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


Emperor of the ephemeral

The king of alegria is now best known for “Tristeza.”

Daniella Thompson

18 April 2003

Haroldo Lobo, 1910–1965

When Brazil defeated Turkey in the 2002 World Cup semi-finals, Globo released a karaoke version of a 61-year old carnaval marchinha to celebrate the victory. The marchinha was “Alá-lá-ô” by Haroldo Lobo and Antônio Nássara. There is no person in Brazil who can’t sing it. For a country that is said to be without memory, this choice is quite remarkable.

The last time a carnaval marchinha was given this kind of attention by football fans was on 13 July 1950. At the newly inaugurated Maracanã stadium, a crowd of 150,000 (some say 200,000) rejoiced at Brazil’s 6:1 victory over Spain in the World Cup quarter-finals by bursting spontaneously into João de Barro and Alberto Ribeiro’s “Touradas em Madrid.” In that case, the collective memory had to go back a mere twelve years.

One wonders what the defeated teams must have made of these songs. While “Touradas em Madrid” has Spain written all over it, “Alá-lá-ô” has nothing to do with Turkey. It does mention Egypt, the Sahara, and Allah, and apparently that was good enough for Brazilians, who have a long history of referring to all muslims as turcos. As Edigar de Alencar pointed out in O Carnaval Carioca Através da Música, the song happily focuses on the two principal characteristics of the carnaval: great heat and thirst. These soon turned it into the foliões’ cry for chopp at botequins across the city. In 1965, when Alencar’s book was published, Bedouin and Arab costumes were still among the most frequently seen male carnaval attire.

Carnaval songs are some of the most ephemeral creations on earth. They appear in January and are gone by April. All but very few are recorded only once. Such was the fate of most of Haroldo Lobo’s carnaval hits, which might begin to explain why a man who was the absolute champion of the Grande Folia over a thirty-year period did not have a single photo on the Internet until I put one on this site.

Pixinguinha’s LP ‘Alegria,’ a tribute
to Haroldo Lobo & Milton de Oliveira

I began to pay closer attention to Haroldo Lobo after noticing that in Aracy de Almeida’s 78-rpm discography, he was second only to Noel Rosa in the number of recordings she made by composer, weighing in with 36 songs versus Noel’s 42. When one thinks of carnaval songwriters, the two names that come to mind are Lamartine Babo and João de Barro—both famously prolific composers. Yet according to the Funarte database of 78-rpm discs released between 1902 and 1964, Haroldo Lobo easily surpassed them both in production.

The numbers are surprising: Lamartine had 46 sambas recorded on 78-rpm discs, Braguinha 91, and Haroldo Lobo a whopping 195. “Ah,” you would say, “but Lalá’s and Braguinha’s forte was in the marchas.” True. Lamartine authored an impressive number of recorded marchas: 101. Braguinha’s number is even more impressive: 166. And Haroldo Lobo beat them both handily, with 202 marchas on 78s. Between January 1934 and January 1964, Lobo had 435 songs released on disc, a tad over 230 of them written in partnership with Milton de Oliveira. (Aramis Millarch and Ary Vasconcelos before him postulated that Milton de Oliveira had figured in the partnership not as co-writer but as the promotional man. “The proof of this” claimed Millarch, “is that after Haroldo Lobo’s death, one never heard a composition by Milton de Oliveira.”)

Lobo’s first recorded song was the samba “Metralhadora,” co-authored with Donga and Luiz Menezes and sung by Aurora Miranda in a style recalling that of her older sister, Carmen. The last carnaval songs released in his lifetime (in 1965, and thus not included in the Funarte database) were “Burrinha de Mola,” co-authored with Milton de Oliveira and recorded by Carequinha, and “Dedo Duro,” a political satire. Lobo was two days shy of his 55th birthday when he died on 20 July 1965. For thirty-two of his fifty-five years on this earth, hardly a year went by without at least one Haroldo Lobo song becoming a carnaval hit.

