Instrumentalist, arranger and composer Severino Dias de Oliveira, known artistically as Sivuca, was born in Itabaiana, a town in the interior of Paraíba, on 26 May 1930, to José Dias de Oliveira and Abdólia Albertina de Oliveira. Unlike the large part of musicians who learnt to play a musical instrument with family members as children, Sivuca was self-taught, as in his home nothing was seen or heard relating to music. His father was a farmer and also worked with leather in the manufacturing of saddles. His brothers were shoemakers and he believed that if he hadn’t studied music, he would have been destined to be another shoemaker in the family. His vocation was far stronger than any other tendency.
Such affirmation is proven by his story. On 13 June 1939, his father brought home an accordion and two basses for his brother. From then on, until he was fourteen, Sivuca played the accordion to brighten up countryside weddings and parties.
His professional career began at the age of fifteen in 1945, in Recife. At the Santa Isabel Theatre he watched the first symphonic concert of the Recife Symphonic Orchestra. This opened the doors to a music world Sivuca had never known about. Later, he had the opportunity to take his first musical theory lessons with the Orchestra’s clarinettist, Lourival de Oliveira.
Still in 1945, he enrolled in a newcomers programme at Rádio Clube de Pernambuco and the person responsible for inscription and selection was maestro Nelson Ferreira (composer, violinist, pianist and Pernambuco conductor). When the maestro heard the sound of Sivuca’s accordion he recommended that he played on a radio show the following day. It was Nelson Ferreira who gave him the name Sivuca. In his opinion, ‘Severino Dias de Oliveira’ sounded like a commercial business from the countryside and was too big to be an artistic name.
At Rádio Clube de Pernambuco in 1946, Sivuca met Luiz Gonzaga. Gonzaga really liked what he heard when Sivuca played the accordion. He liked it so much that, a week later, he sent a telegram offering a contract to work at Rádio Nacional. At that time he could not leave Recife, having signed a contract with Rádio Clube. However, four years later (1950) he debuted on Rádio Record in São Paulo, with the great Orquestra Record, conducted by maestro Gabriel Migliori.
In 1948 he learnt arrangement and composition with maestro Guerra-Peixe (composer, arranger and musicologist from Rio de Janeiro) who also set him on the way in the art of orchestration. That same year he signed a contract with Rádio Jornal do Commercio, Recife.
In 1950 he recorded, with Humberto Teixeira, his first album for the label Continental. He set up residence in Rio de Janeiro (1955) and from 1955-1958 he was contracted by the network Associadas de Radio e Televisão Tupi. In this period he composed Homenagem à Velha Guarda (Homage to the Old Guard) and, with Humberto Teixeira, Adeus Maria Fulô (Farewell Maria Fulô) and Fogo Pagô. He created arrangements and soundtracks for films of Roberto Farias: Rico ri à-toa and No mundo da lua (In the World of the Moon) and played on the LP (long play, vinyl record) of Altamiro Carrilho in 1957.
The Humberto Teixeira Law, signed by President Juscelino Kubitschek in 1957, which established the promotion of Brazilian music abroad, enabled Sivuca to head to Europe. At the time, Sivuca was part of the group Os Brasileiros (The Brazilians), which also included Guio de Moraes, Trio Irakitan, Abel Ferreira, Dimas and Pernambuco. They performed at the Olympia de Paris, London Palladium and the International Exposition in Brussels (1958). Sivuca remained in Europe for several years. During this time he recorded his first album in Europe and gave shows in Belgium, Switzerland and the south of France.
On his return to Brazil in1964, he was invited to go to the United States. His intention was to spend six months there, but ended up staying for 13 years. In this period he worked as a guitarist for the group of the African singer Miriam Makeba (1965-1969) and travelled with her to Africa, Europe and Asia. He recorded three albums and gained international success as an arranger and instrumentalist.
He worked with various renowned artists like Hermeto Pascoal, Bette Midler, Paul Simon and others.
In 1975 he married composer Glória Gadelha and with her produced a rich body of compositions.
