Samba in quarantine: Noel/Adoniran

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Walnice Nogueira Galvão*

Commentary on the sambista from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

urban chronicle

Integrating the pantheon of samba, Noel Rosa in Rio de Janeiro and Adoniran Barbosa in São Paulo stand out as chroniclers of everyday life. They focus their attention on what goes on in the streets and bars, in neighborhoods and suburbs, recording the picturesqueness of even the smallest incidents. The humor and empathy with which they watch life go by reveal a gaze that is both curious and compassionate, which grants a place of honor to a presentation of the excluded. Adoniran offers the history of the transformations that made São Paulo a metropolis, in which abandoned mansions became precarious collective housing before being demolished to make way for skyscrapers. Or the intensification of vehicle traffic, making crossings dangerous. Or else the importance of the train for the poor population, expelled from the center and pushed to the periphery. Noel, who died at the age of 26, would not manage to accompany the various phases of Rio, but he would record the bar conversations, the influence of American cinema on customs and language, the harassment of young men in automobiles against factory workers, the woman indigestible and the stutterer in love, the friend who doesn't return the loan... And many more rogues.

Trickery and turnarounds: Noel Rosa

Unstable existence, recourse to expedients, bending over backwards, a mischievous way of surviving in the urban mess: all of this fits into samba, personified in these tightrope jugglers. It was through the debate on malandragem and the virações that samba acquired respectability, from the black and marginal that it was, ending up becoming a symbol of nationality. Such a metamorphosis was imbued in many compositions, and can be better gauged in the famous musical controversy between Noel Rosa and Wilson Batista. Wilson defending the rascal in clogs, a scarf around his neck and a razor in his hand, Noel accusing him of being a retrograde protagonist who stayed in the past, jettisoned from the course of History.

Characters and places of memory

The compositions of both perpetuate figures and places, making memorable people like João Nobody and Arnesto, or a construction worker, or a homeless person. Social criticism is sharp: it exalts authentic values, such as friendship and simplicity, guaranteeing loyalty to a shack or maloca or neighborhood, for example, as resistance to materialism expressed in greed. Often a figure, or a building, or a neighborhood, or an object, or a typical dish, become an aspiration and symbol of something bigger, more solidary.

Possible and impossible loves

The hearts of these two sambistas open wide, celebrating women well and badly loved. Some of them seen from a distance, inaccessible, others sharing life and even home. Powerfully evoked emotions speak of frustration, resentment, jealousy, revenge, suffering, rarely joy and fullness. But sambistas also know how to engage in satire when they decide to make fun of themselves, escaping from sentimentality by laughing.

Stroll around the metropolis

Strolling along the sidewalks, frequenting taverns and snooker pools, passing through the gafieiras or nightclubs: a favorite activity for these sambistas, these are the spaces where their day-to-day lives take place and where they gather stimuli for inspiration. Revealing themselves to be indomitable, the option for bohemia embodies the way of those who prefer to stay on the sidelines and even disdain to integrate into bourgeois life. Swinging around, composers become privileged observers of urban itineraries.

Tribute: Adoniran

This was a beautiful tribute to Adoniran paid by his city. A few years ago, the media decided to hold a contest to choose the best Brazilian popular song. As a result, it was elected “CidadeMaravilha”, a march that exalts Rio, an anthem of the Rio carnival that would later gain official status as an anthem for the city. The Paulistas sang, emphasizing that the song did not represent them. And they chose – do you know which one? “Eleven Train”, by Adoniran. Everyone aware that there is no other more São Paulo, and even São Paulo, than this one. And so the voice of the people was crowned.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is Professor Emeritus at FFLCH.


Noel – The village poet
Brazil, 2006, 99 minutes
Directed by: Ricardo van Steen
Cast: Rafael Raposo, Camila Pitanga, Carol Bezerra, Cristiano Gualdo, Flávio Bouraqui.

Noel Rosa Songbook
Producer: Almir Chediak
Lumiar Discos

Adoniran – My name is João Rubinato
Brazil, 2020, 92 minutes
Directed by: Pedro Serrano

CD Brazilian music of this century by its authors and performers: Adorinan Barbosa
SESC-SP, 2000

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