The death of João Pacífico is a big loss for the country and for
caipira music in particular. He was considered by many the best country composer Brazil
By Elma Lia Nascimento
Amid the celebrations of Christmas and New Year’s few Brazilians took notice of the
death of João Pacífico, a music great and one of Brazil’s last legitimate caipira
(country) composers. He has been often called the "best composer Brazilian caipira
music has ever had." The author of "Cabocla Tereza," "Chico
Mulato" and "Gota d’Água," among other musical treasures, died in
Guararema in the Greater São Paulo from respiratory insufficiency on December 30, 1998.
Son of an ex-slave woman, he was born in 1909 on a farm in Cordeirópolis, a town in
the interior of São Paulo state. Only one year later he would get his birth certificate
where he was registered as João Batista da Silva. The Pacífico epithet would come much
later, in 1932, given him by an RCA executive who thought the term was a perfect
description for his humble, quiet and calm demeanor.
In an interview with daily O Estado de S. Paulo, Assis Ângelo, a journalist and
an expert in popular culture agrees that the name fits well: "He was patient, calm,
attentive." In one of his rare interviews Pacífico, when asked what he expected from
life, told the reporter: "Life is good, I do no harm to anyone, I drink my cachacinha
(sugar cane liquor), but I would like to see everything changing a lot, everything getting
calmer and more peaceful."
Ângelo also talked about the importance of the composer for the Brazilian culture:
"With the death of Pacífico we lose a good part of pure Brazilian music. He leaves
admirers but no substitute. He invented a genre called historic tune. He was able to
create a narration using a classic theme of history."
Pacífico, who went to school for a mere three years, was still a little boy when he
started playing percussion in a movie theater orchestra. By age 10 he moved to Campinas, a
bigger city. He continued playing, but had to find a job to survive and became a dish
washer aide at Companhia Paulista de Estrada de Ferro (São Paulo Railway Company). Always
humble, he used to talk about those hard times with humor: "I washed the dish so the
dish washer could wash it. Important stuff, hum? Top job, amazing."
It was working in the wagon restaurant of the train that he met people that would help
him in his career. That’s where he met, for example, Raul Torres, the so-called Rei da
Embolada (Embolada King) who, after listening to some of his poetry became a long-time
partner. He also met renowned poet Guilherme de Almeida, who had a radio program and gave
him a chance to show his talent and recite verses like: "Don’t pay attention if you
see one day that the leaves have become yellow, it was longing that painted them this
During his career he would compose, according to his own estimate, close to 1,400
songs. He started a tradition of caipira music, in which the singer would recite
verses before starting to sing the song. Inezita Barroso, Rolando Boldrin, Sérgio Reis,
Tonico e Tinoco are some of the famous interpreters who sang Pacífico’s tunes.
After living many years in Vila Mariana, a neighborhood in the south zone of São
Paulo, Pacífico, who was a widower, was living with friends in Guararema at the time of
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