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Brazzil - Music - August 2003
 

Brazil: Carmen Miranda's Embolada Riddle

No one thought anything of it when Chico Alves' disc came out,
nor six years later, when Almirante recorded the same tune. The
whole matter would never have erupted into controversy had it not
been for Carmen Miranda. It was the song's inclusion in a Hollywood
film and the hoped-for rich royalties that caused the ruckus.

Daniella Thompson

 

As every Carmen Miranda fan knows, a Pequena Notável began her American career on 25 May 1939—eight days after she had disembarked from the S.S. Uruguay in New York harbor—when the musical revue Streets of Paris opened for a preview run in Boston. The following month the show moved to the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway, and the rest is history.

In Streets of Paris, Carmen had only six minutes on stage, and she filled them with a 5-song medley that included an old tongue-twisting embolada she called "Bambu-Bambu." The song was old enough for the singer not to have known its author. This presented a problem, since her astounding success on stage soon brought about a film role and a record deal, both of which called for repeat performances of "Bambu-Bambu," triggering the payment of royalties. But to whom?

Carmen therefore sent a letter to the singer/songwriter/radio man Almirante, telling him that she was going to film in November and had a great need to discover the songwriter's name.

Why Almirante? First, because he was Carmen's close friend and colleague. Second, because he was a great collector and researcher of popular Brazilian music. Third, because Carmen had heard Almirante sing the very same embolada in September 1932, while they were touring the northeast. Almirante recorded the song earlier the same year:

Autor: Almirante - Valdo Abreu
Título: Cabelo Branco
Gênero: Embolada
Intérprete: Almirante e seu Bando de Tangarás
Gravadora: Victor
Número: 33557-B
Matriz: 65449
Data Gravação: 12.04.1932
Data Lançamento: Jun/1932

If Almirante sang "Cabelo Branco," why did Carmen call it "Bambu-Bambu"? It so happens that Almirante wasn't the first to record this song. First was Patrício Teixeira, in late 1925 or early 1926:

Autor: Patrício Teixeira - Donga
Título: Bambo, Bambu
Gênero: Embolada
Intérprete: Patrício Teixeira
Gravadora: Odeon
Número: 122961

Teixeira was followed by o Rei da Voz, Francisco Alves, in 1927:

Autor: Patrício Teixeira - Donga
Título: Bambo-Bambu
Gênero: Canção Nortista
Intérprete: Francisco Alves
Gravadora: Odeonette
Número: 107-A
Matriz: 110

Carmen was a teenager when Teixeira's and Alves' records were released, and she was likely to have heard one or the other and remembered the title. Yet the lyrics she sang on Broadway and later on a Decca record and in the film Down Argentine Way (1940) did not come from Teixeira's or Alves' discs but from Almirante's. If she had no head for authors' names, Carmen did have a phenomenal memory for lyrics, for it appears that she wasn't working from a published score.

Had a score been available to the singer, it probably would have intensified her confusion. The original and exclusive publisher of "Bambo Bambú,"" Carlos Wehrs & C. of Rua da Carioca 47, Rio de Janeiro, brought out three contemporary editions of the music score—all with contiguous catalog numbers and each with a different set of authors. In P4577, the title was "Bambo Bambú" and the authors were listed as J. Tomaz and E. Santos (Donga). In P4578, Patrício Teixeira substituted J. Tomaz as Donga's partner. In P4579, J. Tomaz was identified as sole author and the title altered to "Bombo do Bambú." This last edition carried lyrics that were different from those in the previous two (scroll down to see the various sets of lyrics). In his book No Tempo de Almirante, Sérgio Cabral discloses that in 1926, Donga registered the song at the Instituto Nacional de Música, while J. Tomaz registered it as well, but in the Biblioteca Nacional.

No one thought anything of it at the time, nor the following year, when Chico Alves' disc came out, nor six years later, when Almirante recorded the same tune with a different title and lyrics. The whole matter would never have erupted into controversy had it not been for Carmen Miranda. It was the song's inclusion in a Hollywood film and the hoped-for rich royalties that caused the ruckus.

