By Brazzil Magazine

    According to Ary Vasconcelos, in his book Carinhoso, Etc. (História e Inventário
    do Choro), choro was born in Rio de Janeiro around 1870, and it was, initially,
    not a musical genre of its own, but a Brazilian way of playing waltzes, polkas, mazurkas
    and other European genres that were very common at that time. He also points out that the
    birth certificate of choro was probably "Olhos Matadores" (Killer Eyes)
    by Henrique Alves de Mesquita.

    The origin of the word choro is very controversial and Vasconcelos provides some
    possible theories for it. First, he cites Luís da Câmara Cascudo, who claimed that the
    word might have originated from the parties of Afro-Brazilians during festival days like
    Saint John’s Day, that were first called xolo, then xôro and, finally, choro
    (crying), because of the confusion involving its Portuguese paronym. Second, he states
    that, according to José Ramos Tinhorão, the term came from the melancholy impression
    caused by the way of playing that rhythm and, consequently, the name of chorão was
    given to those who played it. However, Vasconcelos’ favorite theory is that the word
    resulted from the simplification of choromeleiros, a group of musicians highly
    regarded in the Brazilian colonial period.

    Bruce Gilman, in his article Choro, Chorinho, Chorão (Brazzil, February
    1996), emphasizes that many people think that choro is "Brazilian jazz",
    because both choro and American jazz are based in the improvisation and mixture of
    African and European musical elements. However, choro was born before jazz, so it
    would be more appropriate to call jazz "American choro".

    In the beginning, choro was exclusively instrumental and played by amateur
    musicians who formed a group composed of flute, guitar and cavaquinho. Most of the
    musicians were government employees and members of the lower-middle class. They played
    without receiving any money at parties where food and drink were plentiful. Concerning
    this point, Vasconcelos says that "a chorão didn’t care spending all the
    night playing, provided that the host paid him well, not financially—he wouldn’t
    accept a penny—but gastronomically. For that reason he used to introduce himself when
    he arrived in a party and go directly to the kitchen to check if "the cat wasn’t
    sleeping in the stove"—a common expression in that time—that is, if there
    was food ready to be served.

    Adhemar Nóbrega, in his book Os Choros de Villa-Lobos, also mentions the figure
    of the peru (turkey), a slang term for the people who went along with choro
    groups, paying the bills and solving occasional difficulties with the police in the
    streets. The peru was a kind of public relations agent for the group.

    Choro Phases

    Vasconcelos proposes the division of choro history in six different generations,
    from its beginning, in 1870, to the present. The first generation (1870-1888) consists of
    the composers and flutists Joaquim Antônio Calado Júnior, Viriato Figueira da Silva,
    Virgílio Pinto da Silveira and Luizinho, who can be considered the "fathers" of
    choro . Another important figure was Chiquinha Gonzaga (Francisca Hedwiges
    Gonzaga), the first woman in Brazil to conduct a military band and a theater orchestra, as
    well as author of the first song composed especially for carnival: "Ô Abre
    Alas" (Make Way).

    Nóbrega describes her as "a daring woman who, facing the prejudices of the time,
    honored the profession of popular musician, in a time when that activity didn’t experience
    a good reputation in the eyes of society. Composing songs for the musical theater and
    playing them by herself, beyond supporting her own choro group, Chiquinha Gonzaga
    triumphed over those prejudices, thanks to her strong personality."

    The last individual in this phase was Ernesto Nazaré, who left 215 compositions,
    including tangos, polkas, waltzes, etc., such as "Odeon" and "Apanhei-te
    Cavaquinho" (I Got You Cavaquinho).

    The second generation (1889-1918) is considered the golden age of choro and has
    Anacleto de Medeiros as its principal proponent, since he was responsible for the
    popularity of choro, after promoting its execution by civil and military bands,
    mainly by the Rio de Janeiro fire brigade band, founded by him. After his death Anacleto
    was succeed in the leadership of the band by another remarkable composer, Alberto
    Pimentel, who also made a huge contribution to the choro repertoire.

