“It’s all lies! That motherfucker just robbed me of all my money,” a booming voice roared from a corner apartment on Figueiredo Magalhães street in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. “It was a summer day, sunshine, 38 degrees [100 degrees Fahrenheit] and blue sky,” Don Pi, Tim’s roommate and keyboard player, remembers. His roommate and one of Brazil’s biggest pop stars (both literally and figuratively) was the one screaming from the window down to the throngs of onlookers beginning to gather below. Everyone knew Tim lived in Copacabana, so when an overweight black man with short cropped hair and a booming voice started yelling from the balcony of a luxury apartment building, everybody knew that it was Tim Maia, “with a whiskey in his hand, screaming down to the stopped traffic below.” Stepping back from the window for just a moment to get a fresh joint, he’s back at the window, even louder than before: “Let me tell you, this motherfucker just robbed my money, robbed my equipment, my woman left me and here I’m going to smoke my joint, and fuck Seu Manoel Jacintho Coelho!” As if correcting the historical record might make this scene seem less crazy, Don Pi feels the need to add that “the only thing that is not true is that people say that he was naked in the window. This was not true. He was just not wearing a shirt.”
The date was September 25, 1975, according to Tim Maia’s biographer, Nelson Motta. Just a year earlier, in 1974, Tim Maia, one of the biggest pop stars in Brazil, calmly tore up his contract with international record company RCA Victor for an unprecedented double album of Brazilian soul and funk that was close to completion. He then re-recorded all of the lyrics to promote Rational Culture, a Scientology-like cult founded in Brazil espousing the belief that humans are not from planet Earth and that in order to return to the home planet, one must become “rationally immunized,” a process consisting principally of reading and re-reading the thousand books in the Universo Em Desencanto (Universe in Disenchantment) series. Tim Maia’s existential detour was unprecedented. Historically, famous musicians have taken spiritual flights of fancy: Cat Stevens converted to Islam well after he was hitting the charts; Bob Dylan was briefly a born-again Christian during an artistic dip in the late 1970s; the Beatles’ foray into Eastern spirituality came at the end of their run and only added to their counterculture credibility; Sly and the Family Stone bassist and solo star, Larry Graham, became a born-again Jehovah’s Witness, and decades later helped convert Prince, but nothing compares to the metaphysical doo-doo Tim Maia fell in at the height of his fame.
Tim Maia was never satisfied. Brazil’s number one soul brother had a voracious appetite for both carnal and philosophical indulgences. Among his dozens of hit songs, and others that should’ve been, you’ll find impassioned odes to chocolate, women, mortality, and his hometown Rio de Janeiro. Tim’s remembered by the Brazilian public as a fat, arrogant, hilarious, overindulgent, and yet beloved man-child who died too soon. During the latter half of his nearly thirty-year recording career, he became just as famous for the headlines he inspired (“You didn’t go to Tim Maia’s show? Neither did he”) as his wildly popular remakes of his classic tunes. Tim’s body of work is mostly unknown outside of Brazil, though this situation is improving. Almost two decades since his sudden passing at the age of fifty-five, Tim is finally receiving the attention and credit he deserves for his contribution to Brazilian and international soul music. He is remembered not only for his style and considerable chops as a singer, composer, and musician, but also for his sometimes bizarre and always impassioned approach to life, no more so than on his infamous Tim Maia Racional recordings.
The eventual recognition of these albums as some of Brazil’s best pop music (Volume 1 at #17, placed higher than any other album of his and Volume 2 at #49 in Rolling Stone Brazil’s 2007 list of the 100 best Brazilian albums) solidifies Tim’s standing as the King of Brazilian soul music, but also makes the case for his inclusion in soul music’s diasporic all-star team. Unfortunately, Tim Maia died before his own country, let alone the rest of the world, fully understood and appreciated his legacy in spreading love, peace, and good times as one of soul music’s greatest ambassadors. It’s all he ever wanted to do: from the first moment Tim heard American rhythm and blues over the radio as a chubby kid in the lower-class northern suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, he knew he was destined to sing this music. Tim’s passion was singular, and despite innumerable setbacks and rejections, he always continued to write, record, and entertain, up until the very end. He passed away in 1998 at the age of fifty-five, a week after collapsing onstage in front of a live audience at the Niterói municipal theater, just across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro.
I do not believe that Brazilian music is going to be the next big thing. I only think that it will become an essential part of the record collection of any connoisseur, and slowly and surely its influence will infiltrate the rest.
