Cornélio Pires

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The first independent producer of Brazil and the first one to ever record traditional, authentic caipira (hillbilly) music, Cornélio Pires was the biggest propagandist of the hillbilly culture of upstate…
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The first independent producer of Brazil and the first one to ever record traditional, authentic caipira (hillbilly) music, Cornélio Pires was the biggest propagandist of the hillbilly culture of upstate São Paulo in the earliest decades of the 20th century. Along with 26 books about the caipira with anecdotes (causos), poetry, jokes, and research on caipira music and language, Pires also presented comic sketches in monologues penned by himself, and did lectures on the theme. Always performing for large audiences throughout the country (especially in upstate São Paulo), he enchanted the urban public with that mix of ingenuity and smartness of the caipira whose language, spirit, music, way of thinking, aspirations, and concerns he knew so well. Also an author of stories, he had his Passe os Vinte adapted for the cinema by Antônio de Campos as O Curandeiro. With the filmmaker Flamínio de Campos Gatti, Pires traveled through Brazil shooting for his documentary Brasil Pitoresco, in 1923.

In 1910, Pires had acquired enough experience in the rodas de violeiros (viola players' get-togethers) to organize at the Mackenzie College his debut on-stage, presenting upstate musicians, singers, and dancers (cururueiros, catireiros, cantadores, and dançadores) in a typical "lykewake," followed by a lecture where he gave some explanations about the life and human aspects of that region. In the same year, Pires launched his first book, Musa Caipira. With his restless personality and bohemian character, Pires moved from city to city, jumping from one job to another (weighing over 200 pounds, he even tried to be a physical education teacher), trying to make a living, and invariably losing his jobs. In 1912, he started to present a series of solo shows in which he, in impeccable suits or morning coats, impersonated the caipiras, telling jokes and stories. In a period when close to 80 percent of the population of Brazil still lived in the rural regions, the caipira culture had a major impact on the artistic works of the country, representing much of the musical, literary, and scenic spectacles produced in the cities. The nascent cultural industry couldn't be foreign to this process.

The earliest phonographic recordings of artists in the caipira productions were their pièces de résistance: Baiano recorded in 1902 the poem "A Cabocla"; with Eduardo das Neves, he recorded in 1912 "Cateretê Paulista"; in the same year, Cadete wrote the lundu "Caipira Paulista"; and several other artists from diverse areas (like the classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, who wrote "Cânticos Sertanejos" and "A Lenda do Caboclo") or regions (João Pernambuco, Catulo da Paixão Cearense, Jararaca e Ratinho, Augusto Calheiros, and the Turunas da Mauricéia, all from Notheast) were exploring successfully the caipira universe in the '10s and '20s. Encouraged by these perspectives, in 1929 Pires took his nephew Ariovaldo Pires (the soon-to-be Capitão Furtado) and looked for Columbia's recording engineer Wallace Downey, who introduced them to the Brazilian Albert Jackson Byington Jr., owner of the Brazilian representative company. Byington wasn't interested in the proposal of recording caipira artists, as he believed that the urban people wanted to listen to the big stars like Francisco Alves and Paraguassu singing sertanejo (hillbilly) songs, not minor unknown singers. It was then that Pires proposed to pay for the recordings and pressings of his albums. Borrowing an impressive amount of money, he paid for the recording of five albums, each with 5,000 copies. That was most unusual, even a folly, as even the biggest stars of the time wouldn't have so big an issue. Pires then returned to Piracicaba and picked up his already formed team Turma Caipira Cornélio Pires (which include the best singers and viola players of the region, Zico Dias e Ferrinho, Arlindo Santana e Sebastiãozinho, and the brothers Caçula e Mariano). Arriving in São Paulo, Pires demanded his own label and numeration.

So, in 1929, the famous red series (Série Caipira Cornélio Pires) was issued, numbered from 20,000 to 20,005: six albums with 5,000 copies each; totaling 30,000 78 rpms filled with jokes, desafios (musical contests), and several authentic caipira musical genres, including the first moda de viola to be recorded, "Jorginho do Sertão"; collected by Pires and interpreted by Caçula e Mariano. Everything was put in two cars and sold door-to-door, in fairs and in Pires' Casa Cornélio, a radio and Victrola store in downtown São Paulo. With the entire pressing sold out, Pires found different terms for a new agreement at Columbia. Invited to produce albums for the company, now financed and distributed by Byington, Pires became the first independent producer in Brazil. Until 1931, Pires produced another 43 albums whose songs (in the earliest 12 albums) had their authorship erroneously attributed to him. Soon Pires had the competition of Lourenço, from the duo (discovered by him and also a member of his Turma Caipira) Lourenço e Olegário, who also became an independent producer for RCA Victor, followed by other companies that also went out with their own productions in the field. Pires turned to other activities, continuing until 1958 to intensively write books and promote tours with his caravan (sponsored by the Antarctica beverage company, advertising only its non-alcoholic products, as he was a recovering alcoholic) of dancers, singers; and Pires in front of everything as a host, entertainer, and storyteller. After his death, his hometown Tietê created the Cornélio Pires Museum and, since 1959, produces the Cornélio Pires Week.