See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Brazil: The country pays homage to the Samba master

Before reading on, please check out the accompanying samba soundtrack for this post.

If he was alive, Angenor de Oliveira (1908-1980), better known as Cartola, would be celebrating 100 years this October 11. To put it simply, Cartola was one of the most important figures in Brazilian samba and the composer behind the first samba school in Rio de Janeiro. Despite having only 4 years of formal education, Cartola composed or co-composed over 500 songs, all of them presenting very elaborate but simple lyrics which are deeply loved by Brazilians.

“Cartola did not exist. It was a dream that we had”, has said Nelson Sargento, another legendary Brazilian composer. On the centenary of this dream, bloggers pay homage publishing their favorite song or poem, quotes, videos, photos and bits and pieces of Cartola's history, a history inextricably linked with the history of samba itself.

Danton K [pt] talks about Cartola's poor childhood – he was the fourth of seven children – and how this made him interested in music.

Angenor de Oliveira nasceu no bairro do Catete, no Rio de Janeiro, no dia 11 de outubro de 1908. Tinha oito anos quando sua família se mudou para Laranjeiras e 11 quando passou a viver no morro da Mangueira, de onde não mais se afastaria. Desde menino participou das festas de rua, tocando cavaquinho no rancho Arrepiados e nos desfiles do Dia de Reis. Passando por diversas escolas, conseguiu terminar o curso primário, mas aos 15 anos, depois da morte da mãe, deixou a família e a escola, iniciando sua vida de boêmio.

Angenor de Oliveira was born in the neighborhood of Catete, in Rio de Janeiro, on October 11, 1908. He was 8 when his family moved to Laranjeiras and 11 when they went to live in the Mangueira slum, which he would never leave. From a young age he participated in street festivals, playing Cavaquinho in the Arrepiados carnival groups and the twelfth day parades. He went through several schools, and managed to finish primary school, but only at 15 years. After the death of his mother, he left the family and school and began his bohemian life.

It was there in the neighborhood of Mangueira that Cartola met other sambistas and the malandragem. At 19 years, in 1928, with a group of friends, Cartola played an important role in founding a carnival group that later became Estação Primeira de Mangueira, one of the most loved samba-schools in Brazil. Douglas Ceconello [pt] talks about how he combined his two passions in this project:

Cartola não apenas fundou a Estação Primeira de Mangueira como escolheu as cores e o nome. O verde e rosa, achava ele, referiam-se às tonalidades de seu querido e amado – o que naquela época devia parecer bastante paradoxal – Fluminense.

Not only did Cartola found the Estação Primeira de Mangueira but he chose its colors and name. The green and pink, he thought, referred to the shades of his dear and beloved team – which at that time should seem rather paradoxical – Fluminense [Football Club].

In the Mangueira balls, Cartola was distinguished by his elegance and good taste. Luis Castro tells us that Angenor was nicknamed Cartola, the Portuguese word for top hat, because of his excessive care with his appearance. It refers to the bowler hat he wore to keep the cement from ruining his hair style while working as a builder. He also did odd jobs, was a car-washer, a wall-painter, a waiter, a security guard and so on. Castro describes him as a genius:

Cartola was an alive proof of the God wisdom, born black, poor, had no religion, no formal education, lived his entire life over the slums (favelas) and has composed the most beautiful samba verses ever wrote and left a incredible legacy for the Brazilian people.

Murilo Gitel [pt] remembers that as happens with many genius, the sambista was only recognized as such after his death, on November 30, 1980. When he died of cancer at 72 years, samba had just started to leave the favela and hit the city streets. Cartola died, however, nearly as poor as when he was born:

Curiosamente, o artista só começou a ter visibilidade nacional aos 65 anos, quando lançou o clássico LP Cartola, apesar de ter se interessado pela música desde cedo. Em 1976, Beth Carvalho grava As Rosas Não Falam e o sucesso da canção faz com que o poeta apaixonado pelo cigarro, pela cachaça e pelo violão desse um salto considerável em sua carreira. No entanto, Cartola morreu pobre, há 28 anos, numa casa doada pela Prefeitura Municipal do Rio.

Curiously, the artist only caught the national attention at 65, when he released the classic LP Cartola, despite having been interested in music from an early age. In 1976, Beth Carvalho records As Rosas Não Falam (Roses Don't Speak) and the success of this song causes a considerable leap in the career of the poet passionate about cigarettes, rum and acoustic guitar. Despite his popularity, Cartola died poor, 28 years ago, in a house donated to him by the Municipality of Rio [de Janeiro].