Not only did Tim Maia record these two albums and introduce Rational Culture to people in Brazil and beyond, he’s also chiefly responsible for bringing the sounds, styles, and cultural politics of soul and funk music to Brazil. Brazil’s racial diversity combined with its long tradition (as in the United States) of popular music that fused European and African traditions nearly guaranteed soul and funk music’s successful adoption and merger into Brazil’s cultural fabric. This is where it probably helps to know a little bit more about Brazilian culture, society, and music.
Brazil is the country most like the United States in the world, based on Western hemisphere/“New World” geography, population (United States is 3rd while Brazil is 5th), landmass (United States is 4th, Brazil is 5th), and ethnic and racial diversity (hard to find numbers for this, but if you’ve been to Los Angeles, New York City, São Paulo, or Rio de Janeiro, it’s clear). Its bounty of recorded music is deep and diverse, and t he country has given the world innumerable popular rhythms and musical styles from the samba to bossa nova to the many northeastern dance styles like forró or lambada. Not surprisingly, Brazil is said to be the origin of more unique percussion instruments than any other country on Earth. Despite its riches, common knowledge about Brazilian music among listeners outside of Brazil, can likely be summed up by the following list:
What you might not know is that the Brazilian music universe contains nearly every style or sound of music you can find in the United States, just sung in Portuguese and probably with some percussive additives. I thought, surely one exception to this must be North American–style country music, but in the process of researching Tim’s life, one of his old friends and someone interviewed extensively in this book, Eduardo Araújo, proved me wrong, as he’s been playing straight-up American-style country music in Brazil quite successfully for the past few decades.
Tim famously described himself as, “black, fat and rude, formed in cuckoldry, heartbreak and hair loss,” made his breakthrough in 1970 as Brazilian popular music approached a high-water mark of creativity and popularity. Export-ready artists like Elis Regina, Chico Buarque, and Milton Nascimento delivered top-shelf jazz-inflected torch songs, while tropicalists Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Os Mutantes entertained the college set with avant-garde fuzz poetry. Enter Tim Maia with a cannonball into the pool, knocking Elis Regina off her air mattress and drenching a lounging Caetano in his Speedos. Even samba-soul king Jorge Ben Jor had to pause mid-strum to wipe down his guitar. It was the only dive Tim knew. Before Tim Maia, there was no shortage of Afro-Brazilian musicians, singers, or composers, but they were almost always typecast as happy-go-lucky samba singers, and few had any artistic control over their own careers. With all due respect to the famous Brazilian cultural cannibals (Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes), who dominated the Tropicália scene in the late 1960s, Tim Maia was also in the business of antropofagia or “cultural cannibalism.” The only difference is that Tim cannibalized black pop music, a.k.a. soul, from the United States instead of Anglo-psych à la the Beatles. In the process he birthed a new genre: Brazilian soul music, that went on to dominate the country’s pop charts within a decade of its introduction.
Few popular music artists appeal to a true cross section of society: rich, poor, white, black, Latino, Asian, casual music listener to professional music critic. If you’re being honest and you don’t live in a rockist bubble, for Anglophone pop music the list is not so long: James Brown, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bob Marley, and Beyoncé, to keep current. We reserve a special name for this category: Superstars. Now consider that Brazil is known for music as much as anything else, resulting in a parallel universe of demographics, racial diversity, and pop music. This is just one reason why the genre of “world music” is so useless; it is incapable of explaining the complexity of each individual country in the world and their own long musical histories and their own indigenous musical traditions, one-hit wonders, crooners, rockers, iconoclasts, mimics, geniuses, hacks, musical golden eras, and dry spells.
Tim Maia is currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity since his death in 1998 as Brazilians and people around the world rediscover his formidable catalog, impact, and previously overlooked albums, like his Rational albums. Tim’s legacy is complicated mostly due to the fact that he faced tremendous resistance from the establishment that didn’t like the idea of a large, outspoken, black singer of imported styles getting too much attention.
Tim’s career was like Elvis Presley’s in that there was the “Young Elvis” and the “Fat Elvis,” except with Tim, both the “young” and “fat” Tims were fat. Show business in Brazil, or anywhere else for that matter, is anything but kind to overweight racial minorities. Tim jumped up and down on the sideline for years watching less talented and lighter-skinned friends mangle his songs up the pop charts. When he finally got his chance in 1969 with a single followed by his first album in 1970, he exploded on to the music scene with his blockbuster debut album. Throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s, Tim Maia was one of Brazil’s biggest stars; at his peak of popularity, on the cusp of his Rational adventures, he even rivaled his old band mate Roberto Carlos, Brazil’s answer to Elvis Presley.
