1973 Philips 6349.072
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
Sando – flauta
Marcelo – violão
Fernando – viola
Luciano – percussão
Toinho – contra-baixo
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.