing himself as a pioneer of psychedelic rock in the country, everyone was letting loose and experimenting with music. That it all flourished during the military dictatorship is perhaps more symptomatic than ironic.
In the middle of the chaos, singer-songwriters Nelson Angelo and Joyce brought their romantic partnership to music and created one of the most celebrated and pursued albums amongst Brazilian music geeks: the homonym Nelson Angelo e Joyce (1972), relaunched in CD format in 2002, and vinyl in 2019 (Ferreira, 2019).
Sophisticated in its simplistic sound, the album explores Joyce’s tender voice and Angelo’s melancholic singing in samba, mantra-shaped melodies. There’s even a track titled “Mantra”. The duo fuse bossa nova and acoustic psychedelic rock in arrangements that incorporate nature sounds and ritual drumming. The outcome is a psychedelic folk record to be listened to like meditation, a spiritual experience. There are no explicit religious or philosophical references — nor are they needed. Still, Angelo and Joyce do not refrain from dialoguing with concepts such as the mystique of the number seven in “Sete cachorros” (“Seven Dogs”).
The first track, “Um gosto de fruta” (“A Taste of Fruit”), sets the tone. “There’s a taste of fruit, a smell of bushes in my mind / (…) I will, aware of the time, find life in other roads,” the duo sings, followed by the philosophical “Hotel Universo” (“Hotel Universe”). Life as a set of temporary journeys and existing as part of nature are the ideas that permeate Nelson Angelo e Joyce. So much that, cohesively with its start, the album closes with “Tudo começa de novo” (“Everything Starts Again”), an ode to the cyclic aspect of life.
As for nature, besides the lyrical references, its presence is primarily felt in the instrumentals. It’s almost like a farm or a forest is the third member of Nelson Angelo and Joyce’s band. And it’s hard not to point to the connection between Nelson Angelo e Joyce’s bucolic spirit and Angelo being from Minas Gerais, one of the harbors of Brazil’s country culture, the state where the Brazilian Arcadism gathered momentum almost 200 years before the album was released.
But if Nelson Angelo e Joyce is a product of any time, it’s of its own. In the face of bombing in Vietnam, and physical torture of ideological opponents of the government in Brazil, Nelson Angelo and Joyce sing about spiritual refugees, life after death, and connectedness with the universe. “A prayer to the people that won’t stop crying / (…) All my love to people who won’t stop loving,” Angelo sings in “Pessoas”. It’s an antre of peace in response to a world at war.