Brazilian guitarist Yamandu Costa in six videos

His talents and virtuosity are recognised and celebrated worldwide. Ahead of Brazilian guitarist Yamandu Costa’s performance at the Melbourne Conservatorium next month, Head of Guitar Dr Ken Murray takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Costa’s work. 

By Dr Ken Murray

Yamandu Costa is one of the most remarkable and influential guitarists in the world today.

Considered one of the greatest talents of Brazilian guitar, he is renowned for his inspired and passionate performances and mastery of a multitude of Latin American musical genres. He is a virtuoso of the Brazilian seven-string guitar, which he employs to great effect in his own compositions.

Costa was born in 1980 in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. The music and culture of this region and neighbouring Argentina forms an integral part of his musical identity and distinguishes Costa from other Brazilian musicians. In anticipation of his visit to the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music for the Guitar Perspectives Winter Celebration (2–4 August, 2019), let’s look at some videos that illustrate key aspects of his prodigious talent.

Costa burst onto the world stage thanks to the movie The Sound of Rio: Brasilerinho (2005), made by Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki. This film focused on the genre of choro, a musical style that grew from a rich blend of influences, including lyrical songs from Portugal known as modinhas, the African rhythms of the lundu and 19th-century European dances such as waltzes and polkas.

Instrumental pieces written by composers such as Ernesto Nazareth (1863–1934) and Pixinguinha (1897–1973) remain staples of the choro repertoire. In the following clip from Brasilerinho, a young Yamandu gives an inventive and dynamic performance of Nazareth’s choro standard Brejeiro.

Costa plays the nylon string Brazilian seven-string guitar. Traditionally the steel string version of this instrument is featured in choro ensembles while the nylon string version is a later development and is well suited to solo playing.

Brazilian songwriter and performer Caetano Veloso (1942–) came to prominence in the 1960s as part of a new wave of inventive and politically active musicians linked to the Tropicália movement. Veloso’s song Sampa is a much-loved tribute to the city of São Paulo. In his interpretation of this song, Costa pulls out all the stops and combines virtuoso playing with whistling, percussion, improvisation and a variety of strumming techniques.

Costa is in a demand as a soloist with orchestras around the world and his repertoire includes a number of concerti written especially for him by Brazilian composers Maurício Carrillho (1957–), Paulo Aragão and Vagner Cunha. The following video – Concerto by Cunha for seven-string guitar and orchestra – is tailor-made for Costa and a very effective vehicle for his talents.

Costa has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Brazilian music, and this extends to the repertoire of composers such as Heitor Villa Lobos (1887–1959) and Radamés Gnattali (1906–1988). There is a strong tradition in Brazilian music of cross-fertilisation between popular music and music for the concert hall, and Costa embraces the possibilities of this exchange. His reinterpretations of guitar pieces such as the Schottische by Villa Lobos illuminate rhythmic and expressive details inherent in the music.

Costa is also a skilled accompanist and is highly adept at constructing additional parts for solo guitar pieces. For his Melbourne concert on 4 August, Costa will be joined onstage by his wife Elodie Bouny for duo performances of guitar pieces by Antonio Lauro, Agustin Barrios, Marco Pereira, and his own works. In the following video, Costa and Bouny perform the wonderfully rhythmic Bate Coxa by Marco Pereira, showcasing Costa’s accompaniment and improvisational skills.

The video below, meanwhile – a recent performance at the 2019 Latin Grammy Awards – demonstrates Costa’s compositional talents. The piece – Lucio – is a tribute to Costa’s friend and mentor, the Argentinian guitarist Lucio Yanel. Yanel was a formative influence on the young Costa as he immersed himself in the musical styles of Southern Brazil and Argentina.

While the clips presented here represent a small fraction of Costa’s prodigious output, they show some of the variety of styles and approaches he is rightly renowned for. In South America he is famous for his deep knowledge of musical styles and traditions, but his influence – informed by his sheer depth of feeling, audacity and virtuosity – resonates strongly around the world.

His commitment to producing videos, recordings, documentaries, and even his own app, makes his output easily accessible. He truly deserves his reputation as one of the greatest living guitarists.

Further reading:

Banner image: Flickr/ Fronteiras do Pensamento. Saudação Musical Especial: Yamandu Costa no Fronteiras do Pensamento Porto Alegre 2012.

Yamandu Costa will perform in Melbourne on 4 August 2019 as part of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music’s Guitar Perspectives Winter Celebration