A story: Stokowski, Cartola, Herminio Bello de Carvalho & Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Cartola_Herminio Bello
Cartola with Herminio Bello de Carvalho.

“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.

Heitor Villa-Lobos (right) introduces Leopold Stokowski to composer Donga. 

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. 

The S.S. Uruguay docked at Rio’s Praça Mauá in 1940. 

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.

Cartola’s “Quem me vê sorrir” was one of only 16 songs, out of 44 recorded, to make it onto the Columbia albums “Native Brazilian Music.” The albums were never released in Brazil.

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.

Drummond’s “Cartola, no moinho do mundo” (Nov. 1980)

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.


Sala de Recepção

Lyrics from “Sala de Recepção” by Cartola (early 1940s, recorded on Cartola II [1976])

Inhabited by people so simple and so poor
Who have only the sun for shelter
How can you sing, Mangueira?

(response) Well we’ll have you know we don’t desire any more
At night, the silvery moon, in silence, listens to our songs
Up atop the hill there’s a cross where we say our prayers
And we take pride in being the first champions

I say and repeat that happiness resides here
And the other schools even cry with envy of your position, my Mangueira
This reception room
Here we embrace our enemy as if he were our brother

— Interpretation —

Cartola recording his second album in 1976, with his daughter Regina.
Cartola recording his second album in 1976, with his daughter Regina.

In this recent post, I wrote about Paulo da Portela and his falling out with the samba school he’d helped to found in Oswaldo Cruz. Part of this falling out had to do with Paulo’s close friendship with sambistas from downtown Rio, Heitor dos Prazeres and Cartola. Cartola was one of the founders of the rival Mangueira samba school. In 1941, Paulo da Portela wanted to include Cartola and Heitor in the Portela Carnival parade, since the three had just arrived together from São Paulo. This provoked a nasty fight that caused Paulo da Portela to abandon the school.

Cartola, 1940s
Cartola, 1940s

When Paulo da Portela left Portela in 1941, he was taken in by his friends in Mangueira (though he ended up joining the small samba school Lira de Amor, in Bento Ribeiro, near Oswaldo Cruz). Soon after, Cartola composed this samba, which makes reference to the school’s warm reception of Paulo da Portela – “we embrace our enemy as if he were our brother.” The “pride in being the first champions” is because Mangueira won the first Carnival parade competition, sponsored by the newspaper Mundo Sportivo,  in 1932. (Portela, with a samba composed by Paulo’s friend Heitor dos Prazeres, had won the first samba competition, in January 1929, and went on to win the first city-sponsored parade competition, in 1935.)

Lyrics in Portuguese
Habitada por gente simples e tão pobre
Que só tem o sol que a todos cobre
Como podes, mangueira, cantar?

Pois então saiba que não desejamos mais nada
A noite, a lua prateada
Silenciosa, ouve as nossas canções

Tem lá no alto um cruzeiro
Onde fazemos nossas orações
E temos orgulho de ser os primeiros campeões

Eu digo e afirmo que a felicidade aqui mora
E as outras escolas até choram
Invejando a tua posição

Minha mangueira essa sala de recepção
Aqui se abraça inimigo
Como se fosse irmão

Main source: Escolas de Samba do Rio de Janeiro, by Sérgio Cabral (2011)

Diz que fui por aí

Lyrics from “Diz que fui por aí” by Zé Kéti and Hortêncio Rocha (1964)

If anyone asks after me, tell them I went out
Carrying my guitar under my arm
On any corner, I’ll stop
At any little bar, I’ll go in
And if there’s reason – that’s another samba I’ll compose
If they want to know if I’ll come back, tell them yes
But only after this saudade leaves me

I’ve got a guitar to keep me company,
I’ve got lots of friends, I’m popular
I’ve got the madrugada as my companion
This saudade hurts, and eats away at my heart
I’m in the city, I’m in the favela,
I’m around, always thinking of her.

— Interpretation —

Zé Kéti in front of the Lapa Arches in Rio.
Zé Kéti in front of the Lapa Arches in Rio.

ze_kéti_tocando fosforoIf he were alive, today would be Zé Kéti’s 93rd birthday. Kéti’s 1964 samba “Diz que fui por aí” proved such a classic that it’s still one of the most common songs to hear at rodas de samba in Rio de Janeiro these days; however — maybe in part as a legacy of Kéti’s unassuming personality — it’s not widely known the song is his. Nara Leão recorded “Diz que fui por aí” on her 1964 album NaraIt was the first of a number of Kéti’s songs that Nara — known as the “muse of bossa nova” (a role she ended up vehemently rejecting) — would record, thus symbolically uniting Rio’s bossa nova and MPB circles with sambistas and sambas from the morro. On the same album, Nara also recorded Cartola‘s “A Sorrir” and Nelson Cavaquinho‘s “Luz negra.”

I’ve left saudade in Portuguese, along with madrugada, which essentially translates as something between the late late night and the “wee hours” of the morning. For more on Zé Kéti, see this post: “A Voz do Morro” and “Acender as Velas.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Se alguém perguntar por mim
Diz que fui por aí
Levando o violão debaixo do braço

Em qualquer esquina eu paro
Em qualquer botequim eu entro
Se houver motivo
É mais um samba que eu faço

Se quiserem saber se eu volto
Diga que sim
Mas só depois que a saudade se afastar de mim

Tenho um violão para me acompanhar
Tenho muitos amigos, eu sou popular
Tenho a madrugada como companheira

A saudade me doi, o meu peito me roi
Eu estou na cidade, eu estou na favela
Eu estou por aí
Sempre pensando nela