    In this generation bands were responsible for playing choro but, because of the
    beginning of the First World War, they were replaced by pianists like Nazaré, a member of
    the first generation, and Zequinha de Abreu (José Gomes de Abreu), who composed, among
    others, two classics: the choro "Tico-tico no Fubá" (Tico-Tico Bird in
    the Cornmeal) and the waltz "Branca" (White Woman). Finally, it is important to
    mention Irineu de Almeida, who was a musician, composer and also teacher of Pixinguinha.

    During the third generation (1919-1930) the most outstanding name of all times emerges:
    Pixinguinha (Alfredo da Rocha Viana Júnior), son of the chorão Alfredo da Rocha
    Viana. Pixinguinha composed his first choro, "Lata de Leite" (Milk Can),
    at the age of 14 when he started studying with Irineu de Almeida. He recorded for the
    first time when he was 16, and at the age of 20, he composed the tango "Sofres Porque
    Queres" (You Suffer Because You Want To) and the waltz "Rosa" (Rose), which
    later received lyrics by Otávio de Souza.

    In 1919, Pixinguinha formed the group Oito Batutas (The Eight Masters) that
    played, initially, in movie theaters and, later, in high society parties. They also played
    for the kings of Belgium, who were visiting Brazil in 1920, and in trips throughout the
    country, including one presentation in the Cabaré Assírio (Assyrian Night Club),
    where they accompanied the dancers Duque and Gaby, who were very famous for dancing maxixe
    (a 19th-century dance) in Paris. Influenced by Duque, the Brazilian millionaire Arnaldo
    Guinle financed a tour of the Oito Batutas to Europe, in 1922. When they returned
    to Brazil, the name of the group was changed to Os Batutas (The Masters).

    In the book Filho de Ogum Bexiguento, by Marília Trindade Barboza da Silva and
    Arthur Loureiro de Oliveira Filho, the following poem by Pixinguinha describes how he sees


    Eu também nasci chorando
    Como todo mundo nasce
    E embora a chorar vivesse
    Não chorei o que bastasse
    No choro a vida passei
    Com prazer e na labuta
    Sustentei mulher e filho
    Chorando fiz-me um batuta
    Chorei muito choro alheio
    Toquei maxixe e marchinha
    Alfredo sou por batismo
    Mas no choro Pixinguinha
    Fiz música fui maestro
    Fui Ingênuo Carinhoso
    Soprei meu triste Lamento
    E o meu riso mais gostoso
    E assim o ciclo se fecha
    Pois cumpri o meu papel
    Plantei o choro na terra
    Pra colher risos no céu


    I was born crying too
    Like everybody does
    And though I’ve lived crying
    I haven’t cried enough
    In choro I’ve spent my life
    With pleasure and working hard
    I’ve sustained wife and son
    Crying I’ve became a master
    I’ve cried many someone else’s choros
    I’ve played maxixe and marchinha
    Alfredo I am by baptism
    But in choro I am Pixinguinha
    I’ve composed songs and was conductor
    I’ve been naive and affectionate
    I’ve blown my sad lament
    And my best smile
    And so the cycle closes
    Because I’ve carried out my duties
    I’ve planted choro in the earth
    To harvest smiles in heaven.

    Villa-Lobos Role

    During the 20’s, choro lost its appeal for a new genre called foxtrot, which was
    played by new jazz-bands and orchestras. The bandleader Romeu Silva played a very
    important role at this time, because he was responsible for bringing choro to the

    What it is very strange in Vasconcelos’ division is the fact that he seems to be
    unaware of the existence of Villa-Lobos in this or any other generation. Possibly, he
    considered Villa-Lobos too "classical" for playing popular choro. The
    truth is that Villa-Lobos was part of choro groups in Rio de Janeiro, at the
    beginning of the century, and he was the only Brazilian composer to have his songs played
    in the Semana de Arte Moderna (Modern Art Week), held in São Paulo, in 1922, which
    established vanguard art in Brazil. His series of 14 choros, plus the "Choro
    (Bis)" [Choro (Encore)], "Introdução aos Choros"(Introduction to Choros)
    and "Quinteto em Forma de Choros" (Quintet Molded Like Choros)- composed between
    1920 and 1929 – are considered high points of Villa-Lobos works and of Brazilian music in

    The fourth generation (1931-1946) was characterized by the emergence of the first
    electric gramophones and the popularization of the radio in Brazil. The most well-known
    names from the other generations continued producing, but only a few compositions reached
    the radio stations and records. Choro became a genre with a restricted audience,
    made for and by its composers and, with the emergence of Música Popular Brasileira
    (Brazilian Popular Music), the chorões were reduced to mere accompanists for new
    singers such as Francisco Alves, Carmen Miranda, Sílvio Caldas, Orlando Silva, Araci de
    Almeida, João de Barros, Mário Reis, etc.

