Elsa Soares

Image: Joan-Josep Tharrats


Considerations on the artistic trajectory and musical production of the recently deceased singer

Elza Soares died on January 20, 2022, the same day that her ex-husband Mané Garrincha died (in 1983) and the same day that the black transvestite Linn da Quebrada entered the house of Big Brother BrazilAt Globo. They are just symbols, but quite eloquent. In music and football, Elza and Garrincha have borne heavy loads dumped by a repressive and repressed country – she survived, he didn't. In music and behavior, Linn will have to shed the heavy loads of transphobia, homophobia and racism spewed by a Bolsonarized society, just as his admirer Elza carried Brazil on her back from the 30s until 2022, now once again under the tear of oppression, authoritarianism, fascism, denialism – Linn will have to survive, Elza got tired at (presumed) 91 years of life.

It was no wonder that Elza Soares' back became fragile over time and motivated Chico Buarque to compose “Dura na Queda” for her voice, 20 years before she rested. It was not by chance that, in the same year of 2002, Elza immortalized in a version performed from the bottom of her chest a little-known reggae by the band Farofa Carioca (by the future Hollywood actor Seu Jorge, who composed it with Marcelo Yuka), “A Carne”: “The cheapest meat on the market is black meat”. The impact of Elza's lyrics and reading for the black generations that would grow up in the XNUMXth century is not due to the power of Mano Brown's transforming words in Racionais MC's.

When the dirty corners of big cities were left to transvestites, Elza artistically imposed herself as a woman, black, favelada, artist, etc. Vigorous representative of everything that was routinely interpreted as the negative pole of humanity, she needed to have a broad back to hold the weight of the world.

Elza made herself known by inventing samba-jazz (an index of “impurity” and hybridity, therefore marginality) from 1959 onwards with “Se Acaso Você Chegasse” (by Lupicínio Rodrigues), in Portuguese versions of “Mack the Knife” (by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, recorded by their American peers Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald and by herself under the title “Assault”) and “In the Mood” (instrumental standard by the Glenn Miller orchestra, converted by versionist Aloysio de Oliveira into “Edmundo”). Debuted on LP in 1960, a year after the album Chega de saudade, by Joao Gilberto. The success of “Se Acaso Você Chegasse” baptized the first album, but a subtitle also appeared on the cover that already revealed what Elza Soares was up to: the black bossa. That was samba-jazz, the bossa nova of those who (yet) didn't go to Copacabana apartments.

It did not take long for the reaction against the “audacity” of the girl who descended the hill of the “hunger planet” in the condition of a ragged teenage mother, but aspiring (at 13 years old) to the radio stage of the presenter and composer Ary Barroso. Garrincha was still married to another woman at the beginning of his affair with Elza, and moral artifice was used (as usual, in entertainment or politics) to break the audacious young woman's spine. It was enough for Elza to re-record “Eu sou a outra”, by Ricardo Galeno, in 1963, for the world to collapse on her, as it had collapsed, ten years earlier, by the original interpreter, Carmen Costa, also black. “He is married / and I am the other that the world defames / and that ungrateful life mistreats / and mercilessly covers it with mud”, sang Carmen and Elza, stirring up the false morality that always lends itself to silencing the voices of the interpreted poles. (by white society) as negative, uncomfortable for these and other reasons. Elza responded to the moralist criticism by singing “Volta por Acima” (1963), by Paulo Vanzolini: “Recognize the fall and don’t get discouraged / get up, shake off the dust, get back on top”.

The language of the 1960s was not kind, and the girl who evolved by leaps and bounds had to stumble over sexist vices (“I don’t have a name, I bring a wounded heart / but I have much more class / than someone who didn’t know how to arrest her husband” , also from “Eu Sou a Outra”) and racists, as in Ataulfo ​​Alves’ “Mulata assanhada” (“Oh, my God, how nice it would be if slavery went back / I’d buy a mulata, hold it in my heart / and then Pretoria was the one who resolved the issue”), in 1960, or “Princesa Isabel” (“Today every black person is very happy / leads a different life / praying and looking at the sky / when evening comes / he lights a candle and makes a prayer / thanks princess Isabel”), in 1964. After the founding scats of “Edmundo”, Elza changed her performance style for a period, sometimes imitating the high-pitched singing of one of her inspirations, Dalva de Oliveira. The shift away from jazz does not seem to have been spontaneous.

