Homenagem ao Malandro & Homenagem à Velha Guarda

Lyrics from “Homenagem ao Malandro” by Chico Buarque (1978)

I went to write a samba in honor of the cream of the malandragem
That I know from Carnivals of years gone by
I went to Lapa and the trip was wasted
‘Cause that kind of malandragem doesn’t exist anymore

Now it’s just not normal
The amount of orderly, professional malandros around
Malandro with the trappings of an official malandro
Malandro with a profile in the Society column
Malandro with a contract, a tie,  and capital
Who never gets into trouble

But the malandro that counts — don’t spread it — retired his razor
Has a wife and kid and the whole kit and bit
Word on the street is that he even has work
He lives far away, and rattles in on a train on the Central Line

Now it’s just not normal
The amount of orderly, professional malandros around
Malandro with the trappings of an official malandro
Malandro candidate for Federal Malandro
Malandro with a profile in the Society column
Malandro with a contract, a tie and capital
Who never gets into trouble

Lyrics from “Homenagem à Velha Guarda” by Monarco (1980)

One day, you went to Lapa to see the malandragem
You wasted your time and the trip, as your samba explains
I went to Portela to see my sambistas
But consulting my list, I, too, wasn’t pleased!
There, I was told of a terreiro where they spend the entire day
In some nondescript nook in Oswaldo Cruz
It’s out there near Bento Ribeiro
Where Paulo and his consort made sambas that still seduce to this day
Looking around the locale, I found Mano Alvaiade
Our old harmony director, who gave me a valuable tip:
It’s a beautiful home, that brings together peace, love, and joy
There I saw the true sambistas
Manacéia and Lonato, and others too!
I swear my jaw dropped, I’d never felt so close
To the Portela of days of yore.

— Interpretation —

Scene from Ópera do Malandro. Pictured (L-R): Elba Ramalho, Tony Ferreira, Ari Fontoura, Marieta Severo, Otávio Augusto, and Maria Alice Vergueiro.
Scene from Ópera do Malandro. Pictured (L-R): Elba Ramalho, Tony Ferreira, Ari Fontoura, Marieta Severo, Otávio Augusto, and Maria Alice Vergueiro.

In 1978, Chico Buarque’s musical play Ópera do Malandro opened in Rio de Janeiro to rave reviews from critics and crowds. Set in Lapa in the early 1940s, the musical portrays a seedy, sensual, samba-suffused side of Rio’s bohemian redoubt that was at its height in the 1920s-40s and had died out, as Chico describes here, by the 1970s: “Lapa, brothels, loan sharks, smugglers, corrupt police, unscrupulous businessmen. (…) When this side of Lapa began to die, it was a harbinger of other deaths: malandragem [for a description of malandros and malandragem, the shady life on the edge of the law that has become an iconic part of Rio de Janeiro’s identity, see this post], Madame Satã [legendary drag queen and capoeirista], Geraldo Pereira, Wilson Batista [sambistas who most represent the samba malandro sub-genre]; it was the end of the golden age of Rio’s urban samba.”

The song “Homenagem ao Malandro” is a nostalgic nod to old-time Lapa malandros, poking fun at the “orderly, professional” malandros that had come to replace the real thing.

Album cover for the 1979 soundtrack to Ópera do Malandro.
Album cover for the 1979 soundtrack to Ópera do Malandro.

The musical was based on the satirical Beggar’s Opera (1728, John Gay) and the Three Penny Opera (1928, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill), another adaptation of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera.  Chico composed fourteen new songs for the musical and the soundtrack was released the following year. A film adaptation was also released in 1986. The musical revealed a star, Elba Ramalho, and showcased Chico’s then-wife Marieta‘s singing talent.

Legendary Portela sambista Monarco, now 81.
Legendary Portela sambista Monarco, now 81.

Alongside “Geni e o Zepelim” and “O Meu Amor,” “Homenagem ao Malandro” was one of the most beautiful and beloved songs from the musical, and the lyrics struck a chord with the composer Monarco (Hildemar Diniz, b. August 17, 1932 in Cavalcante, Rio de Janeiro, RJ). Monarco is among the most celebrated velha guarda (“old guard”) sambistas from the Portela samba school still around today. He arrived at Portela in 1946, when he was 14 years old (he laments that he missed Paulo da Portela at the school by just a few years). As Carnival became more and more of a lucrative business in the 1960s and ’70s, old-school sambistas like Monarco felt shoved aside, as  head honchos at the samba schools brought in radio stars to compose and take the spotlight and rake in returns. Around this time many sambistas separated from their schools: In the mid-1970s, for instance, Paulinho da Viola and Candeia left Portela. (Paulinho would return later on, and never joined another school, as Portelenses like Monarco enjoy pointing out; Candeia founded Quilombo, his school until his death in 1978.)

