Lyrics from “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido” by Wilson Batista and Ciro de Souza, released by Aracy de Almeida (1941)
Ele trabalha de segunda a sábado // He works from Monday to Saturday
Com muito gosto sem reclamar // With great relish without complaining
Mas no domingo ele tira o macacão // But on Sunday he strips off his coveralls
Embandeira o barracão, põe a família pra sambar // Decks out the shack and puts the family to samba
Lá no morro ele pinta o sete // Up on the hillside he cuts loose
Com ele ninguém se mete // No one messes around with him
Ali ninguém é fingido // Up there no one’s phony
Ganha-se pouco, mas é divertido // Money’s short, but it’s fun
Ele nasceu sambista // He’s a born sambista
Tem a tal veia de artista // He has that artist’s vein
Carteira de reservista // Reservist’s Card
Está legal com o senhorio…// In good standing with the authorities
Não pode ouvir pandeiro, não // He can’t hear a pandeiro
Fica cheio de dengo // He swells up with dengo*
É torcida do Flamengo // He’s a fan of Flamengo
Nasceu no Rio de Janeiro // Born in Rio de Janeiro…
— Commentary —
Here’s a brighter entry for the Sunday Songs series: no trace of domingueira, or that melancholy Sunday mood, in this classic by Wilson Batista (1913 – 1968) and Ciro de Sousa (1911-1995).
This samba is a typical example of how Batista — a consummate malandro composer best known for his dispute with Noel Rosa over the intricacies of malandragem and samba (on that, see, for example, this post on “Lenço no Pescoço“) — played to the Vargas regime’s (1930-45) demands that samba lyrics promote the sort of upstanding citizen-worker that Vargas projected as the ideal Brazilian.
Indeed, Batista even voiced support for government censorship of his sambas. As Bryan McCann has written in Hello, Hello, Brazil, Batista once commented on the Vargas-era censors within the most fascist government agency, the Department of Press and Propaganda [DIP]: “Sometimes the DIP censors my lyrics. I get upset, but then I realize they are correct. There has to be some control.”
Batista realized that composers did well to play by the regime’s rules. In 1940, Batista’s and Ataulfo Alves’s samba “Oh, Seu Oscar!” — about a hard-working man burdened by a roving wife — won a DIP-sponsored samba contest, propelling the two Afro-Brazilian composers to new heights of popularity with fans and recording artists.
But to anyone familiar with Batista’s life, it’s hard to read such statements as that above as anything but tongue-in-cheek, and the same goes for many of his verses.
In fact, this song almost line by line embodies the tensions between the two lives and lifestyles portrayed in Batista’s sambas: an upstanding worker who’s really a born sambista; a commanding family man — as long as he doesn’t hear a pandeiro.
*The Afro-descended word dengo is tough to translate but means something like doting attachment and caresses; here it can be taken as something a little more like fiery passion. Most importantly, it provides a brilliant rhyme with “torcida do Flamengo,” Rio’s most popular soccer team on the morros, of which Wilson Batista was indeed a devoted fan. (See, for example, his 1955 “Samba Rubro-Negro” — Samba for the Red & Black.)
Aracy de Almeida (1914-1988) was a tremendously popular singer in the 1930s – 50s whose recording career is central to the story of samba’s rise as Brazil’s national sound during the Vargas era. Her singular, nasally singing style was beloved by audiences and critics alike. Mário de Andrade, one of Brazil’s most prominent twentieth-century modernist intellectuals and musicologists, identified the nasal timbre as a key marker of Brazilianness, and commented that Almeida’s was “a hot, sensual nasality, of delicious timbração [timbre], deeply carioca.”
Almeida is widely known in Brazil as the “voice of Noel Rosa,” and her recording of Rosa’s “O X do Problema” became her trademark. Yet as Pedro Paulo Malta and Rodrigo Alzuguir (Batista’s biographer) point out in this excellent documentary series on Aracy de Almeida, Wilson Batista was in fact the composer Aracy recorded the most; indeed, she recorded more of Wilson’s nearly 600 compositions than any other recording artist.
Another favorite composer of Aracy’s was Ciro de Sousa, Batista’s partner on this song. As de Sousa recalled the story of this song, one day he was in the entry of Café Nice — a landmark in the history of samba and carioca culture in the 1930s and 40s — when Batista arrived, excited about a samba he’d begun on the bus. Batista sang the first verse up to “tira o macacão” (he strips off his coveralls) and Ciro added “embandeira o barracão” (decks out — literally with little flags — the shack), and the two went on composing from there. Aracy released the samba in August 1941, with the beautiful backing of Pixinguinha, on flute, and Os Diabos do Céu.
