:: These reviews were originally published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


Negritude Senior

Nei Lopes celebrates his black roots
in a double CD reissue.

Daniella Thompson

22 May 2003

The éminence grise of black culture

Last year, Nei Lopes turned sixty. Writer, poet, scholar of African civilization, lawyer by training and practicing sambista, Lopes is perhaps the best known spokesman for Brazilian black culture (read a few of his stories).

The interest in African roots came early in life. In an interview he gave to Clicknotícia, Lopes reminisced:

While still a child, I collected newspaper and magazine clippings on important black persons. [...] My father was born a year before abolition (1888), and my mother a year after, and we never discussed blackness. We were told that being black is a negative thing, something that would set us back. I began to perceive that this wasn’t good. When I saw a prominent person in a magazine, I said: “Look, this guy is black, yet he’s a Louis Armstrong. This one is black but he’s Pixinguinha, or Zizinho.” This stayed with me my whole life.

As he grew up, the interest turned into black militancy:

At law school, I naturally gravitated toward the Left and joined “PCBão” (Brazilian Communist Party) in 1962. Inside the party, I began to raise the question and was repulsed. The subject was taboo for the Left at that time. The said “No, everything will be resolved in a great class system.” I was accused of sidestepping the party’s ideology. And at home, my eldest brother, who was a Kardecist, said I was possessed by an African spirit [laughs].

Systematic study came later. At the university I met a young woman whom I married, from whom I’m now separated and who is the mother of my son. She was black, and her social condition was different from mine; it was higher. For this reason she was included in discussions about blackness at home. That’s how I began to involve myself in black cutural militancy, which was very timid during the ’60s. As my awareness grew, I opted for effective militancy in the area of culture, which I believe is the best tool for this struggle.

The switch from party politics to cultural resistance found its ultimate expression in the samba “Fidelidade Partidária”:

[...] Feijão com arroz na sua culinária
Ajudar quem tem situacão precária
Não fazer acordo com a parte contrária
Nem demagogia com a classe operária
Gritar que tem gringo pintando na área
Gostar de partido igual Tia Rosária
Isso é fidelidade partidária...

Tia Rosária is just one of several well-drawn matriarchal figures—latter-day Tia Ciatas—who make occasional appearances in Lopes’ songs, invariably standing for the perpetuance of Afro-Brazilian traditions. Sooner or later one is bound to meet Tia Eulália dancing the xiba:

[...] A voz clementina já bastante roca
É uma coisa louca a Sinhá Tia Eulália
Cigarro de palha no canto da boca
Não dorme de touca e nunca se atrapalha

And there’s Idalina, who’s preparing gallons of moqueca and puts the hapless Tinoco to work grating coconuts:

[...] Cem quilos de fato
E só de cebolas umas quatrocentas.
Duzentos limões, novecentas pimentas
E uma tonelada de amendoim.
E achando isso pouco
Idalina botou o Compadre Tinoco
No maior sufoco
Ralando num toco
Duzentos mil cocos
Pra fazer quindim

This strong feminine company also includes “Essa Nega Guiomar”:

[...] Dizem que ela guia o mar
Seus segredos e mirongas
Que é capaz de enfeitiçar
Quando samba e quando jonga
Que seu guia tutelar
É Vovó Maria Conga
Num Gongá, no Irajá,
Ah, essa nega Guiomar!

Lopes’ cultural tool-chest boasts close to twenty books, including the Enciclopédia Brasileira da Diáspora Africana, the Dicionário Banto do Brasil (much of it incorporated into the well-known Houaiss dictionary), the Rio chronicle collections 171, Lapa – Irajá and Guimbaustrilho e Outros Mistérios Suburbanos, and the history of samba Sambeabá: o Samba que Não se Aprende na Escola. His musical body of work comprises six albums, two of them co-authored and recorded with Wilson Moreira: A Arte Negra de Wilson Moreira e Nei Lopes (1980) and O Partido Muito Alto de Wilson Moreira e Nei Lopes (1985), reissued on CD more than once. Of the four solo discs, the two most recent are the delightfully humorous Sincopando o Breque (1999) and De Letra e Música (2000).

