Son of a guitarist, Paulinho da Viola grew up in a musical atmosphere. His childhood in Botafogo, a traditional neighborhood of the southern area of Rio de Janeiro, where he was born on November 12, 1942, was full of music and history.
At that time, as there were not so many choices of industrial toys for the low middle class children, Paulinho and their friends had to be creative to have fun. The table top button soccer pieces were made of coconut, the soccer ball was made of socks and, if the police patrol car wasn’t around, the kids would play soccer in the middle of Pinheiro Guimarães street, improvising a field on it, a practice that would be unthinkable nowadays, due to the intense traffic on that thoroughfare.
Paulinho lived on that same street, with his parents, his grandparents, his brother and his godmother. It is a small and unpretentious house, still standing in that same place, one of the row of houses in an alley, as so many other houses of the neighborhood.
Paulinho's musical history begins with his father - Benedicto Cesar Ramos Faria – a guitarist who was a member of the first version of the legendary ensemble “Época de Ouro”, considered the greatest choro ensemble in history, still performing. Cesar used to play with them more for the fact that music was his calling and for fun, than for money. He provided for his family with the salary he earned as an official at the Federal Court. Musicians as Cesar, more than never, were free from trends and market demands; they made music for pleasure and because it was their calling.
Young Paulinho did not waste the opportunities to accompany his father, and for this reason he witnessed important musical sessions, some in his own house. In these gatherings, he listened to musicians like Pixinguinha, Jacob do Bandolim, Tia Amélia, Canhoto da Paraíba and many others. Growing up in such an environment, he was motivated enough to start trying to play the first chords, using his father's guitar.
Still young he often went on his own to the sessions promoted by Jacob do Bandolim, the greatest guitar virtuoso in the country, and there he hanged around, eagerly listening to the musical sessions and to the stories told by the master. Despite all this experience, Paulinho never imagined that his calling could be having a musical career; this was because even great icons of the Brazilian music, like Jacob do Bandolim himself, were not exclusively musicians.
Besides keeping in touch with the world of “choro” in his youth, Paulinho often visited his aunt's house, whose name was Trindade, in Vila Valqueire neighborhood, in the city’s outskirts. There, he joined the street parades during several carnival seasons, partying with the revelers, an experience that was crucial for his formation as a samba musician.
The samba schools and blocos (groups of revelers smaller than a samba school, but also with a theme, singing their specific sambas) represented different areas of the city. Paulinho with his friends formed the “Bloco dos Foliões” of Anália Franco Street, a group that represented his aunt's street. União de Jacarepaguá samba school, which was being formed, invited the young revelers to join the school. It was Paulinho's first contact with a samba school. In that school's rehearsal court Paulinho performed one of his first sambas, "Pode ser ilusão” (It Might be Just Wishful Thinking). But it was not just wishful thinking. His career as a samba musician, or “sambista”, had just started to take off.
Just after turning 19, Paulinho landed his first job as a bank clerk, in downtown Rio. There, he met someone that would take him to another musical world and completely change his life.
Sitting at his desk, in the beginning of 1964, Paulinho saw somebody being assisted by other clerk, and remembered that he had seen that person somewhere else. In an unusual move, for someone as shy as he was, he approached the client and started a conversation. They ended up agreeing that they had met each other at Jacob do Bandolim's, in one of those choro sessions. He was Hermínio Bello de Carvalho, a poet, who then invited Paulinho to visit him at his apartment in Catete. At Herminio's home, Paulinho had the chance to listen, for the first time, the recorded songs of samba composers like Zé Ketti, Elton Medeiros, Anescar do Salgueiro, Carlos Cachaça, Cartola. He was also encouraged enough to show Herminio some of his own sambas. Soon came the first partnership creations of both the young composer and the poet - more precisely two - one called “Duvide-o-dó” (a pun, I Doubt it Very much, or doubt the do, musical note), recorded by Isaurinha Garcia and recently rerecorded in “Sinal Aberto” (Green Light) and the other, a waltz recorded by Elizete Cardoso called “Valsa da Solidão” (Solitude Waltz).
A long partnership started with this friendship with Hermínio, as well as an invitation to know the "Zicartola", a restaurant owned by the samba musician Cartola and his wife, Lady Zica, in the traditional Carioca Street, where artists, journalists, intellectuals and other people gathered to listen to Cartola, Zé Ketti, Elton Medeiros among others. In this restaurant, Paulinho began performing his compositions and other authors’. One day, Cartola said to Paulinho: “Paulo, you are coming here, spending your time playing, without any pay whatsoever. Here, take this money, it is for you to pay your bus ticket." It was a salary, subtly paid by Cartola. It was the first payment ever received by Paulinho for his music, and coming from the hands of Cartola, of all people. So, he can be said to have started his professional career having Cartola as his manager.
