September 8th, 2008

5 Lessons for Following Your Passion from the Creative Genius Who Invented Bossa Nova

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João Gilberto
João Gilberto

João Gilberto simply is music. He plays. He sings. Without stopping. Day and night. He is very, very strange. But he is the most fascinating being, the most fascinating person, that I have encountered on the surface of the earth. João, he is mystery. He hypnotises.
-Maria Bethânia

João Gilberto has been called many things throughout his ongoing career- a genius, a reclusive eccentric, the father of bossa nova, and the most enigmatic Brazilian alive. But one thing is certain- in 1958, this man changed Brazilian music forever. During this year, João invented bossa nova- a style of Brazilian music which evolved from samba, but is more complex harmonically and less percussive.

João’s signature piece, Chega de Saudade, is universally acknowledged as the song that launched his career and the bossa nova movement:

Here are 5 lessons for following your passion from the creative musical genius João Gilberto:

1) Stay focused

From an early age, João was interested in only one thing- music. He was given a guitar at the age of fourteen, which soon became an extension of his body. João played day and night, often the same chord repeated innumerable ways. Even when João’s family thought that he was mentally disturbed, and sent him to a psychiatric sanatorium, he kept up his musical experiments.

2) Never give up

For seven years, João’s career seemed at a standstill- he rarely had work, was dependent on his friends for a place to live, and was chronically depressed. João did not give up, and eventually, he was helped by friend Luiz Telles, who took him to southern Brazil, where he blossomed.

3) Work on your own schedule

Early in his career, living with his friends in Rio de Janeiro, João was a Night Owl, and would sleep during the day and play at night. Even though his hosts had day jobs, when returning from work, they would keep him company until early in the morning, listening to him play. When João moved to Porto Alegre, he single-handedly altered the city’s nightlife. People who normally went to sleep early stayed up late, adapting themselves to João’s sleep schedule, to hear him play.

4) Refuse a “normal” job

Although João’s family wished that he would consider a “normal”, non-musical job, he refused. Even when João had no money and work, João would not take jobs which he considered demeaning, such as singing in clubs where people talked during the performance, or recording commercial jingles.

5) Isolate yourself to develop your own style

João spent eight months with his sister, where he secluded himself from others, playing guitar day and night, developing a personal style for voice and guitar that would later be called bossa nova.

Are you following your passion, on the verge of creating a “bossa nova” in your field?

Joao GilbertoJoão is an inspiration for all of us. Imagine if he had taken a non-musical job, instead of focusing on his passion- would João have invented bossa nova, and been as successful as he is today? What if João had listened to his father, who disliked his songs, thinking João was mentally disturbed? The same songs that João’s father disliked were later considered by music critics to be zen-like, and works of pure perfection.

The most important lesson we can learn from João’s career is to pursue our passion relentlessly, whether or not our family or friends support us. Like João, each of us must focus on what we are most passionate about. We must focus on what makes us come alive:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.
-Howard Thurman

Creative Commons License photo credit: t_a_i_s

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One Response to “5 Lessons for Following Your Passion from the Creative Genius Who Invented Bossa Nova”

Emil Torabi

January 7th, 2009 - 11:27 pm

Great article and great advice. There is immense value in reading about the stories, the trials and tribulations of others on the path. In fact, success will likely be near impossible without such resonance. Thanks!

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