Wilson Batista, for his part, demonstrated such brilliant melodic inventiveness without training or instruments other than a matchbox that the pianist Custódio Mesquita, one of the greatest classically trained popular composers of the 20th century, nicknamed him the “Maestro Caixa de Fósforos,” the Matchbox Maestro. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, in the 1970s, Paulinho da Viola said he regarded Wilson Batista as the greatest sambista of all time. Paulinho has recorded a number of Batista’s compositions, including most famously “Chico Brito” and “Meu Mundo é Hoje.”
Cristina Buarque made “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido” the title track of her 2000 Batista tribute album. And in 2017, Hermínio Bello de Carvalho produced an album in honor of Aracy’s centenary (a project he had been working on for years), with Marcos Sacramento on vocals and Luiz Flávio Alcofra on guitar. Here is the beautiful medley from that recent album of “Engomadinho,” by Pedro Caetano and Claudionor Cruz, and “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido”:
“Na Pavuna” by Almirante and Homero Dornelas (pseudonym “Candoca da Anunciação”), released by Bando de Tangarás, January 1930
Na Pavuna // In Pavuna
Na Pavuna // In Pavuna
Tem um samba // There’s a samba
Que só dá gente “reiúna” // Thronged with troopers*
O malandro que só canta com harmonia // The malandro that only sings with harmony
Quando está metido em samba de arrelia // When he’s in the midst of the fervent samba
Faz batuque assim // Beats like so
No seu tamborim // On his tamborim
Com o seu time, enfezando o batedor // With his team, riling up the beater
E grita a negrada: // And the black folk yell
Vem pra batucada // “Come to the batucada!”
Que de samba, na Pavuna, tem doutor // Cause in Pavuna we have Doctors of Samba
Na Pavuna, tem escola para o samba // In Pavuna, there’s a school for samba
Quem não passa pela escola, não é bamba // Anyone who doesn’t pass through it’s no bamba (virtuoso of samba)
Na Pavuna, tem // In Pavuna there’s
Canjerê também // Canjerê too
Tem macumba, tem mandinga e candomblé // There’s macumba, mandinga and candomblé [all four of these refer to Afro-Brazilian religious or spiritual rituals]
Gente da Pavuna // People from Pavuna
Só nasce turuna // Are all born brutes
É por isso que lá não nasce “mulhé” // That’s why no pansies are born out there
“Lataria” by Almirante, João de Barro (Braguinha) & Noel Rosa, released by Bando de Tangarás, January 1931
Almirante: Como é, pessoá, vamos fazer uma batucada? // What you say, fellas, let’s make a batucada?
João de Barro: Vambora. Mas cadê pandeiro? // Let’s do it. But where’s the pandeiro?
Eduardo Souto: Pandeiro nada! Lata véia tá aí à beça // Forget the pandeiro! We have plenty of old cans.
João de Barro: Isso mesmo. Vamos fazê um batuque de lata véia! // Alright! Let’s have a batuque with old cans!
All: Vambora! // It’s on!