Motivated by Zé Ketti, Paulinho began to compose more and show his sambas, with other composers, to possible interpreters. Along with Oscar Bigode, Zé Ketti, Anescar do Salqueiro, Nelson Sargento, Elton Medeiros and Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho left some sambas registered in a recording company, Musidisc, hoping that some interpreter might be interested in recording them. After a short while, accepting the suggestion by Luís Bittencourt, musical director of the company, these composers formed the “A voz do Morro” ensemble (Voice of the Hill), and recorded their sambas in their first record, called “Roda de Samba” (Samba Ring), in 1965. While they were recording the first album, an recording company employee asked each of the ensemble members what their respective names were. Paulinho’s answer was: "Paulo César", and the employee said: “That is not a name for a samba composer.” Later, Zé Ketti repeated this story to Sérgio Cabral, who published it in a newspaper, solving the problem. Paulinho da Viola was born.
The success of the group “A Voz do Morro” led them to record two more albums. The second one, “Roda do Samba volume 2” (Samba Ring volume 2), was issued also in 1965, and the third, “Conjunto A Voz do Morro - Os Sambistas” (The Voice of the Hill Ensemble – the Samba composers) was released in the following year.
Also in 1965, Elizete Cardoso, one of the greatest singers in the country, recorded the song "Minhas Madrugadas” (My Dawns), of Paulinho and Candeia, in the album “Elizete Sobe o Morro” (Elizete Climbs the Hill). Paulinho played as he typically did for this recording, and Elton Medeiros used his famous matchbox. Paulinho's performance in this particular track was a unique moment in the young samba player's career. He was influenced by his father's way to play in the choro ensembles, and also by the rhythm used by samba players such as Nelson Cavaquinho, a unique way of playing the instrument with a characteristic beat that Paulinho himself has ceased to use.
In late 1964, Paulinho was still attending the União de Jacarepaguá rehearsals and sessions. Oscar Bigode, percussion ensemble director for Portela samba school, whom Paulinho considered as a cousin, accompanied the young composer on Sundays, at the samba rings at União de Jacarepaguá samba school. In one of those days, with other members of Portela, Oscar invited Paulinho to know his future school. On the following Sunday, Paulinho met the composers' team of the school, performing the first part of a samba. Before Monarco, Candeia, Casquinha, Ventura and many others, Paulinho sang his composition. Casquinha, soon afterwards, came up with the second part, having thus helped to create the samba "Recado" (Message). It was the first one by Paulinho in Portela, recorded for the first time by the “A Voz do Morro” ensemble in their second album.
Paulinho was soon incorporated into Portela's composers' team. In 1965, he paraded for the school, and in 1966 he performed at the rehearsal court, as a theme for carnival, the samba “Memórias de um Sargento de Milícias” (Memoirs of a Militia Sargeant). The music was chosen to be Portela's theme samba for that year. The school was carnival champion, and Paulinho's samba received the highest grades from the judging panel. Martinho da Vila recorded this samba in 1971.
Paulinho was already completely accepted by his school. Until today, he is respected as one of the greatest Portela members in history.
Hermínio Bello de Carvalho and Kleber Santos conducted and produced the “Rosa de Ouro” (Golden Rose) show, in 1965. This show introduced Clementina de Jesus, already in her mid-sixties. Paulinho performed, with Aracy Cortês, Elton Medeiros, Jair do Cavaquinho, Nelson Sargento and Nescarzinho do Salqueiro, besides Clementina. Two albums resulted from the “Rosa de Ouro” show. The first was called “Rosa de Ouro” (Golden Rose), released by Odeon Records in the same year, and “Rosa de Ouro” number 2 was released in 1967.
Paulinho's partnerships went on, and in 1966 he was called to record with Elton Medeiros the album “Na Madrugada” (Late at Night). Released by RGE, “Na Madrugada” has successes such as: “14 anos” (14 Years), ”Minhas Madrugadas” (My Dawns), “Recado” (Message), “Jurar com Lágrimas” (Swearing Through Tears), “Rosa de Ouro” (Golden Rose) and “O Sol Nascerá” (The Sun will Rise), this last one by Elton Medeiros having Cartola as his partner.
During that same year of 1966, Hermínio Bello de Carvalho decided to surprise Paulinho enrolling the song "Sei Lá Mangueira" (I Don't Know, Mangueira) in the first edition of the historical festival of Brazilian popular music set up by TV Record. Paulinho's song carried Herminio's words, praising Manqueira, a samba school that was an opponent to Portela. Paulinho was startled when he heard the words, for he did not want to be one of the authors of the song that praised an opponent to his school. But that is another story. The music got a third place, sung by Elza Soares, and people at Portela started to see Paulinho in a different way.
