Manu Lafer does not remember the first time he thought about becoming a musician, but he has been told by those close to him that he was already talking about it at the age of three. There is no doubt this desire was nourished by living in a home that loved music with a passion and where the custom was to listen to it, indoors and out.
“My parents had an entire wall filled with LPs (I owe them both – my mother made an impression on Marlui Miranda, a musician with whom she researched this art in Brazil’s indigenous peoples and who used to say she would always hone in on the best of what was available) many of which were examples of Brazilian music and I grew up listening to these records, as well as participating in encounters and parties where making and listening to music played central roles.” Once his parents allowed him to use the record player, Manu would go on to listen to them all.
He would also ask to be taken to the regular shows at the local park, Parque Volpi, held on Sundays. “I remember, I think I was around five, watching a show by Chico Buarque and by Caetano Veloso; it really left an impression, being there, so close to them.” He also went to see Carlinhos Vergueiro, Adoniran Barbosa (many times), Alceu Valença and a slew of other artists. Feeling that energy from live performances left behind a certainty that he still believes in: music trumps every form of collective exchange, communion or experience.
Still in his childhood, Manu began his habit of perusing second-hand shops in search of the greats, stimulated by the collections his parents had, like an anthology of Brazilian music with inserts signed by José Ramos Tinhorão, a music historian and critic. “By the time I was seven or eight I already knew who everyone was: Noel Rosa, Dorival Caymmi, Ary Barroso…” Another source of inspiration came from the records of regional Brazilian rhythms released by researcher Marcus Pereira, who founded the indie label, Discos Marcus Pereira, in the 1970s. Samba, baião and marches, among others, made up the vast range of genuinely Brazilian musical styles studied and recorded by Pereira, an ad man whose passion was music, and which were incorporated into Manu’s palette of preferences.
Education and references
At the age of 14, with his mind already made up that music was an essential part of his expression, Manu took a positive step: he began guitar lessons with Luiz Tatit, who, for a long time during his academic and musical career, taught the instrument to youngsters in São Paulo. Manu enjoyed three years of learning before Tatit finally stopped giving private lessons, over which time he composed his first songs with the help of the guitar. By 15, when he had his first show, at Colégio Oswald de Andrade, a school where, in his own words, “there were more musicians than people”, he was already playing from his own repertoire.
In his lessons with Tatit, he dove into the Brazilian school of guitar, studying the entire works of musicians such as Gilberto Gil and its star performer, João Gilberto, who Manu reveres and whose shows he has been at an impressive number of times, given the infrequency with which they have happened. In all, there were more than 20: “I went to see him in São Paulo, Rio, Juiz de Fora, New York, Brasília… I would follow him, drop everything to go see him, because I knew that each gig would be different, each song played in a unique way”. Later, Manu continued his musical studies with masters such as Ná Ozzetti (singing), César Nogueira (guitar) and Ítalo Peron (harmony), then Wagner Barbosa (singing).
However, becoming a professional or amateur musician was never in Manu’s plans, having gotten into medical school (and, even today, he has yet to choose between them – they chose him). In 1991, he began at the then Escola Paulista de Medicina, now known as UNIFESP and soon realized just how much time and effort lay ahead. In order to avoid abandoning music, an unthinkable option, he decided to extend his course by a year – something no other student had done before in the institution’s more than 60 years of existence, although many have taken a sabbatical, repeated a year or given up altogether.
At the end of approximately ten years of university studies and his residency, Manu came to dedicate himself to pediatrics, passing through the University of Columbia (where he conducted research for his doctorate), New York and the FDA, in Maryland. He has also worked with indigenous health, vaccination, virology, community and family health and collaborates with the Health Ministry and the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, as a researcher, as well as a pediatrician for the Knights of Malta, since 2004. “Medicine fulfills me; when I start the day tired, I end it feeling rested… medicine makes you pay attention to others and their needs, they trust you with the most important thing they have and it is impossible to prioritize your own things over that.”
Baião da Flor
Together with Manu the doctor, Manu the musician’s first CD was born: Baião da Flor. Released in 1998, with recordings often made in between hospital shifts, “Baião…” counts with dozens of performances given before and after the launch, in addition to television shows.
“When I recorded this disc, I already had a lot of songs and I selected 30 of them together with the producer, Alê Siqueira, who still works with me, taking into account each one in the repertoire and the instruments. The name, Baião da Flor, is not conceptual, it is a song that was made from other songs, it pays homage to Brazilian music, with many quotes in its lyrics.” It was coproduced by Leandro Bonfim.
Since Baião da Flor, Manu has released approximately 20 CDs and streaming sessions, both of his own authorship, as well as interpretations from the Brazilian and American songbooks, not to mention an incursion into the Jewish one.
In line with the beliefs he has held since childhood, that music is a shared exchange and experience, he has always made room for partnerships, whether composing or including other artists to sing his songs (“I see myself as a composer who sings, so it is lovely to hear others interpreting my songs”). One of his main partnerships, which is still going strong, is with Danilo Caymmi, who got in touch after getting to know of Manu’s work through a television show, when Baião da Flor was released. Since then, they have built up a friendship marked by dozens of joint compositions.
Another partner, this time, as an interpreter and since Manu’s university days, is Germano Mathias, the composer and singer whose career spans more than six decades and who is widely considered as the greatest exponent of samba from São Paulo. From Baião da Flor, in which Germano sings “Eu vou te pegar”, to “Amigo de garfo”, which alludes to the shared lunchtimes at Vila Brasilândia, the two musicians have had many encounters and exchanges.
Manu has also composed together with authors such as Luiz Tatit, Dori Caymmi, Toninho Horta, Fabio Tagliaferri, Guilherme Wisnik, Alexandre Barbosa de Souza, Bruno Giovannetti, Jack Wilkins and John Pizzarelli. As well as recorded by artists like Nana Caymmi, Danilo Caymmi, Dori Caymmi, Ná Ozzetti, Mateus Aleluia, Germano Mathias, Karina Zeviani, Mariana Bernardes, Monica Salmaso, Cris Aflalo, Josyane Melo, Marcelo Pretto, José Miguel Wisnik, Darryl Tookes, Maude Maggart, John Pizzarelli and Branca Lescher, among others.
In production, his most common partner is Alê Siqueira (Os Tribalistas), as well as Swami Jr (Omara Portuondo). Of the arrangers present in his discs, we count Lincoln Olivetti, Jaques Morelembaum, Luiz Brasil, Dori Caymmi, Andre Mehmari and Jetter Garotti Jr. His live performances have been directed by Fabio Tagliaferri since the release of his first CD. As a guitarist, Manu also has several pieces with arrangements by internationally renowned names, such as Swami Junior, Howard Alden, Jack Wilkins, Bucky Pizzarelli, Dori Caymmi, Ehud Asherie, Warren Vaché and Ken Peplowski.
With around 400 songs composed and more than 100 recorded, Manu also has projects that have just launched or are still gestating. “Sambadobrado”, interpreted by Graça Braga and with a repertoire fully focused on samba songs composed by Manu is one such example, with a launch show currently slated for March 2020.