Trio Nordestino E O Homem De Saia
1979 Copacabana COELP41150
01. Fartura de beijo (Durval Vieira – Jorge Paulo)
02. Não sou culpado (Jacinto José – Lindolfo Barbosa)
03. Homem de saia (Enéas de Castro – Gatinho)
04. Chamego proibido (Jorge de Altinho – Lindolfo Barbosa)
05. O fazendeiro (Geraldo Barbosa – Xavier)
06. Linda sinfonia (João Silva – J. B. Aquino)
07. Torrado de moça nova (João Silva – J. B. Aquino)
08. Amor demais (Jorge de Altinho – Francisco Costa)
09. Bem obrigado (Jair do Pandeiro – Severino Ramos)
10. Tá com raiva de mim? (Onildo Almeida)
11. Amor misterioso (Midiam Alves – Lindolfo Barbosa)
12. O xouxinho (João Silva)
Transfer info: Copacabana vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; Audioquest King Cobra cables; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 192khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair on light settings, manually auditioning the output; further clicks removed with Adobe Audition 3.0; dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
Well I had this post nearly ready to share for Saturday but other things got in the way. Although the festas juninas were officially over, there were still pockets of activity and parties going on in the Northeast through the weekend. Oh well, pé de serra has no expiration date, it’s good all year round.
The album title “Trio Nordestino and The Man In The Dress” might initially have caused me some trepidation. Northeast Brazil, for all its charms, is also a deeply troubled place and has been since the days of colonization and slavery. It bears the dubious distinction of leading the country in homicides and in violence against women. Add to those statistics a horrifying rate of violence against transgender individuals, and one could almost forgive the ham-fisted public health “discourse analysis” article I unfortunately stumbled across recently, which sought to link the lyrical representations of masculinity (and related themes of violence, homophobia, etc) to this hard data. There are, of course, all kinds of valid arguments one could make by looking at cultural production this way, but these authors chose to cherry pick the worst examples they could find (using a broad quantitative sampling technique whose criteria are known only to them), as well as some very obscure songs that had no broad social impact and were probably not heard beyond a few hundred people, and decontextualized them rather thoroughly to hammer home a very unsophisticated, knee-jerk argument that did a disservice to the very real problem of gender-based violence.
So, you can imagine my relief when the lyrics of “Homem de saia” turn out to be not just relatively harmless, but practically progressive, to use the current parlance. It’s simply about a man trying to crash an all-female social event, a party where everyone from the person working the door to the members of the band were all women, by disguising himself in a dress. He is found out, and bounced from the party. Hilarity ensues? Anyway, one could argue that Trio Nordestino e o Homem de Saia is about the role of exclusively female spaces and their necessity in a culture tainted by patriarchy, which encompasses contentious debates between women with a uterus and transwomen. Who knew Trio Nordestino would be so prescient?
And for my next trick, I’m going to make this glass of whisky disappear.
Musically speaking, this album once again shows the group in fine form and with lots of memorable tunes, even if it lacks contributions from Dominguinhos and Anastacia like the last one I posted. Não sou culpadois a catchy invocation blending proud regionalism with an assertion of the Nordestino’s brasilidade or national belonging. Linda sinfonia brings us a frevo in a forró style. Bem obrigado sounds like it was written for Jackson do Pandeiro and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him covering it in the 1980’s, it has his syncopation and cadence imitated perfectly. But what may be most striking is that the Trio has “modernized” with electric bass and a full drum kit here. Even I tend to hear the new, electric forró bands – most of which are not my cup of tea – as having little to do with traditional pé de serra. But as always, these things are more of a continuum than a sharp break. If you listen to the slightly-funky bass riffs on this album and the way the drummer plays loud, booming fills on the tom-tom drums at the end of the choruses of the album’s title track, the stuff ain’t that different than Mastruz Com Leite, arrangement-wise.
I realize that I’ve fallen into the trap of only posting about this type of music around São João season, which is a pity. I promise to do better in the future and keep them coming throughout the year.