The expectation that every black singer would be uniquely and exclusively sambista pushed her towards traditional samba, in carnival plots (“O Mundo Encantado de Monteiro Lobato“, 1967, “Bahia de Todos os Deuses”, “Heróis da Liberdade” and “ Lendas e Mistérios da Amazônia”, 1969, “Lendas do Abaeté”, 1972, “Aquarela Brasileira”, 1973), block sambas (“Portela Querida”, 1967, “Sei Lá, Mangueira”, 1968) and street carnival ( “Bloco de Sujo”, 1969), which, however, Elza, freed from the copy phase of Dalva, sang with jazzy intonation and under metallic arrangements.

While the so-called market tried to confine her to samba, Elza Soares escaped the edges on every possible occasion: she recorded samba songs by Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos (“Toque Balanço, Moço!”, in 1966, and “Rainha de Roda”, in 1972); she shared a series of sambalanço albums with singer Miltinho; she continued singing bossa nova, accompanied on the drums by the beast Wilson das Neves; she included Jorge Bem (Jor) in her repertoire (at the turn of the 1960s to the 1970s, she recorded samba-jazz versions of “Chove, Chuva”, “Mas Que Nada” and “Pulo, Pulo”); she re-recorded Simonal’s “Tribute to Martin Luther King” in samba-pilantragem (in 1970, when the anti-racist struggle had not yet arrived in the country).

At the same time, he took advantage of the best that “pure” samba had to offer, singing Assis Valente (“Fez Bobagem”, in 1961), Monsueto Menezes (“Ziriguidum”, 1961), Geraldo Pereira (“Escurinho”, 1962), Dorival Caymmi (“Rosa Morena”, 1963, “Samba da Minha Terra”, 1965), Noel Rosa (“Conversa de Botequim” and “O Orvalho Vem Caindo”, 1967), Wilson Baptista (“Louco – Ela É o Seu Mundo” ”, 1967), Ataulfo ​​Alves (“Leva Meu Samba”, 1967), Ismael Silva (“Antonico”, 1967), Paulo da Portela (“Pam Pam Pam”, 1968), Paulinho da Viola (“Sei Lá, Mangueira” , 1968, “Recado”, 1970), Elton Medeiros (“Pressentiment”, 1970), Nelson Cavaquinho and Guilherme de Brito (“Pranto de Poeta”, 1973), Candeia (“Dia de Graça”, 1973), Cartola (“ Festa da Vinda”), but also contemplating beginner sambistas, such as João Nogueira (“Mais do Que Eu”, 1972, “Do Jeito Que o Rei Mandou”, 1974), Antonio Carlos & Jocafi (“Cheguendengo”, 1972) or Roberto Ribeiro (with whom he shared the LP Blood, Sweat and Race, in 1972).

Even with a respectable repertoire, Elza lost space at Odeon to the ascendant Clara Nunes, who had a faltering start on the label, in 1966, and from 1971 began to establish herself as a samba singer, focusing on samba-enredo and in candomblé themes. On the cover of her latest LP for Odeon, Elsa Soares (1973), the singer appears with her hair completely shaved, reportedly due to a promise to her husband Garrincha to stop drinking. An indication that the relationship with the record company was turbulent is that this album exists with two different covers, the one naked and a second with Elza dressed as a passista in a carnival parade, which had already happened before on the cover of Elza, Carnival and Samba (1967)

