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Brazil: Carmen Miranda’s Embolada Riddle


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.

by:
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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