Lyrics from “Cordas de aço” by Cartola; first recorded on Cartola II (1976)
Ah, essas cordas de aço // Ah, these steel strings
Este minúsculo braço // This minuscule arm*
Do violão que os dedos meus acariciam // Of the guitar that my fingers caress
Ah, este bojo perfeito // Ah, this perfect body
Que trago junto ao meu peito // That I carry close to my heart
Só você violão // Only you, guitar
Compreende porque perdi toda alegria // Truly understand why I lost all of my joy
E no entanto meu pinho // And nevertheless, my pine
Pode crer, eu adivinho // You can believe, I divine:
Aquela mulher // That woman
Até hoje está nos esperando // To this day is waiting for us
Solte o teu som da madeira // Let your song out of that wood
Eu você e a companheira // You and I and our lady
À madrugada iremos pra casa cantando // Will go back home singing at dawn
— Commentary —
Cartola‘s fellow Mangueirense composer Nelson Sargento famously pronounced: “Cartola didn’t really exist; he was a dream we had,” (Cartola não existiu, foi um sonho que a gente teve) and sambas like this one lend credence to his claim. Cartola first recorded this beautiful homage to the guitar and the companionship of a musical instrument on his second LP, Cartola II (1976). Luiz Melodia (1988), Beth Carvalho (1991), Gal Costa (1992), and Ney Matogrosso (2002), among others, went on to record the song.
*Arm in Portuguese is used for the part of the guitar that is called the neck in English.
Lyrics from “Tempos idos” by Cartola and Carlos Cachaça (1961)
Os tempos idos// Times long past
Nunca esquecidos // Never forgotten
Trazem saudades ao recordar // Fill me with saudades as I remember
É com tristeza que eu relembro // It’s with sorrow that I reminisce about
Coisas remotas que não vêm mais // Long ago affairs that won’t return
Uma escola na Praça Onze // A school in Praça Onze
Testemunha ocular // An eye witness…
E perto dela uma balança// And near it, a scale
Onde os malandros iam sambar // Where the malandros would dance samba
Depois, aos poucos, o nosso samba // Then, little by little, our samba –
Sem sentirmos se aprimorou // without our noticing – grew refined
Pelos salões da sociedade // Into society’s ballrooms
Sem cerimônia ele entrou // Without pomp, it entered
Já não pertence mais à Praça // It doesn’t belong to the Praça anymore
Já não é mais samba de terreiro // It’s no longer samba de terreiro
Vitorioso ele partiu para o estrangeiro // Victorious, it departed for abroad
E muito bem representado // And very well represented
Por inspiração de geniais artistas // By the inspiration of brilliant artists
O nosso samba, humilde samba // Our samba – humble samba –
Foi de conquistas em conquistas // Went from one triumph to another
Conseguiu penetrar no Municipal // Was even able to penetrate the Municipal (Theatre)
Depois de percorrer todo o universo // And after crossing the entire universe
Com a mesma roupagem que saiu daqui // In the same trappings as it left here
Exibiu-se para a duquesa de Kent no Itamaraty // Put on a show for the Duchess of Kent in Itamarati
— Commentary —
“Um dos julgadores não devia gostar de mim ou de Cartola. Deu zero, e a contagem era 1 a 5.” [One of the judges must have had something against me or Cartola. He gave us a 0 on a scale of 1 to 5.]
— Carlos Cachaça commenting on this samba’s loss in Mangueira’s 1961 samba selection process.
This samba by Cartola and Carlos Cachaça traces a nostalgic history of the genre, contemplating the more commercial direction it had taken by the beginning of the 1960s.
The pair composed the samba for Carnaval 1961, at the urging of some of Mangueira’s head honchos, who wanted Cartola more involved with the school he’d helped to found decades earlier. But the song lost in the school’s Carnaval samba selection to an easily forgotten samba with a faster beat. Disheartened, Cartola swore off composing sambas-de-enredo for good.
