Classics #1: Tenha Pena de Mim- Araci de Almeida

Introduction. This is a new feature on the site- U-PM Classics highlights an individual old world music track from my collection. The track might foreshadow a forthcoming show or be an out-take from a previous show.

The goal of U-PM is to propel old world music into the mainstream. The best of these old recordings is a match for anything before or since, and represents a vast array of styles and approaches. Indeed, the catch-all term “old world music” constitutes the majority of musical range ever recorded. Yet this music is nowhere near the radar of the typical music-lover, and is assumed to be inaccessible, difficult, dull. Modern reissues get carried away with technical details and give little thought to the contemporary listener. The result is an indiscriminate selection that “represents” the artist or period but turns everything into a history lesson or mystical ravings rather than a musical experience that appeals to the non-specialist.

Just as each of the U-PM Shows put forward three outstanding tracks from a particular country, quality over quantity, U-PM Classics tackles individual tracks in their own right. This is consistent with U-PM’s approach to old world music- contemporary musical resonance first, history, context and technical details second. In my view, this approach is more in keeping with the spirit of the original artists and performers.

We are living in a golden age of reissues of old world music, but must people haven’t noticed. Ever-more reissues appear, reviewers offer dumbstruck praise but sales remain pitiful. All the while, reissues themselves end up almost as obscure as the recordings they attempt to revive. The true legacy and potential of old world music recordings remain far from realized. U-PM is all about trying to change that.

Classic #1. Our first U-PM Classic is Tenha Pena de Mim by Araci de Almeida. This was recorded in 1937 in Brazil (Victor 34229A). I first heard it in the late 1990s on the Bresil: Choro, Samba, Frevo compilation on Fremeaux (1998).

The track is one of numerous recordings from the period that transformed the complex ethnic and musical heritage of Brazil into something fresh and modern. From today’s vantage point, at least to me, much of this music seems tame and mediocre, but Tenha Pena de Mim demands attention. Fully conversant in contemporary styles and innovation, the track eschews the ordinary with a thoroughly original multi-part melody, clarinet solos of glorious imitation, and delivery from Araci de Almedia that is sweet, sassy and at turns delicate then belting. The rhythm throughout is a confident mid-paced swagger. The song’s musical character belies the ill-fated in love lyrics. The composers, Siro de Sousa and Valdemiro Rocha “Babaú” get only this credit on the Fremeaux double-CD compilation, and I have been able to find out little else about them.

Araci de Almedia (1914-1988) went on to become one of the mainstays of Brazilian music, most famously on her 1950s album of songs by the misfortunate Noël Rosa. But to my ears, none of her music before or since comes close to Tenha Pena de Mim. The track is still available on the Fremeaux double-CD.

The challenge for the entire U-PM project is how to articulate music using only words. I’m working on it 🙂