Growing up in Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s, Carlinhos de Oliveira (known today as Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro) 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 the pandeiro, Brazil's national instrument. Similar to the tambourine but played differently, the pandeiro is tunable and with the right technique, a skilled player can sound like a drum set.
Carlinhos took up the pandeiro at age seven, starting with one of his mother's cake pans. He practiced all the time and visited the favelas and Mangueira, in particular, one of the greatest samba schools. 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 so theatrical, with unprecedented juggling and stunts (known as malabarismo), that it set a new standard for pandeiro playing in Rio's Carnaval parades. Soon Carlinhos was performing professionally, working with every important musician and composer 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 has 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, BethCarvalho, 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.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency