A1 Vaquejada 5:13
A2 Duda No Frevo 2:20
A3 Três Três 1:54
A4 Ladainha 2:22
A5 Engenho Novo 3:39
A6 Minha Ciranda 2:42
A7 Pipoquinha 1:47
B1 Beira De Estrada 2:25
B2 Baião Do Quinjí 1:57
B3 Abraço Ao Hermeto 5:26
B4 Forró Do Dominguinhos 2:17
B5 De Uma Noite De Festa 3:15
B6 Cavalo Marinho 3:13
Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE turntable (with Sumiko Blue Point 2 cartridge, Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; Click Repair; individual clicks and pops taken out with Adobe Audition 3.0 – dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced (for 16-bit). Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
** There is an annoying dropout at 46 seconds into the track Engenho Novo. This is actually on the LP and not do to any post-processing at my end.
I have always had mixed feelings about Quinteto Violado for reasons elaborated below, their music is enjoyable, and this is probably as good a record as any to wind up the Festa Junina cycle – they are the kind of group that would headline an outdoor stage tonight, which marks the feast days of both Saint Peter and Saint Paul. While Quintet Violado had common ground with a lot of post-bossa nova MPB, their records played like an aural encyclopedia of Nordestino folklore. In fact they were so encyclopedic that they were chosen by folklorist and shifty entrepreneur Marcus Perreira to be the “house band” for his Música Popular do Nordeste albums, which launched a larger series of records chronicling ‘folkloric’ music from other regions of Brazil. On this, their second album, Quinteto Violado traverse the musical countryside and give us songs embroidered with forró, frevo, vaqueijada, ciranda, bumba-meu-boi, flute ‘fife and drum’ band or pifano music, and chegança-de-marujos / fandango. They also offer an homage to Hermeto Pascoal on one tune where they stretch out and push their own limits in tribute to that avant-garde alchemist of the Northeast, followed by a version of “Forró do Dominghuinhos” that is pretty original, using Dominguinhos’ unforgettable melody line as a release from the tension they build up around it. Unlike their debut album, which was halfway comprised of compositions associated with Luiz Gonzaga, this record is largely of their own authorship, with one “traditional” theme from Pernambuco’s variant of bumba-meu-boi, cavalo marinho, being given a short rearrangement at the end.
Formed by a group of university music students in the early 1970s and getting their start playing at the famous ‘festivals of song,’ Quintet Violado early on centered their musical identity around an embrace of the traditional sounds and folk musics of their native Pernambuco. There is a heavy dose of cultural appropriation happening, of privileged individuals drawing on the creative work of the povo sofrido. But if “my problem” with the Quinteto stopped there then it would be a pretty shallow criticism, because cultural mediation takes place at all kinds of levels and with all kinds of nuances. To cite an example, the world of samba is rife not only with tales of exploitation but also of interesting and productive creative partnerships and business relations that cut across class and racial lines. So, my misgivings have less to do with the fact that these are conservatory-trained musicians delving into folk music, than with other aspects that in many ways seem specific to the northeast and the historical moment when this group formed. Some of what I have to say in this blog post is even more applicable to the Orchestra Armorial that formed out of playwright and poet Ariano Suasunna’s work. The Quinteto Violado was never formally affiliated with Suasunna’s “movement” as far as I know but they were at least lauded by him as the decade wore on, as the kind of ‘popular music’ that young people ought to like. The elements of the Quintet that I find problematic are also present in even more exaggerated form in the Armorial project; I will surely have to do a blog post for an Armorial album now, not because I particularly want to but because I have opened that proverbial can of worms.
Getting back to this record, let’s take a statement from Roberto Menescal who wrote the blurb on the back cover of the LP:
“I believe that Brazilian musicians, including the entire young generation, are coming around to looking within, searching for their own roots and origins, in a path more personal and true where they can walk with security, originality, and inventiveness, and not just building on what has been done outside our country.”