    In 1930, Orquestra Colbaz (Colbaz Orchestra) was responsible for the
    popularization of what was called choro paulista (choro from São Paulo
    state), which was followed by choro mineiro (choro from Minas Gerais State),
    whose most important promoter was the accordionist and composer Antenógenes Silva, who
    first recorded in 1929. Other important musicians were Radamés Gnattali, pianist and
    composer who moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1933 and started looking for new ways of playing choro,
    the guitar player Aníbal Augusto Sardinha (Garoto), and the flutists Benedito Lacerda and
    Dante Santoro. In 1941, Pixinguinha experienced a revival with two of his most famous
    choros: "Lamentos" (Laments) and "Carinhoso" (Affectionate).

    In the fifth generation (1947-1974) new groups were formed and the Orquestra Tabajara
    (Tabajara Orchestra), whose leader was Severino Araújo, appeared in Rio. Jacó do
    Bandolim, who started playing for the first time in 1933, became a soloist at the end of
    the 40’s. The cavaquinho player Valdir Azevedo assumed the leadership of the
    Dilermando Reis band, in 1947. Altamiro Carrilho became the best Brazilian popular flutist
    and the Northeastern accordionist Severino Dias de Oliveira played in records for the
    first time, in 1951. The Northeastern guitar player and composer Francisco Soares de
    Araújo (Canhoto da Paraíba) came to Rio, where new talents appeared on the musical
    scene, such as the saxophonist Paulo Moura and the mandolinist Deo Rian.

    In 1954, São Paulo hosted the I Festival da Velha Guarda (First Old Guard Festival),
    when a new group called A Velha Guarda (The Old Guard) was formed by many musicians,
    including Pixinguinha. In 1955, Jacó do Bandolim organized the 1ª Noite dos Choristas
    (First Choristas Night) at Record TV station and, in 1956, he organized the second and
    final 2ª Noite dos Choristas.

    The genre started its decline in the early ’60s. Jacó do Bandolim died in 1969 and
    Pixinguinha a few years later, in 1973. At the end of 1973, however, Paulinho da Viola
    started his new show called Show Sarau, where he played choros with the
    group Época de Ouro (Golden Age), bringing new life to the rhythm.

    The sixth generation (1975 to present-day) started with the Semana Jacó do Bandolim
    (Jacó do Bandolim Week), promoted by Ary Vasconcelos, at the Museu da Imagem e do Som
    (Museum of the Image and Sound), in Rio, from June 16 to 22. Since then, more and
    more young people have shown an interest in choro throughout the country, new
    groups have appeared and old ones have been reestablished.

    Choro Alive and Well

    In 1975, many groups were formed, including Clube do Choro (Choro Club), in Rio;
    Conjunto Atlântico (Atlantic Group) and Evandro’s group, in São Paulo; Canhoto da
    Paraíba’s group, in Recife; Jesse Silva and Plauto Cruz’s groups, in Porto Alegre; Os
    Ingênuos (The Naive Guys), in Salvador; etc. Also in Rio, in this same year, the
    Departamento de Cultura (Culture Department) started the projects Concerto de Choro (Choro
    Concert) and I Concurso de Conjuntos de Choro (First Contest of Choro Groups).

    In 1976, musicians under 20 formed the group Os Carioquinhas (The Little Cariocas). In
    1977, São Paulo hosted the I Encontro Nacional do Choro (First National Choro Meeting)
    and the I Festival Nacional do Choro (First National Choro Festival), which was
    broadcast by the Bandeirantes TV station. Meanwhile, in Rio, a project called Choro na
    Praça (Choro in the Square) began. In 1978 the popularity of choro continued with
    the II Concurso de Conjuntos de Choro and the II Festival do Choro. In 1979, the III
    Concurso de Conjuntos de Choro took place in the Music College of the University of Rio de
    Janeiro, followed by the IV Concurso de Conjuntos de Choro, in 1980, in the same place. In
    1983, the Rua do Choro (Choro Street) was opened in São Paulo.

