05 - Clara de ovo (Duduca do Salgueiro - Noel Rosa de Oliveira) canta: Duduca do Salgueiro
06 - É por aqui (Walter Rosa) canta: Walter Rosa
07 - Juizo final (Élcio Soares - Nelson Cavaquinho) canta: Nelson Cavaquinho
08 - Concurso para enfarte (Alvaiade) canta: Alvaiade
09 - Eu Vou Sorrir (Carivaldo de Morra - Iracy Silva) canta: Iracy Serra
10 - Reliquias da Bahia (Pelado da Mangueira) canta: Pelado da Mangueira
Here is a record that I've had in the cue to post for at least the last nine months. The problem has been that this record is so good, every time I start to try and find something to say about it I feel unworthy. This is one of the proverbial "desert island discs" and if I had to be stranded anywhere with only one samba album, this would be on the short list. It probably even beats out that other amazing disc by a different Velha Guarda, Portela Passado de Glória. So in the absence of excuses for delaying this post, I can only say "Feliz é quem tem paciência / Feliz é que sabe espera" (Noel Rosa de Oliviera)
This record features samba composers from the escolas de samba of Mangueira, Portela, Salgueiro, and Império Serrano. All of these guys could be considered 'godfathers' of samba but of special note is Ismael Silva, frequent partner of Noel Rosa and co-founder of the very first samba school, Deixa Falar (Let Them Talk), and one contribution from certifiable genius Nelson Cavaquinho.
Occasionally I have written about one record or another and claimed that its only flaw was its brevity. Given that the running time of the majority of classic Brazilian Long Players clock in right around the half-hour mark (this one is 29 minutes and 20 seconds!), this pithy observation was becoming a cliché. I can't fault anyone for brevity in an age where recording artists see fit to take at least a two-year break between recordings and then feel compelled to churn out tediously overlong records as if to atone for their absence. This is a near-perfect album and I prefer it short and sweet than littered with filler.
From the first cavaquinho chords of "Saudade do passado" (Mano Décio da Viola, from samba school Império Serrano), the record takes on the auburn tones of a faded photograph that dominate so thoroughly they even bleed through the album cover itself. It seems like no matter how far back you go in samba, somebody was always looking back further, commemorating and remembering, creating these perfect still-lifes of terça-feira de carnaval, the last day of carnival as the dust settles into Ash Wednesday. These songs are a way of marking time as immutable as the lifelines of a tree trunk. The poetry of the everyday fills nine of the ten selections, whether talking to us about the absurdity of trying to get by on Brazil's minimum wage, or spinning tales of broken hearts, mágoas, being treated bad but putting up with it anyway because you adore somebody, and of course revenge real or imagined. Many tunes exhibit what I might call a pragmatic melancholy, sad but never maudlin, and frequently with a dose of black humor like Alvaiade's contribution here:
Saber sofrer // To know how to suffer
Para mim é uma arte // For me is an art form
Mas aguentar você // But putting up with you
É concurso pra enfarte // Is like a heart attack competition
... it's better with the rhymes in it, in the original.
Ismael Silva's song is great, with his voice that invokes the old days of samba when people sang without any microphones and plenty of vibrato. Nelson Cavaquinho (card-carrying genius) brings one of his masterworks to the botequim table: "Juizo Final" here is slightly less gratifying than the version on his own 1973 album, if only because here it is taken at a quicker tempo that robs it a bit of its stateliness. Perhaps the big 'deep cut' for me on this record is Walter Rosa's song "É Por Aquí." Rosa was a Portela stalwart and had a voice that was superficially reminiscent of Nelson, confusing me a bit the first time I heard this album. He also had some heavy writing partners like Monarco and Manacéia, and has had his compositions recorded by the likes of Roberto Silva, Martinha da Vila, Elizete Cardoso, Zuzuca, and Beth Carvalho (who also recorded a great version of "Salário Minimo"). A thorough analysis of this album ought to make a similar list for each of these great sambistas, because although each of them left a discographical legacy to greater or lesser degrees, where they really made their mark was as composers: leading their beloved samba schools to Carnaval victory with their songs, or providing the famous voices of MPB and samba with gems for their repertoires. Many of these songs can still be heard at many a roda de samba. Because music like this never dies. The record ends in a slightly odd twist for one that is by and large an intimate affair: a samba exaltação for Bahia and the city of Salvador, praising its illustrious churches, its acarajé, its candomblé, its Rui Barbosa; the first capital of Brazil, a symbol of national progress, and so on and blah blah blah. A pleasant enough song (and sung by a Carioca, Pelado da Mangueira, not a Bahian), but kind of uninteresting. Although I'm unsure of the age of this song its zealous civic pride would fit naturally in the era par excellence for samba exaltação - the authoritarian, paternalistic, and uber-nationalist decades under Getulio Vargas. It just seems an odd choice, given the short 29-minute running time of the record and the abundance of compositions available with all these guys in the same studio. But I don't want to be too hard on old Pelado - he wins HANDS DOWN the prize for best apelido (nickname, nome de guerra) and wardrobe of anyone on this record. I really want his hat and shirt. I think there is a better photo of him on the vinyl, now I will have to look and bring it here.
The album was produced by Mazola and has liner notes from Sérgio Cabral. Immaculately recorded and mixed (on which count it scores points on the tinny, thin sounding Portela album from 1970), this is one of those rare titles where I own it both on vinyl and CD and I can say they actually got it right this time in the digital realm, retaining the warmth and fullness of the original. The music's undying nature notwithstanding, the fact that this recording is completely out of print is yet another example of malfeasance by an industry that still views cultural patrimony as just another commodity to be extracted, packaged, and forgotten about. I guess the industry has been too busy putting together box sets for Cazuza or whomever, to remember the sambistas they so gleefully exploited when classic samba was filling their coffers.
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