This kind of sentiment is rich in irony coming from someone so central to bossa nova, a music that was excoriated by traditionalists for being unduly influenced by North American jazz. But neither Menescal or the Quinteto Violado were making claims of traditionalism here. Although there are no electric instruments whatsoever on this record, the upright string bass of the band’s leader Toinho is completely foreign to the folkloric music they draw upon, and you can hear the ‘jazzista’ influence both in the solos the members take and in the close intervals used in some of the chord voicings. So they were not trying to excavate a lost folklore music like the followers of Cecil Sharpe in Britain (many of whom I am a big fan of, incidentally), but wanted to draw on these elements and create new compositions, even when there was a strong element of emulation. Perhaps they were more like Inti-Illimani or certain others involved in the nueva canción who drew on indigenous music. And just like those artists were not necessarily indigenous, the members of Quinteto Violado did not come from the same social background as the people who originally made and continued to make the “folkloric” types of music they used as their palette. This is not in and of itself a problematic thing, except that these “roots” are celebrated as belonging to everyone – this is “our” culture, ‘o povo nordestino.’ Regional and colloquial references are employed in great density to built up an air of authenticity, to the point of really laying it on thick sometimes: in the song “Ladainha”, they manage to reference the ceramic folk-artist Vitalino from the city of Caruarú, alongside the bandit-heroes Lampião and Maria Bonita, and the deified (and mildly heretical) Padre Cícero from the town of Juazeiro, all in the same verse.
Although they might appreciate the cultural references, the intended audience for the music the Quinteto Violado made was not sharecroppers in the sertão, or cane cutters or wagon drivers like the family described in the song “Engenho Novo” here. Beginning with this album they had moved from performing at the festivals to giving their own somewhat elaborate concerts, which that like all MPB of the era involved stage designers and art directors. I would be interested to know what some of the regional folk musicians (whose styles were being appropriated) actually thought of the Quinteto’s music at the time, if they ever encountered it at all. “The people” who provide the inspiration and raw material for this kind of music are left out of its production, consumption, and critical appraisal; in the end, music like this can become yet another way to write people out of their own history.
The Quinteto’s musicianship is indisputable, and their intentions were sincere. It’s not as if they set out to dispossess a people of their musical traditions and make a ton of money on the backs of it. The band never really got rich and famous playing this kind of music, but they have made a healthy career for themselves, and maintain a level of visibility that is largely unachievable by those folk musicians of more humble backgrounds. This is not simply due to the relevant but also too-obvious fact that privilege and connections in the music business often count more than raw talent. In aesthetic terms, the trained musicianship and refined, conservatory sensibilities of the Quinteto allowed them to recast these rural folk music forms into a form that is more palatable for Brazil’s educated middle class, honing down the rough edges. The music is not decontextualized so much as recontextualized, stripped of elements that might offend the sensibility of a more erudite public. The frequently bawdy or raunchy language or double-entendre, the occasionally sexist or even racist jokes, and even the elements of social critique that might hint at an awareness of class struggle or exploitation: all are purged from this sanitized representation of cultura popular. To ask and to answer what purpose such representations serve in the long run would be to launch into a discussion verging on the academic, and dragging in outside references that don’t comfortably fit into this blog as I conceive of it. Besides – you will just have to wait and buy my book, if and when it is ever completed and/or published, when you can have footnotes and references to your heart’s content.
Of course, don’t let this write-up put you off from listening to and enjoying this record. It is well-conceived and well-played music, with an energy and enthusiasm that is palpable. There are gorgeous textures produced by the interplay between the acoustic guitar and Brazilian viola (not the bowed but the fretted instrument in the guitar family). There are plenty of reasons to appreciate this record on its own merits without taking any of the above into consideration. And for many Brazilians of the time, encountering Quinteto Violado was probably the first time they had heard of many of these music genres. Just like the first time I ever heard of the Banda de Pifanos de Caruarú was by way of their glorious opening of Gilberto Gil’s Expresso 2222 album, where I also heard my first Jackson do Pandeiro composition. The fact that most people are not compelled to dig deeper into the roots of their favorite contemporary artists does not cause me any great existential pain. The problem lies more with a particular way of celebrating “tradition” and fixing it in time and space in a way that fits a certain agenda, one that may be odds with the communities that originally cultivated it. All too frequently the people and institutions who herald these celebrations make claims that “the old ways” need to be revived and promoted or they will be lost to the ages, but instead of watering the “roots” and allowing them to flourish, they are watering them down and offering up a diluted simulacrum.
