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.