Labor Chants in Brazil

A research performed by Collegium Cantorum – Female Choir

What inspires this Project is the desire to disclose the Brazilian laborer’s ways of thinking, feeling and acting. The labor chants, which used to be present in the North and South of the Country, livened up the work giving it a unique vitality. Nowadays, these chants are restricted to some regions in Brazil. This rendition is a result of field, bibliographical, documental and musical-folkloric research, that reflect the heritage of the Native people and from the Europeans who colonized our Country.

In Brazil there is a great variety of labor chants mostly deriving from the colonial period. These days, a considerable part of these chants are extinct due to the process of modernization.

Sometimes the chants are primal and simple musical expressions, made up of onomatopoeic words such as “ei!, ai!, ó!, hum!” – interjections of motivation and reinforcement. The song “Aboios”, captured and arranged by Heitor Villa-Lobos and which integrates our experience, is part of this group. It is a chant in monochord, without lyrics. There are farm and cattle “aboios”. The first is vigorous and motivational toward work, while the latter displays sadness and hopelessness. Due to the character of the selected “aboio”, we imply that it is a farm “aboio”.

Clip to"aboio"

The folkloric characteristics naturally derive from the region’s ecosystem: right on the threshold existent among nature, household chores, manual labor, religion, music and folklore.

In the Northern Region, Native Brazilian Indian music encloses a great area, with a very important detail: its magical appeal and religious sense. We pay tribute to this Region with the “Canto do Pajé” (the Song of the Indian Chief), composed by Villa-Lobos, which is based in the primitive aboriginal music, mixed with fragments of Spanish popular music rhythms. C. Paula Barros’ text makes reference to Tupã, a syncretized Christian god, and to Anhangá, which symbolizes the spirit of Nature fighting and defending itself against the destruction coming from man. Anhangá was one of the first defenders of ecology and the environment.

In the Northeast, there is no lack of popular songs. It is probably the Region that produces most of the Labor Chants: “jangadeiros” (raft fishermen), “cangaceiros” (a movement of peasant revolts in northeastern Brazil), sugar cane workers, coconut reapers and breakers, among many others. From this region we selected the following chants: Cana-Fita and Engenho Novo, the “Suíte do Pescador” (Fisherman Suíte), from composer Dorival Caymmi and the songs chosen in the field research, selected and integrated by the members of Collegium Cantorum: “Sou Lavrador” (I am a farmer), “Comprei um Burro Turdilho” (I bought a white spotted donkey), “Ó Que Triste Sorte” (Oh how unlucky), “Toca o Boi” (Move on bull), “Sereia” (Mermaid), “Limuero” (Lemon tree) and “Muleque Malandré” (Mischievous kid).

Clip to "boiadeiro"

The Southeast Region is markedly known for its rich collection of popular songs, sambas and Brazilian Carnival marches from Rio de Janeiro, and the country song in São Paulo. Since it is the most populated region in Brazil, these popular manifestations have already been amply divulged even with international prestige. For our repertoire, we chose songs like “Algodão” (Cotton), a Cananéia fandango in São Paulo, in José Geraldo de Souza’s beautiful arrangement, and “A Sanfona” (The accordion), about the coffee plantation, from Villa-Lobos.

The Southern Region is extremely rich in terms of popular songs. We attempted to do field research, however, it was not possible to find any new material since this theme is so widely studied. For quite a while, the “carreteiros” were the ones responsible for the development of this region. They came and went with their wagons pulled by bulls, bringing the merchandise from the inlands to the coast. The “carreteiros” don’t commute on foot, they ride horses, accompanying the “comboios”, as a convoy is called. The “Canção do Carreteiro” is our homage to the brave men of this Region. A traditioin of the lace makers in Santa Catarina is working in groups while singing the “Cantigas de Ratoeira”, a kind of fandango. One of these songs is part of our repertoire, and to our surprise, during our field research we encoutered a woman who still maintains this tradition of singing while lace-working. “As Costureiras”, (The tailors) composed by Villa-Lobos, has the same atmosphere and spirit. From the State of Rio Grande do Sul we included “O Tropeiro” and “A Floreira”. We could not leave out the famous “Balaio, Meu Bem, Balaio”, from our State, Paraná, which was one of the motifs used by Brasílio Itiberê da Cunha when he wrote “Fantasia Característica – A Sertaneja” (Characteristic Costume – the Sertaneja), which made history in Brazilian Music as a precursor work of the musical nationalism.

The current project starts and ends with the works of Master Heitor Villa-Lobos, the greatest Brazilian genius of the twentieth century, creator of the Brazilian national music. We began with “Heranças da nossa raça” (Inheritances of our race) whose text was written by C. De Paula Barros, about the characteristics of the Brazilian worker, from the North to the South, and we closed the rendition with “Invocação em defesa da Pátria” (Invocation in defence of our Country) whose text is from Manuel Bandeira. This work is a civil religious song in favor of the Nation. We wish all of our spectators an unforgettable experience with the traditions of our ancestors.

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