Lyrics from “Vingança” by José Maria de Abreu and Francisco Matoso; recorded by Gastão Formenti (1935)
Lá na beira do roçado // Out at the farmland’s edge
Onde a tristeza não vem // Where sorrow doesn’t reach
Eu vivia sossegado // I lived so serenely
Com a viola do meu lado // With my viola by my side
Mais feliz do que ninguém // Happier than anyone
Numa festa no arraiá // At a party, at the fairgrounds
Vi dois óio (olhos) me oiá (olhar) // I saw two eyes gazing at me
Decidi no improviso // I made an improvised move
Ela me deu um sorriso // She gave me a smile
E comigo foi morá // And went to live with me
Nunca mais fui cantadô (cantador) // Nevermore was I a troubadour
E a viola descansô (descansou) // And my viola reposed
Eu vivia pra caboca (cabocla) // I lived for the cabocla
Eu vivia pra caboca // I lived for the cabocla
Só pensava em meu amô (amor) // I thought only of my love
Nunca fui feliz assim // I’ve never been so happy
Eu mesmo disse pra mim // I said to myself
Pensei que a felicidade // I thought this happiness
Pensei que a felicidade // I thought this happiness
Não pudesse tê (ter) um fim // Could never end
Mas um dia a marvada (malvada) // But one day the shrew
Foi-se embora e me esqueceu // Ran off and forgot me
Com um caboco decidido // With a determined caboclo
Juca Antônio, um conhecido // Juca Antônio, a well-known
cantadô mais do que eu // Troubadour, more than I
Já cansado de chorá // Already tired of crying
Eu saí a procurá // I went out in search of
A caboca que um dia // The cabocla that one day
Levô (levou) minha alegria // Took my joy away
E eu jurei de me vingá // And I swore I’d take revenge
Numa festa fui cantá// I went to sing at a fair
E a mulata tava lá // And the mulata was there
Juro por Nossa Senhora // I swear by Our Lady
Juro por Nossa Senhora // I swear by Our Lady
Que a caboca e quis matá // That I wanted to kill the cabocla
Mas fiquei sem respirá// But I was left breathless
Quando vi ela dançá// When I saw her dancing
Ela tava tão bonita // She was so lovely
Ela tava tão bonita // She was so lovely
Que esqueci de me vingá // That I forgot to take revenge
— Commentary —
In 1930, Gastão Formenti, alongside Carmen Miranda, became the first Brazilian singer to sign a radio contract. Electrical recording technology was introduced in Brazil in 1927, and at the dawn of the 1930s the national radio and recording industries were poised for a boom. Formenti became one of the early stars of that boom. He was a tremendously popular romantic singer that decade, specializing in “melancholy waltzes and nostalgic songs,” according to a short profile in the review Phono-Arte, the first Brazilian publication focused on music and the recording industry, in print from 1928-’31.
Formenti was born to Italian immigrants in 1894 in the interior of São Paulo, and in this song he employs the caipira (hillbilly) accent associated with that region and the countryside in general. This style, smattered with more Italian-immigrant dialect, became famous a few decades later in sambas by another rural-São-Paulo-born son of Italians, Adoniran Barbosa. I’ve italicized the words/word endings that are sung this way: “oiá” instead of “olhar”; “marvada” instead of “malvada,” for instance. Cabocla technically means someone of mixed-blood, with indigenous heritage, but also came to be used just to refer to country folk, as seems to be the case in this song.
Formenti was also an accomplished painter (as the photo above highlights), and after 1941 he began painting more and singing less, exhibiting some of his works in museums in Brazil and abroad.
José Maria Abreu and Francisco Matoso together composed dozens of tremendously popular romantic songs in the 1930s, including one of Brazil’s — and Francisco Alves‘s — all-time favorites, “Boa Noite Amor.” Such slow waltzes and romantic ballads reigned in Brazil in the 1930s; in the ’40s, they were displaced by the more easily danced samba-canção.