At the time, Cartola was renewing his ties with Mangueira after having all but vanished from the morroand Rio de Janeiro’s samba scene in the late 1940s and early ’50s. A succession of misfortunes had led him away from Mangueira: In 1946, at 38, he had a life-threatening case of meningitis, which left him incapacitated for about a year (and inspired his samba “Deus, grande deus“); shortly after, he lost his wife Deolinda. He moved away from Mangueira to Caju with a stormy new love interest, Donária, leaving even his guitar behind. He only made his way back to his old neighborhood when he began his best-known romance, with Zica, whom he’d grown up with in Mangueira — and who was Carlos Cachaça’s wife’s sister.
Meanwhile, in the decades that followed Mangueira’s founding in 1928, samba had grown increasingly popular as a national genre, in step with the quick expansion of the radio industry in Brazil. Through the voices of radio stars like Francisco Alves and Mario Reis, sambas composed in Rio’s poorest morros became popular among middle-class listeners in Rio’s upscale Zona Sul and across Brazil (see “Divina dama” and “Perdão meu bem,” both Cartola, below). Almost all financial returns, unsurprisingly, went to these radio crooners and industry insiders who made dubious deals to purchase the sambas; the composers continued to live in deep poverty as their songs rippled over radio waves across the vast country. One of several odd jobs Cartola kept to earn a meager living was as a painter, which is why he wore the famous hat responsible for his nickname.
Noel Rosa was also a crucial figure in bringing elements of samba from the morros to Rio’s more upscale neighborhoods. And with the increasing popularity of the genre among well-heeled Brazilians, more middle-class composers like Ary Barroso, João de Barro, Lamartine Babo, Dorival Caymmi and Assis Valente emerged into the samba spotlight, and artists like Carmen Miranda popularized their sambas abroad. This further reduced the space for composers from Rio’s samba seedbeds.
Marginalized in this regard in the ascension of the genre they’d helped create, sambistas do morro also quickly lost any say in the same samba schools they had founded. When the municipal government of Rio de Janeiro included the samba schools’ Carnaval parades on its official calendar in 1935, it set in motion a process that gradually took the spirited communal parade in a dramatically direction from its origins in Praça Onze. In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, the desfile became increasingly commercial, with a greater focus on promoting the artists of each schools’ floats and ultimately the schools’ financiers, rather than local samba composers.
What’s more, in the early ’40s, Praça Onze — where the first samba school displays took place in the late 1920s and early ’30s, and where malandro sambistas would hold dance-offs on the scale Cartola mentions in this song, a weigh station for animal-traction vehicles — was destroyed to make way for an expansion of Avenida Presidente Vargas, inaugurated in 1944.
The “school at Praça Onze” that Cartola mentions in the song is GRES Estácio de Sá, which started out as Deixa Falar. It’s widely recognized as Rio’s pioneer samba school, whose sambistas modified the genre in the late 1920s to make it easier to samba and parade to – “samba de sambar do Estácio.” Ismael Silva, one of the most prominent samba composers from the school, also took credit for for the name “samba school” itself, recalling that when they founded Deixa Falar, there was a school nearby, and he said, “We’ll be the professors of samba!” While Portela was out the Central train line in distant Oswaldo Cruz, Mangueira and Deixa Falar were friendly neighbors near the praça: “We would parade on Sundays of Carnaval at Praça Onze and, on Mondays, the sambistas from Estácio would come up the morro do Mangueira; on Tuesdays, Mangueira would go down to Estácio. It was a great friendship,” Cartola recalled.
The destruction of Praça Onzewas symbolic of the fate of composers like Cartola during those years. Largely brushed aside by the music industry, they also saw their Carnaval coopted, with wealthy big-wigs running the show that had begun with ragtag Carnaval corps parading on their own. More and more attention was focused on middle-class Brazilians and tourists, and to appeal to this wider, wealthier audience, schools favored faster, noisier songs (in contrast to more traditional sambas like “Tempos idos”) – the precursors of the incredibly uptempo sambas-de-enredo of the schools today.