Elza in 1972 – photo Twitter @ElzaSoares

In 1974, leaving Odeon, Elza transferred to a much smaller label, Tapecar, where she would release four albums also guided by samba, but now without star composers to fill the reservoir of compositions. During this period, he recorded a few authors who were or would become unquestionable in the future: Luiz Reis (in the incendiary carnival samba “Salve a Mocidade”, in 1974), Lupicínio Rodrigues (“Quem Há de Dizer”, 1974), Nelson Cavaquinho and Guilherme de Brito (“Saudade Minha Inimiga”, 1975), Dona Ivone Lara and Delcio Carvalho (“Samba, Minha Raiz”, 1976), Silas de Oliveira (“Amor Aventureiro”, 1977). Most of the authors who recorded on Tapecar were lost in oblivion, but it eventually sang people of momentary or lasting success, such as Zé Di, Romildo and Toninho (suppliers of mass hits, but for Clara Nunes), Gilson de Souza, Jorge Aragão , Sidney da Conceição, Efson, future samba producer Rildo Hora…

While Romildo and Toninho provided Clara Nunes with perennial sambas such as “Conto de Areia (1974), “A Deusa dos Orixás” (1975), for Elza they sent fiery sambas such as “Primeiro Eu” (“First me, then the samba / she he deceives / when he thinks he has won”) and “Debruçado em Meu Olhar” (“the flame is going out / my hair is turning silver / like strands of moonlight / disillusionment already dominates me / youth ends / and we stop to think”) , both in 1975.

Despite the modest commercial success of the Tapecar phase, it was there that Elza recorded one of the most formidable albums in her history: the Elsa Soares debut in the new house, in 1974. Afro-Brazilian pride appeared on the cover and in the beautiful “Goddess of the Niger River” (“Take your eyes off me, I don't want you”). The negative polarity imposed from the outside inwards populated the cries of pain and resentment “Crying freely” (“Cry/ vent your chest/ cry/ you have the right”), “Outburst” (“I want to sing/ because life is better that way / singing I manage to forget who made fun of me yesterday"), "Partido do Lê-Lê-Lê" ("Your reign and crown one day has to end") and the samba-rock "Giringonça" ("To my bosom friends I I give the right / to judge me / to the jaguar’s friends I remain mute / and reinforce sly attitudes by becoming blind, deaf, yes”). In the same direction, the first samba presented by the bisexta Elza Soares, composer, “Louvei Maria”: “Look at the black man sitting on a stump, feeling tired from crying / but if Christ looked down / a lot of people would have to pay”. Relaxation softened a smaller part of the album, in the terreiro sambas “Bom-Dia Portela”, “Meia-noite é dia” and “It's not time for sadness” and in the samba-rocks “Xamego de Crioula” and “Falso Papel”. (“you knew how to play your role / until the day the truth came out”).

The cesspool eased in 1979, when he switched to the CBS label, where he recorded samba-enredo about circus (“Hoje Tem Marmelada”), protest samba disguised as gastronomy (“Põe Pimenta”: “Põe chilli pepper/ put pepper just to see if the people can handle it”), Africanity (“Afoxé”, 1979, “Timbó” and “Samba do Mirerê”, 1980), songs by Nei Lopes and Wilson Moreira (“Paródia do Consumidor”, 1979, “Como Lutei”, 1980), plus one and another samba of resentment (“Cobra caninana”, 1977). The lament “Oração de Duas Raças” (by then husband Gerson Alves, 1980) tried to dialogue with “O Canto das Três Raças” (1977) by Clara, in a tone that Elza would not use again in the future: “We must not criticize our similar / they should keep their distance from other people's things too / there should be no distinction of environment or color / both blacks and whites have the same blood, they feel the same pain”.

The low phase extended, to the point that the singer who was the face of Brazil considered leaving Brazil. Rehabilitation came through the lyrics of Caetano Veloso, who invited Elza to share with him the vocals of the post-modern “Língua” (1984) and a key question: “What does this language want, what can this language do?”. The experience led to yet another moment of high stature in his work (although once again without success in the so-called market): the album We're all the same (Som Livre, 1985), the first cry for the liberation of “pure” samba since the days of samba-jazz and sambalanço. What did this Elza want, what could she do?

