The Week of 22 and popular music

Hélio Oiticica, Meta-schema, 1958
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By DANIEL BRAZIL*

Considerations on the impact of the 1922 event on Brazilian popular music

It is curious to remember the events of the Week of 22, which completes 100 years causing controversy (what a novelty!), and to see that popular music was not represented at the event. There were Villa-Lobos, who sometimes drank from the fountain, and the pianist Guiomar Novaes, more classical than modernist.

Obviously, Brazilian popular music still did not have the market-sociological contours of today. Radio would have its first transmission in Brazil a few months after the Modernist Week, in September 1922. Only in the following year was the first commercial station founded, by Edgard Roquette-Pinto, in the federal capital (Rádio Sociedade do Rio de Janeiro).

The great publicity vehicle (and we have to relativize this “great” a lot) were the 78 rpm wax discs. The phonographic industry had settled here in 1900, and the first “modern” recording company, Odeon, started operating in 1913, with German equipment. Before the phonograph, music was only enjoyed in person and reproduced and disseminated by sheet music.

The so-called “consumer” songs were still very close to their folkloric roots (modas, lundus, maxixes), mixed with imported forms (waltzes, tangos), as evidenced by recordings from the first 20 years of the XNUMXth century.

It is likely that, in this context, the modernists of the Week did not even think of introducing popular music to the event. They probably identified popular music as something reminiscent of the XNUMXth century, which it was, and linked to the values ​​cherished by the classics, romantics and Parnassians (which is not exactly true).

One figure could have seen further than the others in the group: Mário de Andrade. A lover of melodies, he was a scholar of popular music, writing down verses, recording melodies and publishing several studies on the subject. An applied folklorist, he also carefully observed the urban forms that the popular songbook was shaping, but it is necessary to remember that his essays on music were published well after the Week. His major research took place in the 1930s, when he traveled throughout Brazil recording and transcribing popular manifestations linked to music and folklore.

Critics of Semana de 22 usually point to this disregard for popular music as a lack of connection with Brazilian reality. Cariocas usually remember that Donga and Sinhô gave “modern” contours to the maxixe, outlining the samba that would become the symbol of Brazilianness, the soundtrack of a country that for the first time became a producer and exporter of a cultural product, not a product. commodities.

These accusations must be interpreted within the context described at the outset. In 1922 there was no radio, which was the great vehicle of the ascendant samba, promoter and formatter of idols, booster of phonographic sales. Samba recordings were few and precarious. And Noel Rosa was only 11 years old in 1922…

In an illuminating article recently published in the journal Folha de S. Paul (“Week of 22 still says a lot about the greatness and barbarism of Brazil today”), José Miguel Wisnik refutes some hasty criticisms, reveals tasty details and belies the accusation of being a parochial event: “Whether you like it or not, the Week was an artistic combination of São Paulo and Rio.”

Wisnik recommends that the Week was supported by “three of the greatest Brazilian artists of the century: Mario, Oswald and Villa-Lobos.” Di Cavalcanti, the very famous artist, columnist and cultural agitator from Rio de Janeiro, who was a fundamental element in the articulation of the event, was missing. In addition to creating the visual identity for the posters and invitations, he curated the works on display in the lobby of the Teatro Municipal, which featured artists such as Anita Malfatti, Rego Monteiro, Zina Zaita, Goeldi, John Graz and others.

Calling an event that brought together two of Rio’s greatest artists of all time “bairrista” is not very smart, as well as not seeing the polemical and provocative vocation of the three-day week that stimulated later works in various areas, such as theater, literature, arts. plastic surgery and… popular music!

After the flourishing of samba and its offspring, bossa nova, which became national identity elements (an ideological construction,[1] of course), the seeds of 22's modernism will hatch more strongly in the 1960s, with the emergence of Tropicália. The movement combines a lot of Oswaldian aggressiveness and mockery, wide open with the montage of The Sailing King by Zé Celso in 1967, with a hint of Mário de Andrade's folklore vision. Caetano even sets verses by Oswald to music, but also records “Indian” songs (on the LP Joia) and put lyrics to music by Banda de Pífanos de Caruaru. At the Express 2222 by Gilberto Gil fit both Luiz Gonzaga and quantum physics. Marioswald in action.

