An Open Letter To The Beancountertypes of Universal Records

posted by Tom Moon on December 12, 2008 at 7:23 pm
in , , , ,

I am writing...

to register alarm over your company’s chronic neglect and mishandling of the Elis Regina catalog. In some parts of the world (Brazil, obviously, and also Japan), it’s possible to buy all of Ms. Regina’s classic titles, with original artwork and liner notes. In the U.S., you are selling six different slipshod anthologies of her hits – while ignoring the individual titles, some of which have been out of print for years. To make matters worse, most of what’s available on CD here has not been properly remastered; the audio is of the dismal quality associated with the first-generation compact discs in the 1980s.

This is troubling for many reasons. Elis Regina was one of the greatest singers of the 20th century, a master whose slight inflections tell stories behind the story. Her recordings – most made for Philips in Brazil and issued on various Universal-owned imprints in the U.S. – represent an important point in the history of Brazilian popular music. They are thrilling whether you understand Portugese or not. They are classic illustrations of the “Long Tail” idea, as they’re considered essential by those who worship the music of Brazil and by rock devotees who rarely venture into anything marketed as “World Music.”

Elis Regina’s contribution to world culture is well documented, and still Universal seems to regard her as an alien creature. It’s outrageous – but given the state of the industry, not surprising – that her important recordings are not in circulation. Not too many years ago, major label executives recognized the value of the catalog; they saw themselves as caretakers of legacies. That meant not simply preserving great recordings, but championing them so that current listeners might discover them and be, as I’ve been, profoundly enriched. There’s much less of that advocacy happening now, as the labels pursue hits over careers. The end result of such short-sight is painfully audible in the braying, high-drama histrionics of your present-day divas. They clearly haven’t ever heard a singer like Elis Regina. And they desperately need to. Right away.

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#1 from Mike Curtis, Texas - 12/22/2008 11:22

Great letter and I have managed to obtain almost all her recordings from Brazilian sources. This includes the DVD’s as well. Do not forget the 90 minute B&W;broadcast from the 1970’s! The Japanese have remastered a few of her albums. One is the Elis & Tom album. She is still big in Brazil for when you enter a CD shop they are more than likely playing one of her recordings.

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