Samba was still present, in creations inspired by Martinho da Vila with João Donato (“DQuem Amor, Nem Me Fale”), Jorge Aragão (“Osso, Pele e Pano”) and emerging authors from the backyard generation, in “Da Fuga Fez Sua Verdade” (by Sombra, Umbrinha and Adilson Victor) and in the Latin “Cacatua” (by Ronaldo Barcelos, which Grupo Raça would re-record in the early 1990s, in Águas do Pagode). The latter updated Luiz Gonzaga’s mythology of caged birds (like “Assum Preto” from 1950) and ended with the cockatoo flapping its wings to the dismay of the “owner”, a metaphor for the freedom that Elza herself still aspired to achieve.

We're all the same, however, boldly stretched the limits of samba, for example, by transforming the samba-enredo about the period of enslavement “Heróis da Liberdade” (1969) into a poignant cry of liberation sung in a tone of soulmusic, before dissolving into the heavy battery of Império Serrano. The transmutation had everything to do with the samba of Silas de Oliveira and Mano Décio da Viola, whose original lyrics already dialogued with “this breeze that youth caresses” by black bossa nova artist Johnny Alf.

The inflating of the wings continued in the piercing ballad drunk "Before Sun" blues rock “Milagre” (by Cazuza and Frejat for the band Barão Vermelho), in the Cuban character of the title track (composed by Elza) and, above all, in the ultra-jazz version of “Sophisticated lady”, by Duke Ellington, with verses in Portuguese by Augusto de Campos and vocals by Caetano. “Sophisticated and crazy illusion / an old love gnaws your heart”, he sang, jazzy and about to receive the modernizing label of “Brazilian Tina Turner”, aboard long hair, exposed legs, musical encounters with the Titãs and rock recorded alongside Lobão (“The Voice of Reason”, 1986).

The cliché that Brazil was not ready for Elza in 1985 is valid here, and the (racist) regulation imposed by status to the negative poles quo resulted in I went back (RGE, 1988), returning to a more square samba and once again without any echo in the phonographic market. Another decade was consumed until one more comeback, in the (still) sambista Trajectory (Universal, 1997). Between pagodas by Almir Guineto and Arlindo Cruz and a special appearance by Zeca Pagodinho in the samba de bird “Sinhá Mandaçaia”, Elza introduced crooked sambas-MPB by Guinga and Aldir Blanc (“Rio de Janeiro”) and Chico Buarque (“O Meu Guri ”).

The family scars, which in 1986 had already generated the impact of the reinterpretation drunk from “Tiro de Misericórdia” (by João Bosco and Aldir Blanc, 1977), turned the infanticide samba “O Meu Guri” (original from 1981) into a killer manifesto: “When, young man, was my child born / it wasn't the right time to for him to burst / he was born with a hungry face / and I didn’t even have a name to give him”. The uterine interpretation unleashed the cry of freedom that had been stuck in the air in “Heróis da Liberdade” and “Tiro de Misericórdia” and opened the way for Elza Soares, her spine already beginning to weaken, to give the definitive cry of independence, another half decade later on the album From Coccyx to Neck (2002), under the artistic direction of São Paulo avant-garde and academic José Miguel Wisnik. From there, “Dura na Queda” and “A Carne”, mentioned at the beginning of this text, and more non-sambas by Jorge Ben Jor (“Hoje É Dia de Festa”, with scratches and a sample of “O Namorado da Viúva ”, by the author), Caetano Veloso (the rapped anti-racist libel “Haiti” and the new “Dor de Cotovelo”), Arnaldo Antunes (“Eu Vou Ficar Aqui”, with the samba-rock group Funk Como le Gusta), Carlinhos Brown (“Etnocopop”), Luiz Melodia (the brilliant fado “Fadas”, from 1978), Wisnik (“Flores Horizontalis”, on a text by the modernist Oswald de Andrade), and just a potpourri of “traditional” samba.