A more explicit musical expression of the latter phenomenon can be found in the samba “Terreno baldio” by Marimbondo:
Era um terreno baldio / Que eu mesmo capinei / Com um surdo mal feito de lata / Uma escola de samba fundei / Usei corda na avenida / No desfile principal / Esquentava a bateria / Com pedaço de jornal / A minha escola cresceu / E o terreiro hoje tem cobertura / Quem ficou pequenino fui eu / Diante da nova estrutura / Eu quem fundou a escola / Entre trancos e barrancos / Na galeria de sócios / No lugar do meu nome tem um branco / E vou contar a minha mágoa, minha minha dor / Fui barrado na porta da escola que sou fundador (It was an unused plot of land/ That I myself cleared/ And with a crude surdo made from a can/ Founded a samba school/I paraded in the avenue/ in the main parade/ I warmed up the battery/ With a piece of newspaper/ My school grew/ And the terreiro today has a roof/ I´m the one who grew smaller/ Before that new structure/ I who found (sic) the school/ by fits and starts/ In the gallery of associates/ There’s a blank space where my name should be/ And I´ll tell you my wound, my pain / I was barred at the door of the samba school that I founded).
As “Tempos idos” makes reference to, Portela was Carnaval champion in 1959, and representatives of the school were indeed invited to Itamaraty, Brazil’s foreign ministry, to perform samba for the Duchess of Kent.
Cartola and Carlos Cachaça adopted an almost admiring tone in parts of this song, as if they were slightly proud of samba’s success, but much more deeply saddened by the route and costs of that success. This was the context in which Cartola made a final attempt, with Carlos Cachaça, at composing a samba-de-enredo for his school.
Shortly after, Cartola opened the restaurant Zicartola together with Zica. Though it only functioned from 1963 to 1965, it immediately became a bastion for sambistas of Cartola’s stock, and inspired cultural gatherings and groups like “A Voz do Morro” which were in part responsible for a ressurgence in popularity of samba do morro.
More explanations of terms in the song below:
Praça Onze and its terreiros – as this post mentions – served as the birthplace of carioca samba. The homes in neighborhoods surrounding the praça comprised a large community Afro-Brazilians who had come from Bahia after the end of slavery in 1888, along with Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Heitor dos Prazeres famously said, “Praça Onze was a miniature of Africa,” which led many to refer to the region as Rio’s “Little Africa.” The denomination of Little Africa came to refer to the area from Praça Onze (Cidade Nova) to modern-day Praça Mauá.
Terreiros Terreiro refers to the large patio-like spaces – usually with earthen floors – in these homes where composers would spend sometimes days on end rehearsing their latest sambas and experimenting with new compositions. Terreiro also refers to the similarly characterized space for Afro-Brazilian religious rituals. In the beginning, samba and macumba were almost inextricably linked. One of Carlos Cachaça’s sambas from the late 1920s went, “Eu fui a um samba na casa de Tia Fé/ de samba virou macumba/de macumba candomblé” (I went to a samba at Tia Fé’s/from samba it turned into macumba/ from macumba, candomblé). Originally, samba schools had Orixás that were considered their protectors, which their particular beats paid salute to: Mangueira was Oxóssi, for example, and Salgueiro, Xangô.
In the area surrounding Praça Onze, composers gathered in the terreiros in homes of several Bahian women who were immortalized in the samba world as the tias baianas (Bahian aunties), most famously Tia Ciata. The mixture of musical influences they played around with there — which included deeply African percussion and song alongside melodic and harmonic influences of contemporary European French and Italian composition — came together as samba carioca. (These tias included the mothers of two of Rio’s earliest samba composers: Tia Amélia do Aragão, mother of Donga, and Tia Perciliana de Santo Amaro, mother of João da Baiana.)
Tellingly, as samba and carnaval became more of a lucrative industry, the terreiros took on a more middle-class, secular denomination: “quadras,” or courts.
