By Brazzil Magazine
According to Ary Vasconcelos, in his book Carinhoso, Etc. (História e Inventário
do Choro), choro was born in Rio de Janeiro around 1870, and it was, initially,
not a musical genre of its own, but a Brazilian way of playing waltzes, polkas, mazurkas
and other European genres that were very common at that time. He also points out that the
birth certificate of choro was probably "Olhos Matadores" (Killer Eyes)
by Henrique Alves de Mesquita.
The origin of the word choro is very controversial and Vasconcelos provides some
possible theories for it. First, he cites Luís da Câmara Cascudo, who claimed that the
word might have originated from the parties of Afro-Brazilians during festival days like
Saint John’s Day, that were first called xolo, then xôro and, finally, choro
(crying), because of the confusion involving its Portuguese paronym. Second, he states
that, according to José Ramos Tinhorão, the term came from the melancholy impression
caused by the way of playing that rhythm and, consequently, the name of chorão was
given to those who played it. However, Vasconcelos’ favorite theory is that the word
resulted from the simplification of choromeleiros, a group of musicians highly
regarded in the Brazilian colonial period.
Bruce Gilman, in his article Choro, Chorinho, Chorão (Brazzil, February
1996), emphasizes that many people think that choro is "Brazilian jazz",
because both choro and American jazz are based in the improvisation and mixture of
African and European musical elements. However, choro was born before jazz, so it
would be more appropriate to call jazz "American choro".
In the beginning, choro was exclusively instrumental and played by amateur
musicians who formed a group composed of flute, guitar and cavaquinho. Most of the
musicians were government employees and members of the lower-middle class. They played
without receiving any money at parties where food and drink were plentiful. Concerning
this point, Vasconcelos says that "a chorão didn’t care spending all the
night playing, provided that the host paid him well, not financiallyhe wouldn’t
accept a pennybut gastronomically. For that reason he used to introduce himself when
he arrived in a party and go directly to the kitchen to check if "the cat wasn’t
sleeping in the stove"a common expression in that timethat is, if there
was food ready to be served.
Adhemar Nóbrega, in his book Os Choros de Villa-Lobos, also mentions the figure
of the peru (turkey), a slang term for the people who went along with choro
groups, paying the bills and solving occasional difficulties with the police in the
streets. The peru was a kind of public relations agent for the group.
Vasconcelos proposes the division of choro history in six different generations,
from its beginning, in 1870, to the present. The first generation (1870-1888) consists of
the composers and flutists Joaquim Antônio Calado Júnior, Viriato Figueira da Silva,
Virgílio Pinto da Silveira and Luizinho, who can be considered the "fathers" of
choro . Another important figure was Chiquinha Gonzaga (Francisca Hedwiges
Gonzaga), the first woman in Brazil to conduct a military band and a theater orchestra, as
well as author of the first song composed especially for carnival: "Ô Abre
Alas" (Make Way).
Nóbrega describes her as "a daring woman who, facing the prejudices of the time,
honored the profession of popular musician, in a time when that activity didn’t experience
a good reputation in the eyes of society. Composing songs for the musical theater and
playing them by herself, beyond supporting her own choro group, Chiquinha Gonzaga
triumphed over those prejudices, thanks to her strong personality."
The last individual in this phase was Ernesto Nazaré, who left 215 compositions,
including tangos, polkas, waltzes, etc., such as "Odeon" and "Apanhei-te
Cavaquinho" (I Got You Cavaquinho).
The second generation (1889-1918) is considered the golden age of choro and has
Anacleto de Medeiros as its principal proponent, since he was responsible for the
popularity of choro, after promoting its execution by civil and military bands,
mainly by the Rio de Janeiro fire brigade band, founded by him. After his death Anacleto
was succeed in the leadership of the band by another remarkable composer, Alberto
Pimentel, who also made a huge contribution to the choro repertoire.
In this generation bands were responsible for playing choro but, because of the
beginning of the First World War, they were replaced by pianists like Nazaré, a member of
the first generation, and Zequinha de Abreu (José Gomes de Abreu), who composed, among
others, two classics: the choro "Tico-tico no Fubá" (Tico-Tico Bird in
the Cornmeal) and the waltz "Branca" (White Woman). Finally, it is important to
mention Irineu de Almeida, who was a musician, composer and also teacher of Pixinguinha.
During the third generation (1919-1930) the most outstanding name of all times emerges:
Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Viana Júnior), son of the chorão Alfredo da Rocha
Viana. Pixinguinha composed his first choro, "Lata de Leite" (Milk Can),
at the age of 14 when he started studying with Irineu de Almeida. He recorded for the
first time when he was 16, and at the age of 20, he composed the tango "Sofres Porque
Queres" (You Suffer Because You Want To) and the waltz "Rosa" (Rose), which
later received lyrics by Otávio de Souza.
