The late, great samba musician Bezerra da Silva, who was the straight-talking “voz do morro”, would have turned 90 years old today. Bezerra was pretty much ignored by mainstream media, despite finding success in the world of samba in the late 1970s and onward.
He mostly sang about social problems faced by favela residents, such as being exploited and oppressed by employers, roguery (malandragem) and outlaws, drug use and condemning the ratting out of friends (caguetagem). He once said, “these songs I sing are from composers that are stonemason assistants, street vendors, unemployed, car washers, and cooks.”
When he was younger, he was poor and alone, working as a wall painter in the construction business. Upon becoming unemployed, he ended up homeless, even attempting suicide before being saved by Umbanda where a priestess told him his destiny was in music. Later, he would say that if he hadn’t got out of the construction business, he surely would have turned into “a ladder, a brick, a bag of cement.” What he did turn into, in the end, was one of the most respected interpreters of samba music in Brazil.
If you want to get a good sense of who he was, read this interview (PT), see the short interview directly below, or watch the documentary Onde a Coruja Dorme (either the original 15 min version or the elaborated 50 min follow-up).