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Roberto Menescal (born October 25, 1937) is a Brazilian composer, producer, guitarist/vocalist, important to the founding of bossa nova. In many of his songs there are references to things related to the sea, including his best-known composition “O Barquinho” (“Little Boat”).
He is also known for work with Carlos Lyra, Nara Leão, Wanda Sá, Ale Vanzella, and many others. Menescal has performed in a variety of Latin music mediums, including Música popular brasileira (Brazilian pop), Bossa Nova and Samba. He was nominated for a Latin Grammy for his work with his son’s bossa group Bossacucanova in 2002 and will receive the “2013 Latin Recording Academy Special Awards” in Las Vegas in November 2013.
The composer of bossa nova classics like “O Barquinho,” “Ah, Se Eu Pudesse,” “Errinho à Tôa,” “Nós e o Mar,” “Rio,” “Você,” and “Vagamente,” Roberto Menescal started his professional career in 1957 as Sylvia Telles’ sideman (on guitar) in a tour around Brazil. In 1958, he opened a guitar school in Copacabana (Rio) with Carlos Lyra, having as his pupils Nara Leão and her sister Danuza Leão. In the same year, he formed, with Luís Carlos Vinhas, João Mário, Henrique, and Bebeto, the Conjunto Roberto Menescal, one of the first instrumental groups of bossa nova. The group accompanied Dorival Caymmi, Vinícius de Moraes, Billy Blanco, Maysa, and Telles.
Also in 1958, he participated, with Telles, Carlos Lyra, and other artists, in a show at the Clube Hebraica (Rio), when the words “bossa nova” were used (inadvertently, by the club’s secretary) for the first time to advertise the event. Having taken part with his group in the recording of Garotos da Bossa Nova in 1959, he participated in the I Festival de Samba Session at the Teatro de Arena theater of the School of Architecture at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. Such informal venues were important vehicles for bossa nova among the middle-class university people who were more inclined to absorb and disseminate it, and Menescal was instrumental for the promotion of such concerts in 1959, 1960, and 1961. In 1959, he had his first recorded composition, “Jura de Pombo” (with Ronaldo Bôscoli), by Alaíde Costa.
His “O Barquinho” (with Ronaldo Bôscoli), a bossa nova classic, was simultaneously recorded by Maysa, Perry Ribeiro, and Paulinho Nogueira in 1960. In 1962, he accompanied Maysa in her Argentinean tour and, with Eumir Deodato’s group, he performed in Marlene’s program on TV Rio, having been hired for two years with his own group to back up artists on that TV station.
In November 1962, he participated in the historic Bossa Nova Festival at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY, with Tom Jobim, Carlos Lyra, and others, interpreting “O Barquinho” in one of his few performances as a singer. From 1964 to 1968, he worked as an arranger and, invited by André Midani, he started to work as an independent producer and arranger at PolyGram. In 1968, he accompanied Elis Regina in her performance at the MIDEM (International Phonographic Market and Music Publishers) in Cannes, France, and in her subsequent European tour, having been Regina’s sideman until 1970, when he became PolyGram’s A&R. Already established as a major producer (having worked with Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben Jor, Gal Costa, Maria Bethânia, and many others), instrumentalist (as a session man he worked with Lúcio Alves, Maysa, Claudette Soares, Nara Leão, Jair Rodrigues, and Elis Regina), he had several compositions of his included in soundtracks of broadly popular TV soap operas and also wrote music for the cinema (Bye Bye Brasil, Joana Francesa, both by Cacá Diegues, and Vai Trabalhar Vagabundo, by Hugo Carvana). In 1985, having accompanied Nara Leão in performances in Brazil and abroad, he launched with her the LP Um Cantinho, Um Violão/Nara Leão e Roberto Menescal.
In the next year, he abandoned his career in A&R and dedicated himself to his solo career. He has also been participating in jazz projects, among others with Joe Henderson. In 2001, he participated with Wanda Sá, Danilo Caymmi, and Marcos Valle in the Fare Festival (Pavia, Italy). Menescal also owns the label Albatroz, which released albums by Danilo Caymmi, Emílio Santiago, and others.