In 1919, Pixinguinha formed the group Oito Batutas (The Eight Masters) that
played, initially, in movie theaters and, later, in high society parties. They also played
for the kings of Belgium, who were visiting Brazil in 1920, and in trips throughout the
country, including one presentation in the Cabaré Assírio (Assyrian Night Club),
where they accompanied the dancers Duque and Gaby, who were very famous for dancing maxixe
(a 19th-century dance) in Paris. Influenced by Duque, the Brazilian millionaire Arnaldo
Guinle financed a tour of the Oito Batutas to Europe, in 1922. When they returned
to Brazil, the name of the group was changed to Os Batutas (The Masters).
In the book Filho de Ogum Bexiguento, by Marília Trindade Barboza da Silva and
Arthur Loureiro de Oliveira Filho, the following poem by Pixinguinha describes how he sees
Eu também nasci chorando
I was born crying too
During the 20’s, choro lost its appeal for a new genre called foxtrot, which was
played by new jazz-bands and orchestras. The bandleader Romeu Silva played a very
important role at this time, because he was responsible for bringing choro to the
What it is very strange in Vasconcelos’ division is the fact that he seems to be
unaware of the existence of Villa-Lobos in this or any other generation. Possibly, he
considered Villa-Lobos too "classical" for playing popular choro. The
truth is that Villa-Lobos was part of choro groups in Rio de Janeiro, at the
beginning of the century, and he was the only Brazilian composer to have his songs played
in the Semana de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Week), held in São Paulo, in 1922, which
established vanguard art in Brazil. His series of 14 choros, plus the "Choro
(Bis)" [Choro (Encore)], "Introdução aos Choros"(Introduction to Choros)
and "Quinteto em Forma de Choros" (Quintet Molded Like Choros)- composed between
1920 and 1929 – are considered high points of Villa-Lobos works and of Brazilian music in
The fourth generation (1931-1946) was characterized by the emergence of the first
electric gramophones and the popularization of the radio in Brazil. The most well-known
names from the other generations continued producing, but only a few compositions reached
the radio stations and records. Choro became a genre with a restricted audience,
made for and by its composers and, with the emergence of Música Popular Brasileira
(Brazilian Popular Music), the chorões were reduced to mere accompanists for new
singers such as Francisco Alves, Carmen Miranda, Sílvio Caldas, Orlando Silva, Araci de
Almeida, João de Barros, Mário Reis, etc.
In 1930, Orquestra Colbaz (Colbaz Orchestra) was responsible for the
popularization of what was called choro paulista (choro from São Paulo
state), which was followed by choro mineiro (choro from Minas Gerais State),
whose most important promoter was the accordionist and composer Antenógenes Silva, who
first recorded in 1929. Other important musicians were Radamés Gnattali, pianist and
composer who moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1933 and started looking for new ways of playing choro,
the guitar player Aníbal Augusto Sardinha (Garoto), and the flutists Benedito Lacerda and
Dante Santoro. In 1941, Pixinguinha experienced a revival with two of his most famous
choros: "Lamentos" (Laments) and "Carinhoso" (Affectionate).
In the fifth generation (1947-1974) new groups were formed and the Orquestra Tabajara
(Tabajara Orchestra), whose leader was Severino Araújo, appeared in Rio. Jacó do
Bandolim, who started playing for the first time in 1933, became a soloist at the end of
the 40’s. The cavaquinho player Valdir Azevedo assumed the leadership of the
Dilermando Reis band, in 1947. Altamiro Carrilho became the best Brazilian popular flutist
and the Northeastern accordionist Severino Dias de Oliveira played in records for the
first time, in 1951. The Northeastern guitar player and composer Francisco Soares de
Araújo (Canhoto da Paraíba) came to Rio, where new talents appeared on the musical
scene, such as the saxophonist Paulo Moura and the mandolinist Deo Rian.
In 1954, São Paulo hosted the I Festival da Velha Guarda (First Old Guard Festival),
when a new group called A Velha Guarda (The Old Guard) was formed by many musicians,
including Pixinguinha. In 1955, Jacó do Bandolim organized the 1ª Noite dos Choristas
(First Choristas Night) at Record TV station and, in 1956, he organized the second and
final 2ª Noite dos Choristas.
The genre started its decline in the early ’60s. Jacó do Bandolim died in 1969 and
Pixinguinha a few years later, in 1973. At the end of 1973, however, Paulinho da Viola
started his new show called Show Sarau, where he played choros with the
group Época de Ouro (Golden Age), bringing new life to the rhythm.
