tra-la-la

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By Walnice Nogueira Galvão*

Commentary on the biography of Lamartine Babo, by Suetônio Soares Valença.

A life like that of Lamartine Babo, the greatest composer of carnival songs that ever lived, could only yield this 900-page volume, entitled Tra-la-lá. Known by the nickname of Lalá, his irrepressible vitality, his eagerness for fun, his creativity that never ceased even when he was sleeping, his unique love relationship with the city of Rio de Janeiro, his frenzy of skipping carnival dressed as a “Widow”: all of this it speaks of boundless exuberance and requires many pages to be exchanged in small numbers.

Furthermore, the author of the biography, Suetônio Soares Valença, dedicated his own life to this project, entrusting posterity with a model work. Detailed archival research into the life and work of Lalá, as well as the discography, the book also includes many clippings of missing documentation and now recovered, with texts by the biographer and others about him, to which is added a profusion of illustrations, photos, drawings and caricatures of her thin silhouette. We owe Funarte the exquisite edition.

So much deserves the author of what can be called the marchinha das marchinhas: “Your hair does not deny”, until today played and sung in all carnivals.

Emanating from these pages is an evocation of the bohemian life of the capital of Rio de Janeiro, when, it seems, the bohemians lived in revelry – although they worked like moors to earn a living. Lalá had ten jobs, wrote for magazine theaters and was an actor on stage, composed hymns for the main soccer clubs in Rio, had a daily radio program and newspaper column, was an auditorium entertainer, traveled to perform at events where sang, danced and acted in skits. Despite this, he and his samba friends partied all the time.

This extraordinary composer – by the way, white – was a figurehead of Rio's carnival throughout his life, fitting success after success. His compositions were soon sung throughout the city. Having made an early career in revue theatre, where he was noted for the inventive verve of pun and joke lyrics, he was also a good musician from a young age.

With the expansion and popularization of the radio, he became known as a radio broadcaster, with his own program in the musical-humorous style, where he sang, told anecdotes and gave opportunity to other figures. He also became a journalist around that time. He worked for record companies as a record producer, played roles in several films and stage shows. He would still make a career as a TV show host.

He is without a doubt, by far, the most abundant composer of songs for carnival, although he was not restricted to just marching music or just to carnival. He ventured, and with success, into all genres, from waltz to tango, from fox-trot to samba-canção, from march-rancho to maxixe, from religious hymn to operetta, in about three hundred pieces, or perhaps even more. His grace, swing, malice, the finesse of his compositions were forever unmatched.

Arriving at satire, his marchinhas criticize the customs of daily life in Rio. She did not forgive the exaggerations of fashion, both male and female, bad behavior, scandalous conduct. But she always praised the woman's beauty, praising her as a mulatto, or blonde, or brunette: democratically, they all deserved her compliments. He was also given to nonsense and nonsense. Among the many examples, the marchinha that prays stands out: “Who invented Brazil?/ It was Seu Cabral, it was Seu Cabral/ On the 21st of April/ Two months after Carnival”.

The book's title derives from a pun created by Lamartine himself, merging his nickname Lalá with the musical suggestion of a wordless melody, conveyed by the verb to trautear. A composer of such relevance deserves both his reputation and this unusual homage.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão is professor emeritus at FFLCH-USP.

REFERENCES

Tra La Lá – Suetônio Soares Valença and Presentation of Nássara – Funarte 1981 – 1st. Edition (https://amzn.to/3E4BuY4)

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