Manioc flour, served up with a song

CAMETA, Brazil — In this old riverfront town in the Amazonian state of Para, toasted manioc flour is served with just about every food, be it pirarucu fish, sliced steak or acai fruit. In a hole in the wall shop near the town center, however, it’s served up with a song.

From as early as 6 a.m., the dreadlocked, 56-year-old Bernardino Sena da Cruz opens up his store, so he can spend some time strumming his sticker-adorned guitar and composing new ditties. Commuters on foot, on bicycle, on motorbike and even the rare car or pickup truck might also catch him crooning one of his classics, like “Michael Jackson” or “Taxi.”

They can also pick up one of the CDs he recorded in a local studio, or two scoops of the yellow flour known as farinha d'agua for two and a half reais (about $1.43). Most customers prefer the latter: Sena da Cruz is certainly creative and entertaining, but his talent seems more suited for campfire gatherings than sold-out stadiums

Miguel Mocbel, a local postal worker, had only two critiques: the music, and the words. “He has some good songs,” said Mocbel. “His problem is that he plays only three chords.” He later added: “What he’s missing is a person to edit the lyrics.”

His best known “hit” is entitled “Sharon Stone,” and reflects a long-held obsession with the actress whose name he pronounces more like “Shari Stoney”:

Sharon, Sharon Stone
My cinematic muse
Sharon, Sharon Stone
My sex symbol
I get jealous of Arnold Schwarzenegger,
The avenger of the future*,
Kissing her beautiful lips
Kneading her beautiful breasts.

[*“Avenger of the Future” was the Portuguese title for the Schwarzenegger film “Total Recall.”]

Sena da Cruz, much more widely known as Dino Seno — which you might call his stage name if he ever appeared on a stage — originally thought he might become a priest. But he ended up moving from here to the state capital, Belem, where he worked for 16 years as a pharmacy salesman.

“I was sitting there one afternoon,” he said, “when I saw a divine light. I got up, grabbed a piece of computer paper, and I wrote down the lyrics.” The song was called “Girl of My Dreams," he said, “because I was a dreamer.”

He returned to Cameta around 2003, when his father fell ill. After winning R$1,100 in the jogo do bicho, an illegal lottery, he bought sacks of farinha and began selling them from the spot in the building his father owned. He has been selling flour and singing every since, and has managed to record 15 CDs since then. (A poster in his shop shows the album covers of them all.)

Like any good artist with a healthy ego, he speaks of himself in the third person.

“I always wanted to be a composer,” he said, “and thank God, Dino Seno is the most famous man in Cameta.”

Early one recent morning, his flour supplier, Francisco Caldas dos Santos, stopped by to pick up a payment just as he was playing the Sharon Stone song. As Sena da Cruz scurried into his house next door to grab the money, Caldas dos Santos reluctantly admitted he was not a fan. “It’s just that I’m evangelical,” he said. “I like Christian music. But he sings well.”

Most nights, said the singer, he leaves work and heads for the town’s lovely green park. “At 7 p.m. I head to the plaza to sing for the people,” he said. “That’s the focus of Dino Sena. To sing for the fans.”

He often takes his inspiration from current events. He recently penned a tribute to Michael Jackson (“The world cries/Cries the world/The world is in mourning/Because of what happened in the United States”) and wrote another song about a woman who made news stealing another woman’s cell phone and hiding it in … let’s just say a very private place.

He claims to have more than 30,000 fans in the town (out of a population of 117,000), and he has sung during campaign rallies for the current mayor, Waldoly Valente. He can no longer do that, he said, because a federal law was enacted prohibiting musical performances at campaign rallies. (He claims it was not directed at him.)

He has two dreams, he said. First, is to find a manager who will spread the word about his work, and second, of course, to meet Sharon Stone.

He does not, it would seem, really have 30,000 fans. Several people passing his shop were not aware of him or his alleged fame. But from the staff across the street in a mattress store, he won at least a tepid endorsement. “He’s very creative,” said Gleice Arnuod, 22, seeming to measure her words carefully for a journalist. “We like him.”

But that tepidness disappeared when asked what she thought of the manioc flour he sold.

“It’s awesome!” she said.