Nearly a decade prior to his breakthrough, Tim Maia spent five years (1959–64) living in New York state, in the small Hudson river town of Tarrytown just forty-five minutes north of New York City, where he learned to speak English idiomatically and he absorbed the R&B that would blossom into soul music a few years later. Tim’s initial attempts at introducing soul music to the Brazilian market fell on deaf years. Even though Brazil and the United States share similar demographics and colonial history, Brazilian racism is distinctly different from the North American variety. Prior to the 1970s, average white, urban Brazilians imagined themselves living in a harmonious melting pot of European, African, and indi genous lineage, what the famous Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre called “racial democracy.”
Beginning in the late 1960s, the US civil rights movement made its way to Brazil through the worldwide exposure of outspoken black American celebrities, such as James Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Isaac Hayes. Through these international celebrities, some black Brazilians began to revisit how they viewed their role in traditional Brazilian society. Tim Maia was the first black Brazilian entertainer to thoroughly break from the traditional roles, namely samba, as he introduced soul music with its modern fashions, unapologetic grooves, and outspoken cultural stances to Brazilians of all colors.
“It was a rupture with the past, a way of putting the question of Black and white on new terms,” the record executive who signed Tim, André Midani, says. “The samba performers from before had stayed in the kitchen, but Tim and the rest refused to do that and came into the living room.” Tim wasn’t the first Brazilian singer to attempt to sing R&B music, but he was the first who successfully and commercially channeled the emotional intensity of the soul style while schooling the Brazilian session musicians on the new style’s sonic nuances and feel. While Wilson Simonal, Eduardo Araújo, and Jorge Ben Jor merely experimented with stylistic elements of soul, Tim’s dedication to the nascent style helped build a movement that would flourish throughout the 1970s and eventually inspire such genres as baile funk (electro hip-hop, sonically like Miami Bass) and Brazilian hip-hop in the 1980s.
The overwhelming success of Tim’s first albums announced a new style of black Brazilian singer, one that could tackle a James Brown tune with confidence and power, and still deliver a samba or a bossa nova without sacrificing any authenticity. Alongside a wave of civil rights activists, DJ crews, and musicians, Tim Maia helped to define a modern black Brazilian identity that did not accept mass culture’s tightly circumscribed role for Afro-Brazilians. Using the English word instead of the Portuguese “negro,” the scene, and later, movement, was called “Black Rio.”
This shift and Tim’s indisputable commercial success signaled a change in the Brazilian pop culture landscape. Maia’s enormous popularity in the early 1970s sent a message to the media masters, and nearly overnight just about every record label, and many of the international labels operating in the country, released records trying to cash in on Tim’s popular sound and image. Toni Tornado, Tony Bizarro, Robson Jorge, Cassiano, Hyldon, and even Tim’s buddy and supplier of stimulants, Almir Ricardi, recorded Brazilian soul and funk albums. The Afro-Brazilian vocal groups—the Golden Boys, Trio Esperança, and Trio Ternura (later Quinteto Ternura)—who started off as part of the youthful rock fad Jovem Guarda (Young Guard) remade themselves in the 1970s like the Temptations, Gladys Knight & The Pips or the Jackson Five. Without Tim Maia there would be no Banda Black Rio, the seminal Brazilian soul and funk band founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1976. Led by Oberdan Magalhães, a regular Tim Maia band member throughout the mid-1970s, and including up to three Tim Maia band alums, Banda Black Rio continued Tim’s experiments fusing soul and funk’s black and proud swagger with Brazil’s rich indigenous and modern musical traditions.
“At any party in Brazil, at some point you have to play Tim Maia, whose songs have become obligatory standards among all social classes,” Nelson Motta, Tim’s friend and biographer told the New York Times. “When you play Tim Maia, the dance floor is guaranteed to fill up.” Case in point, at a 2013 concert in New York City at B. B. King’s on 42nd Street, Jorge Ben Jor’s (one of the few Afro-Brazilian superstars whose fame rivals Tim’s) two-plus hour set included only one cover and one tribute song, both in honor of Jorge’s old friend, Tim Maia. Apparently, even touring gringos Guns N’ Roses knew this little trick, playing a riffadelic cover of Tim’s funk bomb “Sossego” to an audience of over 250,000 people at the 2001 Rock In Rio Festival.
If Tim had stopped recording after his first four albums, he would still be remembered as the founding father of Brazilian soul and funk music and a major figure in Brazilian popular music. Thankfully, he didn’t stop, but he did change directions and the resulting detour into the esoteric universe of Rational Culture, though only a little more than a year long, resulted in a deluge of bizarre and fantastic music.
