Tempos idos

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 —

Cartola and Carlos Cachaça with Nelson Cavaquinho.


“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. 

Cartola and his wife Zica in February 1975. Displeased with the direction samba had taken by the early 1960s, the couple opened their short-lived but famous restaurant Zicartola, which was largely responsible for giving new life to samba de morro in the 1960s.
Cartola and his wife Zica in February 1975. Displeased with the direction samba had taken by the early 1960s, the couple opened their short-lived but famous restaurant Zicartola, which was largely responsible for bringing renewed success to samba de morro in the 1960s.

At the time, Cartola was renewing his ties with Mangueira after having all but vanished from the morro and 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.

Middle class composers like Ary Barroso gained ground in the 1930s and 1940s, popularizing a brand of samba that didn't sit so well with sambistas do morro like Cartola.
Middle class composers like Ary Barroso gained ground in the 1930s and 1940s, popularizing a brand of samba that didn’t sit so well with sambistas like Cartola.

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.

Praça XI c. 1930.
Praça XI c. 1930.

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 Onze was 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).

Portela 1959
Portela 1959

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
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.

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.

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.


Lyrics from “Acontece” by Cartola
Album: Cartola (1974)

Good Audio Version (Cida Moreira)  and Cartola

Forget our love, go on and forget it
Because everything in the world happens,
And it so happens that I don’t know how to love anymore
You’ll cry, you’ll suffer, and you don’t deserve it,
But it happens

It so happens that my heart went cold
And our nest of love is empty
If I were still able to pretend I love you,
Oh if only I were able…
But I don’t want to, I oughtn’t do that
That won’t happen

— Interpretation —

Paulinho da Viola, Aracy de Almeida, Albino Pinheiro, Carlos Cachaça, Cartola, and Clementina de Jesus.

On December 7, 1980, a week after Cartola passed away in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian TV program Fantástico aired footage from 1977 in which Cartola said he would like to be remembered, “years and years later,” by the song “Acontece.” (This YouTube video shows Fantastico’s homage to Cartola, which includes Paulinho da Viola singing “Acontece” with Cartola by his side in 1977, and a group of Rio de Janeiro’s most beloved sambistas singing him “Samba for Cartola” in 1979.) Acontece was also the name Cartola gave to his first round of solo performances, which were at Rio’s Teatro da Galeria in 1978 — just two years before his death.

In a previous post, I briefly mentioned Cartola’s mysterious disappearance from Rio’s samba scene at the end of the 1940s, after the death of his companion Deolinda. Here’s what happened during those years when many believed Cartola had died:

Immediately after Deolinda’s death, Cartola went on composing. He wrote “Rolam meus olhos” and “Sim” in response to her passing, and for Carnaval 1948 composed the samba-enredo  “Vale São Francisco” with his friend and partner Carlos Cachaça. That was the last samba-enredo the two composed together, and the last Carnaval that Cartola marched with Mangueira samba school to a song he’d written.  Mangueira’s new president, Hermes Rodrigues, didn’t like Cartola; Cartola became frustrated, and had a falling out with the school he had founded.  Shortly after, he disappeared from Mangueira.

Reflecting on those years, Cartola remarked, “I had been sick, and then I lost my first wife and ended up mixing myself up in some business that it’s not even worth mentioning. I ended up wasting six or seven years of my life… It was something that happened to me that could happen to anyone. I hid myself from everyone.”   Asked where he had been,  Cartola said “I didn’t disappear! I was with that woman, I gave up everything for that woman; I even gave up music, I stopped playing guitar!”

That woman was Donária, whom Cartola took up with after Deolinda’s death. The two moved in together in another Rio de Janeiro neighborhood, Caju, much to the chagrin of Carlos Cachaça, who remarked, “I would go a lot to the Manilha favela, in Caju, going after Cartola. He was with that big fat woman, Donária. What’s more, Cartola had the hots for fat women. And at the time, he was a bit of a vagrant. That woman wasn’t for him, God save me. But he was in love with her. And she was crazy for Mário de Aurora, from Mangueira. She would leave Cartola alone in Manilha and come here chasing after Mário.”

Cartola and Zica pictured in the window of the home they built together in Mangueira.

Fortunately, Zica — a lifetime acquaintance from Mangueira, and sister of Carlos Cachaça’s wife, Menina — fell in love with Cartola even at this low point in his life. In 1953 she went to live with him in Manilha for a couple of months, and then brought him back to Mangueira. She encouraged Cartola to continue composing and playing guitar. Still, Cartola maintained a low profile, until one fortuitous night in 1956 when he was rediscovered by the journalist Sérgio Porto at a café in Ipanema. Cartola was working nightshifts at an Ipanema carwash, and went to have a quick drink at the café; Porto spotted him and grew ecstatic. Porto and his friends, enamored of the samba master they referred to as “the Divine One” (“o Divino”), quickly reintroduced Cartola to Rio’s samba circuit, where he remained a central figure until his death in 1980.

Lyrics in Portuguese:

Esquece o nosso amor, vê se esquece.
Porque tudo na vida acontece
E acontece que eu já não sei mais amar.
Vai sofrer, vai chorar, e você não merece,
Mas isso acontece.
Acontece que o meu coração ficou frio
E o nosso ninho de amor está vazio.
Se eu ainda pudesse fingir que te amo,
Ah, se eu pudesse
Mas não posso, não devo fazê-lo,
Isso não acontece.

Main source for this post:  Cartola: Os Tempos Idos, by Marília Barboza da Silva and Arthur de Oliveira Filho

As Rosas Não Falam

Lyrics from “As Rosas Não Falam” (The Roses Don’t Talk) by Cartola

Album:  Cartola II (1976)

My heart beats again with hope

Because the summer is coming to an end


I return to the garden

With the certainty that I should cry

Because I know well that you don’t want to come back to me

I wail to the roses

How silly, the roses don’t talk

The roses simply exude the perfume that they steal from you

You ought to come

To see my joyless eyes

And, who knows, you might dream my dreams

At last


— Interpretation —

Cartola and Zica in the home they built together in Mangueira, with a rose bush in the garden.

As the story goes, this song was inspired by an exchange between Cartola and his wife, Zica.  Zica planted a rosebush in the couple’s garden in Rio de Janeiro, and after some time passed, she looked out one morning to see the bush in full bloom. Thrilled, she asked Cartola how so many roses had bloomed, and he responded, “How should I know? The roses don’t talk.”

Cartola was inspired by his poetic response and wrote one of his greatest successes as a “birthday present” to himself, a few days before his sixty-seventh birthday.

Although he was a popular sambista since his youth, Cartola never achieved much commercial or financial success, and only recorded his first LP in 1974, at age sixty-five. He said he had been losing motivation – seeing everyone around him recording LPs – and couldn’t even believe he had finally recorded a disk until he held it in his hands.  Moved by the achievement, he eagerly went back to composing and came out with his second LP, with “As Rosas Não Falam,” in 1976.

The main source for this post was Cartola: Os Tempos Idos, by Marília Barboza da Silva and Arthur de Oliveira Filho.

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)