Samba and Brasilidade Notions of National Identity in the Lyrics of Noel Rosa (1910-1937)

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University of Leeds

United Kingdom


Anderson, B. 1993, Imagined Communities : Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London—New York, Verso.

Antonio, J. 1982, Noel Rosa, São Paulo, Abril Educação.

Barbosa, L. Neves de H. 1995, « The Brazilian Jeitinho : An Exercise in National Identity » in The Brazilian Puzzle : Culture on the Borderlands of the Western World, D .J. Hess & R.A. Da Matta, eds, New York, Columbia University Press  : 35-48.

Cendrars, B. 1987, Hollywood, la Mecque du cinéma, Paris, Grasset.

Chediak, A., ed. 1991, Noel Rosa : Songbook, III, Rio de Janeiro, Lumiar.

Freyre, G. 1933, Casa-grande e senzala, Rio de Janeiro, José Olympio.

Hall, S. 1992, « The Question of Cultural Identity », in Modernity and its Futures, S. Hall, D. Held & T. McGrew, eds, Cambridge, Polity Press  : 273-316.

Lesser, J. 1994, « Immigration and Shifting Concepts of National Identity in Brazil during the Vargas Era », Luso-Brazilian Review, XXXI (2) : 23-44.

––– 1995, Welcoming the Undesirables : Brazil and the Jewish Question, Berkeley, University of California Press.

––– 1999, Negotiating National Identity : Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil, Durham, NY—London, Duke University Press.

Maximo, J. & DIDIER, C. 1990, Noel Rosa : uma biografia, Brasília, Linha Gráfica.

McCann, B. 2001, « Noel Rosa’s Nationalist Logic », Luso-Brazilian Review, XXXVIII (1), Summer 2001 : 1-16.

Sevcenko, N., ed. 1998, História da vida privada : República : da Belle Époque à era do rádio, São Paulo, Companhia das Letras.

Williams, D. 1994, « Ad perpetuam rei memoriam : the Vargas Regime and Brazil’s National Historical Patrimony, 1930-1945 », Luso-Brazilian Review, 31 : 45-75.

1. As Stuart Hall has said (1992 : 293), « national cultures construct identities by producing meanings about « the nation » with which we can identify; these are contained in the stories which are told about it, memories which connect its present with its past, and images which are constructed of it ». The Vargas regime in Brazil was certainly no exception, and a sense of « Brazilianness » was instilled by the central government via the press, the radio, and popular music, whilst the nation’s historical memory was preserved in a series of revamped museums, which displayed an incongruous mixture of historical artefacts and contemporary objects associated with the fledgling regime. For more information on the latter, see Daryle Williams, « Ad perpetuam rei memoriam : the Vargas Regime and Brazil’s National Historical Patrimony, 1930-1945 », Luso-Brazilian Review, 31, 1994 : 45-75.

2. Rosa makes a casual dig at bureaucracy in the second verse of this samba, a feature of his lyrics that is explored later in this article.

3. Pavuna, Gamboa, Piedade and Cascadura were all working-class districts in Rio de Janeiro’s « Northern Zone » in the 1930s.

4. Interview with A Voz do Rádio, Belo Horizonte, 1934, as cited by Sérgio Cabral, in notes on « Feitiço da Vila » in Chediak (1991 : 59).

5. « O Rio de Noel », Manchete, 10 April 1965 : 114-117.

6. The French-Swiss poet B. Cendrars (1987 : 162) commented on the « Hollywood effect » on ladies fashions in Brazil in the late 1920s. During a stay in Brazil he witnessed the impact of the film Platinum Blonde, in that within a week of its premiere mulatto and black women began to show off their freshly dyed blond hair and powdered pink faces in the city centre.

. The ironic implication here is that Brazil has always been bankrupt and the victim of economic mismanagement, a theme that is explored later in the section on Rosa’s undermining of authority and debunking of official rhetoric.

70. Jeffrey Lesser gives a thorough explanation of immigration policy in the 1930s in « Immigration and Shifting Concepts of National Identity in Brazil during the Vargas Era », Luso-Brazilian Review, 31, 2, Winter 1994 : 23-44. For more information on Brazil’s immigration policies in this era, see Lesser (1995, 1999).

80. In practice, when the Vargas regime did acknowledge the cultural contributions of black Brazilians, the desired effect was to co-opt them, whether it be samba, feijoada (the national dish invented in colonial times by slaves using the scraps of meat discarded by their masters) or the candomblé religion, in order to remove their power as ethnic/racial identity markers, and to incorporate them into the nation as a whole, as symbols of national identity.

9. The title of this samba plays with the term « café com leite » (literally « coffee with milk »), which was commonly used to refer to the politics of the first three decades of the twentieth century in Brazil. During this period there was a tacit agreement that the national presidents would be chosen alternately by the state of São Paulo, the country’s major coffee producer, and the state of Minas Gerais, known for its dairy cattle as well as its coffee plantations. Here Noel is again expressing his irreverent attitude towards the nation in comic fashion.

. The Modernist poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade was later to write a poem entitled « Hino Nacional » (« National Anthem », Brejo das almas, 1934) in which he calls into question the very existence of Brazil. The Modernists, like Rosa, considered the problem of Brazil’s existence as a nation and reflected the constant uncertainty about what it meant to be Brazilian in an era of dramatic social change. Their work demonstrates many of the same concerns and approaches as found in Rosa’s lyrics. For the poets, like Rosa, language itself, more specifically the vernacular of the street, was a source of national identity and pride (see Oswald de Andrade’s « Pronominais », Pau-Brasil, 1925), and the reality of Brazil in the late 1920s and 1930s was one of both tradition and change, underdevelopment and modernity (see Oswald’s « Pobre alimária », Pau-Brasil, 1925). They, like the sambista, attacked ready-made, cliché representations of nationhood (as seen in Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s « Também já fui brasileiro », Alguma Poesia, 1930), and acknowledged the erosion of their identity as a consequence of mass immigration (see Mário de Andrade’s « Improviso do mal da América »,Remate de Males, 1928).

10. Rosa chooses to use the word picilone, the colloquial and infantilised form of ípsilon or hipsilo (the letter « y »), thus adding to the mockery and further undermining officialdom.

11 . O Globo, 31 December 1932, quoted in Antônio, J. 1982 : 97.

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