Joao MacDowell is a Brazilian composer who is known for fusing contemporary and popular styles with classical music. His work includes opera, symphonic and chamber music as well as early albums of Brazilian pop.
Life and career
Brazilian musical artist Joao MacDowell, born in Brasília, started his professional career as leader and vocalist of the Brazilian cult band Tonton Macoute. The composer was in a couple of bands before that, one of them called Antiperipleia, another called “Sabado Cedo Nao Tem Carne” with Brazilian artist Marcio Faraco on guitars, Cascao on drums, from the band “Detrito Federal”, Pedro Hiena on bass – Arte no Escuro and the late Ric Novaes (DJ Mr Spacely) on vocals.
The band Tonton Macoute left a mark on a generation of artists in the capital of Brazil and further. They had a track record of independent radio hits. The songs Electric Light and A Pele became instant radio hits, starting at Fluminense FM, and then at Radio Cidade and Transamerica FM. This radio exposure led to a consistent following on their performances. They also made hits in radio stations across the country, many of these stations, such as Radio Cidade and Transamerica, would normally refuse to play independent bands, which made their achievement quite a unique feat for the time.
On the verge of a recording contract, Tonton Macoute broke-up, each of the musicians going on to lead musical careers of their own. The band still has a following to this day, and it is often mentioned in retrospect articles and in Internet rants of fans who would like to see the band get back together for more concerts.
Joao Mac Dowell went on to work as record producer and composer, working with names such as Claudia Otero, Fabio Lobo, Little Quail and The Md Birds, Funk Fuckers and Rubao Sabino, . He also wrote soundtracks for films by Mauro Giuntinni, Katcha Donida and others.
In a peculiar practice, Joao MacDowell would get different nicknames in different towns, adding to the number of identities that he has personified. He would also have local guests to his solo performances, often writing new material to suit the characteristics and different styles of the people he was interacting with. Over the years Joao Mac Dowell used a number of identities: Kau MacDowell, Joao Kahuna, jKau, Joao do Sertão, Joao do Mar, Joao do Mundo, Joaozinho das Candongas, Uncle Joey and his own name.
For 3 years Joao was Composer in Residence with Henrique Schuller‘s contemporary dance company, Tabula Rasa. In 2001 Joao Mac Dowell wrote the score for “Baldes”, performed at the International Contemporary Dance Biannual (2001). For this performance, Joao captured the sounds of the dancers over a couple of inches of water, on a three-ton structure that reverberated as buckets and bodies hit the floor. Splashes and bangs became the source of a melodic fugue, performed live with the help of electronic samplers and microphones on stage.
“The Traveling Man and His Music Box” (2002), was the artist’s second solo album release. An album that still preserves the popular melodic aspect of his earlier works, though it points to the direction that his music would take after that. In it his audience heard for the first time the motif theme of Tamanduá, with an introduction that bridges Brazilian traditional music with contemporary classical orchestration. This album brought MacDowell to tour in the United States, with performances in New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia. In Brasília and Rio de Janeiro he performed at major venues such as the Teatro Nacional and Teatro Nelson Rodrigues.
Joao MacDowell’s electronic composition “Lanterna” was selected for the Lucky Strike Lab, contemporary music festival (2002). His soundtrack for the multimedia event and CD Rom “A Deusa” by Cila MacDowell, video-artist collaborator, was presented at the Electronic Language International Festival (2002).
Also in 2002, JoaoMacDowell’s score for “Tecido Marinho” won a prize at the International Circus Festival of Belo Horizonte. This show went on to tour seventeen countries in Europe, with the “Circus Chen”. The music was chosen to be broadcast on a Children’s Day TV Special of Rede Globo, “O Circo do Huck”, reaching an audience of over 10 million people.
“Quarteto” (2004) was Joao Mac Dowell’s third solo release, featuring his Brazilian-Jazz band based in Rio de Janeiro.
In the USA Joao MacDowell has produced a number of records, including: Wayne Hsu, Lydia Witman, BB, Noel Garcez, and an album of World music with various Ethiopian vocalists, co-produced by Mengistu Melese of Masinko productions.
MacDowell also wrote soundtracks for Graham Elliot’s documentary “Grayhound to Cuba”, Debra Solomon’s animation “777, 6th Ave.” and Oscar nominated director John Dilworth’s “Cartoon Physics”, and the theater play “Barry White – Guided by Destiny”. He also participated on the seventeenth solo album “With Love” of TV personality, singer/songwriter Jane Norman/Pixanne; together, MacDowell and Norman deliver a performance of Tom Jobim’s standard “Quiet Nights”, featuring a full orchestra, conducted and arranged by Grammy Award-winning arranger Richard Rome.
In New York Joao MacDowell has been performing as a solo artist, with his band and participating in performances of singers such as the Brazilian baritone Claudio Mascarenhas with whom he did concert previews of selections from the Brazilian opera “Tamanduá” in 2006 and 2007. In NY Joao MacDowell can also be found performing as guitarist of the Cuban pianist/songwriter Alina Brouwer.
In April and June, 2008, Joao MacDowell conducted première concerts of selections from Tamanduá – A Brazilian Opera – in New York city. In the cast Guto Bittencourt – Tenor (Pedro & The Editor), Amy Buckley – Soprano (Carol), Claudio Mascarenhas, Baritone (Aruanan), Abby Powell – Mezzo-Soprano (Julia). Tamanduá is a contemporary Brazilian operatic work that fuses folk rhythms, experimentalism, and classical composition. Scored for symphonic orchestra, choir and a cast of soloists, it draws on the tradition of operatic emotion; a total work of art that embraces dance and multimedia technologies. Tamanduá takes the audience on a psychological journey into the depths of the Brazilian soul. Like Brazil itself, it reflects cultures coming together to create something new. .
In December 2009, Montclair State University, John J Cali School of Music, New Jersey, presented 16 staged scenes from Tamandua at the Alexander Kasser Theater. The MSU Opera Workshop was directed and conducted by Jeffrey Gall, featuring videoscenography by Cila MacDowell. Clips from the performance are available through YouTube.
In September 2011 premiered in NY the feature documentary “Parece Que Existo” (I Seem to Exist), focused on life and works of composer João MacDowell, directed by Mario Salimon, shot in Portuguese, with English subtitles. In 2012 the documentary received the CLDF awards for Best Film and Best Soundtrack at the 45th Festival de Brasilia do Cinema Brasileiro.  
On December, 17th 2012 MacDowell premiered a concert version of his chamber opera monodrama “Plastic Flowers” in New York City. Featuring the mezzo-soprano Abby Powell in the lead role of Penelope. 
On March 18, 2014 João MacDowell’s Symphony n.1 titled “Um Sonho Brasileiro” premiered in Brasilia, with the Orquestra Sinfônica do Teatro Nacional Claudio Santoro (OSTNCS) under the baton of Maestro Claudio Cohen. Following the world premiere, the symphony received 4 performances in April 2014, by the Orquestra Sinfônica UniCamp conducted by Cynthia Alirete.;;
- Tonton Macoute – O Bicho Papão do Planalto – 1989
- Parece Que Existo – 1999
- O Caixeiro Viajante e a Caixa de Música – The Traveling Man and his Music Box – 2002
- Quarteto – 2004
- Alice em Miami – 2006
- Tamanduá – 2009
- Plastic Flowers – 2012
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