Wisnik points out influences of the Week in contemporary popular music. Remember Elza Soares, who is almost becoming a totem and taboo, and defines the show AmarElo – it's all for yesterday,[2] by Emicida, as a dialogue with the modernists of 22. The very setting for the events, the Teatro Municipal, is a portal of intentions and meanings. On its stairs, the MNU, Movimento Negro Unificado, demonstrated in 1968. São Paulo, “the grave of samba, but a possible new quilombo for Zumbi”.

A beautiful moment of recovery of Mário de Andrade's ethnomusicological spirit is the research work of the group A Barca, which retraced the modernist's journey through the country's corners, singing, playing and interacting with the population of villages, quilombos, riverside and peripheral communities , and recording a precious 300 hours of audio. Recorded on CD and DVD (Trail, Toada and Troupe, Baião de Princesas and audiovisual series The Apprentice Tourist), Barca has several active players in various niches of contemporary music. Just remember that the singer Juçara Marçal, deserving of several awards in 2021 for the album Delta Estacio Blues, participated in this group for a long time. One foot in yesterday, the other in now.

Wisnik also cites the Racionais MC's as an index of this emergence of the discourse of excluded layers that, in some way, are connected with the confrontational spirit of the Week. Modestly, I believe that a fundamental name of contemporary popular music was missing from his analysis: Tom Zé. By the way, Wisnik's partner in memorable moments.

The Bahian artist from Irará, revealed along with Tropicália in the 1960s, has perhaps become the artist who most embodies the “modernist spirit” in Brazilian popular music. In 1968, when he won the IV Festival of Popular Brazilian Music, on TV Record, with the song São, São Paulo, my love, emulated to some extent the frantic paulicéia by Mario de Andrade. They are declarations of love that are not lacking in criticism, horror and indignation. When Mário, in a famous lecture given in 1930, reevaluates the Week of 22, declares that his book is “rough with insult, cackling with irony”, these words could well be classifying verses by Tom Zé:

“Save us, by charity,
Sinners invaded
the whole city center
Armed with rouge and lipstick.
Cheering up the good mood
In an attack against modesty.
The protected family,
The repressed curse,
A preacher who condemns,
One bomb a fortnight.
However, with every defect,
I carry you in my chest.”
(São, São Paulo Meu Amor, by Gereba and Tom Zé)

A luxury supporting act at Tropicália, a cultist of the joke-song (as Oswald recreates the joke-poem), Tom Zé moves away from the founding core and dives into sound experiences that seem to want to translate the soundtrack of the metropolis. In the 1970s and 1980s, he performed with chainsaws, drills, hammers and jackhammers on stage, recreating all sorts of urban ruidism, in compositions made not to be played on the radio.

It seems to be fighting against every standardized form of art, a typical posture of modernism. Anthropophagically, Tom Zé recreates and regurgitates in a sound way the Futurist-inspired onomatopoeias that appear at various moments in the poetry of Mario, Oswald, Menotti Del Picchia, Ronald de Carvalho and other modernists.

This radical stance results in a distancing from radio stations and the media. In the following decade, Tom Zé trimmed some of the rough edges of his creative impetus and returned to dialogue with a wider audience, but always maintaining a restless and questioning spirit. Just as Modernism is, time and again, “rediscovered”, Tom Zé is also, and becomes, perhaps, “its most perfect translation” in contemporary Brazilian popular music.

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.

 

Notes


[1] On the subject, read the fundamental essay Sentinels of tradition, by Dmitri Cerboncini Fernandes, launched in 2018 by Edusp.

[2] Available on the Netflix platform.

 

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