Leap through a bonfire, dance a quadrilha, have a mock marriage, eat lots of food made out of corn and enjoy the kids dressed up in cute little ‘matuto’ costumes of country
people in peasant blouses and rustic clothes. Little girls with freckles painted on and boys with fake mustaches.
I think it is safe to say that there is no symbol more iconic or more strongly associated with São João than the King of Baião, Luiz Gonzaga!
Every one of his records had some reference to it, and he made quite a few LPs entirely devoted to Festas Juninas or São João, and literally
everywhere you go in the month of June in the Nordeste you will hear his compositions being played by all kinds of bands of varying competence, and in all kinds of
styles. Last year was his centenary so celebrations were even more Gonzaga-centric. But I expect this guy’s legacy will last for another hundred years, easily.
Gonzaga recorded a ton of hugely-popular 78s in the 1940s and 50s, and while he never stopped recording or performing, his popularity dipped
for a while in the 60s as bossa nova, jovem guarda, and Tropicália saturated the music market. But he got a boost from the recognition of
the Tropicalístas who recorded a number of his compositions and soon he was back on top. This live record, released after his death, is pretty
cool. The notes from Sérgio Cabral claim this was the first time Gonzaga played in the Zona Sul in his entire life; I find this highly doubtful given his earlier fame. It would probably be more accurate and plausible to say that he had not played in Rio’s south zone for a decade or so. Notable for having protege Dominguinhos in the band as well as an
electric guitar (a rarity for Gonzaga), they run through a whole bunch of highlights in his oeuvre. But the concert was a month-long run at a
posh Copacabana theatre, after his “rediscovery,” and the music lacks some of the urgency and energy you might expect from a live recording.
Granted that Gonzaga was already a bit older than in his heyday, but I can’t help thinking some of it is about the fact that he’s playing for a
seated audience of polite middle-class people. Without the dancing and drinking and convivial revelry that has always been part of forró pé de
serra, it loses a little something. So I usually reach for earlier recordings when I want to crank up the Rei de Baião, but this show is
kind of a good greatest-hits retrospective, with Gonzaga telling stories during the songs, and the arrangements are cool. This must have been
recorded for television but I don’t know for certain. It’s a good document and a fun listen even if it’s not on my top-shelf choices of the great Seu Luiz.
João Limoeiro Poetas da Mata Norte 2 – Ciranda Released 2006
01 – Ciranda pesada 02 – O mar 03 – Com Deus 04 – Os animais 05 – As praias 06 – Amarre o boi 07 – Cultura nordestina 08 – Ô de casa 09 – Vida 10 – Vem cirandar 11 – Terra de São Severino 12 – Massacre 13 – Homenagem a Gonzaga 14 – Eu fiz 15 – Retrato
João Limoeiro – vocals Galego – trombone Roberto – trumpet Elias – vocals Edemar – vocals Walter – mineiro / shaker José Severino – surdo drum Biu do Tarol – snare drum
Produced by Siba
Well, my head has been left spinning by the wave of protests and mass mobilization over the last ten days or so, and it has seemed almost silly to be blogging about music with all these other things going on. At least the demonstration in Pernambuco happened relatively peacefully, with the police watching the demonstrations pass while wearing cute little carnations rather than cracking skulls and firing rubber bullets. I’m not inclined to use this blog as a platform for speechifying or deconstructing what’s been happening, and there is plenty of material to digest around the interwebs anyway. But I will offer a word to the wise – don’t believe *anything* you hear or see from Globo media (their insane monopoly of TV, radio stations, and newspapers) about what these demonstrations are all about or who these people are, because Globo is a an evil pathological organization with a reactionary, conservative agenda with roots in the military dictatorship. If you want news on the stuff happening in Brazil right now, turn anywhere but Globo and their affiliates. Independent coverage is out there (including a media cooperative NINJA which has provided live streaming), you just have to search for it.
