Since no others leap to mind, I would have to say that Joao Bosco is the greatest civil engineer turned singer/songwriter in the history of Brazilian popular music. He graduated with his degree in 1972 but since then has been concentrating on becoming one of Brazil's most formidable songwriters. For most of his early career he supplied Elis Regina with some of her best material, indeed it could be said that each one made the other's career, but since her death, Bosco has stepped into the performance limelight with a great degree of authority and has been one of the more compelling figures in Brazilian music for the last 25 years.
Born in Ponte Nova in 1946, Bosco cut his musical teeth in family in which music was as important as eating and sleeping. His mother is an accomplished violinist, his father a singer of samba, his sister a concert pianist, and his brother a composer. While attending Ouro Preto University he became steeped in American jazz (Miles Davis in particular), and the bossa nova sound of Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, it was also at university that he met lyricist Vinicius de Morais who contributed his elegant, poetic lyrics to Bosco's music. It was not long after that record companies began offering Bosco and de Morais their services. Later in the 70s Bosco became involved musically with Aldir Blanc a psychiatrist who decided to give up his practice to become a lyricist. Witty, surreal, at times pretentious, but more often than not extremely clever, Blanc became the perfect foil for Bosco and the two would work together, quite successfully, until the mid-1980s.
Bosco's career rise coincided roughly with Brazil's military dictatorship which lasted from 1964-1985 and his work, even the most innocuous love song, was frequently censored. As he noted in an interview in the early 90s, "Anything you composed or sang was censored. And there were no guidelines as to what you could or couldn't do. Every piece of music I wrote meant spending hours in the censorship bureau, debating with them, sometimes over one word." In 1977 Bosco wrote what was (and is) his most personal protest song, "O Bebaido e a Equilibrista" (The Drunkard and the Tightrope Walker), which became the theme song of Amnesty International. Despite his fame in Brazil, Bosco wasn't known to Americans until he made a guest appearance with jazz guitarist Lee Ritenour on the latter's 1988 record Festival. The guest spot wasn't enough to make Bosco an international superstar, but he did begin attracting more interest in the US. It wasn't until the early 90s that Bosco mounted a major tour of the US, but since then he has become increasingly popular internationally regularly performing at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival which over its history has frequently featured Brazilian performers.
Despite his growing popularity outside of his homeland, Bosco remains rooted in Brazil to the point of never leaving it for extended periods. So, while he remains somewhat obscure to American audiences, his music, rooted in Brazil's classic samba and bossa nova traditions, combines rock and roll, jazz and other ethnic styles in an eclectic brew that is a inventive and challenging as is he. ~ John Dougan