Leandro Luiz Rodrigues [pt] explains that for Cartola, music and money didn't go together and so many of his songs were given free or nearly for free to friends:

Sempre viveu à margem da sociedade que o consumiu, só gravou o primeiro LP aos 65 anos e nunca entendeu como uma música (para ele compor era tão natural quanto qualquer necessidade fisiológica) podia ser comercializada. Vendeu suas composições sempre a preço de banana. Quantas belas músicas creditadas a outros compositores não saíram da mesma cabeça que criou “As rosas não falam”?

He always lived on the edge of the society that consumed [his art], he only recorded his first LP at 65 and he never understood how a song (composing for him was as natural as any physiological need) could be commercialized. He always sold compositions at a bargain price. How many beautiful songs credited to other composers in fact came from same mind that created “As rosas não falam”?

Journalist Monica Ramalho [pt], who has researched and written extensively about Cartola, publishes a piece she wrote in 2006, when her then editor commissioned a story showing a different side of the sambista. Here is an excerpt of an interview she did with Ronaldo de Oliveira, Cartola's adopted son, who regrets not having appreciated Cartola the musician as much, but remembers many of his father's lessons:

De uma delas, em especial, o herdeiro não esquece. “Quando tinha uns 16 anos, fiquei desempregado. Cheguei para ele e falei: ‘Seu Cartola, amanhã não precisa me chamar às 6h porque eu fui mandado embora’. Ele respondeu: ‘Tá bem’, mas quando chegou no outro dia, Cartola foi lá me acordar no mesmo horário de sempre. Eu reclamei e ele disse: ‘Eu sei, meu filho, mas levanta e vai procurar um emprego. Ou então faz alguma coisa, varre o quintal, arruma o armário, sei lá, ou você vai se acostumar a levantar tarde e não vai mais procurar emprego’.

One of them, in particular, his heir does not forget. “When I was about 16 years, I lost my job. I came to him and said: ‘Mr Cartola, you need not wake me up at 6am tomorrow because I have been fired.” He replied: ‘All right’, but then next day Cartola woke me up at the usual time. I complained and he said: ‘I know, my son, but get up and go to look for a job. Or go and do something, sweep the backyard, tidy up the wardrobe, whatever, otherwise you will get used to getting up in the afternoon and will not seek further employment.

His music

Bruno Galera [pt] who has, in another post, compared Cartola with the Blues masters in Mississipi, tries to explain the effect his music has on him:

Mas outra coisa importante sobre a música dele é o que notei hoje: é impossível se acostumar. Sempre que paro para realmente prestar atenção na letra e no andamento que ele dá à declamação, acabo invariavelmente sendo obliterado por alegria e tristeza profundas. Conta-se nos dedos de uma mão quantos músicos conseguiram imprimir efeito similar à minha pessoa. Algo que posso classificar como regozijo absoluto.

But there is another important thing about his music I noticed today: it is impossible to get used to it. Whenever I stop really paying attention to the lyrics and the way he recites them, I invariably end up obliterated by deep sadness and joy. Only a handful of musicians manage to have a similar effect on me. Something I can describe as absolute delight.

Mário Chrispim [pt] goes on about a natural talent for music that welled up:

Embora não tivesse estudo musical teórico, Cartola possuía uma inventividade musical assombrosa. Tinha soluções harmônicas muito sofisticadas que não eram comuns no meio do samba. Além disto, era um letrista brilhante, que criava imagens poéticas fortes e originais.

Although he didn't study music theory, Cartola had an astonishing musical inventiveness. He came up with very sophisticated harmonic solutions that were not common in the samba field. Furthermore, he was a brilliant lyrics writer, who created strong and innovative poetic images.

Because of this, Elisa Queiros [pt] says that Cartola belongs to all Brazilians, to all of those who can understand the beauty of lyrics composed by a poet who laments to the roses over the loss of a woman he loved only to realise that the roses had stolen her perfum:

Pela natureza de suas melodias e harmonias, simpliciade cotidiana de suas letras, Cartola toca nossos corações e se torna trilha sonora de nossas vidas, de forma que cada um se apropria dele – Cartola é de todos, é de cada um.

With the nature of his melodies and harmonies, the everyday simplicity of his lyrics, Cartola touches our hearts and becomes the soundtrack of our lives, so that each one of us borrow him – Cartola belongs to all, he belongs to everyone.

Discography

  • Cartola – 1974 – Discus Marcus Pereira
  • Cartola – 1976 – Discus Marcus Pereira
  • Verde que Te Quero Rosa – 1977 – RCA-Victor
  • Cartola 70 Anos – 1978 – RCA-Victor
  • Cartola ao Vivo – 1982 – Eldorado

On YouTube:

1 comment

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices
* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site