The Noel of a country not pink

sThere are several approaches on the trajectory and work of Rio de Janeiro composer Noel Rosa – born exactly 110 years ago, on December 11, 1910. One of the most interesting is the one that articulates his songs with the Brazilian modernist proposals. Santuza Cambraia Naves is one of the researchers who takes this look in her book O Violão Azul : “Popular music embodies a certain modernist ideal that values stripping and breaks with the bachelor’s tradition, associated with certain conceptions of scholarship. (…) There is a convergence between popular musicians, who work individually and without resorting to an aesthetic project, and the poets and ideologues of Modernism, involved in a conscious collective project around simplicity and sermo humilisalthough, in most cases, both in modernist poetry and popular music, the humble is reconciled with the sublime ”.
Free verse, popular vocabulary, humor and irony, recourse to everyday images, all of which the modernist project sought to develop in literature from the 1920s onwards, popular music performed in songs that began to enter a growing music market.

Another researcher, Rodrigo Aparecido Vicente, in a text entitled Noel Rosa’s Samba Critic , seeks in Antonio Candido an observation that corroborates this aim. “Referring to the 1922 movement, the literary critic points out that ‘a series of aspirations, innovations, presentiments generated in the 1920s, which had been a seedbed of great changes’, ended up experiencing, in the next phase, a process of’ generalization and normalization, but from the popular spheres, towards the middle and upper layers’. ”


Noel Rosa: sambas by the composer from Rio de Janeiro represent a modernist critique of Brazil’s modernization – Art on photos National Library Archive and Rádio Senado
These artistic ideals that were born in the intellectualized environment and flourished so well in the popular spheres – to later continue the journey in reverse – found in popular music, especially in samba and in the march, their great expressions.

Noel Rosa is one of the best personifications of this process. In his case, with the stripping, the colloquiality and the humor, they also change to melancholy, sadness and pessimism. In it, the contradictions of a changing world crossed both his social sensibility and his most lyrical affections.

Brasil things
In the first decades of the 20th century, Brazil was a country that had just abolished slavery. The agro-export sector was hegemonic, although going through successive crises. At the same time, urbanization was increasing and the incipient industrialization brought new social actors in addition to those present in the rural world. Noel Rosa was not unaware of these overlaps of contradictory realities. One of his best-known songs confirms it. These are Our Things :

I wanted to be a tambourine
To feel the whole day
Your hand on my skin drumming
Longing for the guitar and the hut
Our thing, our thing

Samba, readiness and other bosses
Are our things
They are our things

Trickster who doesn’t drink, who doesn’t eat
Who doesn’t abandon samba, because samba kills hunger
Pretty brunette from the countryside
Our thing, our thing

Samba, readiness and other bosses
Are our things
They are our things

Baleiro, newsboy, motorist
Driver and passenger
Lender and swindler
And the tram that looks like a wagon
Our thing, very ours

Samba, readiness and other bosses
Are our things
They are our things

Girl who dates on the corner and at the gate
Married boy, with ten children, penniless
If the father finds out the trick, it gives an itch
Our thing, very ours

Samba, readiness and other bosses
Are our things
They are our things

( Coisas Nossa , by Noel Rosa. Listen here)

The song Coisas Nossas brings, among other images, that of the tram that looks like a wagon. This approximation between two realities that should collide – the “tram”, as a symbol of modernity, and the “wagon”, which bears the image of the delay – here coexists in a tension colored by Noel Rosa’s irony. The intersection of these two images has already been well explored, not only by authors who analyze the musician, but also by those who analyzed the poem by Oswald de Andrade Pobre Alimária , which brings together the same vehicles:

The horse and the cart
Were stuck in the track
And as the motor-driver was impatient
Because he took the lawyers to the offices
Unlocked the vehicle
And the animal fired
But the lighthearted carter
Climbed on the ride
And punished the fugitive harnessed
With a great whip

( Poor Alimária , by Oswald de Andrade)

Oswald’s poem, 1925, and Noel’s song, 1932, are two examples, with the same images, which translate personal experience in the midst of a country that looks at the horizon of avant-garde and modern societies, with the loin still marked by the whip of the slave-holding delay. Even more, the modernity that was affirmed ahead also carried its own perversities. That is why, often, artistic sensitivities like Noel looked at the past and the future without knowing which one to choose. And that space of doubt was the ground for ironic criticism and pessimism.