But today is the vespers of São João, St.John’s day, and celebration is mandatory. I would be amiss if I didn’t post music to commemorate the day. I am mentally exhausted, though, so I will keep it this write-up brief…
This another entry in the great Poetas da Mata Norte series and one of two volumes devoted to the genre called ciranda. João Limoeira, of the city of Carpina, has been singing ciranda a long time. I have an LP of his recorded in the 1980s, courtesy of a lovely lass at a Nazaré radio station who was clearing out their vinyl (for shame!), and I must say that his new recording are much better. As I mentioned in a previous post, at that time he was using a lot of synthesizers (you know, it was the 80s after all). This record sounds much like a live performance would, except that it is divided into discrete compositions whereas on stage he would must likely just sing for an hour with hardly a break, just segueing one piece into the next. On the surface ciranda is a fairly repetitive music and you have to stay with it patiently to catch the micro-movements in its limited range of motion and tonal palette. Wordplay, boasting, paeans to nature, the sea, an homage to the King of Baião, Luiz Gonzaga, some brief diversions into social commentary, and celebration of the cultura popular of the Northeast region are all included in the lilting and rather beautiful melodies. Limoeiro brings a little bit of the rhythmic sense of embolada to Amarre O Bio, included in this sample below.
João Limoeiro performs regularly around the Mata Norte of Pernambuco so if you are ever there around this time of year, try and catch him. On this record he is accompanied by Roberto on trumpet and Galego on trombone, both natives of Nazaré da Mata who are also part of Siba’s project Fuloresta – they may or may not perform with Limoeiro on any given night. He also has dancers on stage these days, and he has other CDs he has self-released since this one and you can buy them direct. He is also a singer-poet of maracatu de baque solto, although he took a break from it for a while. I promise to post some examples of that style next month.
Zé Paraíba – De São Paulo ao Ceará 1974 Beverly (81.269)
01 – De São Paulo ao Ceará (Renato Leite) 02 – Bagunceiro (Zé Paraíba) 03 – São João na roça (Luiz Gonzaga – Zé Dantas) 04 – Teimoso (Renato Leite) 05 – Sarrabuiado (Zé Paraíba) 06 – Remoido bom (Oscar Teodoro) 07 – Fumaçando (Zé Paraíba) 08 – Revendo Brasília (Renato Leite) 09 – Forró no Juazeiro (Renato Leite) 10 – Xodó de 8 baixos (Zé Paraíba) 11 – Remelexo (Renato Leite) 12 – Reboliço (Zé Paraíba)
Vinyl -> Sansui XP-99 with Denon DL-160 capsule > Sansui G-7500 receiver> Zoom H4N at 24-bit 96khz -> Click Repair -> individual clicks and pops removed in Adobe Audition 3.0 -> Dithering and resampling (for 16 bit only) in iZotope Rx Advanced
This is an instrumental album of forró pé de serra by hotshot accordionist Zé Paraíba, who has recorded dozens of albums. But this one presents the listener with a particularly provocative album cover. It provokes questions and more questions the longer a person stares at it. Who is he talking to on the telephone? Is he receiving a call or making a call? Don’t be ridiculous, it’s Zé Paraíba, you don’t call him — he calls you! Well then, what is the call about? Did he find a lost dog, the one uncomfortably cradled in his lap? Is he calling the cleaners to find out if his other shirt is ready to pick up? “Which one?! The one with the rhinos and giraffes on it, of course. Yes, the one with the sarapatel stains. It’s still not ready? Vai tomar no cú, seu safado!” Zé Paraíba is always getting in arguments with dry cleaners and tailors. It is up to you, the audience, to decide who reigns victorious, but if you encounter Zé Paraíba on the street I suggest you compliment his clothing.
This record came from my friend Tchêras’ collection and was transferred at his house at one of our extended sessions of conversation and music. This is a good record for conversation, especially if you are lucky enough to have a friend as solid as Tchêras, with whom I can hang out with for hours and never get bored, without the need for any alcoholic lubrication. And without the engaging conversation, a record like De São Paulo ao Ceará usually necessitates a drink or two, because twelve tracks of instrumental forró is an awful damn lot. I recommend invoking your inner DJ and pulling out a few tracks for your mix tape, party, or rug-cutting session, because LP’s like this are not necessarily meant to be listened to from start to finish. In fact while editing some of the blemishes out of the vinyl, I began thinking about how João Donato started out as an accordion player and hated it. He once said that if there is music in hell, it would be an orchestra comprised entirely of accordions, and where no one is allowed to sing. (Actually I am not sure if he ever said that, I may be making that up.)