Here's how it came about.

Carmen recorded "Bambu-Bambu" on 26 December 1939, accompanied by Bando da Lua and the legendary guitarist Garoto. The song was released on Decca 23132 (matrix 67001) as the B-side of "Mamãe Eu Quero" (Jararaca/Vicente Paiva). Sérgio Cabral, who quoted Carmen's letter to Almirante, did not provide the latter's reply. Almirante probably said nothing, for no authors were specified on the disc label (in various reissues, the song is described as "traditional").

Traditional or not, someone had to receive royalties, and Almirante was picked as the likeliest source. Sooner or later, it came to the attention of Donga and Patrício Teixeira that Almirante had signed an American contract as the author of "Bambu-Bambu," and they accused him of profiting from their work.

As was to be expected, the press jumped on the case. Cine-Rádio-Jornal approached Almirante, who testified:

In December '39 or January '40, I don't remember exactly, I received from Wallace Downey [an American film producer who had made several successful musicals in Brazil] a contract with Robin Music Corporation. At first I didn't want to sign the document, because I had had nothing to do with the embolada. But Downey, who was in the U.S. with Carmen as representative of ABCA [Associação Brasileira de Compositores e Autores] in order to establish copyright for the compositions of this society, explained that Carmen sang the song with my lyrics. Later, the first album of Decca discs with Carmen's American recordings arrived in Brazil, and "Bambu Bambu" came in that collection. I heard the disc at Odeon and noticed that it didn't carry the authors' names on the label. I also noted that the sung verses were of the embolada "Cabelo Branco," which I remembered to have been only of Valdo de Abreu's authorship. Later I recalled that I was co-author. Odeon and Valdo de Abreu were notified. The latter said it wasn't important and authorized me to sign the contract. Later I saw in the newspapers that Donga and J. Tomaz said they were the true authors of "Bambu Bambu" and would sue me for having signed an illegal contract.

According to Cabral, Almirante went on to say that he knew the song since 1924, when it had served as the theme of a São Cristóvão team and had these lyrics:

Olha o bambo
Do bambu, bambu, bambu
Olha o bambo
Do bambu, bambu, bambu
Eu vi bambo
Embolado pelo chão
Eu também vi o clarão
Quando o bambo caiu no mar

Almirante was the programmer and host of some of Brazil's most popular radio shows. One of those, Curiosidades Musicais, was the ideal platform from which to ask listeners for information on any song. The responses he got regarding "Bambo Bambu" were numerous and varied. Some listeners in Minas Gerais knew the song since 1912, others in Pernambuco had known of it for 30, 40, or even 50 years. Each sent in different lyrics. The poet Ascenso Ferreira claimed he had known the song for more than 20 years and that he published the lyrics in his 1927 book Catimbó.


In his turn, Donga averred in a Correio da Noite interview that he had collected the music in Pernambuco while touring with the Oito Batutas, and that he and Patrício Teixeira created a special arrangement and a second part. Since J. Tomaz also was a member of Oito Batutas, we could speculate that he may have collected the song on the same occasion.

Article 556 of Brazil's Civil Code allows anyone to adapt a theme in the public domain and register the adaptation's copyright as his/her own, independently of previous adaptations. Thus Almirante and Valdo de Abreu's names appear on subsequent recordings utilizing the lyrics sung by Carmen Miranda, among them Ney Matogrosso's ("Bambo de Bambu" in Pois é of 1982, Vinte e Cinco of 1997, and Batuque of 2001) and Eduardo Dussek's ("Bambo do Bambu" in Adeus Batucada—Eduardo Dussek Sings Carmen Miranda, 2000). Curiously, Nazaré Pereira, who recorded the same lyrics in 1979 ("Bambo de Bambu" in Nazaré—an audio sample is provided), attributed them to folklore and to herself. Equally curious is the attribution in Dussek's book on Carmen Miranda, released together with the CD, in which the score of "Bambo do Bambu" credits only Donga and Patrício Teixeira.

