“Na Pavuna” – “Lataria” – “Eu vou pra Vila”

“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…

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

__

Conversation
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!

Lyrics
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

Almirante:
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

Noel Rosa:
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

Alvinho:
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


Commentary


Bando De Tangarás.jpg

 

InstrumentsFirst 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.

Bamba is 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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-04 at 10.19.05 AM
In this note in Rio’s Gazeta de Notícias from Tuesday, 4 February 1930, the author joyfully describes a group of pre-Carnaval revelers gathered around his home, one of whom handed him an envelope with the lyrics from the samba “Na Pavuna” by “Candoca da Anunciação” (Homero Dornelas’s pseudonym)
almirante-589x376
Almirante (Henrique Foréis Domingues, 1908 – 1980) was a fundamental figure to 20th century Brazilian popular music: a composer and singer of resounding success, and a researcher and collector of items of immeasurable value to the memory of Brazilian popular music during a time when scant attention was paid to preservation and documentation of  popular music.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 1.37.23 PM
Lyrics for “Na Pavuna” published in Diário Carioca – 21 January 1930

“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.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 2.00.04 PM
Jornal do Brasil, 20 March 1928 – Conjunto Flor do Tempo announced as entertainment for a benefit party for the Pavilhão dos Tuberculosos organized by the União de Senhoras do Hospital Evengelico.

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.

“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

 

 

A Rasteira do Presidente

Lyrics from “A Rasteira do Presidente” by Bicalho/Silvio Modesto, released by Bezerra da Silva (1986)

___
Alô, alô Dona de Casa // Hello, hello, Housewife
Fiscais do Presidente, se liga // President’s Inspectors, at attention
Tabela de preços na mão // Table of Prices in hand
E vamos lutar contra a inflação // And let’s fight inflation!

E não é mole não  // And it’s not easy, no
Vivendo dessa maneira // Living this way
Eles inventaram essa tal de inflação // They invented that thing called inflation
E o Presidente deu aquela rasteira // And the president turned the tables (“made that tackle”)
Não é mole não (tuburão) // It’s not easy, no, shark (predatory businessmen who profited from inflation)

(refrain)

O meu salário é o mínimo // My salary is the minimum
porém é o máximo que eu consigo vencer // And yet it’s the maximum I’m able to pull in
Desconto pro INPS// Withholdings for Social Security
e o maldito Leão// And that daggone Lion (income tax)
ainda quer me morder // Is still trying to bite me
ORTN e INPC // ORTN (national treasury bonds) and INPC (inflation index)
Eu escuto dizer, mas eu não sei o que é // I keep hearing talk – but I don’t know what it is
Eu só sei que recebi meu pagamento // I just know I received my payment
Que não deu pra comprar meu alimento // And it wasn’t enough to buy my aliment
Remarcaram os preços eu fiquei a pé // They marked up the prices and I was left behind!

(refrain)

O que não consigo entender // And what I just can’t understand
o meu nome é sujo no SPC // My name’s “dirty” in the SPC (credit protection service)
Meu crédito é cortado na praça // My credit’s cut off on the streets
não me vendem fiado nem o que comer //  They won’t even sell me food on the cuff
O banco não me empresta dinheiro // The bank won’t lend me money
porque não tenho bens para me garantir // Because I don’t have any assets as guarantees
Veja bem, não pedi nada emprestado // But look here, I didn’t ask for anything on loan
Dizem que devo dolar adoidado // Yet they say I owe mad dollars
Ao famigerado, FMI // To that infamous IMF

(refrain)

E agora é que eu quero ver // And now I want to see
Os ladrões de gravata o que vão fazer // What the crooks in ties are gonna do
O bicho vai pegar adoidado // The beast is gonna go crazy (things are gonna get ugly)
Em cima daquele que não obedecer // On anyone who doesn’t obey
O trabalhador já pode com a sua família // The worker can go ahead with his family
Fazer sua ceia // and make his supper
se os federais chegarem em um supermercado // if the feds get to a supermarket
Encontrem os preços remarcados // And find the prices marked up
Dão bolacha no gato e mete na cadeia // They’ll box the cat’s ears and throw him in jail
(refrain)

___
bezerra-da-silva
Bezerra da Silva said he didn’t sing about love because he could only sing about things he knew: “People talk about making love – where is love made, some factory in Bangu?”
bezerra_violenciageraviolencia
Cover of Bezerra’s 1988 album “Violência Gera Violência“, with headlines including: “Military police shoot into crowd and kill woman in Realengo”;  “Fraud of billions in INAMPS” (National Institute of Medical Aid and Social Security)

Bezerra became famous in the 1970s and ’80s for his hard-core but humorous sambas about the hustling malandro lifestyle and life on the morro (favela). He was revered for his deft denouncement of government corruption, most notably the crooked and brutal police force.

