“I would call him a naive composer, as one speaks of naive painting.” The judgment is signed Gilberto Gil, that Release had met in 1998 to talk about music and football on the eve of the French World Cup. The Bahian tropicalist thus recalled that Edson Arantes do Nascimento was also a complete musician: author, composer, singer, guitarist. His work is certainly succinct: of the hundred titles he claimed to have composed, only a dozen have been recorded.
On August 31, 1969, Pelé scored the only goal of the Brazil-Paraguay match, in front of the 183,000 spectators who filled the Maracana stadium in Rio. The victory qualified the Auriverde selection for the 70 World Cup in Mexico, which it won, but the scorer did not delay to celebrate the event. He had an appointment the same evening with the immense singer Elis Regina to record, as a duo, what would become his first album.
The initiative fell to the musician Roberto Menescal, artistic director of the Philips label, who knew that Pelé composed and sang. “No great songs, he will note later. But simple things cute [«assez jolies», ndlr].» The producer, who played a fundamental role in the birth of bossa nova, chose to record in an apartment, to prevent the studio from intimidating the beginner. Pelé is however not a bad singer and he is not ridiculous on the guitar: he masters the beat, the syncopated beat of bossa nova.
The New York Adventure
Two titles are boxed, Forgiveness does not have (“it’s unforgivable”), on a love breakup, and humiliation (“humiliation”), where Pelé ironically discusses his musical limits. The record went on sale shortly before the Mexican World Cup in 1970, considered the pinnacle of “O Rei’s” career. The cover of the French pressing specifies: “Pelé’s first record”, and the photo only shows the footballer, not his partner. Published in many countries, the disc is not a success.
We have to wait until 1977 to hear Pelé sing again. It’s on the soundtrack of the documentary Skin, by Frenchman François Reichenbach, who retraces his adventure in the United States. O Rei signed with the New York Cosmos in 1975, after nineteen years at Santos, his training club. The founders and patrons of the New York team are the brothers Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, of Turkish origin, who became billionaires thanks to their musical label Atlantic, which launched Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding or Led Zeppelin. The 4 million dollar contract signed by the best footballer in the world also provided for a musical aside. It is Sérgio Mendes who signs the soundtrack of the documentary, with his usual elegance and sophistication. And Pelé sings My World is a Ball (“my world is a balloon”), accompanied by the velvety sound of Gerry Mulligan’s soprano sax.
“Listen to the old man”
Subsequently, we will hear Edson Arantes Do Nascimento occasionally. In 1979, on the occasion of the International Year of Children, he recorded two new titles, for which he sold the rights to Unicef. He celebrates the 2016 Rio Olympics with a new title, Hope. And two years later, for his 80th birthday, he is accompanied by the Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela on the friendly believe in old (“listen to the old man”). In the press release announcing this final musical appearance, the man with more than a thousand goals acknowledged: “In football, my talent was a gift from God, music was just for fun.”
One image represents more than others the spontaneous and unpretentious relationship that Pelé had with the song. In 2005, during his historic encounter with Maradona on the set of the Argentinian channel Canal 13, he was seen grabbing his guitar and dedicating to his successor Who am I : “Who am I, Maradona, who are you? You want to be me, I want to be you.