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Los Indios Tabajaras
This pair of brothers, members of the Tabajara tribe of northern Brazil, were one of the most unlikely successes of the space age pop era. Nearly 20 years after they first began recording professionally and in the midst of the twist craze, they had a Top 10 pop hit with their cover of "Maria Elena," a Mexican folk tune first popularized in the U.S. by Jimmy Dorsey.
RCA and their promoters have always drawn a veil of mystery around Los Indios Tabajaras, so it's tough to trace their early years accurately. Their literature claimed they discovered a guitar in the jungle near Ceara, Brazil, and, after making sure it wasn't going to explode like other firearms their tribesmen had found, began to examine it. Eventually, they both mastered the instrument and came to the attention of townspeople, one of whom took them to Rio de Janeiro to play.
Dressing up in ceremonial Indian costumes, the brothers perfected a nightclub act in which they sang and played Brazilian and Latin folk songs. They changed their names to Natalicio and Antenor Lima and began touring throughout South America. In 1943, RCA's Latin American arm signed them to a contract, but it wasn't until the late 1950s that they were released in the U.S., and their first album was on a minor label, Vox, rather than RCA.
In the early 1950s, they took a break from touring and returned to study, each with a different teacher. Natalicio focused on melody and Antenor worked on harmony. They also added a substantial classical repertoire to their act, including guitar pieces by Bach, Falla, and Albeniz.
Another tour followed, this time to Europe as well, and they recorded several more albums for RCA in Mexico. One of their singles, "Maria Elena," released in 1958, became a steady seller, and by early 1962, its success caught the eye of RCA's U.S. division. They issued the tune, and this lovely, gentle melody quickly carved a solid niche in the U.S. pop charts. It ended up spending 14 weeks in the U.S. Top 10 and 17 weeks in the U.K. charts, and the subsequent album placed in the Top 10 album chart as well. Within a year, the brothers followed with another single, "Always in My Heart," but the novelty had worn off and it barely dented the Top 100.
Chet Atkins was particularly impressed by the brothers' guitar work, and he invited them to Nashville, where they recorded an instrumental album with Atkins and pianist Floyd Cramer, and--in one of the oddest releases of the countrypolitan era--one with singer Don Gibson ("Oh, Lonesome Me").
RCA--both the U.S. and Latin American divisions--continued to record them well into the 1980s, and the brother's mellow guitar style proved a big influence on a new generation of guitarists such as Rick Vito.
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