October 1, 2014
There’s nothing quite like early Brazilian string band music – hot, exciting, well-played, and often extremely rare. Quite a number of groups featuring the Brazilian bandolim, cavaquinho, Brazilian acoustic guitar (the violão), banjo, and even fiddle, were recorded, but a perfect storm of factors have kept many of these discs a bit more hidden: a) very little distribution outside of Brazil, and b) a tropical climate, which can wreak havoc on 78 rpm records, drastically upping their attrition rate, making them sometimes extremely tough to dig up, even in Brazil. If you find an early Brazilian 78 – and companies began recording in the country in the first decade of the 20th century – it could be close to unplayable, or an example of the most popular style of music, large-band style samba. Or both! This is not to say that samba is in any way bad, mind you – its enduring qualities are deserved and well-documented. It just became the most popular of all styles.
“String band music” is probably too generic a term. There were several different types of Brazilian musics performed mainly on string instruments. Some of the most complex and virtuoso performances were saved for recordings of choro music, with its tight syncopation and dizzying, ragtime-like runs. Later, in the late 1920s, guitar duos from rural areas began appearing on record, performing early examples of música serteneja (literally, music from the back country). There were also string bands that had samba singers as members, such as the Bando de Tangarás, who boasted as members the greats Noel Rosa and João de Barro. Some string groups occasionally recorded Afro-Brazilian styles, such as “batuque” songs. It was a fascinating mix in the early days, especially when electric recording began in Brazil, which was around late 1927.
The Turunas de Mauricéa (also spelled as “Turunas de Mauricéia”) group was a wealth of talent, active only from 1927-1929. They were from the north.The Miranda brothers, Luperce, Romualdo, and João, were from Recife, as was the blind Manoel de Lima. Their vocalist, Augusto Calheiros, was from Maceió. Together, they became the first group to travel to Rio and record songs from the north, such as emboladas and cocos. The group’s name is a reference to Recife itself, as it was once known as Mauricéa under the Dutch rule of Maurice of Nassau. Their recordings, 18 discs in total, rare as they are today, were very influential. In fact, the flip side to this track, “Piniao,” was a hit during Carnival in 1928. This piece, with its hard picked strings and harsh, loud singing, was one of Odeon’s earliest electric recordings in Brazil – and those early electric recordings are very poor. It seems to have taken some months for the company, long active in Brazil, to improve their quality and learn how to record with new microphone technology.
This piece translates to “broken pandeiro” (the Brazilian tambourine-like drum), and was recorded in November of 1927. Luperce Miranda, the indisputable early master of the bandolim and co-author of several of the group’s songs, likely does not appear on this track and perhaps not on any of the Turunas’ recordings. He did, however, go on to have a lengthy career in music. His brother João, not as exacting and imaginative a player as Luperce yet still a terrific musician, went on as the leader of the Desafiadores do Norte, and as a songwriter for Parlophon and Brunswick. Romualdo cut one solo disc on the guitar and seems to have stopped recording after around 1930. Augusto Calheiros’ voice smoothed out as the years went on and recording technology got better, also singing his way into the 1950s.
(image courtesy of onordeste.com)
Label: Odeon (Brazil)
Issue Number: 10067
Matrix Number: 1337
For several more Brazilian string band tracks, dig up “Portuguese String Music” on Heritage for a few early examples, and the Brazilian collections on Fremeaux also contain a few excellent tracks, albeit in various levels of sound quality (including “not so hot”).
July 10, 2012
It’s summer where I am – the French doors have opened and in comes the breeze. And I’m probably in one of the few places in North America that isn’t melting under a spate of equatorial heat and humidity right now. It’s true that I turn to specific musics in different seasons. These two tracks have nothing ostensibly similar about them at all – except I find them irresistible at the moment. They appear to be (deceptively) effortless in their execution. They’re catchy, smooth even…though original copies aren’t exactly growing on trees.
“A Tua Vida É Um Segredo” (Your Life Is A Secret) is a classic, easy-going Brazilian samba, recorded and pressed ca. 1932-1933 in Brazil by the Victor company. Victor was extremely active in South America, with major recording hubs and pressing plants in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. They were not the first to arrive, however – Columbia was recording in Brazil in the early years of the 20th century, and so was Odeon and Favorite, pressing loads of 10.5″ discs. What was recorded in the early days in Brazil, by and large, was not folkloric – it was military bands and operettas, and other music of elites. That said, there were incredible exceptions, such as the string band Grupo Bahianinho, featured on the excellent, now sadly out of print Portuguese String Music: 1908-31 CD on Heritage.