The experience of the festival left as an obligation to Paulinho to compose a samba honoring Portela.
The first solo album was released in 1968. Paulinho was already relatively famous, for his participation in the “Rosa de Ouro” show and album, in “Na Madrugada” record, for his songs recorded by Elizete Cardoso and Isaurinha, and also for the song in the 1966 Music Festival. ODEON musical director, Milton Miranda, planned to hire Paulinho as a singer, and not necessarily a composer. That is the reason why, in his first solo album, named after his name, Paulinho sings just a few of his songs. The period when he was recording for Odeon was one of the most fertile of his career. It started in 1968 and ended in 1980. Eleven albums were released while he was in Odeon.
Still in 1968, Paulinho enrolled “Coisas do Mundo, Minha Nega” (Things of Life, My Brown Baby) in the first festival of samba of TV Tupi. The song scored sixth sung by Jair Rodrigues, who considers it his favorite samba.
In the year of 1969, Paulinho won TV Record last festival with “Sinal Fechado” (Red Light). He was first place in the Brazilian Popular Music Monthly Fair with “Nada de Novo” (Nothing New) beside “Que Maravilha” (What a Wonder) of Toquinho and Jorge Ben. After some months, in that same fair, he released his greatest hit until today, "Foi um Rio que Passou em Minha Vida" (It Was A River That Crossed my Life). In that same year, Paulinho released a single with four songs: “Sinal Fechado”, “Foi um Rio que Passou em Minha Vida", “Ruas que Sonhei” (Streets of Which I Dreamed) and “Nada de Novo”.
"Foi um Rio que Passou em Minha Vida" became the greatest 1970 hit. It was on the top of all charts in the whole country and Paulinho became known all over Brazil. This was the answer that Portela was waiting since the samba "Sei Lá Mangueira", released years before. Paulinho's answer came as a national success and it became a real anthem to his samba school. That is the most well-known music of his whole career, and in 2000 was elected one of the 30 most important songs in history, by the largest television net in the country, Rede Globo.
Throughout the seventies, Paulinho released records every year. In two occasions, he even released two albums in the same year. During this period, he set up shows like “Sarau” (Soirée), “Vela no Breu” (Candle in the Pitch) and “Zumbido” ("Buzzing").
In 1981, already as an acclaimed musician, Paulinho released his first album for Warner Records, and, one year later, “A Toda Hora Rola Uma História” (One Story Is Told Every Few Seconds) and in 1983, he released his last album, “Prisma Luminoso” (Luminous Prism), one of the favorites of the author until today.
After releasing this album, Paulinho did not feel like to follow the marketing rules any more, and having to adjust his work to new trends. It was impossible for him to compose samba according to trends, in the same way as his father had never made music to be consumed by the market. The recording companies started to invest heavily in the so-called Brazilian Rock, that was becoming popular. Nevertheless, in 1984, due to the demand for samba on the part of the public, a new generation of samba singers and composers came around with a style called “Pagode”. Samba musicians like Zeca Pagodinho, Jovelina Pérola Negra, Almir Guineto, started to become famous, among others.
But Paulinho did not stop. He slowed down and started making still more refined albums. In 1989, he released “Eu Canto Samba” (I Sing Samba), an album that was conceived as classical and had excellent acceptance both by critics and the public. Paulinho received four Sharp awards for this album in that year.
In the nineties, something interesting happened. Paulinho turned to be considered so sophisticated that, despite doing the purest samba, he was seen as a very unique musician by the crowds. He fell away a little from his original audiences, not willingly, but due to media requirements. In 1996, he returned to the studios and recorded the album that was considered one of the most important albums of the history of samba, “Bebadosamba” (Drunk with Samba or Drink the Samba). It was the record-breaking record in Sharp awards in the year of 1997, the greatest Brazilian music prize in the nineties, of which Paulinho is one of the record breakers with nine trophies, having participated with only two albums.
From 1996 up to now, Paulinho set up the show “Bebadosamba”, audience record in Rio de Janeiro and released two more albums live recorded: “Bebadachama” (Drunk with the Flame or Drink the Flame), in 1997, recorded in the show “Bebadosamba”, and “Sinal Aberto” (Green Light), in 1999, having Toquinho as his partner. His last international performance was in Paris, in a Brazilian music festival, where the day his show was performed was considered the fullest house in La Villete up to then, in 2000.
At any moment, this samba musician with almost 40 years of career might come up with one more album affirming his music and history, as well as proving once again that his creativity does not allow him to revive anything in the same way. He feels there is always the need to do more. Many critics define Paulinho da Viola’s work as a bridge between tradition and modernity. As he himself says: "I don't live in the past, the past lives in me". This is the way he recreates his music without looking back.