The Brazilian label Elenco (‘casting’ in Portuguese) is THE landmark on the Bossa Nova scene. It owes its notoriety to its artists, but also to its highly contrasted black and white vinyl sleeves enhanced by a few dashes of red, as well as to its logo in the shape of a lit spotlight being held up by the N, and also to its founder: Aloysio de Oliveira.
When Carmen Miranda’s former accompanist in the USA was fired from Odeon where he was the artistic director, he was immediately hired by Philips to fill the same position. In 1961, war raged between the major record companies to exploit the Bossa Nova sound. At Odeon, Aloysio de Oliveira had supervised the first two founding albums of the genre (from João Gilberto) and entrusted photographer Chico Pereira and graphic designer Cesar Villela with the covers. He’d surrounded himself with talented composers such as Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, and Carlos Lyra, and with young performers such as Silvia Telles, Alayde Costa, Lucio Alves, and Sergio Ricardo.
At Philips de Oliveira recreated his team. He rehired Silvia Telles and Lucio Alves who had also been dismissed by Odeon, although he didn’t quite regain the kind of freedom he’d enjoyed at his former record company. So he then decided to set up his own label, entirely dedicated to Bossa Nova and inspired by the shows he’d produced at night in a Copacabana restaurant, Le Bon Gourmet, in the heart of Beco das Garrafas, an area famous for nightclubs frequented by Rio de Janeiro’s musicians.
Elenco was born in 1963 with the duo Vinicius and Odete Lara. What followed was sixty albums, all identifiable by their modernist and intimate covers created by Cesar Villela and Chico Pereira, including those of Baden Powell, Roberto Menescal, and Cyro Monteiro; the Brazilian version of The composer of Desafinado; plays by Tom Jobim; the first LPs from Nara Leão, Edu Lobo, Sydney Miller, and Rosinha de Valença; the shows of Maysa and the American Lennie Dale; and encounters with artists like Dick Farney, a Sinatra-style crooner, and with the actress and singer Norma Bengell.
While the label could be proud of its artists (who were only ever paid in royalties) sales struggled. Without a distributor to take the discs across Brazil, few albums were successful enough to have sales exceeding the original 2000 copies. In São Paulo, Elenco faced competition from RGE, Farroupilha and the Brazilian subsidiary of Audio Fidelity. Nara Leão’s departure at the end of 1964 to Philips, who were already doing well with the Tamba Trio, Eumir Deudato, Sergio Mendes and Jorge Ben, was a serious blow to de Oliveira’s morale.
Aloysio de Oliveira ran Elenco until 1968, launching artists such as Nana Caymmi and MPB4, before selling it to Philips and moving back to the United States. It finally shut down in 1984, leaving as its legacy a unique aesthetic in the history of music. The vinyls have become a cult object and a collector’s item for new generations of vinyl lovers.