By the late 1920s, the Brazilian repertoire on 78 was beginning to change. Some of the leading artists who bridged the gap between traditional and popular music were just beginning to record. A number of renowned talents were involved in the production of this song, early in their careers. First, the lead vocal is by Mário Reis (1907-1981), the smooth-voiced samba pioneer who made his name performing with Carmen Miranda and Francesco Alves, among others. His soft-spoken vocal style was later an influence on João Gilberto. Second is the composer of the song, Lamartine Babo (1904-1963). Babo, originally from Rio, became one of the most important composers of Carnival music. Eventually, he became popular in radio and television production. Finally, there’s the man behind the Grupo da Guarda Velha (“The Old Guard”), Alfredo da Rocha Vianna, Jr., aka “Pixinguinha.” Pixinguinha, besides being a top choro musician (flute and saxophone were his specialties), was also a house conductor and arranger for RCA Victor during this period. His “Old Guard” at times featured guitarist and cavaquinho player Donga, Bonfiglio de Oliveira on trumpet, Luis Americano on clarinet, Vantuil de Carvalho on trombone, and João da Baiana on the pandeiro.
A mea culpa – this track also appears on an imported 3-CD, eponymous collection of Mário Reis’ work, although I have not heard the transfer or seen the set. I am accompanying it with a separate piece of music that’s all but disappeared…
The Winner label was one of many small, South African labels operating in the early 1960s, issuing all manner of popular styles of music across southern Africa – jive, jazz, guitar folk, concertina music, Malawian music, Mozambican music, etc. Winner had an impressive roster and beautifully clean pressings. This track, recorded ca. 1962, features an excellent vocal jive quartet and an acoustic backing band typical of jive bands before most had gone electric in the mid-1960s. I was introduced to the A- side of this record (titled “Vuka Lova”) some years ago by collector and friend Michael Kieffer, and instantly recognized an above-average jive band. When I had the chance to pick up my own copy, I jumped – lo and behold, I was equally enamored of this, the flip side. “Imbishi Mbishi” in Xhosa apparently is a nickname that means “the corpulent one”…though I believe the term is used metaphorically. The lyricist is a man named Gibson Kente (1934-2004), who was just on the cusp of becoming one of South Africa’s most revered writers of musical theater in the townships. Throughout his career, Kente was criticized as being overly saccharine in the face of the violence of apartheid, but various scholars consider his works important examples of township drama, and his works in the 1970s focus on the injustice of apartheid. This sweet number is an example of his early beginnings…
Grupo da Guarda Velha – A Tua Vida É Um Segredo
Issue Number: 33614-B
Matrix Number: n/a
Issue Number: OK.126
Matrix Number: 13455
October 6, 2009
Música sertaneja essentially is Brazilian country music whose influences stem from the rural regions of the São Paulo and Minas Gerais states. The duos (duplas) perform on 10-string viola caipira guitars, and usually sing in parallel thirds and sixths, in a rural dialect and in a somewhat nasal tone. From the 1940s on, the duplas became hugely popular, particularly with working class Brazilians. There were dozens of duplas groups that recorded for Brazilian labels – apparently, the style even threatened to eclipse samba in popularity, causing a bit of a backlash. Some duplas performed virtually all types of songs and dances, often mixing folk idioms with urban or international influences. Some performers wore felt hats or had wild pompadours. While it may not sound as raw and unsophisticated as Dock Boggs or any “country” artist from the United States, it can be truly enjoyable, effective music. For such a popular, ingrained genre, similar to postwar “Country and Western” in the US, I find it interesting that there seems to be few if any early examples of this music on CD on US labels, though there are loads of Brazilian CDs that feature the style.
Many duplas had simple names, more or less like nicknames: Tonico e Tinoco, Zico e Zeca, Lourenço e Lourival, and the performers of today’s piece, Vieira e Vieirinha, one of Brazil’s most beloved duos. Brothers born in a rural part of the Itajobi municipality in the interior of Brazil, Vieira’s given name was Rubens Vieira Marques (1926-2001), and Vieirinha’s was Rubiao Vieira (1928-1991). Their career began in the late 40s performing on Brazilian radio. They began recording approximately 32 78s in 1952-1953, and their first LP was released in 1958, for Continental. This piece is one of their most famous, and one of their earliest, dating from 1953. The title translates to “Transporting Cattle” or perhaps “Cattle Drive.” It eventually appeared on a 1971 LP by the duo, which can be found on the web, if you dig enough. The song is unabashedly romantic, with over-the-top sound effects, yet it does evoke a time and place, and one that we haven’t explored here.
