:: The articles in this series were originally
:: published in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


The Boeuf chronicles, Pt. 5a

Who was José Monteiro?

Daniella Thompson

23 September 2002

José Monteiro

As we know, the song that gave Le Boeuf sur le Toit its name was the tango “O Boi no Telhado” (The Ox on the Roof) by José Monteiro (aka Zé Boiadêro), released for the 1918 carnaval.

Who was the composer of “O Boi no Telhado”?

If he ever published another tune, the fact hasn’t been bandied about. Fundação Joaquim Nabuco’s database of 78-rpm recordings released between 1902 and 1964 lists only one composition of his authorship—the one we know:

Autor: José Monteiro
Título: O Boi no Telhado
Gênero: Tango
Intérprete: Banda do Batalhão Naval
Gravadora: Odeon
Número: 121432

Yet there are references to a José Monteiro who was active in Rio musical circles of the period. In 1922, Pixinguinha’s famed group Os Oito Batutas was invited by the Paris-based Brazilian maxixe dancer Duque to come to the City of Lights and perform at his Shéhérazade dance hall. As three of the musicians (the Palmieri brothers and Luiz Pinto da Silva) were unable to travel, new members were recruited, and the Batutas performed in Paris as a septet. José Monteiro was this septet’s vocalist and played rhythm as well.

Sérgio Cabral’s book Pixinguinha, Vida e Obra (Rio de Janeiro, Lumiar, 1997) displays on page 84 a photograph published in the Rio newspaper A Noite on 14 August 1922, the day Os Batutas returned from their French trip. The headline announces that the “8 Batutas” returned from Paris, and in fact eight people posed for the photo, but only seven of them are Batutas. The gentleman in white tie and tails on the extreme right is Duque.

Os Batutas in August 1922

Standing, left to right, are: Pixinguinha (flute); José Alves de Lima (banjo); José Monteiro (reco-reco); Sizenando Santos “Feniano” (pandeiro); Duque. Sitting, l to r: China (guitar); Nelson dos Santos Alves (cavaquinho); Donga (guitar).

What is known about José Monteiro the Batuta?

In 1936, the chorão Alexandre Gonçalves Pinto, aka “Animal,” published the book of memoirs O Choro—reminiscências dos chorões antigos, which constituted a virtual who’s who of the choro world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

About José Monteiro, “Animal” wrote:

Who didn’t know Zé Monteiro in Engenho de Dentro?
A singer of modinhas who dazzled, for he possessed a marvelous voice! Zé Monteiro was a prince on the cavaquinho, a person well-liked by Guttemberg Cruz; He carried the day on 13 de Maio street, now Abolição, in Engenho de Dentro, in parties of old. He was an obligatory figure in all the “pagodes,” outshining the famous singers. When—in parlors or outdoors at night—he sang the lyrics of the great Catullo, he garnered from the people the greatest applause! Obliging the other singers to retire backstage!
This singer, who made so many hearts pulsate, is also unhappily sleeping the sleep of eternity.

In 1968, Pixinguinha gave the Museu da Imagem e do Som (MIS) in Rio de Janeiro a testimonial that was published in the book As vozes desassombradas do museu, 1: Pixinguinha, Donga, Joao da Baiana (Rio de Janeiro, MIS, 1970). In the course of his testimonial, the composer mentioned José Monteiro as one of the Batutas who had traveled to Europe and was asked:

MIS—José Monteiro is that guitarist and singer of modinhas from Engenho de Dentro?

Pixinguinha—So it would appear. He was a dark and thin singer who was a regular at the Chave de Ouro. He sang well. According to João da Baiana, he lived in rua Vista Alegre, in Encantado, and worked as a bricklayer in the Workshops of Engenho de Dentro.

It’s not much to go on, and there’s no direct evidence to link the Batuta José Monteiro with the composition of “O Boi no Telhado.” I asked Sérgio Cabral for his opinion, and he replied:

The references to José Monteiro that I encountered are the same ones you have. I think, however, that there’s no escaping this evidence: all the references to José Monteiro that appear in exactly the same period deal with the same person, since nothing indicates the existence of more than one José Monteiro.

And what’s good enough for Sérgio Cabral is good enough for me.



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