One of my favorite recent memes on Google Reader (especially Bruitus at Immanent Discursivity) is the flood of interesting videos of various people performing the Brazilian choro classic "Tico-Tico no Fubá" by Zequinha de Abreu. To get an idea of what I am talking about, here is the world's most famous Brazilian parrot, Joe (Zé) Carioca, teaching Donald Duck about samba through a demonstration of "Tico-Tico" (start around 04:41).
The title literally means "a little bit of (maize) flour" and was a way of describing how dancers looked as they danced to this song. Despite its popularity at dance events around Rio de Janeiro, this choro was only recorded in 1931, a full 14 years after it was first composed.* It was incredibly successful and attained its height of popularity during 1940s – no small feat at a time when sambas and choros were all the rage in the Brazilian record industry.
Eventually, "Tico-Tico" became one of the most widespread Brazilian songs from Hollywood's embrace of Brazilian music during the Good Neighbor Policy Period; it appeared in 4 additional films and was performed by Carmen Miranda in Copacabana(1947) after she'd already starred in a number of popular Fox musicals. A recording by organist Ethel Smith from 1944 was probably the most successful on the hit parade.
True to the demanding choro genre, this song is often a vehicle for tour-de-force instrumental virtuosity and showmanship (even if it is sometimes reinterpreted as a tango). By way of example, look at this impressive duo performing "Tico-Tico" on one guitar.
Clearly, this is some very impressive stuff. The first performance of it that I heard after learning a thing or two about Brazilian music was by Shooby "The Human Horn" Taylor in a class I took at UCSD. Here is a video that includes some animation to accompany Shooby's characteristically creative interpretation.
As someone who has heard all of Shooby's recordings, this is probably the closest I've ever heard him come to how a song is performed in other contexts. Stunning stuff, really.
Which bring me to my point: "Tico-Tico" has a sustained popularity in certain circles, especially among aspiring musicians wishing to demonstrate their instrumental prowess. How does burning through this chorinho (little choro) give so many people pleasure? And why does it still enjoy widespread popularity on so many different instruments? Sure, there is something fun about the song: it's upbeat and melodically and harmonically intricate. Something tells me that its larger than that, perhaps having something to with novelty. Thoughts from the peanut gallery?
* Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras (Vol. 1: 1901-1957), 6th ed. (São Paulo: Editora 34, 2006), 107.