The musical production of Sivuca is extensive, reflecting his musical genius and, among so many success, we highlight:
1957, Motivo para Dançar nº 2, Sivuca e Seu Conjunto (Reason to Dance no 2, Sivuca and his Group), (Copacabana)
1958, Os Brasileiros na Europa (Brazilians in Europe), Odeon
1959, Africaníssimo - Duo Ouro Negro (Totally African – Golden Black Duo) with Sivuca, recorded and produced in Portugal. 1st Album produced by Sivuca
1965, Rendez-vou a Rio nº 2, Barcley
1968, Sivuca med Putte Wickmans orkester. InterDisc – Sweden; Sivuca Grammonfon AB Electra- Sweden; Sivuca Golden Bossa Nova Guitar Japan – RCA
1969, Putte Wickman e Sivuca. Four Leaf Records
1970, Joy. RCA – United States (from "Joy" A Musical Come to get her)
1972, Sivuca. Vanguard – United States; Sivuca at Village Gate. Vanguard - United States
1977, Sivuca e Rosinha de Valença. RCA; Sivuca. Copacabana
1978, Cabelo de Milho. Copacabana; Forró e Frevo nº 1. Copacabana
1979, Forró e Frevo nº 2. Copacabana; Vou Vida Afora. Copacabana
1980, Onça Caetana. Copacabana; Forró e Frevo nº 3. Copacabana
1981, Forró e Frevo nº 4. Copacabana
1982, Sivuca e Chiquinho do Acordeom; Todos os Sons (Sivuca and Accordion Chiquinho; All the Sounds) – Barclay
1985, Sivuca - Som Brasil. Sonet; Rendez-vou in Rio. Toots - Sylvia – Sivuca. Sonet Grammofon AB
1985, wrote his first symphonic piece Concerto Sinfônico para Asa Branca
1985, records Coração do Povo (Heart of the People) (on compact disc), theme song of the 4th Centenary of Paraíba
1986, Chico's Bar - Sivuca and Toots Thielemans Sonet
1987, Sivuca e Rildo Hora – Accordion and Barrel Organ. 3M; Let's Vamos - Sivuca e Guitars Unlimited Sonet
1990, Um pé no asfalto (A Foot on the Asphalt). CBS / Copacabana
1992, One Good Turn - Sivuca and Erik Petersen. Music Partner – Denmark; O Melhor do Forró (The Best of Forró). Movie-Play
1992, Pau Doido. Milan /Kuarup
1997, Sivuca - Enfim Solo. Kuarup
2002, records the CD Cada Um Belisca um Pouco (Everyone Pinches a Little) (released in 2004 by Biscoito Fino)
2003, records the CD Sivuca e Quinteto Uirapuru (released in 2004 by Kuarup)
2004, records CD Sivuca Sinfônico (released in 2005 by Biscoito Fino)
2004-2005 records CD Terra Esperança (released in 2006 by Kuarup), his only DVD O Poeta do Som (released in 2007 by 2007), and writes arrangements for the CD Tinto e Especial, by Glória Gadelha.
In 2004, during the June festival organised by the Recife City Council, Sivuca was honoured at the festivities.
On 14 December 2006, after more than a year in treatment for cancer of the larynx, Sivuca, aged 76, passed away in João Pessoa, the capital of Paraíba.
Recife, 14 June 2006.
(Updated on 27 October 2009.)
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.
GADELHA, Glória (Coord.). Sivuca: partituras. João Pessoa: Ed. Universitária, 2009. 218 p.
GRANDE ENCICLOPÉDIA DELTA LAROUSSE. São Paulo: Nova Cultural, 1998. v. 22. p. 5420: Sivuca [Severino Dias de Oliveira].
RECIFE vai virar um grande arraial. Jornal do Commercio, Recife, 2 jun. 2004. Cidades. p. 3.
SIVUCA. Disponível em: <http://biscoitofino.uol.com.br/bf/art_cada.php?id=93>. Acesso em: 30 maio 2006.
SIVUCA. Disponível em: <http://www.icd.com.br/yahoo/artista.asp?Id=453> Acesso em: 30 maio 2006.
SIVUCA na rede. Disponível em: <http://www.sivuca.com.br/bu/>. Acesso em: 2 jun. 2006.
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Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Sivuca. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.