The modernist poet Oswald de Andrade – Photo: National Archives
Rogue modernity
His songs, in several cases, reported the precariousness of the rascal’s condition. But that was not the reason for the steady and steady work life that, after all, was not so abundant.

The world condemns me, and no one
feels sorry Speaking badly about my name
Leaving to know if I’m going to die of thirst
Or if I’m going to die of hunger
But philosophy today helps me
To live indifferent like
this In this endless readiness
I pretend I’m rich
To nobody make fun of me
I don’t bother you to tell me
That society is my enemy
For singing in this world I
live a slave to my samba, even though a vagabond
As for you of the aristocracy
Who has money, but does not buy joy He will have
to live forever being a slave of this people
who cultivate hypocrisy

( Philosophy , by Noel Rosa and André Filho. Listen here)

As another author who dedicated himself to studying Noel Rosa, the historian Antonio Pedro Tota, recalls, “Noel is the critic of bourgeois society and its contradictions amid the impact of modernity”. In the article entitled Culture, Politics and Modernity in Noel Rosa , Tota highlights the wit of the composer by placing two symbols of modernity face to face, against each other. It is in the song Três Apitos that the following verses appear:

When the fabric factory’s whistle
Comes to hurt my ears
I remember you ‘
Cause you’re definitely pretty angry
And you’re interested in pretending you don’t see me
You who answer the whistle of a clay chimney
Why don’t you answer the scream so distressed from my car’s horn?

( Três Apitos , by Noel Rosa. Listen here)

In this song, both the factory whistle and the car horn would live harmoniously as symbols of modernity. But not here. As Antonio Pedro Tota observes, the lyrical self of that song “fights the whistle of the fabric factory, using another modern instrument: the klaxon , that is, the horn”.

The reference to the term klaxon was not used for nothing by Tota. When stitching the approximations between the purposes of the modernist movement and the elements of Noel Rosa’s songs, one can pass on the memory of Klaxon magazine , one of the main instruments for the dissemination of that Brazilian artistic and intellectual movement. And, once again, it is necessary to underline the harmony between the works of Noel Rosa and Oswald de Andrade. As in the modernist writer, in Poeta da Vila there was also frequent opposition to the bourgeoisie and its way of life. And in both, the figure antagonistic to the bourgeois type is more bohemian than the classical proletarian. Or, as it was markedly verbalized in countless songs, the “trickster”.

There are many syntheses that the rascal carries every time he appears in a song from that time. As researcher Mayra Pinto remembers, in the article With What Clothes? The Birth of the Controversial Trickster by Noel Rosa , in that period – the 1920s and 1930s – financial shortages were not only a trickster problem, but a national issue. For this reason, the one who is on the margins of the dominant economic game, the trickster, is the character chosen to talk about the situation. And it is those who are surprised by the extreme difficulty of taking over any surplus.

Now I don’t walk around anymore,
because money
is not easy to earn.
Even though I am a cheating goat
I can’t even afford to spend it,
I already ran afloat
But now with what clothes?

(Excerpt from With What Clothes?, By Noel Rosa. Listen here)

About the song With What Clothes? , Mayra Pinto is attentive to the astonishment of the trickster who finds himself in the midst of a social shortage so severe that, even though he is a cheater, he cannot manage to have the minimum to spend.

It is not for nothing that the songs were often forces opposed to government propaganda. Like a bucket of acid, a composition like Samba da Boa Vontade makes the foreign debt and the politics of coffee melt in the ears of someone attentive.

I compare my Brazil to
a spendthrift child
Who walks without a penny
But there is a mother who is a millionaire
And who swore stomping her foot
That we will go to Europe
In a coffee landfill
(In this I always had faith)

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