Two earlier discs have been out of circulation for a while. Negro Mesmo (1983) had not been reissued for twenty years, while Canto Banto—300 Anos de Zumbi (1995) was released on the SACI label, which ceased to exist the very same year owing to the death of its founder Maurício Tapajós. Now that Nei Lopes is a senior citizen, the time was ripe to bring out the two in the 2-CD set Celebração. In Negro Mesmo we’re treated a variety of Afro-Brazilian musical genres, including sambas and stylized jongos and lundus, whose lyrics sing of slavery and resistance, work and leisure, the spiritual and the corporeal: inseparable components of Afro-Brazilian tradition. Canto Banto marks the third centenary of Zumbi, leader of the Quilombo of Palmares. The musical flavors dished out here venture beyond Brazil’s borders to include other Afro-American cultures whose roots lie in the Bantu nation. The composer used the occasion to tip his hat to Nicomedes Santa Cruz(1925–1992), the Afro-Peruvian poet and activist who influenced him, in the Caribbean-flavored “Afrolatinô.” The liner notes include a glossary that will come in handy if you follow the lyrics, for even if you know that mironga stands for mystery, terms such as dilamba and camutuê are likely to defeat you.

In an e-mail interview, Nei Lopes was asked by Clarice Abdalla what samba means to him. He wrote back:

Much more than art or a form of expression, for me samba represents a link between the present and the time that exists only in the memory of the oldest people. A time in which samba itself was the vehicle through which the poor—especially the black—communities of Rio de Janeiro and other centers communicated with the “exterior world,” seeking recognition of their singularity and rights of mobility. That time is recreated today almost symbolically through the velhas-guardas of the escolas (which ritualize its recreation) and less formally by friends who meet on the street corners to sing and drum. Samba, for me, is this and not the parade in the sambódromo or the programming on radio and TV.

Celebração is a thoroughly professional endeavor, yet no disc comes closer to reproducing the street-corner atmosphere that blossoms when friends meet to sing and drum together. An atmosphere that is redolent of the myriad associations that link black past and present.

Nei Lopes: Celebração/Nei Lopes—60 anos
(Carioca Discos CD 005; 2003)

CD 1: Negro Mesmo 40:03 min.
01. A Epopéia de Zumbi (Nei Lopes)
02. Lundu Chorado (Nei Lopes)
03. Tia Eulália na Xiba (Cláudio Jorge/Nei Lopes)
04. Vou Te Buscar (Nei Lopes)
05. Jongo do Irmão Café (Wilson Moreira/Nei Lopes)
06. Moqueca da Idalina (Nei Lopes)
07. Efun Oguedê (Wilson Moreira/Nei Lopes)—Vânia Ferreira
08. Solução Urgente (Carlão Elegante/Nei Lopes)—w/ Carlão Elegante
09. Áuga de Moringa (Wilson Moreira/Nei Lopes)
10. Que Zungu! (Nei Lopes)

Arrangements: Leonardo Bruno & Rogério Rossini
Produced by Paulinho Albuquerque

CD 2: Canto Banto—300 Anos de Zumbi 44:55 min.
01. Nosso Nome, Resistência (Nei Lopes/Zé Luiz/Sereno)
02. Ginga, Angola! (Nei Lopes)
03. Lalá Morena (Nei Lopes)
04. Afrolatinô (Cláudio Jorge/Nei Lopes)
05. Pega no Pilão (Wilson Moreira/Nei Lopes)
06. Maracatumba (Efson/Nei Lopes)
07. Samba, Iaiá (Wilson Moreira/Nei Lopes)
08. Canto pra Angana-Zâmbi (Serafim Adriano/Nei Lopes)
09. Mironga do Mato (Wilson Moreira/Nei Lopes)
10. Essa Nega Guiomar (Nei Lopes)
11. O Velho na Ladeira (Wilson Moreira/Nei Lopes)
12. A Epopéia de Zumbi (Nei Lopes)

Produced & arranged by Maurício Tapajós


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