Looking for Belchior

On the back of a motorbike on his way to Tianguá, northern Ceará, second cousin Robério Belchior gives out the sentence: “ Belchior has ended his career. He’s in good health, his finances are fine, but he decided not to record anymore albums or play anymore concerts. It’s been more than a year since anyone, even us family, has had contact with him. Only one of his sisters, Ângela, sometimes gets a call. Nobody knows where he lives, only that he quit everything. From his cellphone, trying to make himself hear over his windy sorroundinds, Robério says he has no idea why. “I don’t know if he wasn’t well psychologically or if if he just got tired of it. All I know is that no one can get through to him now”.

Belchior disappeared. His friends, relations, fans, ex-partners, record label, not even Google knows the whereabouts of the man who is one of the most cherished Brazilian composers, author of the biggest hit sung by Elis Regin, “Como nossos pais” and of 70s hits such as “Apenas um rapaz latino-americano” , “Velha roupa colorida”, and “A palo seco”. In response to concert invitations he receives from all over Brazil, his former manager, Goerges Jean, has been sending singer Guilherme Arantes in Belchior’s place. “Look, if you find Belchior, please send me his contact because I’ve been looking for him for two years”, appeals Georges, over the phone.

“He must have had some sort of breakdown”

Musician and writer Jorge Mello, an ex-partner and longtime friend, is upset: “I really miss him. Can you imagine what it’s like to work next to someone for 18 years and suddenly that person is gone?”. The last time they were together was in 2007 for a gig at Teatro José Alencar in Fortaleza. “He must have had some sort of breakdown, he must be stressed, he won’t talk to anyone and he left Campinas”, guesses Mello, referring to Belchior’s last home.

He may be quite far. “Some friends say he left for Holland”, remembers his friend and radio host Josy Teixeira, who wrote a master’s dissertation about Belchior’s lyrics that turned into a book. “Until 2006, more or less, we had much contact because of my thesis, but I never heard from him again. And I’ve got to talk to him because I received an e mail from an alleged record label prohibiting us from playing a gig with his songs at the book’s launch party. I paid the fee just as I should so that I could play the gig and now I want to know what this is all about”. His friend Célio Camerati, Belchior’s ex-partner on the Camerati label, tells us he receives at least three calls a week from journalists and concert producers in search of the composer. “If I had any clues, I’d pass them on, believe me. That’s what I say to everyone”.

If Tom Zé hadn’t recognized the indefectible moustache lost in the crowd of a gig he played in Brasilia in March this year, the millions of fans that have websites and fan clubs on Orkut in search for him would by now think that – knock on wood – “Bel”, as they call him, was done for. Wearing a skirt with a “Copacabana beach sidewalk” pattern, Tom Zé spotted him, stopped playing and called him onstage. A little shy and very hairy, Belchior went up there and didn’t do badly at all. He sang, with his strong voice  sounding good, a version of “Sweet mystery of my life”. Tom Zé, in reverence, watched him from the audience.

Belchior

From hit-parade leader to cult symbol.  And then he’s gone.

The lyrics to the chosen song already gave hints that Belk’s, another nickname, doesn’t even want to hear about partying: “My life that seems so calm/ has secrets I can’t reveal…”. Fans shouting hysterically forced him to sing a little bit of “A palo seco”. He didn’t even finish the first verse (which, by the way, is another hint: “If you come and ask me where I was, at the time when you dreamt/ with eyes wide open, I’ll tell you: my friend, I was desperate…”). He thanked the audience for the applauses and vanished again. There wasn’t even time to ask if he had an e mail account.

Belchior’s disappearance was sudden. Ever since his success in the 70s, when his songs were sung by the likes of Elis Regina, Roberto Carlos, Vanusa, Jair Rodrigues, until the mid-noughties, the singer played around 100 gigs a years, all over Brazil. In the 40 years of his career, he released 15 albums. In 1983 he founded his own record label, Paraíso Discos, and in 1997 he created the label Camerati, that launched anthological albums by Jose Miguel Wisnik and Grupo Rumor. Belchior, whose name is to be pronounced as “Agenor”, “Claudionor”, and not as “suor” or “Christian Dior” (in Portuguese, the first two are pronounced with closed phonetic “o”s at the end, while the last two have open-sounding “o”s), even had a cultural institute with his name, in Fortaleza, and he appeared sporadically on TV shows. A solid career, therefore.

The sincere style of his verses, the thousands of cross-textual references, his strong voice (and his moustache, of course), transformed Belchior into a cult idol. In 2006 he dubbed the magician Zás-Trás for the “Garoto Cósmico” cartoon, with Vanessa da Matta, Raul Cortez and Arnaldo Antunes. Whoever can guess what song the little magician sang gets a treat. In the same year, “A palo seco” was recorded by Los Hermanos (what else could me more cult in 2006?). The equally moustachy, bearded guys took Belk’s with them on tour. It was an absolute hit.

His last appearance was on Jornal Nacional, on TV

But our tropical Bob Dylan destroyed all leads. He had already closed down the Belchior Culture and Arts Center the year before, and then he undid his partnership with the label Camerati, deactivated his official website, changed phone numbers. His performances grew rarer. A few gigs in the countryside, an awkward appearance at Jô Soares’s show in 2008, with an interview limited to chicken soup and some little jokes by the host (When Belchior sang the song “Divina comédia humana”, for example, on the verse that goes “Aí um analista amigo meu…”, Jô picked it up and added “Aí um analista me comeu”) (In Portuguese, there is a play on words between the similar sounding sentences. In meaning, however, they differ immensely: the first one means “And then a friend of mine who’s a psychoanalyst” and the second one means “And then a psychoanalyst fucked me”).

For the fans, still no news. In October he took part in a music festival in Canela, Rio Grande do Sul, that many believe to have been his last appearance. In December, Belchior made another curious flash apparition on TV: during a story from Jornal Nacional about MORHAN (Movimento de Reintegração das Pessoas Atingidas pela Hanseníase) (Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s Disease), guess who shows up behind the reporter? The very Belchior, wearing a leather jacket and an imposing moustache. Look, there he is again! Supporting the campaign that helps the victims of Hansen’s Disease and he went unnoticed in story. Then, he vanished once more. And MORHAN had to bring in another poster-boy for their campaigns. It ended up being Ney Matogrosso. “We’d like to carry on with Belchior’s support but we can’t get through to him”, says one of the group’s employees.

Fans have set up a website and fan clubs on Orkut, where they share every little piece of news about their idol. One of the fanclubs already has 12400 “belchian” members. They even made a sort of online petition asking for a “Bel” DVD: “Even Créu has a DVD”!, they protest. But news of his whereabouts are non-existent. Disquieted by the lack of information about his idol, André Lins, from Recife, inaugurated last month the website Always Belchior, that he maintains on his own. André takes the hobby as an ideology: “If every fan does their bit to promote Popular Brazilian Music, within a few years our music scene will be totally different, and much better. Better yet if Belks shows up”.

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