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He’s Back, Baby: The Man Who Put the Funk in Rio


Published: October 19, 2012

TIM MAIA had a huge voice, with appetites to match. The voice made him one of Brazil’s most popular singers for nearly 30 years, a pioneer in adapting American soul music to Brazilian tastes; the outsized cravings for drugs, alcohol and food derailed his career, killing him in 1998, just as he seemed to be getting back on track.

But now, nearly 15 years later, Maia’s comeback seems to be complete: a musical about him has been one of the biggest hits of the last year in his hometown, Rio de Janeiro; a biopic is in the works; and his influence can be heard in contemporary Brazilian pop stars like Seu Jorge and Marcelo D2. In the United States, David Byrne’s Luaka Bop Records, hoping that Americans will join the bandwagon, this month released “Nobody Can Live Forever,” a compilation of some of Maia’s funkiest work from his creative peak in the 1970s.

Like many Brazilians, Maia, who would have turned 70 last month, had a mixed racial background: his grandfathers were Portuguese and Italian, his grandmothers of African and Amerindian descent. But from the moment he first heard the music of Little Richard as a teenager, he chose to identify himself as black, and his most significant contribution to his country’s culture was to bring black American pop styles — first soul, then disco and funk — into the Brazilian mainstream.

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A version of this article appeared in print on October 21, 2012, on page AR19 of the New York edition with the headline: He’s Back, Baby: The Man Who Put The Funk in Rio.

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