Having introduced the pandeiro in the samba, João da Baiana has enormous importance in the understanding of the genre, having witnessed and influenced its passage from a collective folk creation to the commercial urban expression. He testified that the genre was born in the city, not in the hills. da Baiana was one of the prestigious Brazilian musicians to be chosen to record with maestro Leopold Stokowsky in 1940 in Rio. Several times arrested as a samba player, his trajectory also documents the social mobility associated with the genre.
Grandson of slaves who spoke in Gege, Angola, and Nagô, da Baiana's mother was from Bahia, hence his nickname. da Baiana's childhood was marked by parties of candomblé promoted in his home by his parents, and in the Tia Ciata's house (the single most important place of birth of the samba, from where came "Pelo Telefone," the first recorded samba), Tia Amélia's (Donga's mother), Tia Veridiana's (Chico da Baiana's mother), and Tia Mônica (Pendengo's and Baiana Carmen's mother). The samba was prohibited and a special permission had to be issued by the chief of police for a samba party, but the candomblé was free.
The youngest of 12 brothers and sisters, da Baiana began to compose and play the pandeiro very early at his own teaching. In 1897, at age eight, he was already the Porta-Machado (in the old Carnival ranchos, the guy who protected the Porta-Bandeira from the harassment of the rival rancho's Mestre-Sala) of the ranchos Dois de Ouro and Pedra de Sal. Until then, these groups only used the tamborim, which was different from the modern one, having a handle and being bigger in size. da Baiana introduced the pandeiro in those ranchos, and the others copied the idea, spreading its use in samba. At nine, da Baiana was working at the Navy Arsenal. In 1908, senator Pinheiro Machado gave a party at home and da Baiana didn't go because the police had confiscated his pandeiro. Machado requested his presence and when he knew the motive why the boy hadn't gone, immediately sent a message for "seu" Oscar from the prestigious musical instrument manufacturer Ao Cavaquinho de Ouro to make a pandeiro with a personal dedication. At 12, he was discharged from the Navy and at 13 went to work in the Artillery as a coachman's assistant. At the same time, he worked at the Spinelli Circus, commanding the boys who promoted the clown/composer Eduardo das Neves through the streets. With famous poet Catulo da Paixão Cearense, a close figure in his formation, he learned a bit of violão to help in the compositional process. A stevedore and in 1920 promoted to fiscal of the Quay of the Harbor from 1910 to 1949, he couldn't follow Pixinguinha and Os Oito Batutas on tour in Paris and on international tours because of his job. As an honest worker, da Baiana was an atypical sambista, contrary to the traditional figure of the malandro. His testimony in the sense that the sambistas were persecuted by police in the streets of the city of Rio when there weren't but a few favelas (slums), forcing them to refuge in the hills where he spent the hiding time composing and singing sambas is an important research item.
As a composer, da Baiana's biggest hits were "Mulher Cruel" (with Donga and Pixinguinha, 1924), "Pedindo Vingança" (1925), "Cabide de Molambos" (1928, recorded by Patrício Teixeira), and "Deixa Amanhecer" (recorded by Almirante). In 1928, he began to work at radio stations in Cajuti, Transmissora, Educadora, and Philips, being the first rhythmist there. As an actor he and the then novice and later famous Procópio Ferreira were in the play A Juriti, with music by the first Brazilian female conductor, Chiquinha Gonzaga. Amongst the many important professional groups in which da Baiana worked deserving mention is Guarda Velha, formed with Pixinguinha and Donga in 1932. In 1940, he participated in the recordings of conductor Leopold Stokowsky with Pixinguinha, Donga, Heitor dos Prazeres, Cartola, and others. Published in the U.S. as Native Brazilian Music on two albums, one of his songs is present, the corimá "Ke-ke-re-ke-Ké" (with David Nasser). This song was re-recorded in the 1968 LP Gente da Antiga (Odeon), which had several tracks reissued on the Raízes do Samba series. One of his older hits, "Batuque na Cozinha" (1972), was included on the series.