“Quem São Eles (a Bahia é boa terra)” – “Já Te Digo”

Quem São Eles  (“Samba Carnavalesco gravado pelo Bahiano e o corpo de coro para Casa Edison – Rio de Janeiro!”) – 1918

___

A Bahia é boa terra// Bahia is a good land
Ela lá e eu aqui – Iaiá // Her up there and me down here, iaiá
Ai, ai, ai // Ai ai ai
Não era assim que meu bem chorava  (2x) // That’s not how my darling cried
(repeat)

Não precisa pedir, que eu vou dar // You don’t need to ask, I’ll give
Dinheiro não tenho mas vou roubar (sambar) // I don’t have money but I’ll steal it
(repeat)

Carreiro olha a canga do boi //  Driver, look at the ox’s yoke
Carreiro olha a canga do boi // Driver, look at the ox’s yoke
Toma cuidado que o luar já se foi // Be careful, cause the moonlight’s gone
Ai que o luar já se foi // Ai, cause the moonlight’s gone
Ai que o luar já se foi // Ai, cause the moonlight’s gone

__(extra verses added for the recording) __

O castelo é coisa a toa // The castle is nothing
Entretanto isso não tira, Iaiá // But that doesn’t matter(?), iaiá
Ai, ai, ai
É lá que a brisa respira (2x) // It’s up there that the breeze breathes
(repeat)

Não precisa pedir, que eu vou dar // You don’t need to ask, I’ll give
Dinheiro não tenho mas vou roubar (sambar) // I don’t have money but I’ll steal it
(repeat)

Carreiro olha a canga do boi //  Driver, look at the ox’s yoke
Carreiro olha a canga do boi // Driver, look at the ox’s yoke
Toma cuidado que o luar já se foi // Be careful, cause the moonlight’s gone
Ai que o luar já se foi // Ai, cause the moonlight’s gone
Ai que o luar já se foi // Ai, cause the moonlight’s gone

Quem são eles? // Who are they?
Quem são eles? // Who are they?
Diga lá e não se avexe – Iayá // Go ahead and say it, and don’t get flustered, iaiá
Ai, ai, ai
São peixinhos de escabeche (2x)// They’re little pickled fish
(repeat)

Não precisa pedir que eu vou dar //You don’t need to ask, I’ll give
O resto do caso pra que cantar (2x) // The rest of the case – why sing it?
O melhor do luar já se foi // The best of the moonlight’s gone
O melhor do luar já se foi // The best of the moonlight’s gone
Entre menina que aqui estão de horror // Come in girl, cause they’re in a frenzy here (?)
Ai, que aqui estão de horror // Ai, they’re in a frenzy
Ai, que aqui estão de horror // Ai, they’re in a frenzy

— Commentary —

Sinhô rei do samba
In 1920, José Barbosa da Silva — known by his nickname “Sinhô” — was dubbed the “King of Samba” by the newspaper Correio da Manhã. And the title stuck.
Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 11.07.19 AM
February 1920 – Correio da Manhã crowns Sinhô the “king of carioca samba”. Sinhô had three major Carnival hits that year.

In 1917, Sinhô (José Barbosa da Silva, 8 September 1888 – 4 August 1930) learned a rather bitter lesson about the money that could be made with Carnival songs when he witnessed the unprecedented commercial success of Donga’s “Pelo Telefone.” The song is widely and erroneously cited as being Brazil’s “first recorded samba.” It’s actually a maxixe, and there were at least 23 recorded  “sambas” released prior to 1916; nevertheless, it was the first recorded “samba” to achieve such resounding commercial success, and to demonstrate to composers that composing songs for Carnival could be a lucrative business. The release of “Pelo Telefone” hence opened the era of Carnival compositions.

The success of “Pelo Telefone” didn’t sit well with Sinhô because the song had in fact been a collaborative effort, based on a popular folk song, in which he had played a significant role, along with others who frequented the famed home of Tia Ciata, the most legendary of the tias baianas (Bahian aunties) who opened their homes around Praça Onze to this gaggle of pioneering composers. But when Donga registered the song, he listed only himself and Mauro de Almeida as the songwriters.

Sinhô’s frustration at being erased from the official history and rights to royalties of “Pelo Telefone” helped spark the inspiration for his first major success, “Quem são eles (a Bahia é boa terra),” first recorded by Bahiano and back-up singers at Casa Edison in Rio de Janeiro.  And this song set off the first major duel in the annals of Brazilian popular music.

carro-alegorico-antigo-fenianos-1923
Fenianos float, Carnival 1923.

