Here is a London School of Samba favourite, and Zé do caroço has become one of the classic samba songs of all time: for many sambistas, composers and singers alike, it is very important because it depicts a life behind the glamour and glitz of carnival, talking proudly about the humble roots of samba schools, in the communities, and what it really means to the people that live and die for that 20mins of glory on the avenida. For any of you that were in Coburg this year a high energy version (check out the Reveleção version below) went round the Highlander pub more than a few times on the Sunday night! All together now, “Le-le-le-leeee…”

Zé do caroço – classic samba songs

This is the song which made Leci Brandão (daughter of the great partido-alto singer, Jovelinha “Perola” Negra, of Sorriso Aberto & Um bagaço da Laranjafame) famous in 1978. It’s quite political – Zé do caroço is a local community leader during the military dictatorship who speaks over a loudspeaker (back then the equivalent of local community radio) and makes his speeches “…ele faz um discurso profundo” at the same time the telenovela is “distracting everyone” with its banality (as Brazil’s ‘national’ music the military supported samba in a show of patriotism to strengthen the nationalism it depended on to remain in power – but not without heavy censorship of course). It’s a comment on the superficiality of popular culture at the time, and how carnival was becoming all glamour and no guts after the rise of what they nicknamed Super Escolas S.A. (“Super Schools Inc.”) because basically in just a few years the samba schools had become a huge business after the rise of the carnavalesco legitimised the involvement of the middle classes and subsequently the tourist industry. The downside was that this attracted the patronage of the bicheiros (illegal gambling ‘racketeers’) i.e. Mocidade burst out of insignificance in 1975 thanks to the partronage of the bicheiro Castor de Andrade. But the upside was that the parade evolved – in 1972 Djalma Santos (Mangueira bateria president) helped to create the first ala das passistas, “Vê se entende” (“Make sure you get it”); 1974 the first ever rainha da bateria, Adéle Fátima, is crowned in Mocidade and in the same year destaques allowed on floats for the first time. Several years later the great ‘Manguerista’ Cartola would refuse to parade saying that it had all got out of hand and the parade went too fast (1979)!! Plans for the sambódromo were being discussed and eventually Castor Andrade would form LIESA – for many, cementing Mocidade’s importance in samba history and the start of a new era. Anyway, all this explains the lyric “carnival não é esse colosso/nossa escola é raiz, é madeira” – which is a reference to authentic, “roots” samba,“samba de raiz,” and hence also the line “Vila Isabel verdadeira” (the ‘real’ original samba school of Vila Isabel, as opposed to the samba school “S.A.” it had become). Some years later, in 1989 the great carnavalesco Joãzinho Trinta led Beija-Flor to an unprecedented victory with a controversial enredo called Ratos e Urubus, Larguem a Minha Fantasia (“Rats and Vultures, stay away from my costume!”) where he dressed up some alas up in rags as a statement against everything becoming too commercial and ostentatious (that was also the year they paraded with a Christ the Redeemer statue and the church complained so they had to cover it up!).
Those legends of pagode, Revelação, playing one for the quadras…

Leci Brandão (the original composer) shakes her booty for the versão FUNK!!


(*morro do Pau da Bandeira is a favela)

No serviço de auto-falante

Do morro do Pau da Bandeira*

Quem avisa é o Zé do Caroço

Que amanhã vai fazer alvoroço

Alertando a favela inteira

Como queria que fosse Mangueira

Que existisse outro Zé do Caroço

Pra dizer de uma vez pra esse moço

Carnaval não é esse colosso

Nossa escola é raiz, é madeira

Mas é o Morro do Pau da Bandeira

De uma Vila Isabel verdadeira

O Zé do Caroço trabalha

O Zé do Caroço batalha

E que malha o preço da feira

E na hora que a televisão brasileira

Distrái toda gente com a sua novela

É que o Zé põe a boca no mundo

Ele faz um discurso profundo

Ele quer ver o bem da favela

Está nascendo um novo líder

No morro do Pau da Bandeira

Está nascendo um novo líder

No morro do Pau da Bandeira

No morro do Pau da Bandeira

No morro do Pau da Bandeira

On the local radio

From the morro do Pau da Bandeira

It’s Zé do Caroço who issues the warning

That tomorrow there will be a shake up

And the favela has now been warned

Oh how I wish that it in Mangueira

There was someone like Zé do Caroço

So we could tell them once and for all

Carnaval is not that kind of showbiz

Our [samba] school is roots, it’s madeira

But it’s in the Morro do Pau da Bandeira

In the real Vila Isabel

That Zé do Caroço works

That Zé do Caroço struggles

And where he tries to make ends meet

And it’s at that hour when Brazilian TV

Distracts everyone with its novelas

That’s when Zé speaks out

He makes a profound speech

Because he wants the best for the favela

A new leader is being born

In the morro do Pau da Bandeira

A new leader is being born

In the morro do Pau da Bandeira

In the morro do Pau da Bandeira

In the morro do Pau da Bandeira


Chris Bicourt