samba à paulista

Image: Jaime Prades (Jornal de Resenhas)


Preface to the first biography of Germano Mathias

There will hardly be anyone who doesn't know Germano Mathias. Remember? The one with the little hat and the grease can? The “Samba Scholar”? Ace of samba from São Paulo, which would not be the same without this contribution, was forever associated with the greatest success of his authorship, My nega at the window. But, even for those who are his fans, no one still lacked the intimacy that allows this first biography, Sambexplicit – The wild lives of Germano Mathias (The giraffe), written with love and affection by Caio Silveira Ramos.

An unavoidable figure, Germano is cut out of the same upholstery as another notable bard in the city, Adoniran Barbosa. Apart from the popular extraction, they have in common – what makes them so unique – the immersion in the crucible of a certain “peripheral culture”, typical of this megalopolis in its most original form. Its heroes are, in a certain sense, outcasts, insofar as they survive by means of expedients, and with a lot of humor, thanks to the turmoil in the interstices of the urban fabric. Picardy partners are found in the short stories of João Antonio.

The author argues that this music has autonomous roots in the so-called rural samba from São Paulo, already studied by Mário de Andrade, and in its numerous variants. Not to mention that the radio will bring together influences: Germano will be inspired by the melodies of the hills of Rio de Janeiro, especially those from the 1940s and 1950s, which are now classic.

In this way, we gain contact with the characters that populate Germano's art and life: outcasts in general, rascals, sluts, samba dancers, brave and wobbly people from Barra Funda, from the deteriorated quarters of the Center, from Parque Peruche there in Casa Verde, as well as from samba circles, radios, taverns, gafieiras; not to mention the mouths. And from samba schools that Germano attended, leaving in the frying pan wing of Rosas Negras and Lavapés. With an impressive resume as a radio artist, he has performed thousands of shows in clubs and tours across the country. It is not known how, he still found time to play the cuíca, for two years, in the Mangueira carnival parades.

We learn that Germano's idol and role model is Caco Velho, the great composer and performer who was crucial to the definition of popular music in Pauliceia. Nor did we realize Germano's role in discovering talent and being the first to sing, publicize and record them. In the future, both those on the São Paulo side, like Jorge Costa, Geraldo Filme, Kazinho and Elzo Augusto, and those on the Rio side, like Martinho da Vila, or Zé Kéti, who entrusted him with the launch of his works, would be famous. He recorded 25 compositions for the former alone, rivaling his own, and bringing to mind Noite Ilustrada. This excellent singer, who contributed so much to the process of giving shape to the typical samba of the capital, would record, in the midst of an infinity of hits (such as those of Paulo Vanzolini), another eleven by the same Jorge Costa.

Germano's trajectory, since his birth as a native of São Paulo in Pari, is outlined in constant mobility and changes of address, in the midst of his life as an artist. Thus becoming a true compendium of what can be the destination of the poor in the tentacular city, so inhospitable. He lost count of the houses he lived in and the neighborhoods that housed him. He highlights in importance those where he marked his permanence, such as Barra Funda – “Barra Funda” was one of his first noms de guerre – or those to which he ended up returning with constancy. He now lives in the Vila Brasilândia housing complex, located in a favela, in Parada de Taipas, on the fourth floor without an elevator, paid in installments as far as the eye can see. It is where he lives, married and settled after decades of exemplary squandering.

In his career, he met ups and downs, going through times of ostracism, in which neither record companies nor concert promoters provided him with opportunities. Even today, the battle has not cooled down, when the artist cannot rest on the laurels of fame and enjoy peace of mind.

Grease can (the fat buffer), where he beats his own accompaniment, comes from his frequenting of the shoeshine boys in Praça da Sé. In addition to percussion, with them he learned the tricks of sedge, more modest version of the leg kick and capoeira that he would incorporate into his performances.

Germano insists that he composes and sings the genre he calls syncopated samba, different from samba de breque – and in this, the champion, one of his admirations, has always been Moreira da Silva. Well, the reader will say, but isn't all samba syncopated? Isn't what characterizes the beat of samba exactly the syncopation? Yes, it is, but in this case it is a samba but syncopated than usual. It is the “advanced” attack of the surdo – where the tonic or the strongest accent falls, after all – that characterizes the genre. Which ends up being, therefore, more shaken, more peaked, more swayed. Germano is of the opinion that the “delayed” surdo makes the samba less hot, more bland, with less emphasis: in his view, samba loses its joy. And he points Caco Velho as soul mates, as always, in addition to his favorites Jorge Costa and Zé Keti; but also the composer Geraldo Pereira, or, in the filigree of the voice, Jackson do Pandeiro and Ciro Monteiro.

Note the predominance of swing, well swinging, and the use of improvisation. The song wanders back and forth, sometimes moving forward, sometimes lingering over the melody and rhythm, flying over the limits of the bars. Improvisation reigns, with shards, brakes, bumps, as well as the division of phrasing that varies with each interpretation, and may even appear in the encore. It is worth noting the strong interference of body language: tricks, samba on the foot, falling, kicking, sweeping, dodging.

Germano decrees that few will be able to sing it, because, he says, the division, very difficult and subtle, is not for everyone. In his view, fashion today tends towards the “late”, and dispenses with the observance of the strategy in which he is a virtuoso: song and rhythm are never in unison, taking off and chasing each other, without open conflict, rather coquettishly denying one another.

It is essential to remember that this is a playful genre, full of humour, given to caricatures, annotator of the pitfalls of luck, satirical but without bitterness, with an emphasis on jokes. In his plebeian accent of a paulistano from the outskirts, Germano's primacy of irreverence is highlighted.

On stage, you can see how he imitates the cuíca and the trombone with his voice, like a ginga, how he does those tricky steps, how he slides on the miudinho looking like he's on skates, how he performs the kangaroo step (a jump with both feet, when falling, the thump marks the brake). And the flow of speech narrating wild fables. The performances are unforgettable, and perhaps do it more justice than the “cold” recording in the studio.

A word about Caio Silveira Ramos' style. As the title already indicates, the author transgresses the conventional discourse of the biography, to embody in the materiality of the language something of the concrete experience of the biographed. Thus, the text is filled with the slang of the social media that the artist crossed and that appear in his sambas – don't say malandro, say malaco. But the basic research, both documentary and record, is hats off. The author does not shy away from starting discussions on controversial points in our popular music, showing how much he knows and masters it.

He also discards lengthy explanations, creating synthetic formulas to succinctly account for what he is talking about. In this way, the text is interested in itself, in its invention and creativity. An example? “Well, back in the day, when it was a pracá-another pralá, the malaco recorded yet another elepê, this time by Beverly, taken from the neat samba of the curriola that he likes and all enfarolado by the cuíca of Osvaldinho, who is possessed by the spirit of Boca de Ouro , he broke down playfully and tearfully”.

Reading the book is a pleasure, Germano Mathias stamping himself as a great figure and a great sambista who was guided throughout his life by an incomparable integrity in his art. Or, as Noel Rosa would say, by respecting the “rules of art”. He didn't get rich, he didn't become a celebrity. And as the author's style catches on, it remains to be said that this sestroso malaco, former resident of the Palacete dos Mendigos on the corner of Rua Aurora and Santa Ifigênia, master of the pulo do gato and good for the dog, paddle of abilolados, deserved to win a book even if he had composed not hundreds of sambas but just Save her sandal.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH-USP. She is the author, among other books, of reading and rereading (Sesc / Gold over blue).


Caio Silveira Ramos Sambexplicit – The wild lives of Germano Mathias. São Paulo, The giraffe, 2008.

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