Já que não temos pandeiro // Since we don’t have a pandeiro
Pra fazer nossa batucada // To play our batucada
Todo mundo vai batendo // Everyone’s beating
Na lata velha e toda enferrujada // On an old rusty can
Pra poder formar no samba // To be able to join in the samba
Para entrar na batucada // To be part of the batucada
Fabriquei o meu pandeiro // I produced my pandeiro
Com lata de goiabada. // From a can of goiabada
Sai do meio do brinquedo, // Get out of the middle of the game
Não se meta, dona Irene, // Keep away, Dona Irene
Porque fiz o meu pandeiro // Cause I made my pandeiro
De lata de querosene // From a can of kerosine
Ando bem desinfetado, // I’m well disinfected these days
Só porque, minha menina // Just because, my gal,
O meu tamborim foi feito // My tamborim was made
De lata de creolina // From a can of creolin
João de Barro:
Escuta bem, minha gente // Listen here, folk
Repara bem pelo som // Pay close attention to the sound
E depois vocês me digam // And then tell me
Se meu instrumento [um penico] é bom // If my instrument [a bedpan] is good
“Eu Vou Pra Vila” by Noel Rosa, released by Bando de Tangarás, January 1931
Não tenho medo de bamba // I’m not afraid of bambas
Na roda de samba // In the roda de samba
Eu sou bacharel // I’m a diplomate
(Sou bacharel) // I’m a diplomate
Andando pela batucada // Drifting through the batucada
Onde eu vi gente levada // Where I saw spirited folks
Foi lá em Vila Isabel… // Was out in Vila Isabel
Na Pavuna tem turuna // In Pavuna, you’ve got brutes
Na Gamboa gente boa // In Gamboa, good people
Eu vou pra Vila // I’m going to the Vila
Aonde o samba é da coroa // Where the samba’s fit for royalty
Já saí de Piedade // I left Piedade
Já mudei de Cascadura // I moved away from Cascadura
Eu vou pra Vila // I’m on my way to the Vila
Pois quem é bom não se mistura // Cause noble folk don’t intermingle
Quando eu me formei no samba // When I graduated in samba
Recebi uma medalha // I received a medal
Eu vou pra Vila // I’m going out to the Vila
Pro samba do chapéu de palha. // For samba on a straw hat
A polícia em toda a zona // The police throughout the region
Proibiu a batucada // Banned the batucada
Eu vou pra Vila // I’m going out to the Vila
Onde a polícia é camarada // Where the police are pals
First a few notes about the translation: As far as I’ve been able to find out, gente ‘reiuna’ was slang at the time for soldiers of the military police, “reuina” being the boot that they wore. So the fact that the samba in Pavuna fills up with “gente reiuna” isn’t a good thing.
Bambais a common word in Brazilian Portuguese to refer to “virtuosos of samba,” and is believed to derive from the Kimbundu word mbamba: preeminence. Batucada, which appears throughout these songs, refers to the act of drumming, and the word batuque was used in both Portuguese colonial Africa and Brazil to refer, often derogatorily, to African drumming and accompanying dances. In the 1930s, beginning with the 1930 hit “Na Pavuna,” and “Já Andei” (Pixinguinha, João da Bahiana and Donga, 1932), batucada took on new meaning, referring to this style of samba, which incorporated the percussion instruments typical of Rio’s nascent samba schools (some pictured left).
Recording technicians in Rio’s studios — a German, in the case of “Na Pavuna” — were dubious of these instruments, believing their sounds wouldn’t transfer well to wax and would just muddy up the recording. “Na Pavuna” proved this notion unfounded, and thus paved the way for the professionalization of percussionists as recording artists in Rio de Janeiro, including tremendous talents like João da Baiana, Alcebíades Barcelos, Armando Marçal, Raul Marques, Ministro da Cuíca, and others.
And actually, according to the Bando de Tangarás’s front man, Almirante, one of the reasons the group decided to record “Na Pavuna” was because they thought it would work well with these percussion instruments in the studio, an experiment they’d been hoping to try out. Almirante recalled that their friend Homero Dornelas invited the group to his house in Vila Isabel to hear the samba he’d composed, which he beat out for them on the piano (he was a cellist); in spite of Homero’s graceless piano playing, the Tangarás saw potential in the song. Almirante composed the verses for the second part, and they brought it to record at Odeon/Parlophon.
Funnily enough, Parlophon, against Almirante’s wishes, released “Na Pavuna” not as a samba but as a “Choro de rua de Carnaval” (Carnaval street choro), demonstrating how arbitrary genre classification was at the time.
“Na Pavuna” is the first example of a recorded reference to a “school for samba.” And just as it pioneered the use of surdos, omelê, tamborim, cuícas (friction drum)and reco-recos in the recording studio, “Na Pavuna” also inspired a series of sambas about neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. Shortly after the release of the wildly popular song, Jota Machado released “Na Gamboa,” which began in a nearly identical fashion: “Na Gamboa, Na Gamboa / Tem macumba que só entra gente boa” [In Gamboa, in Gamboa, there’s a macumba where only good people get in] and J. Rezende’s samba for the Carnaval society Clube Tenentes do Diabo that year, “Canja de bode,” began “No bairro de Catumby/ Tem cigana de pagode” [In the neighborhood of Catumby/ There’re pagode gypsies], and went on to mention Largo do Machado and Leblon. Other examples include “Em Deodoro” (Mário Paulo, 1934), and “Isso Não Se Atura,” by Assis Valente, released by Carmen Miranda in 1934: “Lá em Cascadura/ isso não se atura.”
And in turn, Noel Rosa composed “Eu vou pra Vila,” his tribute to Vila Isabel, making reference in the lyrics to both “Na Pavuna” and “Na Gamboa.”