Lyrics from “Viena fica na 28 de Setembro” by Aldir Blanc and João Bosco (1982)
Morre a luz da noite // The evening’s light dies
O porre acende pra me iluminar // The liquor lights up to illuminate me
Numa outra cena…// In another scene…
Zune o vento e valsam os oitis // The wind howls and the oiti trees waltz
No velho boulevard // On the old boulevard
Bosques de viena! // The Vienna Woods!
Escrevo carta a uma desconhecida // I write a letter to some unknown woman
Com quem tive um flerte, um anjo azul…// With whom I had a little dalliance, a blue angel
Pobres balconistas de paquete // Poor saleswomen on the rag
de ar infeliz // with an air of discontentment
São novas Bovarys…// Are new Bovarys
Já perdi o expresso do oriente // I’ve missed the Orient Express
Onde sempre sou // Where I’m always
Vítima e assassino… // Victim and assassin
Tomo a carruagem e o cocheiro // I take a coach and the coachman
De tabela dois // On Table 2 (late-night fare)
Diz que é vascaíno… // Says he’s vascaíno
Ah, triste figura, don quixote // Ah, sorry character, Don Quixote
Quer mais um traçado // After another quest
– cadê o sancho? // — Where’s Sancho?
Dá pro santo, bebe, e o passado // He gives a little to the saint, drinks, and the past
Volta a desfilar // comes marching back
Pierrô de marcha-rancho: // Pierrot of a marcha-rancho:
Com as bronca do Ary Barroso, sem elas… // With Ary Barroso’s rebukes, without them
Com a bossa do Ciro Monteiro, sem ela… // With Ciro Monteiro’s bossa , without it
Com o copo cheio de Vinícius, sem ele…// With Vinicius’s full glass, without it
Com nervos de aço Lupicinio, sem eles…// With Lupicínio’s “nervos de aço,” without them
Com as mãos do Antonio Maria, sem elas…// With Antonio Maria’s hands, without them
Com a voz do Lamartine Babo, sem ela… // With Lamartine Babo’s voice, without it
Com a rosa Dolores Duran, sem ela…// With the rose Dolores Duran, without her
Com a majestade da Elis, sem ela…// With the majesty of Elis, without her
Lyrics from “Tempos do Onça e da Fera (Quarador)” by Aldir Blanc and João Bosco (1977)
Saindo pro trabalho de manhã // Leaving for work in the morning
o avô vestia o sol do quarador // The grandfather wore the sun of the quarador (bleaching ground)
tecido em goiabeiras, sabiás // woven in guava trees, song-thrushes
cigarras, vira-latas e um amor // cicadas, mutts, and a love
E o amor ia ao portão pra dar adeus // And the love would go to the gate to say goodbye
de pano na cabeça, espanador… // With a headscarf on, a feather duster…
Os netos.. o quintal… Vila Isabel // The grandchildren… the yard.. Vila Isabel
Todo o Brasil era sol, quarador // All of Brazil was sun, quarador
Hoje, acordei depois do meio-dia // Today I woke up after noon
chovia, passei mal no elevador // It was raining; I felt sick in the elevator
ouvi na rua as garras do Metrô // I heard the metro’s talons on the street below
O avô morreu // The grandfather died
Mudou Vila Isabel ou mudei eu? // Did Vila Isabel change or did I?
Tá em falta o honesto sol do quarador // We’re missing that honest sun of the quarador
— Commentary —
Todo mundo é carioca. Mas Aldir Blanc é carioca mesmo.
Aldir Blanc was born in Estácio — one of Rio de Janeiro’s neighborhoods known as the “cradle of samba” — in 1946. When he was six*, his family moved to Vila Isabel (another “cradle of samba”) to a house on Rua dos Artistas. The yard of the new home provided a perfect natural playground for a young child, with its guava, orange and banana trees. These trees, and the sounds associated with them – like cicadas and song-thrushes (sabiás, the Brazilian national bird) – became an indelible part of the imagery of mid-19th-century Vila Isabel that Aldir passes on through his songs, poetry, and stories (crônicas). Aldir weaves together the scenery, sounds, and slang from the era, elegantly recreating Rio’s Zona Norte of his childhood.
