The story of a song never stops. For years I have been tracing the journey of the Brazilian folk classic Mulher Rendeira across the world – from the Peruvian jungle to the American West. Over 80 years since it was first penned out in the Brazilian sertão (plains), the song continues to evolve. This Brazilian classic’s latest incarnation comes courtesy of DJ Dolores, one of the early contributors to the North East’s manguebeat movement, who has since made a name for his fusion of north eastern traditions and modern electronica.
Soundtracks – Music for Movies released by Assustado Discos (available for download here) is a collection of songs inspired by film and inspired by stories. From Dolores’ original compositions for movie soundtracks to his interpretations of Brazilian big screen music classics like Mulher Rendeira, each song has a story to tell:
“A personal remembrance, a musical finding, the funny lyrics of a tune or even because there is a good story to be told about a song. At last, these songs are untied pieces of my memory related to my work with movies.”
As I discovered, there is a very good story to be told about Mulher Rendeira. Written by the Brazilian bandit Lampião (1922), brought to the international stage by Lima Baretto’s Brazilian cowboy bandit/romance film O Cangaceiro (1951) and then covered by international artists as diverse as Jean Sablon (1954), Cliff Richard and The Shadows (1962), Joan Baez (1964), Juaneco y su Combo (1970) and now, DJ Dolores (2014).
The next chapter of the story has been written but it doesn’t end here.
Over the past year or so I have been collecting the recorded versions of ‘Mulher Rendeira’ into a table with its accompanying data, i.e. Date Recorded, Country Recorded, Label etc. Of course this data may be incomplete as it is hard to find the comprehensive records of releases from the past eighty years without travelling all over the world, conducting interviews and going through hundreds of back catalogues! Nevertheless, my findings show some fairly surprising little trends:
Versions per Country (1937 – Present)
While the most versions were obviously recorded in the song’s original home of Brazil (67), the second highest number come, surprisingly, from Germany with 18 unique recordings. Next up is the USA with 15 versions, presumably due to the song’s ties to the stateside hit film O’Cangaceiro. Why though was ‘Mulher Rendeira’ such a hit in Germany?
The first Germanic version was recorded just one year after the release of the Baretto’s international hit film in 1953 and performed by the German virtuoso jazz violinist Helmut Zacharias. Zacharias had signed a contract with Polydor in the 50s and went on to release his own versions of classic tunes to which we can attribute his version of ‘Mulher Rendeira’, released as ‘O Cangaceiro’. It is hard to find the audio of Zacharias’ original yet over the next few years in Germany the song was covered and re-released by artists like Bruce Low (1961), Bert Kaempfert (1963) and James Last (1968). The German versions vaguely resemble Zé do Norte’s arrangement in style (toning the song down and smoothing its edges somewhat) whilst the lyrics have been once more translated, this time into German.The translation of the lyrics for the original German version seems to be attributed to German arranger Hans Bradtke.
Bruce Low – Ole O’Cangaceiro
The song quickly became not only become an established easy-listening classic but also made the transition into the Schlager genre which losely translates as “Hit” and is characterised as having simple, memorable melodies, sentimental lyrics and being very poppy. ‘Ole O Cangaceiro’ was adapted by schlagerists Roy Black (1969) and Heino (1995). Perhaps due to its meloduc simplicity and slightly exotic theme, ‘Mulher Rendera’ in a German context became a popular standard. I leave you with this gem of a German cover by Tony Marshall from 2006 (the lyrics are something to do with a dancing bear?! Note how Ole becomes a signifier of Latinism) which is somehow related to the original through the melody but more on ‘Mulher Rendeira’s’ melodic journey next time!
Tony Marshall – Ole, hier tanzt der Bär
The story goes that Alberto Maravi, the former head of the Peruvian label INFOPESA, first heard ‘Mulher Rendeira’ when he was working as a DJ in Brazil. Upon his return to Peru he believed the song would make a great first single for the chicha amazonica band from Pucallpa in the Peruvian Amazon, Juaneco y su Combo. ‘Mujer Hilandera’, a Spanish translation of Zé do Norte’s Portuguese language version, was released in 1970 through INFOPESA and went on to be the band’s first major hit, translating the Brazilian folk song ‘Mulher Rendeira’ for a different culture, style, audience and language.
Musically the song corresponded to the chicha style, itself a fusion of cumbia colombiana, surf rock, psychadelia and other local/regional influences such as the Shipibo culture in the case of Juaneco y su Combo. Unlike the previous English language versions however, the Spanish version was translated almost literally and the verses removed, leaving the repeated refrain of:
Olé mujer hilandera
Olé, olé olé. (x2)
Tú me enseñas a hacer hilo
Yo te enseño a enamora
As in Brazil, the mujer hilandera, or sewing woman, was a Peruvian cultural icon and played a big part in the local and national tradition and heritage. This is in part due to the importance of textiles for many pre-hispanic cultures, whose legacy survived the colonialist period. The song therefore resonated with the Peruvian people who were able to identify with the figure of the mujer hilandera just as Brazilians identified with the mulher rendeira, a well-known symbol of north-eastern culture. The song became part of the Peruvian national repertoire, overshadowing its true roots and reshaping the song as strictly and proudly Peruvian.
After its acceptance as a chicha classic, ‘Mujer Hilandera’ was covered by many groups and often appears in chicha bands’ live sets. Perhaps the most well known contemporary recording was by Bareto on their 2003 album Cumbia. The band have been part of a recent revival of chicha music in Peru alongside the genre’s global dissemination through releases such as the recent El Sonido de Tupac Amaru and Barbés’ series of chicha re-releases including Masters of Chicha Volume I which concentrated on Juaneco y su Combo and featured their recording of ‘Mujer Hilandera’.
