Adoniran Barbosa (1910-1982), the raspy-voiced and humble king of root São Paulo samba, portrayed life's hardships and funny moments in his songs. Many traits of 20th-century São Paulo are vividly represented in his lyrics: the train, working class neighborhoods, bars, favelas. His best characters are people who work and party hard, suffer for love or lose whatever little they possess.
In 2010, the centennial of his birth, there was talk of a museum dedicated exclusively to his life and work. The only Adoniran Barbosa collection on display was at Museu da Imagem e do Som SP. So far, he is respectfully remembered in less formal ways such as the Museu do Jaçanã, a museum without headquarters in a neighborhood he sang in his "Trem das Onze" (Eleven O'Clock Train).
Discover some of Adoniran Barbosa's best songs.
1. Saudosa Maloca, 1951
The story of a rundown mansion where three friends had built their shack, demolished to make room for a tall building, is the story of São Paulo in the second half of the 20th century. The song launched the series of Adoniran Barbosa hits performed by Demônios da Garoa, a São Paulo group. Elis Regina brought the song to a new level of poignancy.
2. Joga a Chave, 1952
Unlike the resentful woman who chased her husband through Sao Paulo bars in "Ronda" by Paulo Vanzolini, Matilde, Adoniran Barbosa's wife, is said to have been accepting of her husband's love for the bottle and nightlife. Funny "Joga a Chave" (Throw the Key) is supposedly inspired in a night when Adoniran had to wake her up to let him in.
3. Samba do Arnesto, 1953
This Adoniran essential tells of how Ernesto invited his buddies to a samba in Brás. When they got there, nobody was home. When they met Ernesto the next day, the angry friends refused his apologies, because he didn’t even bother to leave a note on the door. The songwriter then dictates a note he could have left – written with spit, since Ernesto is illiterate.
4. As Mariposas, 1955
Plural errors, mispronunciations, and a strong Bixiga accent are the seasoning in this funny working man’s metaphorical song. The songwriter is the lamp; women are the moths who fly around him, eager for a chance to kiss him.
5. Iracema, 1956
Adoniran wrote "Iracema" inspired by news of a woman who was hit and killed by a car on Avenida São João. The man in the song tells us that he was going to marry Iracema. Now all he has to remember her by are her socks and her shoes; he lost her picture.
In 1978, Brazilian TV network Globo made a special with Elis Regina and Adoniran Barbosa featuring their meeting in the songwriter’s native Bixiga. At a local bar – Bar da Carmela – Elis sang "Iracema" to high praise from Adoniran. The performance is available on YouTube.
Elis Regina and Adoniran Barbosa both died in 1982, four years after that historic meeting - she, in January; he, in November.
6. Apaga o Fogo Mané, 1956
The recurring theme of the left-behind man is treated with moving straightforwardness in this song about Inês, who went out to buy a wick for an oil lamp and left Mané for good.
7. Bom Dia, Tristeza
Many people - even Brazilians - who know this deeply melancholy song ("Good Morning, Sadness") ignore the fact that its melody was created by Adoniran Barbosa for the lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes.
The one-time partners never met in person; according to Cultura Brasil, the words were transported from Rio to São Paulo on a napkin by singer Aracy de Almeida, a friend they had in common.
Neither one's singing made the song famous. "Bom Dia, Tristeza" became a hit as performed and recorded by Maysa (1936-1977), a delicate master of Brazilian heartbreak music.
8. Tiro ao Álvaro, 1960
The songwriter compares his chest to a shooting target being hit by his loved one's gaze. The title is a pun derived from purposely mispronounced "alvo" (target), which here sounds like Álvaro, a man's name.
The song became a hit when recorded by Elis Regina.
9. Prova de Carinho, 1960
The melody and lyrics in "Prova de Carinho" are pure Adoniran Barbosa: full of sentiment, but not mushy. The proof of tender feelings in the song's name is an aliança (an engagement or wedding ring) made from the mi string on the singer's cavaquinho.
10. Trem das Onze, 1964
A man can't stay a minute longer with his love: he lives in Jaçanã with his mother, and can't miss the trem das onze (eleven o'clock train), the last one there is. He's an only child and his mom won't sleep before he gets home.
Many artists have performed this tongue-in-cheek urban tale, but Demônios da Garoa left an indelible mark on Brazilian music with their rendering, opened with a funny, abstract jumble of syllables which no one seems to transcribe quite correctly.