On the Tip of the Verse
Brazil boasts several types of improvised poetry, customarily set to music. The Northeast alone can claim the Cantoria de Viola (Guitar Singing), the Coco de Embolada (Coconut Shake, literally) and the Aboio (no translation), among others. They have all been the subject of books and essays, but rare are the works, as far as I know, that attempt to provide an overview of all our forms of popular improvisation. One such effort (in Portuguese) is “Na Ponta do Verso” (On the Tip of the Verse) published by the Associação Cultural Caburé in Rio de Janeiro. The book was preceded by a series of shows at the Banco do Brasil Cultural Center in Rio de Janeiro featuring a diverse set of improvisers in 2005.
Before any further ado, allow me to make a full disclosure about my role in the project: I wrote the essay about Cantoria de Viola that opens the volume. The other contributions are: “Aboio: canto de trabalho e gênero poéticom” (Aboio: Work Songs and Poetic Gender Communication) by Maria Ingnez Ayalab of the Paraíba Federal University (UFPB); “Samba novo: a poesia do maracatu de baque solto” (New Samba: the Poetry of Free Rhythm Maracatu) co-authored by the composer Siba of the group Fuloresta do Samba and Astier Basílio of the newspaper Jornal da Paraíba; “Coco de embolada: mágica na palavra e no pandeiro” (Coco de Embolada: Magic Words and Tambourines) also by Maria Ignez Ayala; “Partido-alto: a receita do samba integral” (Partido Alto: the Recipe for Whole Grain Samba) by the composer and scholar Nei Lopes; “O calango fluminense” (The Calango of the State of Rio de Janeiro) by Cáscia Frade; “Versos de improviso nas chulas de palhaços de folias de reis” (Improvised Verses by the Clowns of the Wise Men’s Festival) by Daniel Bitter; “Cururu paulista” (Paulista Cururu) by Alberto Ikeda and “A pajada no Rio Grande do Sul” (The Pajada from Rio Grande do Sul) by Paulo de Freitas Mendonça.
Together with the 172-page book comes a CD with 16 demonstrative cuts. I would call attention to the “baião de sextilhas” by Ivanildo Vila Nova and Sebastião da Silva, taken from their CCBB show. Also worth noting is the Coco “Boi Tungão” by José da Silva Sobrinho and Manuel Fausto de Lima recorded in Sousa, Paraíba, in 1938 during writer Mário de Andrade’s famous musical research expedition. From the same expedition comes a rare recording of a style called “martelo agalopado” performed by Belarmino de França and Lourival Batista in Pombal, Paraíba, also in 1938. Another historic recording is a Partido Alto sung by Clementina de Jesus and João da Gente, taken from a record released in 1966. The other recordings are more recent, taken from CDs or live performances. They feature, among others, the masters of maracatu Siba, João Paulo and Barachinha, and the “partideiros” Tantinho da Mangueira and Marquinho China.
It is a great introductory glimpse into something that the even some in the Northeast don’t quite get: Repente. Repente, my friends, is not a particular line, not a melody, and not a way of singing along with a sole instrument. Its incarnations are innumerous, as some of the examples in the book-CD demonstrate. Repente is improvised verse, composed or recomposed on the spot. Repente is lightning – rhyme on demand. It might come from memory, but it is a function of the moment: to respond to your partner’s verse, to take a request from the crowd, or to react to something that just happened.