Issue Number: 17-147
Matrix Number: 11740
May 26, 2008
Some time ago, I had thought about posting a track from the legendary Native Brazilian Music 78rpm box sets which Columbia released in the United States (only) in 1942, but I was so sure they had been reissued on CD that I hadn’t even bothered to think twice about doing so. Recently, I woke up to the fact that not only does there not appear to be any plan to reissue these records on CD - one of the most historic sessions in the history of Brazilian music – but less than half of the songs recorded were even released in ’42. The detailed story of Native Brazilian Music is best told in the Stalking Stokowski article by Daniella Thompson. I will briefly run down the Cliff’s Notes version:
Famed conductor Leopold Stokowski considered himself a Brazilian music aficionado, and had expressed interest to composer Heitor Villa-Lobos that he’d wanted to produce a collection of authentic Brazilian popular music for American audiences. In 1940, Stokowski was to sail (with the All-American Youth Orchestra, whom he founded and conducted) to various ports in Central and South America, including Rio de Janiero, and asked Villa-Lobos to gather the best musicians he could find for a recording session – all expenses paid by Stokowski, of course.
While Stokowski certainly deserves credit for spearheading the session and presumably paying the engineer from Columbia Records who would record nearly 40 tracks in a marathon 24 hour session/party – the real credit goes to Villa-Lobos for gathering a wide variety of top-notch Brazilian musicians. On the two Columbia box sets there are macumbas, sambas, emboladas, corimas, and maracatu music, for example. The sets contained the only vocal recordings by samba pioneer Zé Espinguela, the first recordings by Cartola, Pixinguinha appears on flute, and most of the tracks were accompanied by Donga’s conjunto regional.
There were a few negatives, the most obvious being Stokowski’s insistance that the recordings be made not in Columbia’s local studio in Rio, but onboard the S.S. Uruguay, where Stokowski was staying. According to Thompson’s article, the Columbia engineer was not used to recording in such a place, and as such, I believe the recordings sound more than a little thin. Also, when the box sets came out, they were rife with errors: some performers went uncredited, only 3 had their names spelled correctly, only 6 titles out of 16 were spelled correctly, and the song orders were printed incorrectly on the labels (all of these are corrected in Thompson’s article). Musically, the stiffest moments are the two Amerindian chants sung by four professors at the Orfeão Villa-Lobos – while of historical import, they end the exuberant atmosphere of the previous 14 tracks with a formal austerity.
This track by comedians Jararaca (José Luis Rodrigues Calazans, 1896-1977) and Ratinho (Severino Rangel de Carvalho, 1896-1972) is an example of an embolada, a tongue-twister-like, fast-tempo song from Northeastern Brazil.
If you’d like to hear both box sets, this generous Brazilian blogger offers them in their entirety. They are straight dubs and not cleaned up, but they still sound nice!
ALSO: Many thanks to Matt at Matsuli for hosting my guest post of May 20. Over 100 people were able to download the 26 remastered African jive 78s in less than a day, which is completely fantastic.
Issue Number: C-87, 36506
Matrix Number: CO30155
May 27, 2007
In terms of geography, the Victor company handled all of North and South America at that time, with divisions in Canada, Mexico, and Argentina – while His Master’s Voice (HMV), Victor’s larger sister company (for lack of a better descriptor), handled the rest of the world. Interestingly, Brazilian recordings were released by HMV as well, but I don’t know the exact reasons behind this. By 1933, all record companies that were still lucky enough to exist in one form or another were doing whatever it took to stay afloat, which in many cases meant merging, consolidating, or just plain selling off their catalog. Victor was the only American record company to make it out of the Depression. Surely, sales in the southern hemisphere had something to do with that, but again, this is conjecture on my part.
The lead singer of this track seems to be a well-known samba pioneer in Brazil, Luiz Barbosa. Barbosa recorded throughout the 1930s and appeared in some of the earliest films to feature Carmen Miranda. He died in 1938, at the young age of 28.
Some Barbosa material appears to be available on this CD, but as usual, I can’t vouch for the quality of the transfers.
Label: Victor (Argentina)
Issue Number: 25969
Matrix Number: 80377-1