The following list, which I translated below, comes from the Portal Geledés (via a Brazilian news site). The songs below demonstrate the beginnings of samba and how it progressed over the first few decades. If you’d like to further your musical understanding of samba’s origins, I suggest this two-disc album. For more samba posts in this blog, go here and for good samba documentaries (mostly w/o subtitles), click here.
“Pelo Telefone” (1917, lyrics), by Donga & Mauro de Almeida
The first composition registered as samba, it has since become something of a controversy – for many researchers it isn’t even samba, but rather a disguised maxixe. It’s most probable that the song came out of a ‘drum’ circle, with several participants improvising verses and melodies. Those who would have participated in this meeting, at the famous home of Tia Ciata, in the then-Praça Onze, would have included Germano Lopes da Silva, Hilário Jovino Ferreira, João da Mata, and Sinhô, among others that practiced in the so-called Little Africa Carioca at the start of the 20th century. The journalist Mauro de Almeida, aka the famous Peru dos Pés Frios, who wrote the composition with Donga, admitted to only having merely “arranged” the verses.
“Jura” (1929, lyrics), by Sinhô
Sinhô’s most famous composition, the distinguished pianist who was given the epithet that speaks to his importance in the rhythm’s pioneering years: The King of Samba. Still influenced by the maxixe, his melodies were simple and, at the same time, original, having become popular with the public. Jura, aside from its strong chorus, has malicious and very daring verses, considering the era: “Um beijo puro na catedral do amor”. Recently, Zeca Pagodinho re-recorded the song, with the same impact as before.
“Se Você Jurar” (1931, lyrics), by Ismael Silva, Nilton Bastos & Francisco Alves
This is a classic that came from those that revolutionized Brazilian music by formatting samba as a genuinely urban Carioca genre, almost as we now know it today. In the end of the 20s and at the start of the 30s, when the Estácio Group – in their 20s, mostly black and mulato, with no defined profession – started to compose in a less syncopated rhythm, in order to facilitate the fluidity of the samba school parades, which had also came about at the same time. The Ismael Silva – Nilton Bastos duo got together with singer Francisco Alves who, being smart, sensed the enormous potential of that type of emerging music, taking it to the radio.
“Agora é Cinza” (1934, lyrics), by Alcebíades (Bide) Barcelos & Armando Marçal
Another Estácio duo had compositions that were notable for their incredible melodic line, capable of making Cole Porter die of envy. As it was common at the time, each partner took over one part of the song – but with Bide and Marçal both being fine percussionists, even with such stylistic identities, they were able to come together perfectly. “Agora é Cinza” was the 1934 Carnival hit and even today it’s remembered as one of the biggest sambas of all time. Rightly so. (Can’t find a version w/ the original singers)
“Adeus Batucada” (1935, lyrics), by Sinval Silva
In bad taste, they said that she didn’t know how to sing samba correctly. But, in truth, Carmen Miranda, next to Mário Reis, was the first Brazilian singer to value the genre, realizing, by the end of the 20s, what a treasure it was. She did it with perfect voice control, adding an artfulness that was uniquely hers. “Adeus Batucada”, despite the sentimental and rather weepy tone, demonstrates all that. Composed by Sinval Silva, a favored composer, it was played from the Mesbla (dept store) bell tower, on the day of Carmen’s funeral procession.
“A Dama do Cabaré” (1936, lyrics), by Noel Rosa
It signals the first encounter between Noel Rosa and Ceci, his one true love. With some poetic freedoms: the girl, then just 16 years old, didn’t smoke; she couldn’t even pour the champagne at the “soirée” because she didn’t use “soirée” on that night of São João (soirée, French for ‘party’, and samba slang for ‘fancy dress’). Composed in 1934, the samba was recorded two years later, by Orlando Silva, as part of the soundtrack for the film “Cidade Mulher”. The same party and the same Ceci inspired Noel to make what many would consider his masterpiece, “Último Desejo“.
“Se Acaso Você Chegasse” (1938, lyrics), by Lupicínio Rodrigues & Felisberto Martins
A unique composer, Lupicínio Rodrigues launched himself nationally with this samba, practically done improvisationally, on the sidewalk of the Café Colombo, in Porto Alegre. As usual, it was inspired by a sentimental episode in his life. Composed in 1936, just two years after he found his ideal interpreter, Cyro Monteiro, known for his syncopated style, and perhaps the one singer who knew how to best “share” a samba. As it happened with Cyro, “Se Avaco Você Chegasse” helped make the name of another famous interpreter, Elza Soares, who re-recorded the song in 1959.
“Acertei no Milhar” (1940, lyrics), by Wilson Batista & Geraldo Pereira, sung by Moreira da Silva
The dream of being a millionaire with the “animal game” (informal lottery) – 500 contos de réis was an alarming amount in 1940 – inspired this samba de breque with lyrics written on order for the vocal amusement of Moreira da Silva. The great Wilson Batista, who would have been 100 years old in 2013, is the sole author of the piece. The no less great Geraldo Pereira, then at the start of his career, partnered with him just to “work” (?) the song on the radio.
“Antonico” (1950, lyrics), by Ismael Silva
It’s a marker on samba’s evolutionary line, an intimate piece by the same composer that had started the revolution of the genre at the end of the 20s. A revolution inside a revolution. It can be noted that each time Caetano Veloso – who suggested to Gal Costa that she re-record the song – commits to a samba there are echos of “Antonico” in it. Despite Ismael having always denied the hypothesis in his autobiography, it’s impossible to not notice the author (Caetano?) in the “toca cuíca, toda surdo e tamborim/ Faça por ele como se fosse por mim”.
“Agoniza, Mas Não Morre” (1978, lyrics), by Nelson Sargento
A marker of samba’s cultural resistance, this samba song was inspired by a family drama. Upon arriving at home in the Baixada Fluminense, after working as a stone-mason in the Zona Sul, Nelson Sargento found his wife very sick. Days passed, and she didn’t improve. Nelson breathed and, already discouraged, whispered: “Agoniza, mas não morre”. At that same moment, he got the guitar and composed the classic song, recorded by Beth Carvalho. With time: his wife got better.