Documentary Series – Rio Por Eles

The documentary series Rio Por Eles is a different kind of historical and sentimental revival of the city of Rio. In it, viewers will discover how foreign documentarists, reporters and TV broadcasting station saw the city throughout the 20th century. It’s a mostly black & white record of Rio through the eyes of foreigners in different languages.

Directed and scripted by Ernesto Rodrigues, the series is the result of a two year research project through hundreds of foreign sources, in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Nine reporters from O Globo will take the viewer through 43 characteristic locations which contextualize more than 200 excerpts from 127 films and televised reports.

The series consists of five 30-minute episodes, which I’ve put in order below: the transformation of the landscape, the political happenings, the interpretation of Brazilian culture, the style & behavior, and finally the tragedies & disasters shown abroad.


Carnival flirtations – 1840s


I’m in the middle of reading “O Livro de Ouro do Carnaval Brasileiro” [1] by Felipe Ferreira which covers the way in which Brazilians celebrated Carnival throughout the country, though with a focus (thus far) on Rio de Janeiro. The current chapter, part of which I’ve translated a section of below, deals with an earlier style of Carnival called Entrudo. Scroll further down for the same section in Portuguese.

In truth, what one starts to understand from all of this is what we call “Entrudo Familiar” which, in the 19th century, was a private party whose most important actors were young people, mainly women. They had become, already at the start of the 19th century, the ones responsible for the management of the home and of all of its cerimonies, including the Entrudistic games. In this way, from the production of limões-de-cheiro (“smelly lemons”) to their use as battle weapons, the actions related to a good part of colonial Brazil’s revelry was relegated to the feminine sex. It was the young daughters of Brazilian families, for example, who most times would take the initiative of throwing the little lemons on some boy that interested them, taking advantage of this rare opportunity to exercise some control over their own destiny. Of course, those boys, mostly flattered with being chosen, took advantage of the atmosphere of subtle permissiveness to risk touching, via the throwing of lemons, some forbidden part of the young women’s bodies, like the shoulders or, in surpreme audacity, the lap.

Machado de Assis, in his tale “Um dia de Entrudo“, taking place in 1848, describes the strong connections of the drenchings with romantic relations among the young members of Brazilian families. The mother of one character declares to her cousin Angelica: “I was about to go inside, when guess what I found in the corner of the dining room? I found your son Benjamin breaking lemons on my daughter’s shoulders! What insolence! I didn’t know what to do…” Another character, upon arriving at Angelica’s house, is immediately played tricks on by the sons of the host, which ends up incentivizing his romance with one of the boy’s sisters, in other words, aside from serving as a factor in social togetherness, allowing contact and good business between members of the elite, the apparently innocent game of the Entrudo Familiar also facilitated the meeting of young people from “good families” and incentivized their coming together.

Na verdade, o que se depreende disso tudo é o que chamamos de “Entrudo Familiar” era, no século XIX, uma festa privada cujos atores mais importantes seriam os jovens e, principalmente, as mulheres. Estas tinham se tornado, já no início do século XIX, as responsáveis pela gerência do lar e de todas as suas cerimônias, inclusive das brincadeiras entrudísticas. Desse modo, desde a produção dos limões-de-cheiro até sua utilização como arma da batalha, cabia ao sexo feminino o comando da ação relacionada a boa parte da folia do Brasil colonial. Eram as jovens filhas das famílias brasileiras, por exemplo, que muitas vezes tomavam a iniciativa de lançar os limõezinhos sobre algum rapaz que lhes interessasse, aproveitando-se dessa rara oprotunidade de exercer algum controle sobre seu próprio destino. É claro que os rapazes, muitas vezes lisonjeados com a escolha, tiravam proveito da atmosfera de sutil licenciosidade para arriscar tocar, através do lançamento de um limãozinho-de-cheiro, alguma das partes proibidas do corpo das jovens, como os ombros ou, suprema audácia, o colo.

Machado de Assis, em seu conto “Um dia de Entrudo”, passado em 1848, descreve a forte vinculação das molhaças com as relações românticas entre os jovens das famílias brasileiras. A mãe de uma personagem declara à prima Angélica: “Ia eu agora lá dentro, quando encontrei na sala de jantar a um canto, adivinhem o quê? Encontrei seu filho Benjamin quebrando limões no ombro de minha filha! Que desaforo! Fiquei sem saber de mim..” Outro personagem, ao chegar à casa de Angélica, é imediatamente entrudado pelos filhos da anfitriã, o que acaba incentivando seu romance com a irmã dos rapazes, ou seja, além de servir como fator de agregação social, possibilitando contatos e bons negócios entre os membros das elites, a aparentemente inocente brincadeira do Entrudo Familiar também facilitava o encontro dos jovens das “boas famílias” e incentivava a aproximação entre eles.

Carnival Dialogue – 1927

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.22.46 PMCarnival Dialogue

Written by Saul de Navarro, pen name of Capixaba writer Álvaro Henrique Moreira de Souza. Read it in Portuguese.