Arranged By – Quinteto Violado
Artwork – Jorge Vianna
Design – Lobianco, Aldo luiz
Mastered By – Joaquim Figueira
Photography By – Rodolpho Machado
Producer – Paulinho Tapajós
Studio technicians – Paulo Sergio, Zé Guilherme
Produced & Distributed by CBD Phonogram
Matrix / Runout: 200 6349143 A1
Matrix / Runout: 200 6349143 B1
Vinyl transfer info: Original Philips vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; AUdioquest King Cobra cables; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; clicks and pops removed with Click Repair on light settings, manually auditioning the output; further clicks removed with Adobe Audition 3.0; dithered and resampled using iZotope RX Advanced. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
Today (June 24) is the feast day of St. John the Baptist, otherwise known as São João holiday in Brazil, which of course is a really huge deal in Brazil. Earlier this week we had an offering from Trio Nordestino. Now let’s have something for the universitário set with this mid-70’s record from Quinteto Violado. This record seemed a bit more fun to prepare for the blog than the other record of theirs that I posted a whole FOUR YEARS ago, over here. There you can read all about my misgivings about this kind of conservatory-trained appropriation of roots music. I’m not sure if I’ve loosened up, or if they have on this record – the group sounds a little less “studied” and more flowing here. Even if Berra-boi might be the “better” record, it sounds like they are having fun here. The blazing instrumental acrobatics of Rumo Norte and its wonderful, almost Beatle-esque vocal harmonies make me hopeful they won’t be hamstrung by any traditionalist puritanism. Or maybe the sense of fun is really just the “well-oiled machine” effect of groups that have been playing together for a while as a unit. It’s hard not to be impressed by their virtuosity here, but it still lacks something in the way of passionate conviction. Their deconstruction of the Luiz Gonzaga / Zé Dantas classic, A Volta da Asa Brança, is certainly fun to hear. It’s artful (or maybe just ‘artsy’), clever and playful and non-confrontational (unlike Caetano Veloso’s rendition that pushes into edgy performance art territory, as seen in the Phono 73 film). It’s cool, and their drummer is on fire in the bridge, but it’s coolness is also kind of emotionally flat, isn’t it? Quinteto Violado often sounds like they just need a vocalist with some soul to make their case more convincing. But then again, awkward or uninspiring vocalists seem to be a thing in music linked to Pernambuco, so maybe its just something I’m still not ‘getting’ after all this time. Like much about ‘roots music’ itself, sometimes you just have to be from there, so just ignore everything I’m saying. Just listen to the drummer, he’s incredible. What the hell is he doing on Mundão, besides blowing my mind?
They hit all the Northeastern folkloric touchstones here, with motifs from at least a dozen different genres of music or ‘dramatic dances’ that you will find only in the Nordeste, with particular emphasis on their native Pernambuco. Obviously there is the presence of forró and even a guest appearance by the late, great Dominguinhos, who co-authored “Sete Meninas,” which opens up the second side. He even sings a little on it. You’ll also hear a simulated glimpse of a sacred jurema ceremony and a devotional homage to the caboclo spirits that animate them on Canindé. Ciranda, chegança, boi bumba, caboclinhos, cavalo marinho, and pifanos, pifanos, pifanos! If those words alone excite you then you will at least enjoy spinning this a few times. If you don’t know them, well don’t expect me to be all didactic about it, after all I’m not writing a book here. If I were writing a book, my life would probably be in a lot better shape than it is right now. At the very least I wouldn’t be spending the night of São João, Midsummer’s Eve in my hemisphere, alone in front of a computer screen.
So sit beside the breakfast table,
think about your troubles,
pour yourself some pinga, and think about the bubbles.
And celebrate the bonfires
And things made out of corn
because he not busy dying
is busy being born.