Scale The scale the song refers to was one of ten installed in the city in response to a 1901 decree that aimed to control overweight animal-drawn carriages. The scale in Praça Onze became better known for serving as a stage for samba competitions, and its name might have provided some symbolic meaning as well, as it was used to “weigh” who was better in their batucada and swing.
Main sources for this post: Cartola: os tempos idos by Marilia T. Barboza; Zicartola, by Mauricio Barros de Castro; Dicionário da História Social do Samba by Nei Lopes and Luiz Antonio Simas; and Uma história de música popular brasileira, by Jairo Severiano.
“Estou encantado e sinto-me feliz de vir ao Rio.”
(I’m enchanted and feel happy about coming to Rio.) – Leopold Stokowski’s only public statement, upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro in 1940.
In the summer of 1940, as Hitler expanded his power over much of western Europe, the Roosevelt administration anxiously invested in the United States’ “good neighbor policy”- first announced in Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural speech – meant to deter South American countries from potentially aligning with the Axis powers.
This policy included expanded cultural exchange with southern neighbors, and one of the first U.S. goodwill ambassadors to Brazil – before the more famous visits of Walt Disney (1941) and Orson Welles (1942) – was the star conductor Leopold Stokowski. Stokowski had been tremendously popular as conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, and earned more widespread admiration through his conducting of popular projects such as Disney’s recently released Fantasia.
Rio de Janeiro was Stokowski’s first stop on his 1940 summer tour of South America with his All American Youth Orchestra and technicians from Columbia Records, traveling on the ocean liner S.S. Uruguay. Stokowski, already enamored with Brazilian music for decades, asked composer Heitor Villa-Lobos to help him find examples of the “most legitimate Brazilian popular music” to record on a Columbia album during his time docked in Rio’s harbor.
Forty songs were recorded in a less than ideal makeshift studio on the Uruguay. For most of the recordings, with some exceptions, Villa-Lobos presented semiprofessional samba composers like Cartola, Donga, Zé Espinguela and Zé da Zilda, who usually sold their compositions to successful recording artists and remained out of the limelight – and mostly in deep poverty – themselves.
Of the forty songs recorded, just sixteen made it onto the box set Native Brazilian Music, including Cartola’s “Quem me vê sorrir.”
Unfortunately for Cartola and other composers who recorded, Columbia Records marketed the album in the United States as Brazilian “folklore,” relegating the artists to near anonymity; tellingly, most of the composers’ names are misspelled or totally missing from the album. Few received compensation for their recordings, and none received royalties.
A year and a half after the box set was released, Cartola received a check that would cover just about three lousy packs of cigarettes.
But the recording, with the help of Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Herminio Bello de Carvalho, was responsible for what was perhaps one of Cartola’s final moments of joy.
On 27 November 1980, Cartola, sick with cancer, overcome with pain, had less than a week left to live. That morning, Herminio Bello de Carvalho went to the hospital with Jornal do Brasil, featuring a story by the renowned and beloved poet and writer Carlos Drummond de Andrade: “Cartola no moinho do mundo” (“Cartola in the the mill of the world,” a play on the title of Cartola’s classic “O mundo é um moinho”).
Herminio read Drummond’s praiseful words for Cartola: “By recording [Cartola’s] samba “Quem me vê sorrir” (with Carlos Cachaça), the maestro Leopold Stokowski didn’t do Cartola any favors; he merely recognized just how much musical inventiveness can be found in the most humble tiers of our population.”
After finishing the entire story, Herminio cut it out and taped it on the wall next to Cartola’s hospital bed; he recalls Cartola losing himself in a blissful, fulfilled gaze, sneaking frequent glances at the story by his side. Cartola passed away three days later.
Sources: For a more detailed account in English of Stokowski’s visit, see this post. Other sources include Os Tempos Idos, by Marilia T. Barboza Silva, and Hello Hello Brazil, by Bryan McCann.