No tempo de Zicartola: Locating Cultural Mediation and Social Change, 1963–65
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No tempo de Zicartola:
Locating Cultural Mediation and Social Change, 1963–65

In 1960s Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian white middle class embraced the samba music written by working-class blacks as a source of authentic national culture. Cultural mediators, or individuals that bridged sociocultural spheres and negotiated the terms in which work was produced and circulated, were essential to samba’s mainstream acceptance. This article examines how the Rio de Janeiro bar and restaurant Zicartola functioned as an alternative space of encounter during a period of social and political upheaval. Following the trajectories of musicians Nara Leão, Paulinho da Viola, and Clementina de Jesus, the article traces Zicartola’s position as conduit for the exchange that occurred between the middle and working classes between 1963 and 1965. Although cultural mediation is often framed as a way to bridge differences between disparate communities founded on differences in race and social class, these interactions only cause transformations on an individual scale while reaffirming the imbalance of power through the unequal distribution of social and cultural resources.


Brazilian popular music/música popular brasileira, Clementina de Jesus, cultural mediation/mediação cultural, national identity/identidade nacional, race relations/relações raciais, social change/transformação social, Zicartola

Zicartola was a restaurant and bar in early 1960s Rio de Janeiro where like-minded artists and fans congregated to socialize, network, and collaborate with one another. Operating for two short years between 1963 and 1965 on the upper floor of an old colonial building at Rua da Carioca, 53, the eponymous Zicartola combined the names of owners Cartola, a respected older samba composer and musician, and his common-law wife Dona Zica. This period also marked a dramatic transformation in Brazilian socio-political life, most notably given social unrest of the early 1960s, the coup d’état that took place in April 1964, and the subsequent military dictatorship that would hold power until 1985. Through an examination of interactions between artists and cultural producers that took place at Zicartola, this article demonstrates that the restaurant was a crucial site for the continued development of a particular form of Brazilian national identity that was based on a romanticized view of working class Afro-Brazilian culture. The context of Zicartola revealed the limits of cultural mediation, a continuous bilateral process of exchange between individuals of different class groups, neighborhoods, and racial backgrounds. This paper argues that although cultural mediation is framed as a tool for social transformation, it only produced limited change, instead reaffirming existing power structures built along lines of race and social class.

Cartola (born Agenor de Oliveira [1908–80]) was a notorious Rio de Janeiro sambista who sold his compositions to popular singers that would record them for commercial sale and radio airplay during a period when this was common practice. After years of hosting informal samba gatherings at the home that he shared with Dona Zica (born Euzébia Silva do Nascimento, 1913–2003), Zica and Cartola opened the restaurant with the financial and administrative [End Page 439] support of local businessmen Eugênio Agostini and his cousins (Agenor de Oliveira interview).1 Zicartola became a fruitful space for interactions between intellectuals, left-wing activists, university students, bossa nova musicians, and working-class sambistas (Castro n.p., Fernandes “Rainha” 138, Shaw Social History 55). The bar was located in downtown Rio between the Zona Norte (the industrial working-class northern part of the city) and the Zona Sul (the middle-class residential area near the beaches), which facilitated encounters between individuals from different neighborhoods. These encounters encouraged the development of musical careers, new forms of political engagement and popular expression, and ideas about samba’s relation to class, race, and national identity.

A largely twentieth-century musical phenomenon, samba emerged at the turn of the century in Rio de Janeiro’s isolated and mostly black morros and favelas as a hybrid cultural manifestation that borrowed from other popular styles like maxixe and lundu. In the 1910s, samba’s reach and popularity grew in part due to infamous parties held in the homes of Tia Ciata and other tias baianas that attracted mixed-race crowds with different...