Carnival Sunday. Rio, since the night before the start of Carnival, became Hell-opolis, a city of craziness and pleasure, the residence of noise and of smiles. I was, as the afternoon arrived, in a discrete cafe, on a side street of the Avenida, where the violence of the Carnival revelry wouldn’t reach me. There, one group or another of masked people shimmied by singing “Ninguém não viu” [1]…

I don’t like street Carnival, the pleb orgy, the stupid parade of the riffraff, who exhibit their colorful rags and sing, out of tune and monotonously, verses more terrible than those of the Petit Trianon poets [2]. When I was starting to ingest, with the slowness of my boredom, a fresh cajuada [3], without the least bit of ceremony, a sad and sentimental Pierrot [4] sat down at my side, seeming to me like a embodied dream, a romantic vision of the verses of Musset [5].

– “Aren’t you having fun?”, he asked me with a loud and feminine voice, having, however, in its timber the cooing of a complaint, the lament of a fugitive and daydreaming soul…

– “I get sad when I watch this conventional happiness coming from the Carioca people, who suffer from hunger, misery and injustices during the entire year and, in the three days of Momo, they surrender themselves to the comedy of a forced, false and almost carnal jubilee…”

– “Don’t be so unfair with the Cariocas. Carnival is their only revenge. In each Carnival there is a revolution, sui generis, by the common people: in their songs, in their sarcasm, in their jokes and in all of their expansion of orgiastic happiness and furor I merely see an anger exploding like the curse of a monster!

– “An excess of fantasy…by infection.”

– “There is not. It’s pure observation: bursts of laughter explode like grenades; gazes shoot out like lightning; smiles shine like knives glittering in the moonlight; jests, insults, satires and epigrams explode like articulated combat, from a formidable shout, from a hissing hoot by a million victims getting revenge…smiling.”

– “I’ve never seen such an original Pierrot. You’re a vacationing philosopher, an enchanting sociologist!

– “Don’t bother me with your fine and loveable irony.”

– “I will follow your orders with spiritual pleasure, because I am enjoying your talk.”

– “The French people had the Terror, which was a Carnival of blood; the Cariocas have their yearly insuperable Carnival, which is the white Terror of a laugh, a recited revolution of mockery, a show of pleb fury ranted and danced on the streets, to the meloncholic sound of the serenades and at the meandering step of the ranchos and cordões. But in this Carnival the Cariocas get revenge on their exploiters and tyrants – enjoying it as if it were the Final Judgement, where the trumpets of Josaphat are a strident craziness, the mad music of jazz

– “Amazing, your psychology of Rio’s Carnival!”

– “Don’t mock my words, sir.”

– “But now you will allow me a perhaps inconvenient, perhaps indiscrete question?

– “We are in the ephemeral kingdom of Momo, in the plenitude of the best of states – that of absolute irresponsibility, with the abolition of guarantees of hypocryptic morality, under the judgement of loveable madness which frees us…”

– “May I, then, satisfy my sentimental curiosity?”

– “You may start your painful interrogation…”

– “Are you a man or a woman?”

The philosophic and kind Pierrot let out a series of loud laughs, like a broken kiss, I saw all his teeth sparkling on his lips red with lipstick.

– “Answer, please!”

– “I’m not a man nor a woman…”

– “It’s as if you didn’t say anything: I remain in the same torturous indecision.”

– “I am what you see: a Pierrot.”

– “Want to come with me to the Copacabana dance?”

– “I can’t. I’m afraid of committing myself…”

– “But who the hell are you?” – I asked him, already impacient, losing my calm and composure.

– “Take a guess.”

– “Mademoiselle Sphinx?”

– “No.”

– “Ganymede?”

– “Never!”

– “Then, I don’t know who you are.”

Taking off the black velvet half mask, the Pierrot exclaimed:

– “I am Reason, goddess of philosophers, muse of those who live more in their head than in their heart.”

And he disappeared, smiling from my error…

1 – “Ninguém não viu” was a popular song by Sinhô

2 – Petit Trianon references the building of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, which has a Romantic Poets Room.

3 – Cajuada is a dessert made of cashew fruit.

4 – Pierrot is a stock character of Italian pantomime

5 – Alfred de Musset was a French Romantic poet and playwright, remembered for his poetry.

Chiquinha & the First Carnival Song

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 11.31.22 AM

(by Ralfe Braga)

After my last post citing a lost, or rather unsourceable, marchinha (Carnival song) from 1954, I thought I’d go back further to Rio’s first ever such song: Ó Abre Alas by musician Chiquinha Gonzaga in 1899.

Ó abre alas
Que eu quero passar
Eu sou da Lira
Não posso negar
Rosa de Ouro
É que vai ganhar

Ó Abre Alas is considered a marcha-rancho, but to define rancho, we should define a few additional terms, as well.

“We can look at Carnival as being large and small. In the large sense (Grande Carnaval), there are ‘societies’ and their parades – which usually gather hundreds of spectators.