In a 1999 article published in Luís Pimentel’s magazine Música Brasileira, Gerdal J. Paula totaled Haroldo Lobo’s released songs at over six hundred, of which almost five hundred were for the carnaval. Little of this enormous output has been recorded again or reissued. In 1960, Pixinguinha and his orchestra released the LP Alegria (Musidisc 2051), devoted exclusively to the work of Haroldo Lobo and Milton de Oliveira. In 1972, Aracy de Almeida sang a medley of her Lobo/de Oliveira carnaval hits on the TV program MPB Especial, released on the CD A Música Brasileira deste Século por seus Autores e Intérpretes—Aracy de Almeida (Sesc SP JCB-0709-040; 2001). In 1976, Roberto Silva released the LP Roberto Silva Interpreta Haroldo Lobo, Geraldo Pereira e seus Parceiros (Copacabana SOLP 40707). In 2000, the compilation reissue CD Eis Haroldo Lobo e Milton de Oliveira (InterCDRecords R31003) brought back twelve recordings in the voices of Patrício Teixeira, Carméla Alves, Isnard Simone, and Miro. Cristina Buarque recorded five of Lobo’s partnerships with Wilson Batista in her tribute to Batista, Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido (Jam Music JM 0003).

This CD came and went
between 2000 and 2001

Beyond that, there are the scattered recordings of sambistas like Jorge Veiga, Moreira da Silva, Elza Soares, Beth Carvalho, Martinho da Vila, and Jards Macalé. There are the Revivendo CDs in the series Carnaval—sua História, sua Glória, which are studded with Lobo’s tunes.

Which of these delightful tunes are still sung today? Precious few. “Alá-lá-ô” is known by all but isn’t the kind of song anyone would record nowadays. A couple of partnerships with Wilson Batista fared better: “Emília” and “Cabo Laurindo.” Of the 230+ songs written with Milton de Oliveira, perhaps the best remembered are “Avisa a Maria Que Amanhã Tem Baile” (recorded in 1942 by Vassourinha and in 1966 by Moreira da Silva), “Juro” (recorded in 1937 by J.B. de Carvalho and again by the Cinco Crioulos in 1968 and Roberto Silva in 1976), and “O Passo do Kanguru” (released by Aracy de Almeida in December 1940 and by Carmen Miranda as “Brazilly Willy” in 1942).

Ironically, Haroldo Lobo’s greatest hit didn’t come out until after his death, and it has little in common with his other compositions. “Tristeza” was the creation of the sambista Nilton de Souza. Written in 1963, it quickly went nowhere. Two years later, Lobo took it in hand. The doctored and shortened samba received its first recording by Ary Cordovil in late 1965 and turned into one of the carnaval hits of 1966. The same year, Elizeth Cardoso had a success with “Tristeza” on her LP Muito Elizeth. The song was quickly appropriated by the bossa-nova crowd and has since become an international standard with a myriad interpretations by artists as diverse as Astrud Gilberto and Elis Regina, Jair Rodrigues and Oscar Peterson, Baden Powell and Maysa, Sivuca and Carlos Lyra, Toquinho and Elza Soares, Orquestra Tabajara and Sebastião Tapajós, Sergio Mendes and Claudette Soares, Freddy Cole and Ornella Vanoni, not to mention the classical pianist Daniel Barenboim. Even people who know nothing about Brazilian music can hum “Tristeza” (or at least Norman Gimbel’s trite English version, “Goodbye Sadness”). To date, the song has been recorded at least 210 times. Its creator has adopted the stage name Niltinho Tristeza.

On the other hand, even people who know a lot about Brazilian music know next to nothing about Haroldo Lobo. The dictionaries and encyclopedias provide little more than a recitation of his hits. No anecdotes circulate about him. All I was able to glean about his character were these few words by Mário Rossi, from the liner notes for the CD Eis Haroldo Lobo e Milton de Oliveira:

HAROLDO LOBO, o calmo e sereno HAROLDO...
MILTON DE OLIVEIRA, o agitado e agressivo MILTON...

Nunca a força dos contrastes se assimilou tão bem em duas criaturas.

Felizmente, para nós e para eles.
Felizmente, para a música popular brasileira.

We could all use more than tristeza in our lives. It’s time to bring back Haroldo Lobo.

See also:

Copyright © 2003–2014 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.