AIRTO MOREIRA was born in 1941 in the small village of Itaiopolis in southern Brazil, and was raised in Curitiba. By the time he was six years old he had won many music contests by singing and playing percussion. The city gave him his own radio program every Saturday afternoon. At 13 he became a professional musician, playing percussion and drums and singing in local dance bands. He moved to São Paulo at the age of 16 and performed regularly in nightclubs and on television as a percussionist, drummer and singer.
In 1965 he moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he later met his future wife, singer Flora Purim. Flora moved out to Los Angeles in 1968; Airto followed her shortly thereafter. The couple soon moved to New York, where Flora was singing with South African singer Miriam Makeba, and Airto began playing with musicians such as Reggie Workman, J.J. Johnson, Cedar Walton, and bassist Walter Booker.
It was through Booker that Airto began playing with the greats: Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, Paul Desmond, and Joe Zawinul to name a few. Zawinul recommended Airto to Miles Davis in 1970 for the Bitches Brew album. Airto was then invited to form the original Weather Report with Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Miroslav Vitous, and Alphonse Mouzon, with whom he recorded The Weather Report. Soon after, he joined Chick Corea's original Return to Forever group, which featured Flora Purim, Joe Farrell, and Stanley Clarke.
In 1974 Airto formed his first band in the U.S., Fingers, with Flora Purim. Since then they have performed constantly all over the world and recorded their own albums for major record companies in Europe and America.
Airto's love for the music and the people of his native country of Brazil takes him back every year to visit old friends and relatives as well as to pay respects to his spiritual guides and elders. His lifelong interest in spirituality led him to record The Other Side of This, an exploration into the healing powers of music and the spiritual world.
In addition, Airto has been advancing the cause of world and percussion music as a member of the Planet Drum percussion ensemble, founded by Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead. This group of musicians from around the world, including master conga player Giovanni Hidalgo and tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussein, as well as Flora Purim and Babatunde Olatunji, won a Grammy Award in 1991 for their recording of Planet Drum. That same year Airto contributed to another Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra, which received the award for Best Live Jazz Album.
His impact was so powerful that Down Beat magazine added the category of percussion to its reader's and critic's polls, which he has won over 20 times since 1973. In the past few years he was voted number one percussionist by Jazz Times, Modern Drummer, and JAZZIZ magazine, as well as in many European, Latin American, and Asian publications. Most recently Airto performed as a guest star with the Boston Pops Orchestra on a special for the PBS, the Smashing Pumpkins Unplugged for MTV, the Japan based percussion group Kodo, and on Depeche Mode's CD Exciter.
Airto's solo album Killer Bees, featuring Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Mark Egan, and Hiram Bullock, was one of the most critically acclaimed albums on the European market.
Airto's album entitled Homeless, which was released in the year 2000 by the British label Electric Melt, is a high-energy album with "tribal" rhythms that is shaking dance floors around the world. His song "Celebration Suite" was re-mixed by the DJ group Bellini Brothers and hit #1 in the dance music charts over 26 countries around Europe, Asia, and Latin America and at the moment has sold over 800,000 copies.
Airto's band, Fourth World, featuring Flora Purim, José Neto, Gary Brown, Luiz Avellar, and Widor Santiago, has recorded three albums, Fourth World, Encounters of the Fourth World, and Last Journey. Currently Airto and Flora have two touring bands. One is an acoustic Brazilian jazz band and the other a high intensity Brazilian band. Airto is a professor in the Ethnomusicology Department at UCLA.