Nana Vasconcelos

Brazilian percussionist

Juvenal de Hollanda Vasconcelos, known as Naná Vasconcelos, or the passer of Nordeste, is a Brazilian percussionist and composer of international renown.

Entirely self-taught, he never attended any music school and learnt music from practicing on family’s pots and pans. From the early age of 12 he started getting paid for his gigs and performed in balls alongside his guitarist father.

From the 1960s, he specialized in the practice of berimbau, a musical bow that is thought to be of African origin (from the Kamba people), brought to Brazil early on by the Portuguese during slavery.

While playing with singer Milton Nascimento in Rio de Janeiro, he was discovered by Gato Barbieri in 1970 who recruited him in his orchestra. Together they performed in New York, Montreux Jazz Festival and toured all across Europe. At that point, Vasconcelos decided to stay in Paris where he worked on Africa Deus, his first album.

Then returning to Brazil, he released a second album, Amazonas, and began his collaboration with Egberto Gismonti. In New York, he founded the Codona group with Don Cherry and Collin Walcott and also worked with artists such as Pat Metheny, Trilok Gurtu, Jan Garbarek, Arild Andersen, Andy Sheppard, Jim Pepper, Jean-Marie Machado and Paul Simon.

In 1995, he was appointed artistic director of the International Festival of Percussionists in Salvador de Bahia. In 2005, a documentary was dedicated to him, to Antonello Salis and Peppe Consolmagno "Vasconcelos, Salis, Consolmagno".

He also wrote music for Pina Bausch, Jonathan Lunn and John Neumeier’s choreographies.

Adored by both the people and the intelligentsia, he was awarded 8 Grammy Awards and voted 8th best percussionist in the world by the American magazine Down Beat.

He died at the age of 71 from lung cancer.

Biography from Radio France’s Musical Documentation