Netflix has a great series charting the rise and fall of Medellín drug lord Pablo Escobar: Narcos. While a bit light on the political and economic contexts that gave rise to the drug cartels, the show is sustained by great writing and acting. The music is also spot on. The series’ opening theme, “Tuyo,” written and performed by Rodrigo Amarante, captures a stereotypical latin jazz feel that nonetheless manages to sound fresh and alluring, like a modern João Gilberto. In an interview, Amarante claimed he wanted the song to sound like something Escobar’s mother might listen to. My only complaint is the song’s length – just a minute and 29 seconds in this version.
The search for the Narcos’ theme invariably led to an exploration of Rodrigo Amarante’s other material. Turns out, though “Tuyo” is sung in Spanish, Amarante is from Brazil, and so records in Portuguese for that market. Confusingly, his first band in Brazil actually had a Spanish name: Los Hermanos. Their biggest hit was the 1999 single, “Anna Júlia,” written and sung by the group’s other main songwriter, Marcelo Camelo. The song became so popular it was eventually covered in other languages, including one in English by Jim Capaldi and featuring George Harrison on lead guitar. The Harrison link was not a mistake – the song has a great early 1960s British beat group feel, with killer background vocal ‘whoa, whoa’s. While Capaldi manages a credible cover, the original is better.
Amarante’s career has moved in a number of directions. While Los Hermanos was on tour with the British group, the Strokes, Amarante and the Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti decided to form a side-project supergroup with multi-instrumentalist Bikini Shapiro: Little Joy. “Brand New Start” is from their debut album in 2007, a rollicking, pleasant tune, with a host of 1950s and 1960s influences and a great horn section.
Rodrigo Amarante released a solo album, Cavalo, in 2014 that continues to mine a minimalist, hipster, Brazilian jazz/folk vein, with a subtly catchy number, “Tardei.”