Abdias – “E Seus Sambas de Sucesso”
Released 1971 on CBS/Entré (104194)
01. Pra não morrer de tristeza (João Silva – K. Boclinho)
02. Minha ex-mulher (Severino Ramos – José Pereira)
03. Prefiro a Bohemia (Osvaldo Oliveira – Ayrão Reis)
04. Mocidade que perdi (Laurentino Azevedo – Zito de Souza)
05. Ninguém gosta de ninguém (Antonio Barros)
06. Seu dia chegará (Geraldo Gomes – Anatalicio)
07. Pra não me matar de dor (Anatalicio)
08. Vou doar meu coração (Antonio Barros)
09. Fraguei (Osvaldo Oliveira – Dilson Doria)
10. Nunca mais hei de beber (Elias Soares)
11. Não posso lhe perdoar (Jacinto Silva – Sebastião Rodrigues)
12. Tarimba de bambú (Serafim Adriano – Zito de Souza)
Vinyl; Pro-Ject RM-5SE with Audio Tecnica AT440-MLa cartridge; Speedbox power supply); Creek Audio OBH-15; M-Audio Audiophile 192 Soundcard ; Adobe Audition at 32-bit float 96khz; ClickRepair, adjusted manually; clicks and pops removed individually with Adobe Audition 3.0; resampled using iZotope RX 2 Advanced SRC and dithered with MBIT+ for 16-bit. Converted to FLAC in either Trader’s Little Helper or dBPoweramp. Tags done with Foobar 2000 and Tag and Rename.
The day of São João (June 23) is long gone and yesterday was technically the last day of the festas juninas cycle, but there will still be a few stray parties, which some people have taken to calling festas julinas . I really dropped the ball on sharing any forró records this year and I apologize to all of you for it. On the bright side, I did fix a bunch of old links that had been killed by Blogger. I’m still feeling restless and edgy, man, like it’s all about breaking boundaries and stuff with me, you dig? So this record only tangentially fits into the holiday cycle, because these are all sambas, but performed with instrumentation associated with forró and baião. Abdias (full name, José Abdias de Farias) had quite a career in forró, producing records by Trio Nordestino and Jackson do Pandeiro, and played an important role in the career of Marinês, to whom he was married at one point. He has some arranging and songwriting credits (including one number co-authored with João do Vale, “Balancero da Usina”), but on this disc his repertoire is entirely composed by others. These are all mostly sambas lamenting broken hearts and doomed love, but (as samba often does) they manage to sound pretty upbeat throughout all the heartache. A couple of these are credited to an Antonio Barros, who – if this is the same individual – was a colleague of Luiz Gonzaga, who played triangle in his band (yeah that’s right, the triangle, you wanna make something of it?) and wrote at least a couple dozen forró tunes. One of my favorite tunes here is from Jacinto Silva and Sebastião Rodrigues, “Não posso lhe perdoar,” in fact I liked it so much that I included it on Flabbergasted Freeform No. 14.
Carmélia Alves Eu Sou O Baião Revivendo RVD 213 Released 2004
Sabiá na Gaiola (1950)with Conjunto Continental
(Hervê Cordovil – Mario Vieira) Deixei de Sofrer (1943)with Benedicto Lacerda e Seu Conjunto
(Horondino Silva – Popeye do Pandeiro) Saia de Bico (1950)with Trio Melodia and Conjunto Continental
(Traditional, arranged by João de Barro) Esta Noite Serenô (1951)from the film “Meu Destino é Pecar”
(Hervê Cordovil) Eh! Boi (1951)with Orquestra Continental
(Hervê Cordovil) Trépa no Coqueiro (1950)with Orquestra Copacabana
(Ari Kerner) Adeus, Adeus Morena (1951)with Vero e Seu Conjunto
(Manézinho Araújo, Hervê Cordovil) Maria Joana (1952)with Sivuca
(Luiz Bandeira) Carreteiro (1953)with Orquestra Continental
Piratini, Caco Velho Adeus, Maria Fulô (1951)with Jimmy Lester
Humberto Teixeira, Sivuca Cabeça Inchada (1951)with Orquestra Cotinental from the film Uma aventura no Rio
Hervê Cordovil Tic-Tac do Meu Relógio (1949) – Carmélia Alves & Quarteto de Bronze with “Fats” Elpidio e Seu Ritmo
Dunga O Baião em Paris (1951)with Vero e Seu Conjunto
Humberto Teixeira Quem Dorme no Ponto é Chauffeur (1943)with Benedicto Lacerda e Seu Conjunto
Assis Valente Eu Sou o Baião (1952) with Vero e Seu Conjunto
Humberto Teixeira Diga Que Sim (1949)with “Fats” Elpidio e Seu Ritmo
Roberto Martins, Ari Monteiro O Trem Chegou (1950)Carmélia Alves & Trio Melodia with Conjunto Continental
Hervê Cordovil Tristezas do Jeca (1952)Carmélia Alves & Trio Melodia with Bittencourt e Seu Conjunto
Angelino de Oliveira Baião da Garoa (1954)Carmélia Alves & Trio Melodia with Quinteto Continental
Hervê Cordovil, Luiz Gonzaga Trem Ô-Lá-Lá (1950)with Orquestra Copacabana
Lauro Maia, Humberto Teixeira Coração Magoado (1950)with Severinio Araújo e Sua Orquestra Tabajara
