Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro
Born Carlos de Oliveira, Carlinhos grew up in Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s. He was immersed in samba, a style of music with roots in both Africa and Portugal. Its most famous expression is in the poor and working-class neighborhoods surrounding Rio, called favelas, which host performing associations known as samba schools. These groups compete every year in Rio’s spectacular Carnaval parade, with thousands of dancers in feathered costumes and hundreds of drummers playing samba rhythms.
One drum that can perform all the rhythms of the samba is Brazil’s national instrument, the pandeiro. (The pandeiro is a tunable tambourine, played with a different technique than in North American music.)
Carlinhos took up the pandeiro at age seven, starting with one of his mother’s cake pans. He visited the favelas to absorb samba styles, particularly at one of the greatest samba schools, GRES Estação Primeira de Mangueira. Carlinhos would join in during rehearsals, and he soon came to the attention of Mangueira’s legendary singer, Jamelão, who invited Carlinhos to become a performing member of Mangueira, a high honor.
Carlinhos’s pandeiro playing became quite theatrical, with unprecedented juggling and stunts (known as malabarismo). Soon Carlinhos was performing professionally, working with most important musicians and composers in Rio.
In 1966, Brazil held a national contest to find the country’s best pandeiro player. Carlinhos out-performed 500 other players to win the first ‘Golden Tambourine’ award, thereby becoming known as Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro. With this recognition, Carlinhos represented Brazil in performances before the Japanese royal family, the Swedish royal family, and also in a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip of England.
Carlinhos has had a wide-ranging career as a percussionist, appearing in Brazilian films, on Brazilian television, and performing around the world with Herbie Mann, Sergio Mendes, Sadao Watanabe, Ed Thigpen, Toots Thielemans, Martinho da Vila, Beth Carvalho, Maria Bethania, and many more.
Carlinhos married an American singer in 1983, moved to Hawaii, and raised a family. For the last three decades, he has led parades, performed with numerous American samba bands, and taught ‘classic’ Rio-style samba to thousands of students. Today, Carlinhos lives in Los Angeles, performing nationally and teaching locally, at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. He is a recipient of awards from the Durfee Foundation, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles.
On Friday, June 24, 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that Carlinhos was one of 2011’s NEA National Heritage Fellowship Recipients.