But with that caveat, this is in fact solid pé de serra, or “traditional” forró,” and at any São João party worthy of the name you will find an instrumental ensemble like this, although the presence here of guitar and cavaquinho is often optional. In cities in the northeastern interior, pé de serra might still be an integral part of São João but it is also frequently segregated onto a separate stage from the more popular electrified forró estilizado (modified or stylized forró) of groups with classy names like Garota Safada. Now, on principle I make an effort not to dismiss entire genres or subgenres of music base on classist or elitist biases. It is all too common a sight to find a middle class member of the university set preaching about the real popular culture and how those uneducated and poor people in the small town just don’t know what’s good for them and go on listening to that brash, vulgar and impossibly-loud forró estiliazado, “music of low quality” (the phrase is música de baixa qualidade, with ‘quality’ having a distinctly classist ring). The paternalistic attitudes behind those kind of sentiments need to be questioned. That being said, I am still trying to find some redeeming musical qualities and examples of ‘forró estiliazdo’ because I generally find it to be god-awful and unappealing, although the best bands are definitely capable of coming up with a catchy tune now and then. So catchy that they are blasted out of car trunks on every street corner from São João until Carnaval, inescapable soundtracks that you hear in your sleep in spite of yourself, like an infernal accordion orchestra except substituted with synthesizers equipped with accordion and brass patches, requiring deep hypnosis to yield a cure.
Putting aside the elitist paternalism of the universitários regarding “the masses” and what they should be listening to, there are legitimate concerns about preserving the old-school pé de serra. In the first place, it is not as if there needs to be an either-or choice: although there might be some who regard it as “old fashioned”, and in my experience many cannot identify an old song with its composer or singer like a generation or two before them, most of the audience that goes to an electric, stylized forró show would also dance to a good traditional pé de serra band if given the opportunity. And therein lies the crux of the issue – opportunity. There is a lot of money to be made off of the slick electric forró bands mounted on the backs of huge sound trucks (trios eléctricos) and typically adorned with scantily-clad dancing females. There is not so much money in pé de serra. In the world of big events, the more traditional styles often depend on state subsidies and arts funding to maintain visibility, although on the local level you can find neighborhoods or church parishes pooling their money to hire a local forró band to play for a family-oriented São João. I have never gone to commemorate São João in the city of Caruarú, where it holds a record in the Guinness Book for the largest outdoor celebration or concert, because I think I’ve become slightly agoraphobic over the years (a very un-Brazilian trait, mind you). But the tension between “traditional” and “modern / stylized” forró has been a hot topic there over the last decade. Elsewhere in Pernambuco, some of the most “traditional” music during São João can be found in Recife at places like Sítio Trindade and the Pátio de São Pedro, free performances that would not be possible without the robust system of cultural subsidies in place there, while in the small towns of the interior – the “source” of much of this cultura popular – the municipal governments are swayed by kickbacks and corporate sponsorship money to allow these gigantic trios eléctricos to set up in their town and rattle windows with their trucks loaded with subwoofers. For whatever reason, in Pernambuco the majority of these touring groups come from Ceará and the music they play is heavily influenced by styles made popular in Bahia like axê and calypso. When you talk to local musicians or music fans over the age of 30 in these small towns, you are likely to hear someone express that their traditional celebrations (like São João) are being “colonized” by this stuff coming from outside their borders, and that there is a need to preserve their raízes or roots. However the flipside of this argument is that these trio eléctrico bands have adopted remarkably successful business models that allow them to exist as self-managed entities. Although some do get quite a bit of radio airplay in the interior, and exposure on television, these styles are by and large not dependent at all on record sales (their fans are more likely to buy pirated copies of their albums on the street), but subsist by relentless touring. The more traditional acts, as well as innovative / artsy / hybrid artists that cater to the university crowd, have depended largely on the aforementioned arts funding and state subsidies to stay visible, and as a result have often suffered from meager renumeration or payments that show up so late as to be leave a lot of people hungry. (It is common for artists to be left waiting up to six months to a year to receive payment for one of the city- or state-sponsored presentation during Carnaval.) So in a sort of ironic twist, more and more independent “high-brow” bands and artists are beginning to look toward corporate partnership to fund mini-tours. This seems to be often presented as some kind of novel idea about ‘sustainable’ art but the more candid artists will likely admit that this model was pioneered by these “low class” bands years ago, instead of being left suckling at the teat of the benevolent state, a situation that can be just as unstable as the free market when you consider how much depends on the patronage systems of local political bosses.
