Some time ago, I had thought about posting a track from the legendary Native Brazilian Music 78rpm box sets which Columbia released in the United States (only) in 1942, but I was so sure they had been reissued on CD that I hadn’t even bothered to think twice about doing so. Recently, I woke up to the fact that not only does there not appear to be any plan to reissue these records on CD - one of the most historic sessions in the history of Brazilian music - but less than half of the songs recorded were even released in ‘42. The detailed story of Native Brazilian Music is best told in the Stalking Stokowski article by Daniella Thompson. I will briefly run down the Cliff’s Notes version:
Famed conductor Leopold Stokowski considered himself a Brazilian music aficionado, and had expressed interest to composer Heitor Villa-Lobos that he’d wanted to produce a collection of authentic Brazilian popular music for American audiences. In 1940, Stokowski was to sail (with the All-American Youth Orchestra, whom he founded and conducted) to various ports in Central and South America, including Rio de Janiero, and asked Villa-Lobos to gather the best musicians he could find for a recording session - all expenses paid by Stokowski, of course.
While Stokowski certainly deserves credit for spearheading the session and presumably paying the engineer from Columbia Records who would record nearly 40 tracks in a marathon 24 hour session/party - the real credit goes to Villa-Lobos for gathering a wide variety of top-notch Brazilian musicians. On the two Columbia box sets there are macumbas, sambas, emboladas, corimas, and maracatu music, for example. The sets contained the only vocal recordings by samba pioneer Zé Espinguela, the first recordings by Cartola, Pixinguinha appears on flute, and most of the tracks were accompanied by Donga’s conjunto regional.
There were a few negatives, the most obvious being Stokowski’s insistance that the recordings be made not in Columbia’s local studio in Rio, but onboard the S.S. Uruguay, where Stokowski was staying. According to Thompson’s article, the Columbia engineer was not used to recording in such a place, and as such, I believe the recordings sound more than a little thin. Also, when the box sets came out, they were rife with errors: some performers went uncredited, only 3 had their names spelled correctly, only 6 titles out of 16 were spelled correctly, and the song orders were printed incorrectly on the labels (all of these are corrected in Thompson’s article). Musically, the stiffest moments are the two Amerindian chants sung by four professors at the Orfeão Villa-Lobos - while of historical import, they end the exuberant atmosphere of the previous 14 tracks with a formal austerity.
This track by comedians Jararaca (José Luis Rodrigues Calazans, 1896-1977) and Ratinho (Severino Rangel de Carvalho, 1896-1972) is an example of an embolada, a tongue-twister-like, fast-tempo song from Northeastern Brazil.
If you’d like to hear both box sets, this generous Brazilian blogger offers them in their entirety. They are straight dubs and not cleaned up, but they still sound nice!
Issue Number: C-87, 36506
Matrix Number: CO30155