A biography like so many others

Clementina's life would have passed unnoticed if it wasn't for a definitive meeting - and Brazil would be lacking part of its musical history

Nana Vaz de Castro
In the libretto that comes along with the CDs, the text written by journalist Lena Frias states that the box set is for the celebration of Clementina's 100 years of age. But nobody knows exactly when she was born. 1901, 1902, 1907... it is impossible to set a date. On a recorded testimony, the singer says that she was born in 1902, although the marriage certificate (she married Albino Correia da Silva, a.k.a Pé Grande) brings the year 1907. But her christening certificate is from 1901. It doesn't make much of a difference. It is known that Clementina's mother, Amélia, was born free, and that her grandmother, Tia Mina came from Africa, bringing along the music that would be passed on to her granddaughter.

Clementina was born in a small town in the countryside of the state of Rio de Janeiro, and moved with her family to the capital as a child. From the mix of African songs taught by her grandmother with religious hymns passed on by her mother, Clementina built up her musical syncretism. But the heterodoxy would be only musical. Although she would be wearing white all the time - just like the followers of African-Brazilian religions like Candomblé and Umbanda -, Clementina was a devoted catholic. She could be seen in candomblé temples, but she would hang out in those places for the music, to sing. Still, she bore scars on her chest that were made during a candomblé ritual for spiritual protection.

After her father died, Clementina's family's financial situation went on a downward spiral, and she started to work at age 14 as a house maid, cleaning lady and cook. But she kept hanging out with samba musicians, adopting samba school Mangueira as her favorite when she married her first husband, Albino "Pé Grande", with whom she lived for 40 years, until his death in 1977. They had a daughter named Olga.

A star by chance
Clementina's biography wouldn't differ much from so many others if it wasn't for the crucial encounter with Hermínio Bello de Carvalho on August 15th, 1963. He was 28 years old, walking back home from the beach when he passed by a restaurant and saw Celemntina, along with her husband and some friends, singing and improvising quite casually. The musical producer stood there, fascinated, but he couldn't get in in a bathing suit.

He saw her again her some time later, upon the opening of the legendary bar Zicartola (which belonged to Cartola and his wife, Dona Zica), singing in the kitchen, a pint of beer in hand. And he simply lost her again. In 1964, there she was one more time at the same restaurant where he had first seen her. This time around, though, he got in and introduced himself to her, beginning a definitive relationship between the two.

Clementina's worldwide debut happened on December 7th, 1964, sharing the stage with classical guitarist Turíbio Santos. It was during a series of concerts conceived by Hermínio, whose goal was to promote meetings between classical and popular musicians. First, Turíbio performed Mozart and Villa-Lobos pieces. Then, Clementina took the stage, scarying and enthralling the audience with her nasal voice, accompanied by César Faria, Elton Medeiros and Paulinho da Viola.

Paulinho, by the way, places Clementina as one of his top five singers. "Everything that is said about Clementina does not portray the real dimension of her presence. To hear her sing, sitting down in her white dress, was so utterly fascinating and hard to translate into words. It is necessary to hear the timbre of her voice. Clementina is unique and no one compares to her. Singers like her, Dona Ivone Lara and Jovelina Pérola Negra represent the richness of a neglected universe, or, more precisely, a disregarded universe. What these women represent is part of the richness of our lives, but it is sometimes referred to as something exotic, because it is not understood. Enjoying it, feeling it, makes us have to accept other things, enjoy different things. People want to keep their distance, place such manifestations on another level, as if these things were not part of ourselves. It is like looking in the mirror and finding imperfections, not liking something that is part of the person. Clementina represents a particular aspect of the black culture in Brazil", says Paulinho, who had two of his songs (Na Linha do Mar and Essa Nega Pede Mais) featured in the album Marinheiro Só.

More Brazilian every other 15 minutes
Clementina used to gather fans from various musical backgrounds. Classical composers, classical music critics and writers like Nelson Rodrigues, who said that "(...)Clementina wakes up more Brazilian every morning (more Brazilian every 15 minutes)", all were seduced by her non-filtered vocal power.

"The connection between our African heritage and her extraordinary vocal capacity is amazing. She was an incredible interpreter", says Turíbio Santos, who regards Clementina as a sort of local Louis Armstrong. Her repertoire, wide chunks of it having been recovered by the singer herself, from the memory of religious parties that she carried , was a perfectly academic example of the influence of oral tradition upon Afro-Brazilian cultures. Thus, Clementina started being regarded as a type of lost link between Africa and Brazil.

"Her cultural importance is huge, both as an interpreter and because of her repertoire. She was more into jongo and partido-alto than into samba, and the rescue of such rhythms can be partly credited to her. She lies right on the border of popular music and folk music", says Elton Medeiros, who accompanied Clementina for many years, ever since her professional debut.

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