Jorge Ben, also known as Jorge Benjor, is not only a great musician and songwriter but has pretty much created his own music style. He became popular around the same time as Bossa Nova which was the prevalent music style in the main cities of Brazil, but most importantly in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Benjor came up with his own brand of samba.
The song “Por Causa de Você Menina,” released in 1963 on the album “Samba Esquema Novo,” showed his new approach to samba and it wasn’t Bossa. It was, nevertheless, readily embraced by the same youth who loved Bossa Nova. The young people of Brazil in the late 50’s and 60’s needed to have their own music and sound – something they could relate to and that represented their generation. Benjor was it.
Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1942 as Jorge Duilio Lima Menezes using the stage name first as Jorge Ben and later Jorge Benjor, Jorge Ben chose his name after his mother who was of Ethiopian origin.
Benjor’s music has always been based on samba and the beat of the escolas de samba of Rio. His brother introduced him to jazz and American music, including rock, as well.
The way he was discovered was one of those interesting stories. Benjor was in a club performing his “Mas Que Nada” where an executive from the record label Phillips was present. One week later his first single with “Mas Que Nada” was released. It is still today one of the most popular songs in Brazil.
Sergio Mendes made “Mas Que Nada” a huge international success as well.
I once asked Sergio how he found “Mas Que Nada” noting that Sergio has been living in the U.S. since the 60’s. He said that he used to see Jorge Benjor performing in Rio. “Mas Que Nada” with Sergio Mendes became an international success.
I once also asked Jorge Benjor how “Mas Que Nada” came about. He said that he used to see this beautiful girl walk by, he would sing and talk to her. She would say “mas que nada” or “let it be” and walk away. That was the beginning of a great song. Remember that “Mas Que Nada” is also one of the biggest songs in the U.S. and it is always sung in Portuguese! The song has been interpreted by greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Al Jarreau among many others. I also like the version by South African singer Miriam Makeba from 1966.
A more recent version by Sergio Mendes featuring the Black-Eyed Peas was a huge success introducing this tune to a new generation.
There are many other songs by Benjor that are very popular worldwide such as “Pais Tropical” and “Chove Chuva” and “Cadê Tereza”.
Jorge Benjor is also a big soccer fan. His team is Flamengo. He has written many songs related to soccer – a good example of this is “Flamengo”, “Ponta de Lança Africano”, “Fio Maravilha”, and “Zagueiro” among others.
Another notable contribution to the work of other artist’s was Rod Stewart’s 1978 smash hit, “Do you think I’m Sexy,” which took inspiration from Jorge Ben Jor’s song, “Taj Mahal.”
While visiting Rio de Janeiro, President Barack Obama commented in his speech: “You are, as Jorge Benjor sang, a tropical country, blessed by God, and beautiful by nature” referring to “Pais Tropical.”
Benjor has recorded over 40 albums.
Jorge Benjor has received many awards in Brazil and abroad including the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.