In the small sense (Pequeno Carnaval), there are groups made up of the more humble layers of the population, forming what are known as Cordões, Ranchos and Blocos (the former two have given way to the latter over the past century, in terms of popularity, though until 1910, the terms cordão and bloco were synonymous).

The Cordões were groups of masked revelers, led by the sound of a master’s whistle, who danced on the streets to the sound of a drum group. The first cordão, Os Invisíveis, was founded at the end of the 19th century but, in no time, others were created, including the famous Rosas de Ouro, for which Chiquinha Gonzaga composed the song we’re talking about today.

The Rancho was a more organized kind of cordão, which included the presence of women and a more complex instrumentation, with guitars, cavaquinhos, clarinets and flutes. This includes an element that would later be present in the samba schools: the flag carrier (aka porta-estandarte or porta-bandeira). All these groups, each one with their own characteristics, would be the seeds from which the most famous Brazilian cultural creation would sprout: the Samba School.

The Blocos, on the other hand, had a more improvised manner, without choreography or a unique defined song: just a group of friends that wanted to go singing and dancing on the streets.” [1, translated]

Further info on the different terms (here, PT)

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 11.30.42 AM

(85 years old, above)

At the time of the Abre Alas release, Chiquinha was a 52-year old grandmother (involved with a 16-year old Portuguese boy, whom she stayed with until she died), living in Andaraí, behind Rio’s Tijuca neighborhood. The song, a great success at Rio’s Carnival between 1901 and 1910, is still known today by many Brazilians.

Abre Alas was far from her only success. In fact, she made a name for herself long before that.
Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.51.48 AMScreen Shot 2016-02-03 at 11.18.40 AM

“To sustain her children, she became a piano teacher, also playing in private parties. Around this time, her first songs were becoming popular. At this moment, during the day, slaves, either employed or the authors themselves would walk through the streets, going from door to door, selling the latest waltzes, polkas or quadrilles.

This was how Chiquinha Gonzaga’s name became well-known. But she wasn’t after glory – she just wanted to earn enough to take care of her children. The business of selling music was uncertain, however, and thus why she joined, as a pianist, a choro group hired to brighten up family parties. Ten mil reis was how much she earned to play an entire night! The sacrifice cost her heavily. It wasn’t possible for a woman, at that time, to reject or moke social conventions, with impunity. She had to be punished. And she was.

Aside from already being talked about – from when she left her husband – other things were said…how was it possible for a woman to live like that, among men, dragging herself from party to party, with a bohemian life that society condemned?

Indifferent to the slander of which she was the target, Chiquinha Gonzaga didn’t distance herself from the path she had taken. On the contrary, she became even more active.” (Revista da Semana)

Chiquinha Gonzaga had her work recognized during her lifetime, being celebrated by the public and critics. An exhuberant personality, she was one of the Brazilian composers who worked most intensely during a transition from foreign to Brazilian music. With this, she opened the way and helped to define the course of a very Brazilian style of music, which consolidated itself in the first decades of the 20th century. She spent her final years beside Joãozinho (her Portuguese companion), who posterity can thank for the preservation of her compositions.

She passed away in Rio de Janeiro, on February 28th, 1935, at 87 years old. (Official site)

Additional Photos & Timeline (here, PT)
Further two videos on Chiquinha (here and here, PT)

Carnival 1953 – Lost Marchinha

In one of the old videos of Rio on Youtube, produced by Warner Bros, I heard a great little marchinha at the 1:20 mark, but which you can hear best starting at the 2:00 mark, going til 2:45, with some interruptions by the narrator. The lyrics are:

Ê, Ô, Ê, Ô, Ê
Meu bem, eu preciso de você
Como (o sabão) precisa do cachorro
E o nosso povo de ter um (c)oração
Como o batuque precisa lá do morro
E a cachaça precisa (do limão)

Ê, Ô, Ê, Ô, Ê
Meu bem, eu preciso de você
Meu bem, eu preciso de você

Se você me ama
Se você me ama
Eu quero a minha letra no seu monograma
Pra dizer a todos
Pra contar a todos
Que é com o meu sobrenome que você se chama
Não é Soares, não é Almeida
Se você não usar meu sobrenome
Eu tenho outro nome pra você usar

First, I had trouble finding the lyrics, then when found, words were missing so I had to listen many times to verses under the narrator’s voice and fill in some blanks. Plus, I couldn’t find any information at all on who created the song, nor any other version of it online anywhere.

I did track down the name of the director, André de la Varre, and found out it’s from 1953, not 1954. He was in Rio filming in late February of 1953. I even found the main marchinhas of ’53, but no titles pop out, aside from the biggest hit of that year, Cachaça (which people still sing today).

What struck me from watching the Rio Por Eles documentary series I posted in August 2016 is that many foreign clips of Rio had overlayed music that didn’t fit the reality of the visuals, which means the marchinha in question might be from a previous year.

It goes to show there are these great little things hidden in the past which fade into oblivion and if we look hard enough, we catch a scent on the breeze without ever knowing who or what it belonged to.