"Meu tempo é hoje. Eu não vivo
no pasado. O passado vive em mim."
("My time is now. I don't live in the past. The past lives in
—Paulinho da Viola
This phrase—spoken softly, unassumingly in the biographical
documentary Meu tempo é hoje (2003) by Izabel
Jaguaribe—is a perfect summation of Paulinho da Viola's style:
deceptively simple, elegant, and profound.
It is also a clear, succinct explanation of his philosophy
regarding tradition and change. "A memory is not something that
must be kept prisoner of a distant notion of the past, but a way to
keep present values and events that happened in another time," he
elaborates in an interview. "It's not some nostalgic notion. I have
no desire of going back or reviving something that happened a long
time ago. But I want to keep elements alive that have contributed
to making us who we are, that have set our path."
He was born Paulo Cesar Batista de Faria in Botafogo, a traditional
neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. His father, guitarist Benedicto
Cesar Ramos de Faria, was a member of Época de Ouro—considered by
many to be the greatest choro ensemble in history. Not
surprisingly, as a budding guitarist and future master sambista, da
Viola grew up alongside several of the greatest musicians of his
time, including guitar virtuoso Jacob do Bandolim.
His memories harken back to some of the most creative playing and
writing in popular music history. But still, da Viola believes that
tradition is a living thing that is kept alive by change. "A
tradition is preserved by the people as long as it has a place in
the universe in which it was created," he says. "Otherwise, it's a
job for historians and the curious. The tradition of samba is alive
today because it continues to express the feelings of our people.
But change in samba is inevitable, as it is for any living form of
In fact, da Viola himself has (from time to time) strayed from
samba; he notes that he has mixed other styles into his
compositions, and that songs such as "Sinal fechado" and "Roendo as
unhas" are "not properly sambas." But he also remarks that beyond a
certain syncopation and a binary time, "there are no rules or set
models, but everybody recognizes the samba by its rhythm." And
ultimately, what remains at its essence is a certain spirit.
"Initially, samba might seem like the manifestation of a
superficial happiness—a simple enthusiasm, but samba is not only
that," da Viola explains. "Samba deals with suffering, loss, and
also the pleasures of life, but does it in a unique manner, a
comforting way that is often lyrical, that makes us feel better
about life's challenges. That is what I want to communicate with my
—Fernando González is an independent music writer and critic whose
work appears regularly in The Miami Herald,
JazzTimes, and The International Review of
Special thanks to João Rabello for his invaluable assistance with