Tim Maia Racional Vols. 1, 2, and the posthumous Volume 3, are the ultimate “cult” albums in every sense of the word. These mysterious recordings represent everything a twenty-first-century record collector might want: super-limited, independently produced, pressed and released, and containing world-class music (unknown to most) with a bizarre and intriguing back story. And if you’re digging for funky drum breaks or fodder for samples, it’s got those aplenty, too. Despite being released by a major Brazilian star at the peak of his popularity, these albums took more than twenty years to be recognized as masterpieces (as the Rosetta Stone) for understanding the birth and evolution of Brazilian soul music. Unless you were in Rio de Janeiro, or a Tim Maia fan at the time of their original release, you probably didn’t learn of the existence of these albums until the 1990s or early 2000s, if you lived in Brazil, and maybe a decade later if you lived anywhere else.
Writing these words in 2018, it’s hard to imagine how different and more difficult it was unearthing rare recordings like the Tim Maia Racional albums just fifteen years earlier, in 2002 when I first heard of them. Imagine, in the early twenty-first century without iTunes or the collective diligence, obsession and bandwidth of countless bloggers, certain out-of-print albums existed only to those who held the original, physical artifacts. Paul Heck helped compile the career-retrospective release about Tim Maia for Luaka Bop records, World Psychedelic Classics, Volume 4: The Existential Soul of Tim Maia: Nobody Can Live Forever, released in 2012, and recalls these early days trying to make sense of Tim’s catalog from his home in New York City. “Somehow it was elucidated, there was a gap in Tim’s eponymous discography around 1974 and 1975, ‘what was he doing then?’” Paul caught rumor of these “cult” records. Alexandre Kassin, a Brazilian musician and producer who’d had his records released by Luaka Bop as a member of the “+ Twos” (a rotating trio of a band featuring Kassin, Domenico Lancelotti, and Caetano Veloso’s son, Moreno Veloso), “somehow had all this stuff and somehow I got a burn [CD-R] of it and obviously, it was amazingly great and the story was amazing.” Thanks to this compilation and more recent official reissues of these songs, Tim Maia’s Rational records are no longer only a thing of myth.
Over forty years have passed since Tim Maia’s memorable detour into the world of Rational Culture and while he rarely spoke of his experiences from his brief, but intense existential adventure, he left three musical artifacts (the first two released while involved with Rational Culture and the other decades later after his death) that show him at a crucial period in his life and career when his tremendous musical momentum crashed headlong into his own personal, existential anxiety. The bizarre and brilliant albums, Tim Maia Racional Vols. 1 and 2 (and 3), were poorly received by the Brazilian public (if they even heard of them at the time of their release) and just a few months after the release of Volume 2, Tim parted ways with Rational Culture, leaving him profoundly embarrassed and nearly destitute. He ordered his band members to throw away any remaining Rational Culture vestiges, from their white T-shirts and painted white instruments to any remaining LPs or singles, significantly contributing to the rarity of these original vinyl releases.
“I have a theory about this phase,” said Mauro Lima, director of the 2014 biopic, Tim Maia, about Tim’s life, in the São Paulo newspaper, A Folha de São Paulo: “It was a way for him to police himself, but he just couldn’t handle the deprivation.” That’s one theory. There are many more, some more convincing than others, but none that will ever make “sense” of this bizarre moment in Brazilian pop culture and music. Beyond exploring the background, influences, anecdotes, and sounds of Tim Maia Racional Vol. 1 and Tim Maia Racional Vol. 2 and the play-by-play of Tim’s brief time in Rational Culture, this book will also address four critical questions whose answers will help to explain the significance of Tim Maia’s Rational recordings:
With as much Tim Maia music as I listened to during the course of writing of this book, I started to notice that the albums I kept coming back to, my favorites, all had the same name noted on the back sleeve: “Seroma.” Taking the first two letters of Tim’s full name, (Se)bastião (Ro)drigues (Ma)ia, Tim gave his publishing company, his production company, his independent record label, his beloved rehearsal studio where most of the music during these years was composed and rehearsed, the same name: “Seroma.” The camaraderie between Tim and his bandmates combined with the relaxed setting of the Seroma studios were the essential ingredients to the legendary Rational recordings not to mention the few albums and singles that bookended them. During these few years Tim Maia developed a deep bench of musicians, most of whom would go on to start or join iconic bands. Tim loved having a gang of musicians, a band of his own. His recordings from these years are universally acknowledged as some of his best, with his 1973 and 1976 self-titled albums often singled-out as rival career bests, if not the two Rational albums, all of which were created and rehearsed at Tim’s Seroma studio, known fondly as O Barracão (the Shed).