Sinhô had initially named the song “A Bahia é Boa Terra,” but the samba ended up taking the name of a Carnival bloco (street parade group) that he was helping to lead that year, Quem são eles, which was associated with one of the city’s three major Carnival societies, Os Fenianos. The provocation “quem são eles” (who are they), then, originally referred to that club’s two principal rivals in Rio,  Democráticos and Tenentes do Diabo. The “castle” mentioned in the song was the name for the Democráticos headquarters, and their members were called carapicus, a kind of fish, hence the “pickled fish” reference. (The Fenianos were called cats, which presumably devour pickled fish.) I assume the observation “it’s up there that the breeze breathes” must be some veiled insult against the rival Carnival club.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 9.38.53 AM
19 January 1921 – Jornal “O Imparcial” announcing the presence of Rio’s three most popular Carnival clubs at a great “battle of confetti” in Vila Isabel

On its surface, in its references to Bahia, the song lampooned an ongoing political skirmish between Bahian politicians Rui Barbosa and J.J. Seabra.  But Sinhô took advantage of the theme to incorporate what were easily interpreted as digs at Bahia and Bahians in general, honing his storied knack for double entendre. His teasing wasn’t taken lightly: tias baianas like Tia Ciata were essential to the emergence of Rio’s samba. They provided the space for musical creation mixed with Afro-Brazilian religious practices that incubated carioca samba in its earliest manifestations. And many of the composers who hung out there – most notably João da Baiana and Donga – were sons of Bahian migrants. Bahia was deeply woven into their upbringing and musical influences. Sinhô  wasn’t born to Bahians, but he was still a musical progeny of this group, having spent a good chunk of his early days as a musician at the homes of tias baianas. So when he released this samba that started out “Bahia is a good land/ her up there, me down here,” that clan not only took offense, but also considered it something of a betrayal by a composer who’d suddenly gotten a bit too big for his britches.

Pixinguinha_João da Baiana_DongaThey were affronted by “I don’t have money/ but I’ll steal it,” interpreting it as a message that Bahians couldn’t be trusted. (Sinhô’s biographer Edgar de Alencar published “sambar” in the place of “roubar,” steal, as the original lyrics. I’m not sure about that.) And they were likely extra galled by the smashing success of the song, which drowned out their 1918 release “O Malhador,” (registered to Donga and Pixinguinha, and also recorded by Bahiano), which had been Donga’s attempt to repeat the success of the prior year’s “Pelo Telefone.”

Funnily enough, in spite of its light mockery, the samba ultimately fit nicely into the style of sambas written by the “Bahian wing” of composers, with its syncopation; the “ai ai ai” that recalls the second part of “Pelo Telefone” (ai, ai, ai, deixa as mágoas para trás, o rapaz), and its evocation of rural scenes like the reference to the ox-cart driver.  Iaiá and ioiô were terms with origins among slaves referring to masters’ sons (ioiô) and daughters (iaiá); the terms eventually evolved into terms of endearment used among slaves or freed slaves, or their offspring. As noted above, the original lyrics ended after the first “o luar já se foi.”  But as was common practice those days, someone — maybe Sinhô, maybe Bahiano, maybe both  — added the extra verses for the recording.

Sensitive to issues of rights and royalties after the case of “Pelo Telefone,” Sinhô ordered a custom stamp made to mark the authorized scores, thereby also marking the start of an era when royalties began to be taken more seriously – the advent of the professionalization of the popular composer.

“Quem são eles” quickly inspired four new compositions in retort: “Não és tão falado assim” (You’re not so widely spoken of), by Hilário Jovino Ferreira, a native of Pernambuco who had grown up and made his name in Bahia and moved at the end of the 19th century to Rio de Janeiro (more on him, an important Carnival booster, here); “Fica calmo que aparece,” by Donga; “Já te digo,” by Pixinguinha and his brother China; and “Entregue o samba aos seus donos,” also by Hilário Jovino, who asserted in the lyrics that Bahians were the true owners of sambas, while Sinhô was just a lame sell-out. What’s more, this song also decried Sinhô’s plagiarism, in this case specifically regarding Sinhô’s latest hit, another rib aimed at Bahian politician Rui Barbosa, “Fala meu louro” (aka “Papagaio louro”). Hilário published the lyrics together with a note denouncing Sinhô for “the most brazen plagiarism in the history of sambistas” and calling on all “sambistas” (with sambistas still published in quotation marks in 1920) to write sambas on this theme:

