Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tico-Tico no Fubá (Sparrow in the Cornmeal)

Lira Santarritense orchestra
Zequinha de Abreu was one of the most prominent Brazilian composers in the early 20th century. Although he composed many marchinhas, valsas and tangos, today he is mostly remembered for his world-wide choro classic Tico-tico no Fubá. Born in 1880 in Brasil, Abreu received a harmonica at age five and began piano lessons at seven. His mother wanted young Zequinha to become a priest and sent him to the Episcopal Seminary. While there however, he found that he was more interested in his music lessons and ran away to become a profes­sional musician. 

Abreu went on to form the Lira Santarritense, an orchestra that played at silent movies. He became a prolific composer authoring and publishing such pieces as Maxixe Bafo de Onça, xote D’alva and valse Soluços. By 1917, he had composed over 100 works including many choros. The word “choro” can be literally trans­lated as “crying,” “weeping,” “tears,” or “moaning.” Ironically though, the music itself is not at all in the “lament” vein but is actually characterized by fast and upbeat rhythms, virtuosity, improvisation, chromatics, modulations, syncopations, counterpoint and general positive enthusiasm. It is difficult not to see a parallel irony concerning “the blues.” One of Abrue’s choros would later become world famous, although Abreu would never know the full extent of its success during his lifetime.
In 1917, Abreu and his orchestra tried out his new choro at a ball. It was said that the new piece of music caused dance couples to “go crazy on the ballroom floor.” After the set was over, Abreu commented to his band members that the dancers looked liked tico-ticos (a kind of little bird) eating corn meal. Wondering what to name the new tune, his bassist Artur de Carvalho replied that his description of the dancers should be the name - Tico-tico no Fubá

Zequinha de Abreu
Abreu had some success with the publisher Casa Vitale, releasing Branca, Sururú na Cidade and Tardes em Lindóia. He was also employed at Casa Beethoven as a sheet music demonstrator, often going door to door demonstrating his music for potential customers who might want a new valse or choro for their own living room entertainment. Although Tico-tico was popular and widely performed, it was not published until 1930. Abreu decided to have lyrics added by Eurico Barreiros in 1931. With his growing success, Abreu’s band grew to 25 members in 1933 often playing engagements in the major music centers of Rio de Janeiro. However the new orchestra was very short lived. After achieving mostly regional success, Zequinha de Abreu died of a heart attack in 1935 at age 54. 
Seven years later in 1942, Tico-tico no Fubá was recorded for the first time with new lyrics by “the queen of the choro” Ademilde Fonseca. It was also recorded by Brazilian film stars and satirists Alvarenga e Ranchinho who supplied their own lyrics. In 1944, the piece made its way to the United States in a very big way when the “first lady” of the Hammond organ – Pittsburgh’s Ethel Smith - scored a million-seller hit with it. When the “Brazilian bombshell” Carmen Miranda appeared with Groucho Marx in the 1947 musical comedy Copacabana performing Tico-Tico, the on-screen performance secured the song as an American sensation. Instrumentalists of all backgounds, from flamenco guitar great Paca de Lucia to pop classical violinist David Garrett to amateur and professional flutists and accordionists everywhere, have loved playing it ever since. 

1952 saw a movie directed by Adolfo Celi and Fernando de Barros based on Abrue’s life. The movie was entitled Tico-Tico no Fubá – a testament to this tune being Abrue’s greatest accomplishment.

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