When this book project came along, one of the first thoughts I had was that I wanted to really explore what Tim Maia got lost in, to really do the research and approach it with fresh eyes, rather than lean on the usual narrative of “Tim Maia joined some crazy cult and made some killer funk records, but don’t pay attention to anything about the actual lyrics, because they’re bat-shit crazy.” Rational Culture might sound bizarre, but it’s no more unusual than any number of nonviolent, spiritual communities that popped up in the 1960s and 1970s. Most new religions founded in the United States in the past century emerged after the Second World War with a major concentration springing up in the mid-1960s. However, Rational Culture’s roots are older and more likely a by-product of Brazil’s rapid transition from a colony to a modern political and economic powerhouse combined with the influx of new cultures and religions than a reaction to the horrors and inhumanity of the two world wars. Rational Culture’s origin is particularly fascinating and surely some of this origin story contributed to Tim’s seduction.
Most well-loved albums find their audience upon release, while others, like Tim’s Rational recordings, take decades to reach a critical mass of appreciative ears. Tim’s first four albums on Polydor, all self-titled and released successively in 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973, were instant classics chock-full of radio friendly hits, each one successively pushing the boundaries of Brazilian pop music, mashing Brazilian northeastern rhythms like the baião and forró with rhythm and blues, and claiming artistic territory for black Brazilians who, prior to his breakthrough, were mostly relegated to samba or related “pure” Brazilian styles. Regardless of the albums’ critical reception at the time of their release, most Brazilians just never heard Tim’s Rational recordings due to their limited distribution and nearly nonexistent radio airplay.
By the mid-1990s a growing audience of mostly younger fans—introduced to these albums via stars like Marisa Monte and Gal Costa, who both covered songs from the albums—sought out CD bootlegs well before the albums’ official reissues in the early aughts. Brazilian hip-ho p heroes Racionais MCs and Marcelo D2, an alum of the influential Rio de Janeiro hip-hop–rock crew Planet Hemp, dropped clues about Tim Maia and these albums, the former crew famously incorporating the albums’ name into their own. Through conversations with younger Tim Maia fans who weren’t alive when the albums were originally released, as well as the man who inadvertently started the Tim Maia Rational craze by ripping his vinyl copy to CD-R, we’ll explore the reasons for the albums’ belated significance and their place in Tim Maia’s ascendant legacy.
Tim Maia Racional Vols. 1 and 2 represent a turning point in Tim’s life and musical career, one that cannot be fully understood without looking back to the beginning of his life with some help from his old friends, like Eduardo Araújo and the books written about Tim’s life by Nelson Motta and Fábio. While it’s nearly impossible to say with 100 percent certainty that the version I’m putting forth with this book is the definitive truth, it is an honest attempt to address some of the mistruths that have plagued Tim’s legacy since his passing. In particular, this book attempts to challenge the 2014 film, Tim Maia, and its cheap and overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Tim that focused on his pratfalls instead of his tremendous talents and world-class humor. The film as well as the earlier Broadway-style theater version of his story were productions based primarily on Nelson Motta’s book, with the film, more so, taking bold and unnecessary liberties with Tim’s story. While Nelson Motta’s book is considered the definitive version of Tim’s story in print, it’s not without its faults and sloppy research. “For the family, it was a big surprise,” Tim’s nephew Ed Motta says referring to Nelson’s decision to write a book about Tim, “because they got into a terrible fight years before Tim Maia died, because of a gig or something.” For better or worse, Nelson’s book is the story most Brazilians know of Tim’s life and it’s lovingly told and mostly true, “about 90% true,” Tibério Gaspar, an old friend of Tim’s, estimates.
 Fábio, Até Parece Que Foi um Sonho, p. 94.
Rolling Stone (Brasil) (October 2007)
 Ben Ratliff, “The Primer: Tropicália and Beyond,” The Wire (London, June 1999).
 Nelson Motta, Vale Tudo, p. 198.
 Christopher Dunn, Brutality Garden, p. 74.
 Larry Rohter, “He’s Back, Baby: The Man Who Put The Funk In Rio,” New York Times (October 12, 2012).
 Rohter, “He’s Back, Baby.”
 Tim Maia (Polydor, 1970), Tim Maia (Polydor, 1971), Tim Maia (Polydor, 1972), Tim Maia (Polydor, 1973).
 Author’s interview with Paul Heck.
 Tim Maia (Globo Filmes, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2014).
 Guilherme Genestreti, “Tim Maia’ retrata drogas, solidão da fama e tempermento explosivo,” A Folha de São Paulo (São Paulo, Brazil, October 30, 2014).
 Christopher Partridge (ed.), New Religions: A Guide, p. 10.
 Author’s interview with Tibério Gaspar.