Brazilian Sertanejo

The history of sertanejo

It is hard to pinpoint exactly how sertanejo started, as most Brazilian music genres, sertanejo is a mixture of musical traditions that with time started being called by a different name then its initial roots. The first genre to introduce most of today’s sertanejo tropes was known as moda de viola1 which appears throughout the rural areas of Minas Gerais and the interior of São Paulo state in the late 1800s through 1930’s.

The genre moda de viola consists of two main elements, two singers singing in thirds and two violas caipira a Portuguese guitar with doubled strings2. Moda de viola songs were marginalized by most of Brazil for being under the umbrella of caipira music3. Caipira which comes from the native language Tupí and translates to “grass cutter4”. The term caipira quickly became derogative further marginalizing music from the rural interior of São Paulo played mostly by farm and cattle workers. This style of music appears in the 1937 recording of “Modinha” by the group “Congada de Lambari” sung by “José Francisco da Silva” (Figure-1). In 1929 “Cornélio Pires”, a journalist, composer, viola player, author and filmmaker from the city of Tietê (interior of São Paulo) financed the first recording of música caipira with a group formed by him called “Os Pioneiros da Moda de Viola” (The Moda de Viola pioneers) also known as “Os Caipiras do Cornélio” (Cornélio’s Caipiras)5. In order to fund these recordings Cornélio placed local advertisements on the covers of the 78 rpm records but his records quickly grew in popularity and soon Cornélio had recorded over fifty records with multiple duplas caipiras (caipira duets) many of which featured siblings, another established common characteristic of today’s sertanejo music.

Through the 1950’s and 1960’s rhythmic elements from Paraguayan Polkas and other Latin American music genres brought the accordion to the genre that was then starting th be known as música sertaneja6. The word sertanejo comes from the word sertão which refers to the rural biomes of the northeast and the interior region of São Paulo. The tern served as better branding for up and coming music genre. At the same time the Brazilian government started to invest heavily on the infrastructure of the urban centers of São Paulo and with the large demand of workers an unprecedented migration from the rural areas to the urban centers brought sertanejo to the city7.

With the mass migration to the city sertanejo lyrics subjects shifted from portraying the rural scenery to often humorous lyrics about political commentary, romances and the marginalized life of caipiras in the city. Groups such as “Alvarenga e Ranchinho,” “Tonico e Tinoco,” “Pena Branca e Xavantinho” and “Inezita Barroso” were often played in São Paulo radio stations and proved to record labels that sertanejo was a profitable genre making it the third most listened genre of music by the early 1980s after MPB and música romantica (romantic music)8.

Chitãozinho & Xororó

In 1967 the famous Brazilian television host “Silvio Santos” hosted two sertanejo brothers “José Lima Sobrinho” (1954) and “Durval de Lima” (1957) on his show where they played their first single “Cidade Sertaneja.9 Born in the city of Rondon in the state of Paraná, the two singers learned how to play the guitar with their father who was also a composer and worked as a woodworker. The duo moved to São Paulo in the early 1970s where the radialist “Geraldo Meirelles” introduced the band as “Chitãozinho & Xororó10” named after the birds on a song by the sertanejo duo “Athos Campos e Serrinha.”

Their first official record came in 1970 with the single “Galopeira” (horseback riding woman) but it was in 1982 that their name would go mainstream with the release of “Fio de Cabelo” (hair strand) which sold over a million and a half copies (Figure-2). The song however in many ways diverged from most sertanejo songs because it included a combination of synthesizers, amplified drums and electric guitars which ultimately modernized the band’s sound11. The sonic shift from acoustic instruments to a more pop electric sound symbolized a definite environmental shift of sertanejo music from rural to an urban sound and this shift was likely an important step in the growing youth acceptance of sertanejo as a legitimate and respectful music genre12. A part from the electric instrumentation, “Chitãozinho” and “Xororó” (stage names) ditched the farmer shirts, boots and jeans and wore tight suits and leather jackets and long hair, a style culture brought to Brazil by the influence of 1960’s pop music and the “Beatles.” Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the new sertanejo sound consisted of mostly romantic lyrics and its acceptance was so staggering that soon many other duos such as “Leandro e Leonardo,” “Zezé Di Camargo e Luciano” and “Milhonáirio e Zé Rico” started to use electric instrumentation and made their name in the top of Brazilian radio charts13.

Opinion

Growing up in São Paulo as a child I’ve sung and danced to bands such as “Leandro e Leonardo” and “Zezé Di Camargo e Luciano” in festas juninas, a folk Brazilian holiday. However by my teenage years I grew embarrassed of the songs that were considered to be too rural and simple which I now see as a clear prejudice that was socially acceptable to have in the city. My perception of sertanejo wouldn’t change until I watched the 2006 “Breno Silveira” movie “2 Filhos de Francisco” about the lives of “Zezé Di Camargo e Luciano.” In this beautiful award winning film I was able to recognize the roots of sertanejo and the life of a music loving child in my own family’s history. My grandmother grew up in the small city of Tietê where she currently has a camp house where I spent a lot of my childhood at. Surprisingly while researching for this paper I discovered that one of the most important figures in popularizing sertanejo was “Cornélio Pires”, a Tietê born man. I was even astounded to discover the city has a museum baring his name that I visited as a young boy. Since I left Brazil in 2010 sertanejo universitário took over the nation and I’m always surprised to visit my family members and hear they know all the lyrics to a genre of music that at one point we all were embarrassed to enjoy.