And before we forget, there's one more recording: "Bambo do Bambu" was one of the legendary Native Brazilian Music recordings made in August 1940 under Leopold Stokowski's supervision aboard the same S.S. Uruguay that had brought Carmen Miranda to New York. Here the performers are Jararaca (co-author of "Mamãe Eu Quero") and Ratinho, accompanied by Donga's conjunto regional featuring Laurindo de Almeida's guitar. This time, the author's credit went to Donga alone. Beyond the refrain, the lyrics bear no resemblance to any other recorded or published version. Could the comic duo have improvised them on the spot?

The tiff between Donga and Almirante did not diminish their friendship in any way, as can be seen from the following recordings. Both these songs (in José Gonçalves' interpretation) also found their way into Native Brazilian Music, where Donga was given sole author's credit.

Autor: Motivo Popular/Arr.: Donga
Título: Passarinho Bateu Asa
Gênero: Batuque
Intérprete: Almirante
Gravadora: Odeon
Número: 11875-A
Matriz: 6387
Data Gravação: 28.05.1940
Data Lançamento: Jul/1940

Autor: Donga/Cicero de Almeida
Título: Seu Mané Luiz
Gênero: Samba
Intérprete: Almirante
Gravadora: Odeon
Número: 11875-B
Matriz: 6388
Data Gravação: 28.05.1940
Data Lançamento: Jul/1940

As for the fat purse foretold for the lucky author, we have Almirante's assurance that it was much ado about nothing:

It isn't these 300 or 80 contos of which so much was said but the ridiculous sum of 5 contos and 400 mil réis.* It's a lot of noise for so little money.

= = =

* Determining the value of 5:400$000 is not easy, owing to wartime inflation. In letters sent to Almirante from the U.S. by Carmen Miranda and Aloysio de Oliveira in December 1939 and early 1940, respectively, they pegged a conto at $50, making Almirante's royalties amount to a mere $270. My earlier and more convoluted calculations indicate the amount to be closer to $1,890. Judging by Almirante's disdain, the former figure is likelier.

Lyrics

Carlos Wehrs & C. edition P4577:

Bambo Bambú
(Côco de embollada da Bahia)
SAMBA
Música e letra de J. Thomaz e E. Santos (Donga)

Côro:
Olha o bambo do bambú
bambú, bambú
Olha o bambo do bambú
Bambo bombê, olha o bambo
Do bambú bambo bombá
Quero ver dizer três vezes
Ram-bambú bambú
Lálá _ (Bambu)
[bis]

1.
Quem tiver sua filha moça
Não deixe apanhar café
Si for menina vem moça
Si for moça vem mulher
Bambú, bambú
[bis]

2.
Eu dei uma tapa, na cabeça da morena
Que fiquei com tanta pena
De ver em sangue nadar
Olha o Bambo do bambú
Bambo bambá.
Quero ver dizer três vezes
Ram-bambú bambú
Lálá _ (Bambu)
[bis]

3.
Tem luz eletrica, tem fogo
Tem lamparina tambem tem terebentina
Tem vella, tem castiçal
Dona Carlota p'ra que tanta claridade
Deixe essa farcidade ponha a lampa no lugar.
Bambú, bambú.
[bis]

Carlos Wehrs & C. edition P4578:

Bambo Bambú
(Côco de embollada da Bahia)
Samba
Offerecido ao querido vespertino "O GLOBO" por
Ernesto dos Santos (Donga) e Patricio Teixeira

[same lyrics as in P4577; this is the version recorded by Patrício Teixeira]

Carlos Wehrs & C. edition P4579:

Bombo do Bambú
Côco
Música e letra de J. Thomaz

Creação no palco do Theatro Phenix
pelo querido artista Henrique Chaves

Côro:
Oia o bombo do bambú bambú bambú
Oia o bombo do bambú bom bom bê
Oia o bombo do bambú bom bê bom bá
Quero vê dizê três vezes bom bambú bambú lá lá bambú
[bis]

I
Mestre fuguita bóte fôgo na giranda
Ateie fogo de banda nos ares pearrá pá pá
O trem de ferro que aitou em Pernambuco
Tea fazendo rúco-rúco na cidade do Pará.