The first festa junina post of 2016 is arriving rather late to the blog, and has the audacity to feature a singer from Rio rather than the Nordeste. Don’t worry though, Carmélia Alves has her bonafides, and was known as the Queen of Baião until her death in 2012. On this collection you’ll hear her performing with Sivuca and his band, whom she is credited with having “discovered,” and the repertoire is peppered with songs penned by Humberto Teixeira and even one from Gonzaga. As you can hear above, though, she began her career as a samba singer in the mold of Carmen Miranda. With a background as a singer on the radio, in nightclubs, and as a backing vocalist for others (principally Benedicto Lacerda), her first record in 1943 was actually self-financed, with the musicians donating their time. It also featureed Elizeth Cardoso, Cyro Monteiro and Nélson Gonçalves singing backing in the coro before they were famous. All of the songs recorded at that session were sambas, and two of them are featured here. The lean years of the war meant that even major artists were not recording much, and Carmélia would not record again until 1949. She spent that time traveling with her husband Jimmy Lester (his “crooner” name, as he performed American songs at the Copacabana Palace, where they met), and performing in various Brazilian cities. When she moved back to Rio and began recording again, her repertoire included baião, rancheira, and toada numbers alongside samba, marcha, and choro. If nothing else, this Revivendo collection highlights a point that historian Bryan McCann has pointed out: in the period before the dawn of bossa nova, the baião was a tremendously popular genre and maybe even a contender for a “national” music style, rather than being relegated to a kind of regionalist musical ghetto that always seems one step away from “folklore.” Samba and MPB singers would continue to draw inspiration from baião and the other rhythms that comprise forró – Clara Nunes always made it a point to include a Northeastern number on nearly all her records from the 70s onward, for example. But those are nods to a kind of spiritual-musical ‘roots’ periodically rediscovered in that storied region. In the period on this CD, baião could still be performed by any of the popular bands or singers of the day right alongside the latest sambas, in fashionable ballrooms and adorned with pearls, without necessarily having to dress it up in the leather-hats-and-bandolier costumes of the arid northeastern backlands.
Of her sambas, there are only a few here, but they include Diga que sim from 1949, Coração magoadofrom 1950, and Deixa de sofrer and Quem dorme no ponto é chauffer, both from that first 1943 session. The latter was penned by Assis Valente and reportedly is the origin of the slang phrase derived from the title. There is the choro composition Tic-tac do meu relógio. There is the balanceio track Trépa no coqueiro, a huge hit which my friend Bertha insists is a classic but which I think could be included in a David Lynch film as a repeating theme meant to drive the audience slightly bonkers. All of these are nicely placed to add some variety to the baião and toada numbers that make up the bulk of the disc. Of these, a great deal were written for her by Hervê Cordovil, a pianist and composer from Minas Gerais whose first success with Carmélia was when she was featured performing his Cabeça inchada in the film Uma aventura no Rio in 1949. The song was quickly rerecorded by a host of other artists, and further Hervê and Carmélia pairings soon followed, including Sabiá na gaiola, which opens this set and is an homage to one of Brazil’s most colorful and iconic songbirds. You might find that some of the earlier baião numbers here, played by radio orchestras, sound rather stiff and restrained if you are used to the more flowing and freewheeling small combos from the Northeast, as found on recordings by Gonzaga or Jackson do Pandeiro. One gets the feeling that the musicians are sticking closely to their charts and playing in an idiom with which they might be somewhat unfamiliar. That makes the tracks with Sivuca here all the more special. Apparently Carmélia discovered him while performing for Rádio Jornal in Recife (a station which is still going, although it was mostly news and talk programs when I lived there), and convinced him to relocate to Rio and try his luck down there. From the first appregio runs of Maria Joana, everything sounds more relaxed, the band fast and loose, and Sivuca contributing some harmonies and regional exclamations (ôxente!). Clocking in at under 2 and 1/2 minutes, it smokes. Have a listen here, where it is followed by another and more famous track featuring Sivuca, Adeus Maria Fulô:
Adeus, Maria Fulô has had quite an interesting life. The version above is the original from 1951. (Purist gadfly commentary: note the prominent use of the electric guitar in this recording. Isn’t it great?) Carmélia and her husband spent a great deal of the 1950s and 60s performing all over the world – South and Central America, Russia, Europe, where she eventually lived for quite a long time. At some point she befriended Miriam Makeba, who she says learned to speak perfect Portuguese and rerecorded the song in 1967, having a big hit with it in South Africa and Europe. Let’s have a listen to her version:
The following year, the song also appeared as a stand-out cut on the breakthrough record by Tropicália firebrands Os Mutantes. They’ve traded in the accordion for a marimba and xylophone and deconstructed it, as they were prone to do. Here is their 1968 recording of it:
And, what the hell, one more for good measure. To come full circle, Gal Costa, once a Tropicalísta but now a respectable MPB artist, recorded a version with Sivuca for a record paying tribute to Humberto Teixeira in 2003. Here’s their respectful rerecording which contains zero actual surprises apart from some nice jazz chord inversions on the piano
Teixeira also wrote O baião em Paris, taking the genre international in song several years before they would actually start touring extensively in Europe. He also wrote the tune that ceded a title for this collection, Eu sou o baião, which is lovely (as you can here in the first playlist up at the top of the page).
If I have a complaint about this collection, it’s that it doesn’t quite do justice to Carmélia Alves’ versatility. It is understandable that Revivendo would want to focus on baião (she was the Queen, after all). But the collection is only 58 minutes long , so there is definitely room here for some more music. It would have been nice for them to include a few of Capiba’s frevos that she recorded in the early 50s, and she continued recording great samba even as she began to focus on (or be pigeonholed into) “regional music” of the Nordeste during the period covered here. Just because you can stuff a CD with 74 or 80 minutes of audio doesn’t always mean you should, but in Carmélia’s case I wish they had. Even so, this is a pretty solid collection spanning the first decade or so of her long career. Highly recommended!
04. Nordeste pra frente (Luiz Queiroga / Luiz Gonzaga)
05. Valha Deus Senhor São Bento (Antônio Almeida)
06. Erva rasteira (Gonzaguinha)
07. Diz que vai virar (Gonzaguinha)
08. Baião polinário (Humberto Teixeira)
09. Saudades de Helena (Antônio Barros)
10. Tic-tac tic-tac (Antônio Almeida)
11. Canto sem protesto (Luiz Queiroga / Luiz Gonzaga)
12. Chico valente (Rildo Hora)
A rather mellow, atypical album from Gonzagão here. It’s a pleasant listen with some very melodic tunes on it, but it’s also a confused mess of a record when you stop to really look at it. It definitely suffers from the relative absence of his most renowned songwriting partner from the period, Humberto Teixeira, who only contributes two songs here that are also arguably the best ones. (Strangely, he was corralled into writing the liner notes, but more about that later). What immediately makes this record stand out is that Luiz Gonzaga’s son, Gonzaguinha, wrote a bunch of the songs here. Part of the student protest-song movement, Gonzaguinha would go on to become a respected MPB star in the seventies while still retaining his ‘engaged’ stance, putting out some real solid records as well as a few clunkers like everyone else. But however poetic the lyrics might be here, the famously dour, humorless flavor of 1960s protest music just doesn’t sound natural coming from the ebullient and emotive elder Gonzaga. Hearing him sing lines like “It’s always the same hunger / that drives me to despair. / It’s always the same hand / that lives to exploit me,” is really awkward. This song, “Pobreza por pobreza”, was rerecorded by Gonzaguinha the following year for the theater group Arena, for which it seems more fitted. This sort of didactic, literal approach to a socially-engaged song-craft is in many ways the best argument for why a song like“Asa Branca,” with its flowing, evocative, and multivalent imagery of drought, migration and redemption – is a tremendously more powerful statement than anything the self-defined protest singers could dream up. In fairness to historical accuracy, it should be noted that Father and Son stood at different points of the political spectrum and, in a common effect of the generation gap of the time, this finds Gonzagão occasionally defending the military takeover of the country while his son was of course outspokenly against it.
