Clementina de Jesus
Born in Valença, State of Rio de Janeiro, on February 7 1902. As a young girl, CLEMENTINA DE JESUS often lit her mother's tobacco pipe, a habitual gesture that preceded the washing of clothes. While washing, D. Amália would sing lundus, jongos, corimas, modas, incelenÉas, pontos, chulas and working songs, melodies that were stored in her daughter's memory for nearly 50 years.
A rough diamond could be the way to define this singer who started her professional career at age 48 after working as a maid ( in the same household ) for over 20 years. At her work place, all enjoyed her singing while she washed, ironed and prepared the meals, except the missus, who would remark that Clementina's voice irritated her because it sounded like a cat's "meaow". Her coarse voice together with a mostly recited singing mode were out of any conventional style, and up until today there are no parallels between Brazilian singers and her. Her peculiar style and theway in which she integrates her body and voice could be compared to African American singers like Bessie Smith.
Clementina's songs rich in African rhythms and prose brought to light the fascinating folklore of the Terreiros ( places where African rituals are performed ) to the urban and contemporary language. Clementina embodied a multicultural country rich with African and European traditions. From the prayers in jeje and nago, and the singing in iorubá which she learned from her mother to the catholic hymns she sang in the church choir; from the pontos de Candomblé to the Samba de Roda she used to sing at parties, she reflected nothing less than the soul of her country. She was one of Brazil's most important musical personalities of this century.
In 1963 she was invited by Herminio Bello de Carvalho, who heard her before at a party, to go up on stage of the Teatro Jovem, in Botafogo/Rio de Janeiro opening the movement/performance "Menestrel", which unified classical and popular styles. Turíbio Santos, one of Brazil's most prominent classical guitarist accompanied her. The repercussion was tremendous, and inspired Carvalho to create a sequence - Rosa de Ouro - (Golden Rose). In this, Clementina worked with variety artists such as Araci Cortes, and had young talents like Paulinho da Viola, Elton Medeiros, Nelson Sargento to accompany her. Clementina de Jesus did not go to school to learn vocal technique, but did learn or better yet, developed her singing while working on a daily basis. "Tina" or "Quele" as her friends called her, recorded nine albums and three singles ( currently almost impossible to find in Brazil ) and participated in other artists albums like Milton Nascimento.
This Afro-Brazilian wonder performed in Africa and Europe, as well. She even sang Marselhesa, the French national hymn, in France. She was not a great sales performer and like Carlos Calado stated: "It is ironic and sad, but in some countries the fake jewels are more precious than rough diamonds" Tina, or Quele, died in poverty on July of 1987, leaving an emptiness in our hearts. What she also left us and to generations to come was the perpetual mark and reminiscence of a people: the African Brazilian people.
Illustration: Henfil; Photo: Mario Luiz Thompson. Research and text: Adyel Ferreira da Silva; Translation: Brazilianmusic.com; Translation revision: Jonny Dieb.