Monarco, second from left, and Zeca Pagodinho, center, with Velha Guarda da Portela, c. late 80s. In 1987, Zeca Pagodinho released his first album, with Monarco's song "Coração em desalinho," a huge hit.
Monarco, second from left, and Zeca Pagodinho, center, with Velha Guarda da Portela, c. late 80s. In 1986, Zeca Pagodinho released his first album, with Monarco’s song “Coração em desalinho,” a huge hit.
Paulinho da Viola with Clara Nunes, Pagode da Tia Doca
Paulinho da Viola and Clara Nunes pictured at Pagode da Tia Doca, in Tia Doca’s yard.

Monarco recalls that one Sunday he went to Portela and found none of his old composer companions there — only newfangled radio composers. So he wrote this samba that responds to Chico’s song about Lapa, remarking that the samba schools suffered the same phenomenon.  He refers to celebrated old guard sambistas, and the house he mentions — that unites “peace, love, and harmony” — was Tia Doca’s. Tia Doca became a mainstay at Portela samba school in the 1950s after she married the composer Altaír Costa, son of Alvarenga, a founding member of Portela samba school.  She became part of the Velha Guarda in 1970, and during these rough years for the school, she began hosting the famous “pagode da Tia Doca” on Sundays at her home in Oswaldo Cruz. Several star sambistas — including Zeca Pagodinho, Dudu Nobre, and Jovelina Perola Negra — got their start there.

Monarco says Chico Buarque loved the song; he remembers Chico commenting that he thought the line “consulting my list…” was just great!

Monarco's "Portela of days of yore": Pictured, Lonato (standing with Pandeiro), Monarco (crouching), Casquinha, Manaceia, Alcides Malandro,and others.
Monarco’s “Portela of days of yore”: Pictured, Lonato (standing with what looks like a tamborím), Monarco (crouching), Casquinha, Manaceia, Alcides Malandro, and others.

Lyrics in Portuguese: “Homenagem ao Malandro”

Eu fui fazer um samba em homenagem
À nata da malandragem
Que conheço de outros carnavais
Eu fui à Lapa e perdi a viagem
Que aquela tal malandragem
Não existe mais

Agora já não é normal
O que dá de malandro regular, profissional
Malandro com aparato de malandro oficial
Malandro candidato a malandro federal
Malandro com retrato na coluna social
Malandro com contrato, com gravata e capital
Que nunca se dá mal

Mas o malandro pra valer
– Não espalha
Aposentou a navalha
Tem mulher e filho e tralha e tal
Dizem as más línguas que ele até trabalha
Mora lá longe e chacoalha
Num trem da Central

Agora já não é normal
O que dá de malandro regular, profissional
Malandro com aparato de malandro oficial
Malandro candidato a malandro federal
Malandro com retrato na coluna social
Malandro com contrato, com gravata e capital
Que nunca se dá mal

Mas o malandro pra valer
– Não espalha
Aposentou a navalha
Tem mulher e filho e tralha e tal
Dizem as más línguas que ele até trabalha
Mora lá longe e chacoalha
Num trem da Central

“Homenagem à Velha Guarda”
Um dia, tu fostes à Lapa ver a malandragem
Perdeste o tempo e a viagem
Como teu samba diz
Eu fui à Portela ver os meus sambistas
Mas consultando a minha lista
Também não fui feliz

Lá falaram-me sobre um terreiro
Onde eles passam o dia inteiro
Num lugar qualquer de Oswaldo Cruz
Fica lá perto de Bento Ribeiro
Aonde Paulo e seus companheiros
Faziam sambas que até hoje seduz

Procurando na localidade
Encontrei mano Alvaiade
Nosso antigo diretor de harmonia
Deu-me a sua dica valiosa
É uma casa formosa
Que reúne paz, amor e alegria

Daí, vi os sambistas de fato
Manacéia e Lonato e outros mais
Juro que fiquei boquiaberto
Nunca me senti tão perto
Da Portela dos tempos atrás

Main sources for this post:  Stories told by Monarco and A Canção no Tempo: Vol. 2, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, and Batuque na cozinha: as receitas e as histórias das tias da Portela, by Alexandre Medeiros

1 thought on “Homenagem ao Malandro & Homenagem à Velha Guarda”

  1. Once again, thank you for this wonderful site. Thanks to your translations of this music, I can enjoy the wonderful samba melodies and rhythms at the same time I delve deeper into the Brazilian Pourtugese language that I love! Muito obrigado meus Amigos!

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