I’ve strayed a long way from Zé Paraíba, his zoological shirt, and mysterious phone call. But I guess the digression can still be relevant, because back in 1974, only a few years into the “Disco É Cultura” incentives that the military regime put into the phonographic industry, this kind of good-time party music was still of relatively little consequence in the cultural hierarchy. Although forró pé de serra had briefly been so fashionable in the 1940s and 50s as to become a new kind of ‘national music’ embraced as widely as samba, it was overtaken in the marketplace by the bossa nova craze and went through a period of relative obscurity. Northeastern composers and a handful of ‘traditional’ singers had become de rigeur again starting with the ‘engaged’ musical theater Show Opinão and later with the Tropicalistas trotting out tunes from Luiz Gonzaga, the king of baião, and Jackson do Pandeiro (the king of rhythm!) whose careers underwent a second wind. Samba giants like Clara Nunes or Elza Soares included forró and baião in their repertoires. Some forró artists began to play in the upper-middle class Zona Sul of Rio for the first time of their lives, where they performed in theaters rather than dance halls, in big “shows” that employed directors and set designers. (This close relationship with the theater, particularly with MPB from the 60s onward, merits a whole other blog post or maybe a book.) Other singers like Ary Lobo or Marinês had more modest careers in this era. The unique Dominguinhos, a student of Gonzaga’s and his natural heir on the accordion, featured prominently on some of the biggest-selling albums of top-shelf MPB in the seventies, but the records released under his own name only garnered a cult following. Forró had become another tonal shading in the palette of Brazilian musicians and composers, a fonte or well to be dipped into for inspiration, but rarely an end in itself. Then there were the regional conjuntos like Trio Nordestino and their fans who never really went away, and virtuosos like Zé Paraíba, always ready to drop into the nearest São João party and play for a receptive public. As much as I like to champion the idea of a symbiosis between the acts of listening and dancing, this type of instrumental forró is really better suited for getting up and moving than for sitting down and critically listening. Most likely, Zé Paraíba’s records were an appendage to his live performances, a physical souvenir to help spread the word for the next time he played in your town. This album may not rock your world, but it will move your feet. Or torso if you are into chair-dancing.
Zé de Teté Poetas da Mata Norte 4: Coco de roda 2005 Independent with funding incentives related to the Lei Federal de Incentivo à Cultura aka Lei Rouanet
01 – Dei um brado 02 – Ai, ai meu Deus 03 – Campo verde bonito 04 – Os serrotes 05 – Um preso na detenção 06 – Letra m 07 – As obras da natureza 08 – Canto ruim de morar 09 – Machadeiro Moacir 10 – Sos 11 – Votei tanto que cansei 12 – Tá solto no meio do mundo
Produced by Siba (Sérgio Veloso) Recorded between December 2005 and March 2005
It’s about time I shared some of the wonderful series of records released as “Poetas da Mata Norte,” and this one is just barely in time for the São João holiday. Ironically, Zé de Teté is the artist I know the least about out of the handful presented in the series, but it seems appropriate to start here given the time of year. If you look up northeastern “coco de roda” on the internets you will likely find things about dancing in circles, call-and-response singing and accompaniment with hand claps and wooden sandals, an array of percussion instruments, but precious little about the singers without whose words nobody would be dancing or singing along. Hence the importance of the “oral poet” to this music and many other strains in the many-threaded tapestry of Pernambuo’s cultural patrimony. Coco de roda is still found in its more raw form like that sung by Zé de Teté, Galo Preto, Dona Selma de Coco, Raízes do Arcoverde and others, but it has also influenced more mainstream artists, mostly famously Jackson do Pandeiro who was proficient in the style, and others like Alceu Valença (who really absorbed it via Jackson). “Coco” is typically associated with the sertão (semi-arid hinterlands) and agreste or scrubland regions of the interior but can be found further east all the way to the coast. Zé de Teté is from the city of Limoreiro in the agreste. With his strong and strident voice he brings us tongue-twisting word salads like “A letra M,” reflections on surviving in a tenuous relationship with nature (Canto ruim de morar, Campo verde bonito), a somber portrait of life inside a jail cell (Um preso na detenção), and the humor-cum-social-critique of tunes like “As obras da natureza” and “Votei tanto que cansei,” or “I’ve voted so much that I’m sick of it,” in which the singer expresses his disgust at the manipulative promises of politics and vows that he’ll only vote again if Jesus runs as a candidate. And of course there are songs of just the sheer pleasure of singing and making music, inviting all of us to the party.
