Das Neves, Eduardo
das Neves, Eduardo
The musician Eduardo Sebastião das Neves was born in 1874, most likely in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, the same city in which he died in 1919. Of African descent, he was by his own definition a crioulo, an antiquated term used to refer to Brazilian-born blacks. The word may carry strongly racist meanings, but, as in the case of das Neves, was also appropriated by blacks, similar to the multiple contemporary uses of nigger in English. He became a famous singer and a famous guitar player just after the abolition of slavery in 1888. He sang numerous musical styles, including lundu, modinha, marcha, seresta, samba, valsa, and maxixe, performing on stages in Rio de Janeiro and throughout Brazil. Turn-of-the-century newspaper accounts describe das Neves as squandering his earnings, and he died poor, but he enraptured crowds with his guitar.
The lyrics of his song "O Crioulo," written in Rio de Janeiro in 1900, present a kind of autobiography and reveal the confidence that das Neves had in his own abilities. The song begins by declaring his superior knowledge of the guitar, which he claimed to have possessed from his earliest days and maintained as he learned and grew, even while mixing in mischief. His success was such, the song continues, that when he picked up a musical instrument, "all the little brown girls loved watching the crioulo play his music" (das Neves, 1926, p. 64).
Until 1902, when he was discovered by Casa Edison—an influential purchaser and vendor of sheet music and records—the "Crioulo Dudu," as he like to be called, shared the hard life of the city's thousands of other poor workers. In 1892 he served in the National Guard, achieving the title of captain and defending President Floriano Peixoto during an uprising in 1893. Soon afterwards, he joined the fire department, but he was fired after various reprimands for insubordination. At the age of twenty-one, he worked as a brakeman on the railways. In "O Crioulo," he explains that he left the rails after a strike because his boss "did not like his ginga, " a kind of strut, which also implies here attitude (das Neves, 1926, p. 64). Beginning in 1895, he dedicated himself completely to his guitar and public performances.
With the popular publishing company Editora Quaresma, das Neves published four books of songs, many of which appear to have been written by him. He selected others from various regional and slave traditions in Brazil. In the preface of one book, O Trovador da Malandragem (1902), with songs produced between 1889 and 1902, he complained that other artists often used his work without recognizing his contributions. As he made clear, his songs were "sung by everyone everywhere, from fancy parlors to street corners, at all hours of the night" (das Neves, 1926, p. 3).
Among the often humorous and irreverent verses sung and written by das Neves, many deal with daily problems in Rio de Janeiro (e.g., urban reform, the rising cost of public transportation, mandatory vaccinations, hunger, squalid living conditions, taxes, street fighting), celebrations of the nation (e.g., an anthem written to Santos Dumont, the hero of Brazilian aviation, and other public figures), and satires about noble figures (especially barons and bishops) and social practices (such as festivals and patronage relationships). Some deal directly with race relations and challenge what were then widely-held racist theories suggesting the inferiority of black and mixed-race Brazilians. There are also tales of romance with iaiás (a word used during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to refer to wives and daughters of slaveholders), encounters with women, and descriptions of flashy, selfstyled crioulos and various black figures from the times of slavery. From the serious to the whimsical, the musical genres that das Neves played were not just produced and played by Afro-Brazilians, but instead were composed and performed by numerous writers and artists and disseminated in theaters, circuses, and cafés.
However, by identifying the value of nonwhites in his work, das Neves made manifest the important role that musical production played for Afro-Brazilians who were fighting racial oppression and attempting to realize their dreams during a period of low literacy rates and levels of education. However limited, the rise and recognition of the "Crioulo Dudu" in Brazilian music—which grew steadily during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—reveals a strategy employed by Afro-Brazilians to assert themselves in a nation not inclined to accept them.
Abreu, Martha. "Outras histórias de Pai João: conflitos raciais, protesto escravo e irreverância sexual na poesia popular, 1880-1950." Afro-Asia, no. 31 (2004).
Das Neves, Eduardo. O Trovador da Malandragem. Rio de Janeiro: Livraria Quaresma Editores, 1902, 1926.
Guimarães, Francisco (O Vagalume). Na roda de samba. (Originally published in 1933.) Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 1978.
Tinhorão, José Ramos. Cultura Popular, Temas e Questões. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. 34, 2001.
martha abreu (2005)