The sixth generation (1975 to present-day) started with the Semana Jacó do Bandolim
(Jacó do Bandolim Week), promoted by Ary Vasconcelos, at the Museu da Imagem e do Som
(Museum of the Image and Sound), in Rio, from June 16 to 22. Since then, more and
more young people have shown an interest in choro throughout the country, new
groups have appeared and old ones have been reestablished.
Choro Alive and Well
In 1975, many groups were formed, including Clube do Choro (Choro Club), in Rio;
Conjunto Atlântico (Atlantic Group) and Evandro’s group, in São Paulo; Canhoto da
Paraíba’s group, in Recife; Jesse Silva and Plauto Cruz’s groups, in Porto Alegre; Os
Ingênuos (The Naive Guys), in Salvador; etc. Also in Rio, in this same year, the
Departamento de Cultura (Culture Department) started the projects Concerto de Choro (Choro
Concert) and I Concurso de Conjuntos de Choro (First Contest of Choro Groups).
In 1976, musicians under 20 formed the group Os Carioquinhas (The Little Cariocas). In
1977, São Paulo hosted the I Encontro Nacional do Choro (First National Choro Meeting)
and the I Festival Nacional do Choro (First National Choro Festival), which was
broadcast by the Bandeirantes TV station. Meanwhile, in Rio, a project called Choro na
Praça (Choro in the Square) began. In 1978 the popularity of choro continued with
the II Concurso de Conjuntos de Choro and the II Festival do Choro. In 1979, the III
Concurso de Conjuntos de Choro took place in the Music College of the University of Rio de
Janeiro, followed by the IV Concurso de Conjuntos de Choro, in 1980, in the same place. In
1983, the Rua do Choro (Choro Street) was opened in São Paulo.
All these festivals revealed new talents such as the groups and musicians Nó em Pingo
D’Àgua (Knot in a Drop of Water), Amigos do Choro (Friends of Choro), Arthur Moreira
Lima, Raphael Rabello, Hermeto Pascoal, Novos Baianos (New Bahians), etc.
Nowadays choro is more alive than ever, thanks to the many clubes do choro
that have spread all over the country. Many interpreters of MPB (Música Popular
BrasileiraBrazilian Popular Music) have rediscovered the genre, such as Zizi Possi,
who recorded "Lamentos" by Pixinguinha on her CD Valsa Brasileira
(Brazilian Waltz), of 1993, and Marisa Monte, who recorded the choro "De Mais
Ninguém" (No One’s But Mine), that she and Arnaldo Antunes composed for her CD Verde,
Anil, Amarelo, Cor-de-Rosa e Carvão (Rose and Charcoal), and that was accompanied by
the choro group Época de Ouro.
Vasconcelos ends his book asserting that choro is essentially instrumental and
when vocalized it loses its value and becomes a song like any other. However, he seems
unaware of the fact that, among all the "classical" choros listed at the
beginning of his book, the ones that are still known are exactly the ones to which lyrics
were added and, consequently, are being interpreted by new singers. According to Gilman,
the lack of lyrics was exactly one of the reasons for the decline of choro, since
lyrics started being as important as music itself in the MPB movement.
Evidence of that are the songs "Tico-Tico no Fubá", composed by Zequinha de
Abreu in 1917, with lyrics by Eurico Barreiros, that was immortalized by Carmen Miranda,
in 1945; "Lamentos", composed by Pixinguinha, whose name was initially
"Lamento", but in 1962, when it became part of the soundtrack of the movie
"Sol Sobre a Lama" (Sun Over Mud), the poet Vinícius de Moraes added lyrics to
it and changed its name to "Lamentos"; "Carinhoso", composed by
Pixinguinha, in 1937, with lyrics by João de Barros, and immortalized by Orlando Silva,
in 1937; "Apanhei-te cavaquinho", by Ernesto Nazaré, with lyrics by Hubaldo
Maurício; "Odeon", by Ernesto Nazaré (1910), with lyrics by Vinícius de
Moraes (1968); and "Brasileirinho" (Little Brazilian), by Valdir Azevedo. All
these choros are part of the top ten "classical" choros in
Vasconcelos’ list, and all of them have lyrics.
Finally, I add to that list of hits the wonderful "De Mais Ninguém", by
Marisa Monte and Arnaldo Antunes, that is one more important step in the popularization
and survival of choro:
De Mais Ninguém
Se ela me deixou, a dor
No One’s But Mine
(Translation from Rose and Charcoal)
If she left me, the pain
Gilson Pedro Borges is a graduate student at the
University of New Mexico, where he also teaches Portuguese. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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