After the arrival of ‘The Bandit of Brazil’ to American shores through Lima Barreto’s 1953 film, the song took some rather unexpected twists and turns. These two versions offer very different takes on the song from some surprising American artists.
Joan Baez – O Cangaceiro (1964)
In 1964 American folk singer Joan Baez included her own version of ‘The Bandit of Brazil’ on her LP ‘5’. Instead of covering the English lyrics, as featured on Tex Ritter’s and The Shadows’ versions, Baez, perhaps seeking authenticity, went back to Zé do Norte’s Portuguese language arrangement. Inspired by the soundtrack to the film, Baez recorded the song as ‘O Cangaceiro’ instead of ‘Mulher Rendeira’. This simple vocals/guitar version mirrors Baez’s folk background, while her Portuguese pronunciation is much closer to the Brazilian original than other recordings by American bands, perhaps due to her Mexican heritage.
The eighth day – bandit of brazil (1967)
The second version comes from a very little known American psychedelic pop band called The Eighth Day, formerly known as The Sons of Liberty. The song appeared on the band’s one and only LP, titled (unsurprisingly) On The Eighth Day, released in 1967 and featuring the now renowned arranger/composer Artie Butler, who’s name is credited to songs such as ‘Copacabana’ and ‘What a Wonderful World’. However, frustrated by the lengthy recording process, the core members of the band (five boys from Ohio), left New York without having completed the recording of the album.
In reality, only six of the eleven tracks were actually recorded by The Eighth Day and the rest of the album, including ‘The Bandit of Brazil’, was recorded by members of a group called Opus 4. The LP went on to be released, credited to The Eighth Day, but the original members of the band disbanded and never recorded under the name again. I particularly like this version for its ‘Mexican’ feel (the soaring trumpets, the rhythm and the vocal harmonies), leading to even more confusing cultural connotations.
‘Adio..o cangachero…The bandit of Brazil’
The third chosen version of “Mulher Rendeira” is the English translation. After the success of the song in O Cangaceiro in 1953, the song soon became a hit worldwide with versions popping up all over the place. Though it is a little difficult to track down who wrote the first English translation, many seem to attribute the lyrics to Michael Carr and John Turner. The most known version in English was recorded by The Shadows and released in 1962 on their second album Out of The Shadows which reached number 1 in the UK charts:
This English version was also recorded by artists like US country singer Tex Ritter, British big band leader Frank Weir (and his saxophone..) and Chaquito and the Quedo Brass. The interesting thing is to look how the lyrics were translated. Here is a little section of the English version.
I’m the quickest on the trigger, when I shoot I shoot to kill.
I’m a hero down in Rio, where they talk about me still
Once I robbed a big ranchero, who was rich beyond compare.
And to ransom held his daughter, she was young and she was fair.
Compared to the Portuguese original it isn’t exactly translation, more like a complete rewriting. Amongst the Portuguese versions there were also new verses added and differences made but it is interesting to see how the lyrics have been adapted for an English speaking audience with, presumably little knownledge of Brazil at the time. The lyrics are almost as an accompaniment to the film, feeling pretty distant from Lampião’s original:
A pequena vai no bolso, a maior vai no embornal.
Se chora por mim não fica, só se eu não puder levar.
O fuzil de lampião, tem cinco laços de fita.
O lugar que ele habita, não falta moça bonita.
It is from here that the song begins to take on a life of its own, being transformed and reinterpreted by various artists, not to mention how it is heard and thought about differently by audiences around the world in varying contexts.
Carrying on the history of the song “Mulher Rendeira” (see Part I) we come my second selected version of the song, perhaps the most well known and most influential version which played a key part in introducing the song to the rest of the world. This version can be found on the soundtrack to Lima Bareto’s film “O Cangaceiro” released in 1953 via Veracruz Films.
The film, released in 1953, is a love story set in the harsh sertão of north eastern Brazil and the world of the cangaceiro bandits. A reformed cangaceiro falls in love with a young teacher taken captive by his band (Stockholm syndrome…) and the film follows their attempt to escape the clutches of the cruel bandit captain Ferreira, a reference to the most famous cangaceiro Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, or Lampião.
Though the film was criticised by many Brazilian intellectuals, such as Glauber Rocha, for the exotic “Holywoodisation” of the sertão reality, “O Cangaceiro” struck a chord with many critics and film goers across the world, winning the award for the Best Adventure Film at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival and going on to break box office records in Brazil and win distribution deals in 22 countries. Alfredo Ricardo do Nascimiento’s (Zé do Norte) classic score, which was inspired by the traditional music of the sertão and included his own interpretation of “Mulher Rendeira”, was also recognised by fans worldwide and indeed the Cannes jury, with the film being given a special mention for its soundtrack.
As part of my dissertation I am looking into the history of the traditional Brazilian song “Mulher Rendeira” and I thought I would share my findings with the world. I first heard it on the soundtrack to Lima Barreto’s film O Cangaceiro and when I realised “Mujer Hilandera”, by Peruvian chicha band Juaneco y su Combo , was a Spanish translation of the same song it captured my imagination and got me thinking. Since then I have found 120 versions (and counting!), in 7 languages and from 16 countries. Quite a legacy for a song written by a 1920s cowboy in the Brazilian backlands about his grandmother!
“Olé, Mulher Rendeira, Olé mulhé rendá. Tu me ensina a fazer renda, eu te ensino a namorá”
I will present a different version of the song once every month or so, a feature if you like, and give a little background to the version and try to explain just how the song found itself being sung by the likes of The Shadows, German schlager star Heino and the The San Jose State Concert Choir. Read on to hear about the beginnings of the song and to hear version 1