Friday, December 29, 2006

Brazilian Carnival composer Braguinha dies

December 28, 2006
Braguinha, 99, a Composer of Brazilian Carnival Songs, Dies

Correction Appended

Braguinha, the Brazilian composer of Carnival songs whose humorously ironic melodies influenced generations of Brazilian musicians, died on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro. He was 99.

Braguinha died after suffering a generalized infection, according to a statement from Dr. João Luiz Ferreira Costa of the Pró-cardíaco Hospital in Rio de Janeiro, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo reported.

Born Carlos Alberto Ferreira Braga, and known for part of his long career by another stage name, João de Barro, Braguinha outlived contemporaries with whom he worked in Rio de Janeiro starting in the 1930s, like Noel Rosa and Almirante. He rose to prominence in what was considered a golden age for the Carnival songs known as marchinhas. His work’s influence extended to the innovative Bossa Nova and Tropicalista musical movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

Braguinha’s songs were often nuanced celebrations of female sensuality and evocative of the lush tropical bounty of Brazil’s vast territory. Compositions like “Twist no Carnaval,” “Chiquita Bacana” and “Yes, Nós Temos Bananas” (“Yes, We Have Bananas”) contributed to his legend, with performers like Caetano Veloso subversively riffing on them in later decades as musical creativity became a way of challenging societal norms and political repression in Brazil.

The song “Touradas em Madri” (“Bullfights in Madrid”), written with Alberto Ribeiro, was one of Braguinha’s most popular and was considered a precursor to the Tropicalista movement. The song became a national obsession when fans chanted its verses during the 1950 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, in which Brazil defeated Spain.

Braguinha was born in 1907 into a middle-class family — his father was a factory manager — in the Jardim Botanico district of Rio de Janeiro. He adopted the stage name João de Barro so his plunge into the bohemian life of a musician would not tarnish his family’s status.

By the late 1930s Braguinha had become a towering figure in Brazilian popular culture. He became instrumental in adapting North American cartoons and children’s songs to Brazilian tastes. He retooled Disney productions and tales like “The Three Little Pigs” into Portuguese. He often took substantial liberty with translations and lyrics in these adaptations, as he did with “Sorri,” a Portuguese version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” originally part of the theme music from the film “Modern Times” about keeping your chin up during hard times. The Brazilian musician Djavan, one of that country’s most popular performers, did his own version of “Sorri,” illustrating the long reach of Braguinha’s influence.

Braguinha was also a successful screenwriter, movie director and record producer, helping to start the careers of musicians like Elizeth Cardoso, Emilinha Borba and Jorge Goulart.

He is survived by his wife, Astreia; a daughter; three grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

In 1984 Braguinha won what is perhaps the highest honor in Brazil for a popular composer: his life became the theme of a song for Mangueira, the samba school that emerged victorious in the Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro that year.

Correction: December 29, 2006

An obituary yesterday about Braguinha, an influential composer of Brazilian carnival songs, referred imprecisely to a song for which he wrote a Portuguese version. “Smile” was originally part of Charlie Chaplin’s theme music for his 1936 film, “Modern Times,” and lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons were added in 1954. It was not a song from the film.

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