This album precipitated the neotropical identity of the XNUMXst century Elza Soares, initially polished in the hybrid and modern I live happily, produced by the young band Jumbo Elektro from São Paulo. That's when Elza's delightful dip into the repertoire of younger generations intensified: the São Paulo avant-garde “Elza Soares” (by and with Itamar Assumpção); the manguebeat “Computers make art” (1994), by Fred Zeroquatro; the samba-soul “Mandingueira”, by Eduardo BiD and Iara Rennó. The habit of listening and giving voice to the new ones lasted until the end, in recordings such as the carioca funk “Rap da Felicidade” (2007), released in 1995 by Cidinho e Doca; the samba-funk “Isabela” (with the new incarnation of Banda Black Rio, 2011); the electronic bossa version of “A Pedida É Samba” (with Bossacucanova, 2012); the eslavosamba “Sim” (by and with Cacá Machado, 2013); the Bahian afrofuturism of “Território Conquistado” (by and with Larissa Luz, 2016); the feminist rock-ballad “Na Pele” (by and with Pitty, 2017); the MPB-samba “Da Vila Vintém para o Mundo” (by and with Ana Carolina, 2019); the rap “Negrão negra” (by and with Flávio Renegado, “against structural racism/heavy bar”, 2020), the pop-funk “A thing is black” (by and with MC Rebecca, 2020)…

“I just want to be happy / walk peacefully in the favela where I was born”, sang the girl who carried the can of water on her head, reconnecting with her own origins. Those were times of social emancipation, and the favela where Elza was born was called Brasil.

In 2016, Elza performed at the opening of the Olympics in Brazil and chose to disseminate “Canto de Ossaha” (1966) by Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes to the world. With President Dilma Rousseff removed from office and the usurper Michel Temer temporarily occupying her place, Elza chose to support the negative pole. While the coup media said that she was “honoring the favelas”, Elza sent a speech that fitted like a glove to the situation of the coup against Brazil: “The man who says I give does not give / because those who really give do not say / the man who says I'm not going / because when it was I didn't want to / the man who says I am isn't / because who really is is not I am / the man who says I'm not there / because no one is when they want to / poor man who falls / in the corner of Ossanha traitor”. Traitorous males would understand.

The next and definitive phoenix flight began in 2015, in the association with the Deck label (which would last until the end) and in the album The Woman at the End of the World, with artistic direction and production by the neo-anthropophagic Celso Sim and the neo-avant-garde artists from São Paulo Romulo Fróes and Guilherme Kastrup. Elza began to speak a lot, and very loudly, through new melodies and verses by Romulo Fróes and Alice Coutinho (“A Mulher do Fim do Mundo”, “Dança”, “Comigo”), Kiko Dinucci (“Luz Vermelha”, “Pra Fuder”), Rodrigo Campos (“Firmeza?!”, “O Canal”)… “Luz Vermelha” connected Elza with the marginal cinema of Rogério Sganzerla, in rasping verses by Dinucci: “Well, the dwarf told me that the world is going to end up in a pit full of shit / who had everything in their hands, who didn't pay attention, who has clogs not much left / who has a head, a lung, a bladder, a kidney, a heart is already jumping in the grave / who has a foot problem?, the father of who is everyone?/ where is the king of coconut?/ it's in the hood, it broke, the whole world sank on the day the shovel turned”.

Among all these, composer Douglas Germano entered history with H epic, just like Elza, an artist with a link between samba and the avant-garde. He is the author of the feminist-anti-violence-anti-feminicide libel “Maria da Vila Matilde” (Because if the one from Penha É Brava, Imagine the one from Vila Matilde): “You will regret raising your hand to me”. With a career spanning 70 years, Elza was able to give voice to musical styles and positions that, in the past, the multinational music industry never allowed her to adopt.