Almirante remarked years later that he was surprised when Noel presented the samba to him, saying he’d underestimated Noel’s ability to compose. Noel was just starting out in his short but inimitable musical career, and played a largely background role with Bando de Tangarás. He was the last member to join the band:
History of Bando de Tangarás In 1928, Braguinha (Carlos Alberto Ferreira Braga, alternatively known by his pseudonym João de Barro) and his talented classmates Henrique Brito and Álvaro “Alvinho” de Miranda Ribeiro had organized with several other students from Tijuca’s Colégio Batista as the Conjunto Flor do Tempo. One day Braguinha invited Almirante –so nicknamed from his time as a Navy reservist — to their rehearsal. Braguinha had been impressed by Almirante’s musical prowess when he’d seen him in Carnaval blocos, and at the rehearsal Almirante showed off his clear superiority on pandeiro (as he recalled, their pandeirista had no rhythm) and his powerful voice, with a vast repertoire of songs. They snatched him up and he quickly took on a role as leader.
When the group received an invitation for a recording audition with Odeon/Parlophon, Almirante suggested sending only their four top talents — himself, Braguinha, Alvinho and Brito — to have a better chance at commercial success. But they still wanted another stringed instrument, so they invited their shy young guitar-playing neighbor in Vila Isabel, Noel Rosa, whom Almirante had first met in 1923.
Since they’d changed the group’s make-up, they decided to change the name. Braguinha, enchanted by a tale he’d heard of Tangarás birds gathering in circles of five to dance and sing in the Brazilian rainforest, suggested they call themselves Bando de Tangarás. He also suggested they each take the name of a bird, but only his stuck: João de Barro.
In mid-1929, when Bando de Tangarás recorded their first two songs with Odeon/Parlophon, Noel was a timid boy of just nineteen. Many in his milieu looked askance at his hobnobbing with the malandros of Vila Isabel, and Almirante, two years his elder, was decidedly the leader of the pack. These elements might help explain why Noel’s tremendous talent as a composer was initially overlooked, and Bando de Tangarás only recorded the first of Noel’s compositions, “Eu vou pra Vila,” in August 1930, over a year after their first recording. That song has endured as one of Noel’s greatest tributes to his neighborhood and his relationship with his city.
“Lataria”: In their biography of Noel Rosa, João Máximo and Carlos Didier relate that shortly after recording “Na Pavuna,” Almirante and Braguinha found themselves on the streetcar from Vila Isabel to Rua Almirante Barroso wondering what to record on side B of Braguinha’s “Mulata.” They began to joke around about recording on whatever cans they found upon arriving downtown, and composed a refrain on the streetcar, using the melody from the first samba Almirante had composed, several years earlier: Já que não temos pandeiro / para fazer nossa batucada / todo mundo vai batendo / na lata velha e toda enferrujada. They’d give each member of Bando de Tangarás a can to bang on and sing a verse about. Pleased with their plan, the pair presented it to Eduardo Souto, artistic director of Casa Edison, who was so delighted that he joined in on the recording.
The musicians improvised the verses in the studio, with the help of Noel, one of Brazilian music’s greatest improvisers. Only Henrique Brito was left off, since, according to Almirante, he couldn’t stop laughing when it was his turn to record, and ruined several takes of the song. And they were all really playing on the cans they mentioned; João de Barro, in his verse, left to the imagination the detail that he was playing on a bedpan.
Not surprisingly, considering its relatively well-heeled make-up, Bando de Tangarás was an important agent for samba, nudging Rio’s middle-class toward embracing the genre. The decision to bring percussionists onto the the recording of “Na Pavuna” was crucial in strengthening ties between the Tangarás and sambistas from Rio’s morros. In the following years, Noel Rosa earned his lasting reputation as one of the most important figures in uniting “morro and asphalt” in 1930s Rio de Janeiro.
The Bando de Tangarás recorded together for the last time in May 1933. Between 1929 and 1933 they appear on 38 albums, 73 tracks, most of which were composed by Almirante. Here’s a short video that shows the rising stars, beginning around minute 7:00:
Sources for this post: Noel Rosa, uma biografia by João Máximo and Carlos Didier; No Tempo de Almirante: uma história do Radio e da MPB by Sérgio Cabral; Yes, nós temos Braguinha by Jairo Severiano; Dicionário da História Social do Samba by Nei Lopes and Luiz Antonio Simas; and conversations with Jairo Severiano.
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 splendid
Ela tava tão bonita // She was so splendid
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.