Os Tincoãs were almost forgotten. A new generation found their music.
By Carlos Albuquerque
In May, a crowd of 3,000 filled the Utopia Warehouse at the old port of Rio de Janeiro for the opening night of Back2Black, a festival dedicated to Black culture. A figure dressed in white sat onstage, guitar in hand, and the imposing baritone voice of Mateus Aleluia — the only active member of Os Tincoãs, a group from Bahia, Brazil, revered for its heavenly vocal harmonies and songs about the Yoruba mythology — reverberated throughout the venue. He sang about birds, waterfalls and mystical beings. And also about oppression, suffering and the pain of racism.
When Aleluia suddenly stopped singing and opened his arms, the crowd understood the signal and sang back to him the lyrics of “Cordeiro de Nanã,” the band’s 1977 lament about slavery. “You guys know the lyrics better than I do,” he said with a smile, and left the stage to cheers, leaning on a crutch.
“Because of my age, I represent prudence, and those kids who showed up to sing with me on the show represent impetus. I think it’s a good match,” Aleluia said by phone the day after the concert. (He turns 80 this month; he declined to specify the date.)
Despite the singalong, Os Tincoãs were never pop stars in Brazil. Far from it. The group comes from Cachoeira, in the Bahia countryside, a city that housed a large concentration of enslaved people cultivating sugar cane during the 16th century. Their three main albums, “Os Tincoãs” (1973), “O Africanto dos Tincoãs” (1975) and “Os Tincoãs” (1977), were not successful when they were released, and the band split in the early 1980s. But now, Os Tincoãs — which took its name from a bird with a long tail and a call similar to the moan of a cat that’s common in the forests around Cachoeira — is being rediscovered by Brazilian audiences and a new generation of artists. And “Canto Coral Afrobrasileiro,” an album recorded 40 years ago, has finally been released.
This “lost” Tincoãs album features the band accompanied by a traditional choir, the Coral dos Correios e Telégrafos do Rio de Janeiro. The idea came from Os Tincoãs’ producer at the time, radio DJ and researcher Adelzon Alves, who dreamed of creating a kind of Afro-Brazilian gospel.
“We noticed that there was a link between the sugar cane fields we have in Cachoeira and the cotton plantations in the USA South,” Aleluia said in an earlier interview at a hotel in Copacabana, a district of Rio de Janeiro, in February. “Adelzon helped us realize that there was a lot in common between Africa on this side and Africa on that side.”
“The difference is in the way we relate to religion,” he added. “In Brazil, we always look for syncretisms and kinships. That’s why we linked the Afro with the Baroque in the Tincoãs’ songs. And on this album, the idea was that we had our voices multiplied with the help of the choir.”
Os Tincoãs started out performing boleros in 1961. Their first album, “Meu Último Bolero” from 1962, was recorded in Rio with Dadinho (guitar and vocals), Heraldo (percussion and vocals) and Erivaldo (percussion and vocals). When the group returned to Cachoeira and took a decadelong pause from recording, each member focused on activities outside music. Os Tincoãs resurfaced in 1973 with Aleluia, who was a teacher, replacing Erivaldo.
The band put the boleros aside and renewed its repertoire, adopting the sound that would bring it a cult audience: beautiful vocal harmonies (think the Beach Boys in Bahia) and a mix of samba and capoeira chants and spiritual songs, written in Portuguese and Yoruba, which evoked the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé.
“Os Tincoãs have always enchanted me since I was a little girl when I heard my mother sing the group’s songs,” said Margareth Menezes, Brazil’s minister of culture, who is also a musician, in a phone interview. “They represent the African roots of Brazilian music.”
Despite critical praise, appearances at festivals and the recognition of artists like João Gilberto — who recorded a version of the group’s “Cordeiro de Nanã” alongside Maria Bethânia, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil — Os Tincoãs did not take off. In 1983, the group (with a new member, Badu, replacing Heraldo) traveled to Angola, accompanying the sambista Martinho da Vila. The tour was supposed to last a week, but Aleluia and Dadinho decided to stay in the African country after the shows.
“We found another Bahia in Angola,” Aleluia explained. Dissatisfied with the duo’s decision, Badu returned to Brazil, precipitating the end of the group.
During the almost 20 years that Aleluia lived in Angola, he worked as a researcher and art teacher. Dadinho, who had opened a bakery in Luanda, the capital, died in 2000 of a stroke. With their three main albums out of circulation, Os Tincoãs seemed doomed to be forgotten.
But in the 2000s, record diggers and DJs began to compete for the few available vinyl copies of the band’s albums in Rio, Sao Paulo and Salvador record stores. Little by little, its music began to echo in the work of artists from new generations, such as the Afrobeat group Bixiga 70 and rappers Criolo and Emicida, who sought to bring more Brazilian elements to their work.
“Os Tincoãs revolutionized Brazilian music by harmonizing Afro-religious singing,” Emicida, 37, said in an email interview. “They represent an insurgent Brazil that, despite being a victim of the worst colonial ills, never gave up on producing beauty. The group’s work is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for me, even more so now when the country is experiencing recognition of Black culture.”
Last year, DJ and producer Diogo Strausz, 33, released a groovy version of “Deixa a Gira Girar,” a classic from Os Tincoãs’ repertoire. “The combination of atabaques,” a tall hand drum, “with voices that remind me of Bach choirs made by the Tincoãs is very powerful and current,” he said in a phone interview. “And ‘Deixa a Gira Girar’ is a song about the plurality of beliefs. It has a lot to do with the sense of communion that we seek on the dance floor.”
With this wave of newfound appreciation, Os Tincoãs are “returning” with “Canto Coral Afrobrasileiro,” a release made possible because Aleluia kept the master tape he received from Adelzon as soon as he returned from Angola, in 2002. Between 2010 and 2021, he released five solo albums including “Afrocanto das Nações,” which was nominated for a 2021 Latin Grammy.
“Os Tincoãs’ story was never linear,” Aleluia said. “We always bounce back in time. This new record comes from one of those gaps in time. I don’t even know if it represents an arrival somewhere, because in life we’re always walking. We only stop when we surrender the spirit.”