Apocalyptic despite pre-covid, The Woman at the End of the World unfolded into God Is Woman (2018), again willing to scream “O Que Se Cala” (title of the opening track by Douglas Germano), in new pieces of strength by Kiko Dinucci (“Hienas on TV”), Edgar (“Exu nas Escolas”, in partnership with Dinucci, about the high school uprisings of the turbulent 2010s), Tulipa Ruiz (“Banho”), Romulo Fróes and Alice Coutinho (electronic frevo “I want to eat you”, “Língua Solta”), Rodrigo Campos (“Clareza” ), Mariá Portugal (“Um Olho Aberto”)… Already under the Bolsonarist aegis and without the production of the São Paulo group, Hunger Planet (2019) tried to maintain the momentum of the two previous albums, diluting their premises, but tying engaged knots between Gonzaguinha from “Comportamento geral” (“You must pray for the good of the boss / and forget that you are unemployed”, 1973) and Afrofuturism of the opening track, "Liberation".

“I will not succumb”, promised Elza in “Libertação”, by Russo Passapusso, backed by Baiana System, Orkestra Rumpilezz by Letieres Leite (who would die early in 2021) and the samba-reggae voice of Virgínia Rodrigues. Elza continued to react like no other music artist to the proto-fascist advance, which must be discreetly happy with his death. It has not succumbed, nor will it in the future.

Ears in retrospect, the albums The Woman at the End of the World, God Is Woman e Hunger Planet and the singles “Na Pele” (2017) and “Juízo Final” (2020, thought in line with the devastation caused by viruses, the presidential and the other) promoted a step-by-step farewell to one of the most courageous Brazilian singers of the XNUMXth century and XXI. “Let me sing until the end”, preached “Mulher do Fim do Mundo”, by Romulo Fróes and Alice Coutinho, carnivalesque and apocalyptic at the same time.

In October last year, Elza Soares & Joao de Aquino became the last record released in life, with a voice and guitar recording at an undetermined date in the second half of the 1990s.From Coccyx to Neck if common sense driven by sexist, racist, LGBTQIAP+phobic, classist and commercialist prejudices did not dent it in the constant attempt to limit it (exclusively) to samba. The boundaries between what is and what is not samba, today more blurred than ever, dissolve into dust in intimate interpretations by Gilberto Gil (“Drão”, “Super-Homem, a Canção”), Taiguara (“Today”) , Luiz Melodia (“Juventude Transviada”), Lulu Santos (“Como uma Onda”) etc.

It is said that Elza had been working feverishly in the days before her death, recording a DVD (on Monday and Tuesday before the 20th) and a new album. In the most recent live versions of “A Carne”, she used to adapt the lyrics to “the cheapest meat on the market was black meat”, in tune with the unprecedented racial affirmation that she helped to build and lead in these early 2000s. , while singing (and working hard) until the end. “If these are external marks / imagine the ones from the inside”, she explained in 2017, for Pitty’s quill in “Na Pele”. This was the same Elza who, two years later, advanced in claims for equality, sharing the deep lyric and the clandestine pains of “It was you, it was me” with Liniker. Together, the two wept for the “clandestine life” that they and their peers led and faced in different times and circumstances, and which goes far from being resolved despite the various progress achieved.

No wonder, in 2017 Elza Soares hailed the trans-black music that enriches Brazil in the 2020s against everything and everyone, according to journalist Chico Feliti., about an episode when he asked her to nominate a talent from new brazilian music. “She understands me. Because the transvestite is the black woman of 60 years ago”, explained Elza Soares, referring to Linn da Quebrada, the girl who now carries on her back, in the middle of BBB, weights and stigmas that Elza got tired of carrying. If there's one thing for sure, it's that Elza has trimmed tons on her increasingly hunched shoulders. As the matriarch always knew, God is a woman, and her name is Elza Soares.

* Pedro Alexandre Sanches, journalist and music critic, is the author, among other books, of Album Collection: the history of Brazilian music through its records (Editions Sesc).

Originally published on the website farofafá.

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