I’ve included samples of both the Gonzaguinha and Gonzagão versions of this song by way of illustration, reversed chronologically so you can it hear performed by the songwriter first.
Gonzagão’s version is noticeably less stiff and more agreeable to the ear. Gonzaguinha finally did find the right tempo and approach to make the song work better several years later, in 1972 (you can check it out here).
Two of Gonzaga Jr.’s contributions to Canaã feature the rhythms of maracatu nação, the afro-Brazilian tradition tied to the xangô temples of this region, similar to but distinct from Bahian candomblé, and something that was (and still is) celebrated as an emblem of cultural resistance by the artistic and intellectual elites. Introducing this rhythm into the godfather of the baião’s repertoire is an interesting thing to hear, but it comes off a bit quaint, and in the end I’d rather hear him play a good xôte or arrasta-pé. The sound of nação maracatu has been drawn on by a variety of artists making records for the commercial market, most effectively by Chico Science and Nação Zumbi who managed to both retain and translate its thundering urgency, but here it just sounds polite and slightly ponderous.
The non-Gonzaguinha tunes here are also a mixed bunch. The closing track, Chico Valente, is a bit of a classic, and was penned by Rildo Hora who incidentally has a bunch of arranging and producing credits, including on some albums that I plan to share here soon. There are two songs co-authored with Luis Queiroga, a humorist and radio personality who had written tunes with Gonzaga as far back as the 1950s (and whose son is currently a recording artist). “Nordeste Pra Frente” begins as a light-hearted deposition to an imaginary journalist about how much the Northeast has changed into a happening, groovy place with girls who wear miniskirts, men with long hair, hotels that serve Scotch and country people with Japanese radios. But the tune quickly devolves into political propaganda. By the time of the second verse, where Gonzaga praises the progress and accomplishments of various cities in his native Pernambuco, I began to think “Jesus, this sounds like SUDENE propaganda,” and sure enough by the third verse he is singing the praises of that organ of the state. SUDENE, for those who don’t know, was the development agency charged with analyzing and addressing the Northeast’s perennial problems of drought, poverty, illiteracy and overall “under-development.” Originally populated by leftists like the economist Celso Furtado, the organization was pretty thoroughly co-opted after the 1964 military coup and reoriented towards big capital-intensive projects through which they courted foreign investors in the same strategy used throughout the dictorship’s “economic miracle” more generally. (In fact I have some odd and slightly unnerving archival photos that I took of some SUDENE material from this era found in a special collections section of the state archive of Pernambuco, a small book published in English and specifically targeted at the US and English business communities). The song goes so far as air the “common sense” opinion of the dictatorship’s apologists – that the “old” SUDENE wasn’t accomplishing anything until the new military government took it over. So while this song might be upbeat and kind of “cute,” it is also creepy and that makes it hard for me to get behind it. My friend Bertha also points out that the title is uncannily similar to a propaganda phrase used during the Medíci years of the dictatorship, as found in this “cute” little ad that would run before feature films or in between TV commercials:
The penultimate song, “Canto Sem Protesto,” is also co-written with Luis Queiroga. Artistically it is definitely an improvement over “Nordeste Pra Frente.” It also adds further to the cognitive dissonance that has been building up during the album, in that it is basically a rebuttal to his son’s generation of university-based protest singers. It illustrates in very plainspoken, earnest terms the aforementioned generational divide, saying that his role as a singer is not to make social commentary but to bring people joy. This of course touches on a debate that never goes away about the role of popular music and entertainment. But as expressed in this song, it’s part of a pretty profoundly conservative worldview: “He who has hate in his heart doesn’t sing / And I wouldn’t want to hear them sing anyway” he says in the first verse, presumably alerting us to the likelihood that he probably wasn’t going to embrace punk rock when it came around, and then follows this with “Since the time of Pilot / Jesus protested / but since he wasn’t a singer / there’s weren’t big crowds // Since then there is always something / that needs to be protested / But that’s not my song / My place is to bring joy.” Say what you will about the point of view here, but this is pretty clever, managing to get in a dig about the inevitable self-aggrandizement of socially-engaged ‘pop’ music while also giving them a bit of genial sympathy. On the one hand it represents a typically “traditional” worldview in the Northeast, one that is acquiescent about the region’s injustices and even openly supportive of the social hierarchy that undergirds them. On the other hand it also expresses the opinion – completely legitimate, in my view – that protest music just wasn’t Gonzaga’s style and he wasn’t going to change simply to keep up with fashion. Pity he didn’t stick to that position while recording this album… There is more going on here than just the pressures on an artist with more than twenty years of career behind them to stay “relevant” – that is something that we find in all times and places. The debate here is particularly weighty because of the role that the Northeast has played in the country’s cultural politics, taking center stage as a nexus of artistic creation in clusters and bursts of activity since the 1930s. The stark inequalities of the region, and the resilience of its stalwart residents to find ways to survive them (if not necessarily overcome them), made Northeastern themes a favorite of the mid-60s protest song movement. And here was Gonzaga, the best-known singer from the region whose image hinged on the notion of his own authenticity, and he was taking a different point of view.
