I only became aware of the subject of today’s post recently, when I passed that piece of street art (above) during carnival. It’s a nice piece of work and the guy has a nice looking face – then I saw the lyrics and decided it was time to find out more (starting with what a baralho is – a deck of playing cards).
Born in 1927 in Recife, José Bezerra da Silva grew up singing a North/Northeastern style of music called Coco. In 1942 he moved to Rio and in the 1950s found work as a session musician. His first record was released in 1969 and he went on to record 30 albums over the following 4 decades. He became particularly renowned for a style of samba known as partido alto.
Malandros and Malandragem
It seems impossible to say much about Bezerra without mentioning the term malandro. A malandro is someone who lives by malandragem, a lifestyle of hustling, petty crime and idleness. It wasn’t long after I got to Rio that I first came across this word malandro. Fittingly enough, a colleague was warning me about wandering down the wrong street in Lapa – “Watch out for malandros” she said. I say ‘fitting’ because, in Rio there is a strong association between malandros and Lapa.
In the image above, you can see the words Zé Pilintra. This is also spelled Zé Pelintra and refers to a ‘spiritual entity’ associated with Umbanda and Candomblé (Afro-Brazilian religions). It seems that there are slightly different interpretations of this spirit/deity depending on what region of Brazil you are in, but here in Rio there is a very strong association between Zé Pilantra and Malandros.
Wikipedia has quite a nice description of the Malandro and Malandragem – they’re slightly confusing words as they can be used negatively or positively:
The malandro – a rogue, hustler, rascal, scoundrel – has become significant to Brazilian national identity as a folk hero, or, rather an anti-hero. Malandragem is characterized in the Brazilian popular imagination as a tool for individual justice.
Facing the forces of oppressive institutions, the individual malandro survives by manipulating people, fooling authorities and sidestepping laws in a way which guarantees his well-being. In this way, the malandro is the typical Brazilian hero.
Anyway, back to Bezerra da Silva. More than almost anyone else, he sang about the Malandros and their plight as well as the drug trade and gang violence, earning his music the nick-name (which he hated) of sambandido – samba + bandido (bandit).
So, do you want to hear the man in action? Here he is singing Malandragem dá um tempo, with it’s main chorus Vou apertar, mas não vou acender agora (I’m going to roll one, but I won’t light it now):
Don’t you just love these songs where everyone sings together like that behind the main singer? The song quoted in that piece of street art come from a song called Acordo de Malandro (Agreement of the Malandro) – a piece essentially about Malandros not treading on each others toes – you can hear it here.
But as it’s Friday I wanted to leave you with this charming dance from the North/Northeast that I stumbled across while researching the music Coco which I mentioned at the start of this post. To be honest, I’m no sure if this is the same Coco that Bezerra used to play, but either way, isn’t it sweet? It makes me think there should be more hat tipping and gentle foot kicking in dance today! Have a great weekend!