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 10.42.38 AM.pngEntregue o samba a seus donos // Turn samba over to its owners
É chegada a ocasião // The time has come
Lá no Norte não fizemos // Up north we didn’t make
Do pandeiro profissão // A profession of the pandeiro
Falsos filhos da Bahia // Phony sons of Bahia
Que nunca passaram lá // Who’ve never even been there
Que não comeram pimenta // Never eaten chili sauce
Na moqueca e vatapá // In moqueca and vatapá
Mandioca mais se presta //Manioc is the good stuff
Muito mais que a tapioca //Much more than tapioca
Na Bahia não tem mais coco? //There’s no more coconut in Bahia?
É plágio de um carioca //That’s plagiarism by a carioca

Neither of Hilário Jovino’s responses were recorded, and today there’s unfortunately no record of “Não és tão falado assim” – lyrics or melody. Pixinguinha recorded an instrumental version of Donga’s “Fica calmo que aparece,” and the banal lyrics on the score make no apparent reference to the spat (“Keep calm, love will appear/ Passion is something that’s never forgotten”), suggesting these were merely the “official” lyrics, and that the song likely had an alternative set of spicier lyrics that have since been lost.

The most beautiful (by my judgment) and enduring of these four responses — “Já te digo” (also recorded by the fixture Bahiano for Casa Edison) — was also the most pointed roast of Sinhô, taking aim at his looks (“he’s tall/skinny/ugly, missing teeth”); his extravagant manner of dressing (“he suffered to use a stiff standing collar”); his short-lived flute-playing days (“When he used to play flute/ What agony!”), and his general  dandy persona (“today he’s all dapper / on the dime of the suckers of Rio de Janeiro”):

“Já te digo” by Pixinguinha and China (1919)

__

Um sou eu, e o outro não sei quem é // One is me, I don’t know who the other one is
Um sou eu, e o outro não sei quem é // One is me, I don’t know who the other one is
Ele sofreu pra usar colarinho em pé // He suffered to use a stiff standing collar (?)
Ele sofreu pra usar colarinho em pé// He suffered to use a stiff standing collar

Vocês não sabem quem é ele, pois eu vos digo // You all don’t know who he is, well I’ll tell you
Vocês não sabem quem é ele, pois eu vos digo // You all don’t know who he is, well I’ll tell you
Ele é um cabra muito feio, que fala sem receio // He’s a real ugly guy, who says whatever he wants
Não tem medo de perigo // Has no fear of danger
Ele é um cabra muito feio, que fala sem receio // He’s a real ugly guy who says whatever he wants
Não tem medo de perigo // Has no fear of danger

Um sou eu, e o outro não sei quem é //One is me, I don’t know who the other one is
Um sou eu, e o outro não sei quem é //One is me, I don’t know who the other one is
Ele sofreu pra usar colarinho em pé // He suffered to use a stiff standing collar
Ele sofreu pra usar colarinho em pé// He suffered to use a stiff standing collar

Ele é alto, magro e feio // He’s tall, skinny and ugly
É desdentado // He’s missing teeth
Ele é alto, magro e feio // He’s tall, skinny and ugly
É desdentado // He’s missing teeth
Ele fala do mundo inteiro // He bad-mouths everyone
E já está avacalhado no Rio de Janeiro // And is already scorned around Rio
Ele fala do mundo inteiro // He bad-mouths everyone
E já está avacalhado no Rio de Janeiro // And is already scorned around Rio

To the dismay of Sinhô’s detractors, the public really didn’t care about the feud or the accusations of plagiarism; they loved Sinhô’s songs, and he quickly established his place as Brazil’s most successful popular music composer of the 1920s,”teaching Brazil to like samba,” as Jairo Severiano has put it.

Just in 1920 he had three major hits, which all hid digs at his rivals: “Vou me benzer” (I’m going to get blessed/ to rid myself / of those evil eyes / they cast on me”);  the marchinha “Pé de Anjo,” a blatant copy of the French waltz “C’est pas difficile,” which took aim at Pixinguinha’s brother China, who was known for having huge feet (and which also launched Francisco Alves‘s career as a recording artist); and “Fala meu louro,” mentioned above, about Bahian Rui Barbosa’s loss in the 1919 presidential elections.

Likewise, the success of “Já te digo” propelled Pixinguinha’s career, which of course was so paramount and prolific that historian and musicologist Ary Vasconcellos famously wrote in his classic Panorama da Música Popular Brasileira, “If you have 15 volumes to talk about all Brazilian popular music, you can be sure that it’s too little.  But if you have only enough space for one word, not everything is lost; write quickly: Pixinguinha.”
_____

Main sources for this post: Uma História do Samba, vol. I, by Lira Neto; Nosso Sinhô do Samba by Edgar de Alencar; Feitiço Decente by Carlos Sandroni; and conversations with Jairo Severiano

 

 

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