Vila Isabel was one of Rio de Janeiro’s first planned neighborhoods, laid out by the abolitionist Barão de Drummond in the early 1870s. (Drummond is better known for having created Brazil’s widely popular, albeit illegal, animal-based gambling game, Jogo do Bicho, to promote his new zoo in Vila Isabel.) The thoroughfare, named for the date in 1871 that Princesa Isabel decreed the Law of Free Birth, earned the distinguished designation of “boulevard” because it was most painstakingly modeled after Parisian boulevards. In the song, the store clerks on the boulevard, like their French forebear Madame Bovary, exude disappointment with their monotonous lives; nearby, oiti trees waltz, as if to Strauss’s famous “Tales from the Vienna Woods.” While Boulevard 28 de Setembro was lined with pau-ferro (“iron wood trees”) in 1910, oiti is another favorite native tree for urban arborization that was planted around Vila Isabel and surrounding Zona Norte neighborhoods in the beginning of the 20th century.
Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express was first released in 1934, and the “victim and assassin” line makes reference to this mystery. I imagine that with Orient Express, Aldir is referring to the tram that ran in Vila Isabel until the mid-1960s, or the bus line. Blanc, like the late-night coachman of the song, is vascaíno – a die-hard fan of Rio’s Vasco da Gama football team. To “give some to the saint” is a practice of pouring a little bit of alcohol on the ground before drinking. In this line, though in the translation it sounds as though he’s still talking about the coachman, here he actually seems (to me) to be back to talking about himself.
Closely associated with the melancholy pierrot, the marcha-rancho is a slower, more richly melodious style of Carnaval marcha that was most popular from the 1930s – 1950s. Aldir’s mention of the pierrot of a marcha-rancho sets the stage for the reminiscence that follows, a wistful tribute to a series of beloved masters of Brazilian popular music of the 20th century who had passed away over the preceding 25 years, and who were known for the characteristics he mentions: Lupicínio’s famous song “Nervos de aço,” for instance, Vinicius’s full glass of spirits, and ultimately, Elis’s overwhelming majesty. The song was composed shortly after Elis Regina’s untimely death in January 1982, which had left Aldir stunned. The two had been devoted musical partners, but they’d recently had a falling out, of sorts. Aldir laments that he hadn’t properly gotten the chance to reconcile.
“Tempos do Onça e da Fera”
“Nos tempos do Onça” (in the days of the Jaguar) is an old-fashioned carioca way of saying a long, long time ago. The saying derived from references to the Portuguese administrator of Rio de Janeiro from 1725 – 1732, Luís Vaia Monteiro. Monteiro’s harsh, irascible nature earned him the nickname of the “onça,” or jaguar.
The quarador — also known as quaradouro or cuarador — was an especially sunny plot in the yard or courtyard where clothes were laid out to dry, and is usually referred to as a drying ground or bleaching ground in English. Here Aldir recalls the quarador in his childhood home, where his dear grandfather’s shirts soaked up the “honest sun” of the olden days together with elements of the natural surroundings.
Aldir has said that by and large his lyrics and writings are built of the recollections of the little boy who lived in Vila Isabel, where he could hearBenedito Lacerda’s flute floating in from nearby, and where he was likely first enchanted by the sambas of his predecessor in the Vila, the “poet of the Vila” Noel Rosa. To this day, when asked to choose “the most beautiful song,” he gives a few responses – all by Noel Rosa.
These two songs clearly express Aldir’s love and pining for the neighborhood as it was in his early childhood, or even before. Aldir’s grandparents helped raise him — in part because his mother suffered from debilitating depression — and his close relationship with them may have helped him develop his rich repertoire of old-time sayings and manners of speaking, along with his robust sense of nostalgia.
For more on the Aldir Blanc – João Bosco partnership, see these posts.
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.