This is the fourth volume in a series of six CDs. Coordinated and produced by Siba (Mestre Ambrósio, Fuloresta do Samba), the “Poetas da Mata Norte” project was an attempt to present some of the living traditions of ‘roots’ music in the state of Pernambuco, encompassing the styles of maracatu de baque solto, ciranda, embolada, and coco de roda. These styles are often unfamiliar to Brazilians outside of Pernambuco or the northeast of Brazil, and when they are represented in recordings or mainstream media they tend to be portrayed as folkloric “survivals” from some bygone, romanticized agrarian era. Siba’s objective was in part to release a body of work from artists who were living, breathing, and innovating within these “traditional” styles, with a focus on their lyrical content and wordplay, typically based on improvisation that takes place in a performance setting. Hence if you don’t speak any Portuguese you will definitely be missing a lot of the fun here, but it’s still great music regardless of that.
Siba, whose work with the band Mestre Ambrósio (the roots-branch of the Mangue Bit clique in Recife), led him to eventually relocate for a time to the interior city of Nazaré da Mata 67 kilometers to the north, did not “discover” these artists in any sense of the word. They all had long histories as performers, a loyal albeit local following, and in many cases had already been recording their own self-released CDs since the late 90s or so, usually funded by whatever savings they could squirrel away and with partners from local businesses or politicians (who would get prominently mentioned on the CD artwork…) At least a couple artists in the series, the cirandeiro João Limoeiro and embolador Antônio Cajú, were releasing vinyl LPs as early as the 1980s. Siba rather consciously used his “celebrity status” to launch this project with support from public arts funding organized under Brazil’s auspicious Lei Rounet for cultural incentives – you can see on the CD tray that contributes included the national oil company Petrobrás and the state arts council (FUNDARPE) among others. Not only did the presence of his name attract listeners who might otherwise not have heard of or cared about these types of music, but he was also an ideal producer. A student of Recife’s musical conservatory, he had relocated to the rural interior to learn from guys like this, and his dual familiarity with the recording process of studios and the improvised, street-level context of the music made for a near-perfect combination. I have a small collection of self-released stuff from some of these artists and the quality can be hit or miss – often plagued by limited studio time with engineers who couldn’t care less or don’t really understand the music, the discerning ear can find lots of instances of bad editing or dubious production choices (overuse of reverb, dropouts and so on). Some of João Limoeiro’s albums from the 80s used synthesizers instead of horn sections. I am not sure if this was to save time and money in the studio or if his actual band of the era performed that way a decade or more before Pernambuco’s roots “renaissance” came into full sway. The point is that Siba was able to bring out the best in these artists: they sound more comfortable and confident in the studio than they do on some of their self-produced recordings, the instruments sound full and robust, the repertoires are carefully chosen, and some productive collaborations between the artists took place on the albums. You don’t have to take it from me, you can see it in the short mini-documentaries there were included with each CD, here
The ultimate proof of the success of the whole venture is the high esteem in which the CDs are regarded by the normal audience for these regional styles of music. I can’t judge the outcome of the stated objective of calling attention to this music for outsiders because I don’t have any reliable way to measure its impact. The series is very much out of print and sought after by people interested in this stuff. In some cases the artists themselves don’t even have original copies. When I was trying to buy them all, I was instructed by a couple of the artists to go buy a pirated copy at the only local music store (who specializes in CD-Rs of regional music). The artists themselves had long ago loaned out their copies and never saw them again.