Bezerra’s acquaintances from the morro composed many of his best-love songs. They were bricklayers, carpenters, repairmen, and “22s” (crazies) who had by and large chosen to steer clear of crime, but respected and wrote about malandro precepts like the  “Lei de Murici” (Lei de Murici: Cada um cuida de si — Murici’s law: every man for himself; mind your own business) and especially excelled at writing witty smack about snitches and sogras (mothers-in-law) in thick slang.

“A rasteira do presidente” was composed and released in early 1986, during the fleeting moments of optimism that followed the launch of a new economic plan, the Plano Cruzado.

At the time, Brazil was in the midst of a bumpy transition from military dictatorship to democracy, and was meanwhile suffering the consequences of the military government’s brash fiscal and monetary policies (which were not much improved upon in the first years of the democracy). Hyperinflation topped 235% in 1985 and was on track to hit 500% in 1986. José Sarney had taken office as transitional president on March 15, 1985, and after a dismal first nine months, promised in January 1986 that he would not allow inflation to continue shooting up. In an ill-fated attempt to keep this promise, on February 28, 1986, Sarney declared a bank holiday and announced his Plano Cruzado –  “shock treatment” for the Brazilian economy, which was also meant to serve as a symbolic rupture from the legacy of the military dictatorship.

This “heterodox plan”replaced Brazil’s currency the Cruzeiro with the Cruzado (worth 1,000 cruzeiros), fixed at 13.84 to the dollar. Salaries were adjusted up by 8% (public servants) and 15% (minimum wage), and an “inflation insurance” mechanism was put in place to increase salaries automatically if inflation hit 20%.

fiscal-do-presidente
A “fiscal do presidente” checks her price table.
The plan also froze prices for food, gasoline, hygiene and cleaning products, and services. These fixed prices were published on a table (mentioned in the song) as a means of holding business-owners to account. In announcing the plan, Sarney called upon every Brazilian citizen to be “um fiscal do president” – a president’s inspector – making sure that shops were sticking strictly to the price table. And indeed, as the song makes reference to, the government shut down businesses that were caught cheating.

Not surprisingly, the plan led to basic supply-and-demand mismatches, empty shelves, dissatisfied producers and consumers… which as usual nurtured a flourishing black market. In November 1986, Sarney’s government was forced to abandon the plan and launch Plano Cruzado II. Cruzado II unfroze prices and signaled the return of staggering inflation, which would plague Brazil and Bezerra’s friends on the morro until 1994, when the Plano Real finally pulled the country out of this financial quagmire.

21031986-supermercado-paes-mendonca-de-salvador-interditado-pela-sunab-superintendencia-nacional-do-abastecimentopor-praticar-preco-acima-do-autorizado-pela-tabela-do-governo-na-foto-homem-14565224312
21 March 1986: a supermarket in Salvador, Bahia, that was closed for “practicing prices above those that are authorized.” 

Another element of this quagmire that comes up in the song: In the 1980s, Brazil was drowning in billions of dollars of external debt, a dubious legacy of the military government’s over-borrowing to finance ill-advised national development projects. Over the course of the ’80s, Brazil signed eleven bail-out agreements with the “infamous IMF.”

Bezerrra, who was born in 1927 in Recife, Pernambuco, and arrived in Rio as a stowaway in the 1940s, died in January 2005 at the age of 77.

07-03-1986-movimento-no-supermercado-eldorado-nos-dias-que-se-seguiram-ao-plano-cruzado-em-sao-paulo-sp-1456520014617_615x300
Busy supermarket El Dorado in São Paulo in March 1986. The Cruzado plan led to a rush on supermarkets.
fiscal-do-sarney-sticker