In a way, all of these things combine to make an otherwise unremarkable album, one that was barely on my radar, into a sort of time capsule of all the contradictions and tensions in Brazilian society and their corresponding dynamics in the world of popular culture. The album’s liner notes, as I pointed out earlier, were written by Humberto Teixeira, in spite of him only having contributed two songs here. These notes are somewhat beguiling because they are largely addressed to people standing in the wings of contemporaneous debates, not exactly illuminating anything for the casual listener in 2015. In them, Teixeira suggests that baião was by nature always a type of “protest” song in the most pure sense, in that simply to sing about the Northeast at the time it came on the scene was to shed light on the lives of a forgotten people. At the same time that he contextualizes the contribution of the baião to the idea of a national song-writing tradition, he also inadvertently seems to be interring it in a museum, speaking of its history in a way that comes off kind of like a eulogy. And there is no denying that the golden age for baião and forró had in fact come and gone – the vast majority of canonical classics and staples in the repertoire date from the 1940s to the early 60s. Of course there would be people like Domiguinhos to carry the torch and contribute some more immortal compositions, or groups like Trio Nordestino to heat up the dance floor. But the time of composers like Teixeira and Zé Dantas, who churned out hundreds of songs that remain classics to this day, was already receding in the rear view mirror at this point.
In fact it would fall upon the brilliance of artists like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil to reclaim that “contribution to national song” on its own terms: they embraced the work of Gonzaga, Jackson do Pandeiro and others without the need to ventriloquize them into mouthpieces for political activism. Just as they did with samba, the Tropicalístas’ irreverent treatment of this body of work ends up being the most sincere homage, decentering and subverting the use of these styles of music as vehicles for any kind of over-arching political ideology, whether from the right or the left. Gonzaga and Jackson owed a debt to the Tropicalístas for the resurgence of interest in their music which enabled them to have productive and lucrative “final acts” in their late-in-life careers. I say this, too, as a non-Brazilian who was introduced to their songs by way of albums from Gal Costa, Caetano, and Gil. The first time I heard Gal sing “Sebastiana” I nearly crapped myself, and wasted no time in tracking down the original. Naturally when I heard Jackson do Pandeiro’s version my first reaction was a bit of “WTF?!”, as Gil’s arrangement had drastically dismembered and reconstructed it into a tropical Frankenstein. And yet somehow those crazy baianos were tapping into the essence of these songs. They were certainly getting closer to the spirit of these Northeastern genres than their contemporaries in the student protest song movement, with whom they had a notoriously antagonistic relationship. Meanwhile many of those Northeastern artists with roots in the student movement ended up rising through the music business ranks and coming back with a less strident approach during the mid-70s, in the careers of the new generation of MPB singer-songwriters like Belchior, Fagner, and of course Gonzaguinha. That stuff has it’s place, and I will defend the early albums from all those guys from their detractors. Gonzaguinha, who group up carioca in Rio de Janeiro rather than the Northeast, would eventually collaborate as a performer with Gonzaga Sr. in the late 70s and throughout the 1980s, releasing some very commercially-successful albums where they were given equal co-billing. But in an alternate 1968, I would much rather be listening to Gonzaga singing songs with “Veloso/Gil” in the composer credits than Gonzaguinha or, for that matter, Luis Queiroga. Instead, we have this confused, conflicted jumble of pleasant songs.