Another surprising conclusion I arrived in writing this paper is how this genre is still marginalized by the academic community both nationally and internationally. Perhaps its association with country music, which is also stigmatized among the academic American youth, is the reason the number of English language publications about sertanejo is immensely smaller then that of other genres such as samba and bossa nova even though sertanejo occupies a much higher spot on the Brazilian musical charts. Although sertanejo music is a lot more harmonically simplistic then genres such as bossa nova and choro I believe there is still a lot of value in comparing the musical elements of sertanejo to early Brazilian music and its European and African influences.

Conclusion

Sertanejo is a folk Brazilian music genre that came from the modernization of caipira music and moda de viola. The style was born in the rural areas of São Paulo and its neighboring states with the influence of Portuguese music with music played in congadas. The music genre was largely marginalized by the São Paulo urban population until a large migration to the city made the music easily accessible to Paulistanos. Bands such as “Chitãozinho & Xororó” electrified the genre and gave birth to a national sensation. In the early 2000s sertanejo universitário took Brazil’s charts and for the first time brought sertanejo abroad. Though sertanejo is still seen by some as an inferior music genre it still delights the lives of minions, its rhymes aids the Brazilian population recover from bad breakups, express their cultural identity and honor their country’s agricultural history.

Endnotes

1 Reily, Suzel Ana. “Música Sertaneja and Migrant Identity: The Stylistic Development of a Brazilian Genre.” Popular Music 11, no. 3 (1992): 337–58.

2 Oliveira, Lucia. “Do Caipira Picando Fumo a Chitãozinho e Xororó, Ou Da Roça Ao Rodeio.” CPDOC-FGV., n.d.

3 Alonso, Gustavo. “O Sertão Na Televisão: Música Sertaneja e Rede Globo.” [REVISTA CONTEMPORÂNEA, 2011.

4 “Caipira.” Wikipedia, May 25, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Caipira&oldid=842847468.

5 Oliveira, Lucia. “Do Caipira Picando Fumo a Chitãozinho e Xororó, Ou Da Roça Ao Rodeio.” CPDOC-FGV., n.d.

6 Reily, Suzel Ana. “Música Sertaneja and Migrant Identity: The Stylistic Development of a Brazilian Genre.” Popular Music 11, no. 3 (1992): 337–58.

7 Tremura, Welson. “The Development of the Brazilian Country Music and Its Relationship with Folia de Reis in Defining Rural Identity.” Accessed December 18, 2018. http://www.academia.edu/1074493/The_Development_of_the_Brazilian_Country_Music_and_its_Relationship_with_Folia_de_Reis_in_Defining_Rural_Identity.

8 “Brazil Top 20 @ Top40-Charts.Com - New Songs & Videos from 49 Top 20 & Top 40 Music Charts from 30 Countries.” Accessed December 20, 2018. http://top40-charts.com/chart.php?cid=8.

9 “Chitãozinho & Xororó.” Wikipédia, a enciclopédia livre, December 7, 2018. https://pt.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chit%C3%A3ozinho_%26_Xoror%C3%B3&oldid=53769937.

10 “Chitãozinho & Xororó.” Wikipédia, a enciclopédia livre, December 7, 2018. https://pt.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chit%C3%A3ozinho_%26_Xoror%C3%B3&oldid=53769937.

11 Oliveira, Lucia. “Do Caipira Picando Fumo a Chitãozinho e Xororó, Ou Da Roça Ao Rodeio.” CPDOC-FGV., n.d.

12 Oliveira, Lucia. “Do Caipira Picando Fumo a Chitãozinho e Xororó, Ou Da Roça Ao Rodeio.” CPDOC-FGV., n.d.

13 “Brazil Top 20 @ Top40-Charts.Com - New Songs & Videos from 49 Top 20 & Top 40 Music Charts from 30 Countries.” Accessed December 20, 2018. http://top40-charts.com/chart.php?cid=8.

14 “João Bosco & Vinícius – Wikipédia, a Enciclopédia Livre.” Accessed December 20, 2018. https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jo%C3%A3o_Bosco_%26_Vin%C3%ADcius.

15 Alonso, Gustavo. “O Sertão Na Televisão: Música Sertaneja e Rede Globo.” [REVISTA CONTEMPORÂNEA, 2011.

16 Alonso, Gustavo. “O Sertão Na Televisão: Música Sertaneja e Rede Globo.” [REVISTA CONTEMPORÂNEA, 2011.

17 “Ai Se Eu Te Pego.” Wikipedia, November 9, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ai_Se_Eu_Te_Pego&oldid=867955511.

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