Highlights of Musical

About the works

The Coming Decline of Frevo

Tambourine Playing in Brazil

The African Influence in Brazilian Music

Frevo Steps and Music

Art and Artists

In Terms of Music from São Paulo

A Mistaken Analysis of a Brazilian Rhythm

Scales in Brazilian Folk Music

The Indians of Petrópolis

Índios or Cabôcos of Petrópolis

Notes on Playing Marbles

Variations on the Boi

Variations on the Baião

Variations on the Maxixe






O Tempo – São Paulo, September 26, 1954.


        Not perceiving the difference between the maxixe and the tango, Mario de Andrade considered both applicable to the works of Ernesto Nazaré and Marcelo Tupinambá, but without sufficient clarification for us to see the diversity they were instinctively attributed. Based on scant and vague information from the first of those two composers, the much-missed author of Ensaio Sobre Música Brasileira quoted him: tangos “are not as low.” The writer commented that Nazaré himself was appalled at the indiscriminate way his tangos were called maxixes. [Let the reader note that this is not the tango from Argentina, but rather a form of Brazilian popular music for dancing, widely played in rural areas of Brazil.] The unforgettable master from São Paulo, however, hit the nail on the head when he dated the maxixe from between 1870 and 1880. The relevant existing documents constitute the best source for confirming this.

        By the early 20th century, a large number of maxixes – like our tangos – had been released in Rio de Janeiro, at a time when the bourgeois and non-bourgeois alike were still in the habit of keeping a piano in the parlor, at least for decorative purposes. This was also the period when many songs “for piano” were released and played for silent films: waltzes, quadrilles, polkas, dobrados, etc.

        One version of the maxixe’s origins goes like this: A certain Maxixe became widely successful performing the wiggles and swings from the peoples’ dancing; the dance was then performed in a Rio de Janeiro theater from where it spread. I am not satisfied with this explanation [This widely publicized version was reportedly from Villa-Lobos...]. However, another theory that attributes the maxixe’s roots to Rio seems like a stretch as well. In my view, the story of its stylistic development goes like this:

        It was in Rio de Janeiro that the chorões of old found the most receptive audiences for their serenades. The choro, with the quintessentially folk appeal of its instrumental ensemble, was also characterized by that mixed-breed originality Brazilians introduced in the guitar baixaria [bass countermelody on the instrument], from the modinha to the polkas, and more recently the choros [as a musical form]. This baixaria, so popular during that romantic era, would have found its way into the music of public dances, which were called maxixes – in contemporary language, gafieiras. The band musicians, who were often the same ones playing at the public dances, would certainly apply this urban counterpoint to their instrumentation, whether written or improvised. They included this baixaria, sometimes emphasizing it, in the tango introductions, where the low instruments highlighted it. It was so well received that sometime they played the main melody low while the remaining instruments, in middle and high registers, became secondary in that section of the music.

        In addition to applying the guitar baixaria to trombone, bombardon, ophicleide, tuba, etc..., it won a place in the “beat” characteristic of Rio’s piano players from the maxixe period. Ernesto Nazaré knew well how to make the most of this authentic folk creation.

        Renato Almeida emphasizes that the guitar is largely an urban instrument, although it is found in rural areas. I don’t think the guitar is so well accepted in rural areas; people seem to prefer the viola to accompany their singing, which is actually very different than urban singing. Perhaps this is why the tango from rural areas – at least in and north of Bahia – did not and does not feature the old guitar baixaria from Rio. I heard the bandas-de-pife and accordion players play a lot of tangos, but never did I hear that baixaria. Even reviewing the tangos published in old Recife, where hits by Rio songwriters were frequently performed, I rarely came across it. What is significant is that I never found music in the Northeast published with the name maxixe, although the word indicates there, like in Rio, the community dance in popular slang.

         Both Ernesto Nazaré and Sinhô [...]

        All these writers and many others used just one name for the musical form in discussion: tango, and sometimes its diminutive tanguinho. Nonetheless, some composers called some songs of this type “maxixes.” There are definitely cases were works were billed with the mixed name “tango-maxixes,” by Chiquinha Gonzaga, for example. This exception seems meant to confirm the rule, as the artist used this to indicate she wanted her tango played in a maxixe way. I think at one time artists gave their tangosthe subtitle maxixe to indicate their intent: exaggeration of the bass, perhaps. Another indication in support of these deductions is the exuberant baixaria grafted into the work of today’s folk or faddish composers – or radio or revue orchestrators – when they want to imitate the maxixe’s tantalizing swing and ridicule its form and style and caricature the generations that created it, all in an over-the-top burlesque. [1]

        The tango’s structure is unique – a simple accompanied melody; that of the maxixe is complex – the baixaria counterpointing a melody, melodic passages like counterpoint or variations and in some cases the baixaria taking the lead role. Both suggest Afro-European roots via a rhythmic blend of polka and lundu elements in the context of an A-B-A-C-A structure. However, some anonymous songwriters did not adhere to this structure, but rather left us with some of the more folksy tangos in a reduced A-B-A structure.

        In conclusion, the difference between the tango and the maxixe reflects uniquely stylistic values. It must be understood considering when and where the composers worked.

        It is from a by-gone era of popular music - even for Carnival – but I heard the guitar baixaria two years ago. In Rio de Janeiro [in Meyer], one Bohemian accompanied another, who sang slow, unfamiliar sambas. In open decadence, this is being replaced by the uninspired impressionistic harmonics of commercial “jazz” [?], according to criteria shockingly disconnected from the melodic character of the few songs that could still be considered likeable.

  [1] Undoubtedly we will find a lot of music published in the past under the name “maxixe” that did not have the distinct characteristics we have just outlined.