Côro:
Oia o bombo do bambú etc.

II
Pega pega agarra agarra emenda emenda
O Caixeiro vem p'ra venda que o matuto qué comprá
A chea grande que passou no meu cercado
Deixou tudo alagado meu gado passando má.

Côro:
Oia o bombo do bambú etc.

III
Minha marrêta tem um cabo de imbiriba
O lê lê, salto p'ra riba e dou na pedra p'ra quebrá
Pedro Paulino, Leodoro, Loriano
Essa lei repubricana, tá damnaa p'ra brigá, bambú

The version recorded by Carmen Miranda:

Bambu-Bambu
(traditional/Almirante/Valdo de Abreu)

E olha o bambo de bambu, bambu,
E olha o bambo de bambu, bambulelê
E olha o bambo de bambu, bambulalá
Eu quero ver dizer três vezes bambulelê, bambulalá

Fui a um banquete na casa do Zé Pequeno
A mesa tava no sereno
P'rá todo mundo cabê
Tinha toda qualidade de talher
Tinha mais home que mulié
Mas só não tinha o que comer (bambu)

E no tal banquete, dito cujo, referido
Mulher que não tinha marido
Não passou aperto não
Pois as danada para não morrer de fome
Cada qual comeu seu home
Não tiveram indigestão (bambu)

Conheço um home que tem 17 filho
Que pôs tudo no desvio
P'rá polícia empregá
A mulher dele de beleza ainda promete
Dar à luz a 17
P'rá depois então parar (bambu)

The version recorded by Ney Matogrosso:

Bambo de Bambu
(Almirante/Valdo de Abreu)

Olha o bambo de bambu, bambu, bambu
Olha o bambo de bambu, bambulelê Olha o bambo de bambu, bambulalá
Eu quero ver dizer três vezes
Bambulelê, bambulalá

Fui a um banquete na casa do Zé Pequeno
A mesa tava no sereno pra todo mundo caber
Tinha toda qualidade de talher
Tinha mais homem que mulher
Mas só não tinha o que comer, bambu

No tal banquete dito-cujo referido
Mulher que tinha marido
Não passou aperto não
Pois as danadas, para não morrer de fome
Cada qual comeu seu homem
Não tiveram indigestão, bambu

Conheço um homem que tem 17 filhos
Que pôs tudo no desvio Pra polícia empregar
A mulher dele, de beleza ainda promete
Dar a luz a 17 Pra depois então parar

The version recorded by Eduardo Dussek:

Bambo do Bambu
(Almirante/Valdo de Abreu)

Olha o Bambo de bambu, bambu, bambu
Olha o Bambo de bambulelê, bambulelá
Eu quero ver dizer tres vezes
Bambulelê, bambulalá (bambu)

Fui a um banquete na casa do Zé Pequeno
A mesa tava no sereno pra todo mundo caber
Tinha toda qualidade de talher
Tinha mais homem que mulher
Mas só não tinha o que comer, bambu
No tal banquete dito-cujo referido

E no salão ao pé do cujo referido
Mulher que tinha marido
Não passou aperto não
Pois as danadas para não morrer de fome
Cada qual comeu seu homem
E não teve indigestão, bambu
Conheço um homem que tendo tido sete filhos
Que pôs tudo no desvio, prá polícia empregar
A mulher dele tem beleza e ainda promete
Dar a luz a dezessete, prá depois então parar, bambu

The version published by Eduardo Dussek:

Bambo do Bambu
(Donga/Patrício Teixeira)

[same lyrics as in Dussek's recorded version]

The writer publishes the online magazine of Brazilian music and culture Daniella Thompson on Brazil and the website Musica Brasiliensis, where she can be contacted.

This article was originally published in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.

Copyright © 2003 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.







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