This title was one I managed to find in a shop way up north along the border of Pernambuco and Paraíba. I found two titles there, and scored a few more as gifts from Siba himself, with his blessing to distribute them far and wide since it is anybody’s guess if another pressing will ever be made. I managed to get secure rips of one or two others from friends who owned originals. I haven’t yet made good on my vow to distribute these far and wide, but better late than never. It is the month of Festas Juninas, a prolonged holiday that is really only commemorated in the northeast aside from some tepid folkloric events elsewhere in the country or the more animated parties held in local neighborhoods of Nordestino migrants in São Paulo or in Rio (where the place to be right now is the Feira de São Cristovão in the Zona Norte). So I will try to share as many of these as I can get uploaded before the month closes.
Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band
1978 Arhoolie Records – 1078
A1 Grand Prix 3:05
A2 Hungry Man Blues 4:30
A3 Parti De Paris 2:20
A4 Take Off Your Dress 4:40
A5 Party Down (At The Blue Angel Club) 4:30
B1 Falksy Girl 4:20
B2 Easy, Easy Baby 3:05
B3 Tante Na Na 3:50
B4 Do Right Sometime 3:35
B5 Highway Blues 3:20
Bass – Joseph Bruchet
Drums – Robert Peter
Guitar – Paul Senegal
Piano, Organ – Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural
Saxophone – John Hart
Washboard – Cleveland Chenier
Vocals, Accordion – Clifton Chenier
Producer – Chris Strachwitz
Photography By – Edmund Shea
Cover – Wayne Pope
Recorded April 25, 1977 at Sea-Saint Studios, New Orleans, La. except A4 which was recorded October 27, 1975 in Bogalusa, La.
Like many before me, my early interest as a teenager in jazz, funk and blues led me to the music of New Orleans. That interest piqued further when I found a collection of sides recorded for Atlantic by Professor Longhair in the 1950s at a public library , and then went out and bought everything I could get my hands on. Before long my ear wandered up the countryside to the bayous and swamps where music sounded a little different than in the city, namely to cajun and zydeco records. Not speaking any French, let alone Acadian or Creole, I couldn’t understand a word of much of it, yet I still felt like I connected to the music. Before the term ‘zydeco’ came into common musical parlance outside its region of origin, Clifton Chenier was said to have played “the blues accordion.” That description makes sense. Chenier, who had been recording since the early 60s, had a style capable of filling the space usually filled by a harmonica in a blues band and blending it with the piano or organ riffs you would expect from a keyed instrument. Reeds and keys together in one place. But his musical ladle also dipped into a stew containing fiddle tunes from around Louisiana’s “Cajun belt,” along with rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie, and early rock and roll music. His band briefly featured his brother Morris Chenier on fiddle in the 60s, but his lineups more typically counted on saxophone, electric guitar, bass, organ and piano to back him up. And he was always accompanied by his brother Cleveland on the washboard, who is credited with being the first washboard player to wear his instrument draped over the torso in a customized breastplate-type thing. Cleveland would tap out his rhythms using up to a half-dozen bottle openers in each hand.
This particular album has quite a few tunes that are fairly straight forward blues, and “Hungry Man” may strike many as being eerily close to a certain McKinley Morganfield song. It is also from the period when a young Stanley Dural (aka Buckwheat Zydeco) was playing keyboards with Chenier. It might be Dural (who previously played in a funk band) whose influence we hear on the one tune that deviates a bit from the rest on this album. “Party Down (At The Blue Angel Club)” is positively funky with a taste of wah guitar and some delicious sax riffs. Between the ballads and the burners there is one tune that cries out for fiddle, the waltz-time “Tante Na Na,” but Chenier’s accordion carries the day with grace and grace notes. The song is kind of a staple in a lot of dance band repertoires and I’d be interested in knowing its origins if there is anyone out there who knows. (All the tracks are attributed to Chenier, which seems like a bit of legal fiction by the folks at Arhoolie). The next track (Do Right Sometime) disposes with everything but the drums, washboard and the sax which just plays rhythm, but the chord changes somehow still sound fleshed out.
This is also a cool record because it catches Chenier’s band at an interesting time, riding a wave of mounting interest in the genre that he played a huge in creating. By the late 70s he could be found playing both the Montreux and New Orleans Jazz Festivals. But zydeco would become even more famous in the next decade, and Chenier himself would become the first zydeco musician to win a Grammy award.
Listen to this record a few times in a row and you might just end up like this guy