    All these festivals revealed new talents such as the groups and musicians Nó em Pingo
    D’Àgua (Knot in a Drop of Water), Amigos do Choro (Friends of Choro), Arthur Moreira
    Lima, Raphael Rabello, Hermeto Pascoal, Novos Baianos (New Bahians), etc.

    Nowadays choro is more alive than ever, thanks to the many clubes do choro
    that have spread all over the country. Many interpreters of MPB (Música Popular
    Brasileira—Brazilian Popular Music) have rediscovered the genre, such as Zizi Possi,
    who recorded "Lamentos" by Pixinguinha on her CD Valsa Brasileira
    (Brazilian Waltz), of 1993, and Marisa Monte, who recorded the choro "De Mais
    Ninguém" (No One’s But Mine), that she and Arnaldo Antunes composed for her CD Verde,
    Anil, Amarelo, Cor-de-Rosa e Carvão (Rose and Charcoal), and that was accompanied by
    the choro group Época de Ouro.

    Vasconcelos ends his book asserting that choro is essentially instrumental and
    when vocalized it loses its value and becomes a song like any other. However, he seems
    unaware of the fact that, among all the "classical" choros listed at the
    beginning of his book, the ones that are still known are exactly the ones to which lyrics
    were added and, consequently, are being interpreted by new singers. According to Gilman,
    the lack of lyrics was exactly one of the reasons for the decline of choro, since
    lyrics started being as important as music itself in the MPB movement.

    Evidence of that are the songs "Tico-Tico no Fubá", composed by Zequinha de
    Abreu in 1917, with lyrics by Eurico Barreiros, that was immortalized by Carmen Miranda,
    in 1945; "Lamentos", composed by Pixinguinha, whose name was initially
    "Lamento", but in 1962, when it became part of the soundtrack of the movie
    "Sol Sobre a Lama" (Sun Over Mud), the poet Vinícius de Moraes added lyrics to
    it and changed its name to "Lamentos"; "Carinhoso", composed by
    Pixinguinha, in 1937, with lyrics by João de Barros, and immortalized by Orlando Silva,
    in 1937; "Apanhei-te cavaquinho", by Ernesto Nazaré, with lyrics by Hubaldo
    Maurício; "Odeon", by Ernesto Nazaré (1910), with lyrics by Vinícius de
    Moraes (1968); and "Brasileirinho" (Little Brazilian), by Valdir Azevedo. All
    these choros are part of the top ten "classical" choros in
    Vasconcelos’ list, and all of them have lyrics.

    Finally, I add to that list of hits the wonderful "De Mais Ninguém", by
    Marisa Monte and Arnaldo Antunes, that is one more important step in the popularization
    and survival of choro:

    De Mais Ninguém


    Se ela me deixou, a dor
    É minha só, não é de mais ninguém.
    Aos outros eu devolvo a dó,
    Eu tenho a minha dor.
    Se ela preferiu ficar sozinha
    Ou já tem um outro bem.
    Se ela me deixou a dor é minha,
    A dor é de quem tem.
    É o meu trofeu, é o que restou,
    É o que me aquece sem me dar calor.
    Se eu não tenho o meu amor,
    Eu tenho a minha dor.
    A sala, o quarto, a casa
    está vazia,
    A cozinha, o corredor.
    Se nos meus braços ela não se aninha,
    A dor é minha.

    No One’s But Mine

    (Translation from Rose and Charcoal)

    If she left me, the pain
    Is mine alone, no one’s but mine.
    I give their pity back to them,
    I have my pain.
    If she chose to remain alone,
    Or already has another to love.
    If she left me the pain is mine,
    Pain belongs to the one in pain.
    It’s my trophy, it’s what’s been left,
    It covers me but doesn’t keep me warm.
    If I no longer have my love,
    I have my pain.
    The living room, the bedroom, the house
    is empty,
    The kitchen, the hallway.
    If in my arms she doesn’t nestle
    The pain is mine.

    Gilson Pedro Borges is a graduate student at the
    University of New Mexico, where he also teaches Portuguese. You can reach him at gpborges@unm.edu

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