Aquarela Brasileira

Lyrics to Aquarela Brasileira by Silas de Oliveira
Written for Império Serrano Samba School, Carnaval 1964

Good audio version: search?q=aquarela+brasileira

Look at this marvel of a setting
It’s a sacred episode
Which the artist, in a brilliant dream
Chose for this carnival
And the asphalt as a catwalk
Will be the canvas for Brazil in watercolor form

Roaming through the Amazon’s surroundings
I saw vast plantations
In Pará, the island of Marajó
And the old  cabin of Timbó
Walking still a bit more
I came across beautiful coconut groves
I was in Ceará, the land of Irapuã
Of Iracema and Tupa

I grew radiant with joy
When I arrived in Bahia
Bahia of Castro Alves, of acarajé
Nights of magic, of candomblé
After crossing the forest of Ipu
I watched, in Pernambuco,
The party of frevo and maracatu
Brasilia stands out
For its art, beauty and architecture
Enchantment of drizzle throughout the range,
São Paulo  ennobles our land
From the east through all the midwest
It’s all beautiful and has lovely shades
Rio, of samba and batucadas
Of the malandros and mulatas
Of feverish requebros

Those green forests of ours
Waterfalls and cascades
Of a subtle combination of colors
And this beautiful indigo-blue sky
Frames my Brasil in watercolor

— Interpretation —

The number of relatively untranslatable words in this song perhaps helps explain why Brazilians have embraced “Aquarela Brasileira” as the anthem of samba-enredo,  a particular style of samba that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s specifically for samba schools like Portela and Mangueira.

Every Carnival, beginning in the early 1930s, rivaling samba schools wrote and sang a samba-enredo as their parade theme of the year. In the first competition, Mangueira’s sambas  “Pudesse meu Ideal” and “Sorri” were the winners.

From the start, just as the groups had adopted the name “samba school” in the 1920s in an effort to legitimize their organization as black communities in Rio de Janeiro, Rio’s samba schools adopted nationalistic themes in their sambas as a way of garnering official support and social acceptance during the Vargas period (1930 – 1945) and beyond.  In 1930, Getulio Vargas had assumed power in Brazil after a military coup deposed Washington Luis, the last Brazilian president of the “Old Republic.” Vargas ruled as a dictator from 1930 – 1934, then as congressionally elected president from 1934 – 1937, then again as dictator from 1937 – 1945, the period known as Estado Novo.  Vargas didn’t adhere to a particular ideology, but could be described as a conservative populist: staunchly anti-communist, he promoted a new style of inclusive nation-building in Brazil, focused on constructing a deep sense of nationalism and promoting industrialization and expanding state control over most aspects of life in Brazil.  Leaders of Rio’s samba schools adopted a policy of nationalistic themes as a way of ingratiating themselves to the conservative government; the Vargas regime appreciated the gesture and began to demand such themes.

Silas de Oliveira, who composed “Aquarela Brasileira,” is known as the “greatest master of samba-enredo” in Brazil.  His first  composition for Carnaval competitions was “Conferência de São Francisco” or “A Paz Universal,” with Mano Décio da Viola, in 1947, for the samba school Prazer da Serrinha.  That same year, after disagreements with the president of Prazer da Serrinha, dissidents from that school – including Silas de Oliveira and Mano Décio da Viola – formed the Império Serrano samba school, establishing from the start a policy of transparent and democratic management.

In 1964, just over a month before the coup d’etat that initiated a twenty-year period of brutal military rule in Brazil, Império Serrano paraded to “Aquarela Brasileira.” That year, as available sources indicate, Império also became the first school to have a woman – Carmem Silvana – as the lead samba-singer (“puxador[a]”) during their Carnival parade. The song weaves together themes of Brazil’s natural beauty, history, culture and folklore, and to date is still widely recognized as one of the greatest sambas-enredo of all time.

— Lyrics by State (roughly) —

Pará: The island of Marajó is an island in Pará at the mouth of the Amazon River; Timbó, according to folklore from Pará, was a warlock of mixed African and indigenous descent who lived alone in a cabin on Marajó.

Ceará: When the narrator arrives in Ceará, he exclaims, “land of Irapuã, of Iracema and Tupa.” Irapuã is the indigenous Tabajara warrior in José de Alencar‘s novel Iracema, from 1865. Based in Ceará, the novel attempt to retell the story of the colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese. Martim, a Portuguese colonist aligned with a rival tribe, falls in love with the beautiful Tabajara woman Iracema; their child, Moacir, is the  first true Brazilian. The name Iracema comes from the Guarani word “honey-lips” and Iracema is an anagram to America — appropriate given the theme of colonization of the Americas. Tupa is the supreme Guarani god and also the god of light.

Bahia:  Castro Alves refers to Antônio Frederico de Castro Alves (1847 – 1871), a Bahian poet and playwright who was a avid abolitionist. He died of tuberculosis at 24. Acarajé is a typical Bahian dish of African origin made of a black-eyed-pea mash deep fried in palm oil and served with shrimp and dressing. Similarly, Candomblé is a syncretic religion with African origins. Like Santería in Cuba, slaves in Brazil adapted their religious practices to the Roman Catholicism they were forced to officially adhere to.

Pernambuco: Ipu is another region in Ceará that appears in José de Alencar’s novel Iracema. (Apparently the narrator is back farther up north after a jaunt down to Bahia.) Frevo is the typical carnaval music in Pernambuco — here is a video showing a child demonstrating frevo dance — and Maracatu is also a dance form from Pernambuco and a Carnaval group in Recife.

São Paulo: São Paulo is known as the “cidade da garoa”  — the city of drizzle, a phenomenon highlighted in the song.

Rio de Janeiro: Finally, the lyrics address Rio de Janeiro, celebrating its sambas; batucada — an African-influenced Brazilian percussion beat; malandros — something like hooligans or ragamuffins, Rio is known for malandros, generally young men who take part in samba circles and perhaps commit petty crimes — and mulatas. Finally, requebros refers to the quick, undulating dance movements of samba.

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)

Essa é pra tocar no rádio

Lyrics from “Essa é pra tocar no rádio” by Gilberto Gil
Album: Refazenda (1975)

Good audio version: Essa é pra tocar no rádio

This one is to be played on the radio…
This one is to be played on the radio…

This one is to beat the tedium
When it shows up
This one is a pure remedy
For a bad mood
This one is for the taxi driver
Not to doze off
This one is for the dear listener
From the countryside

This one is to be played on the radio
This one is to be played on the radio

This one is to leave home
To go to work
This one is for the boy at the shop
To have better sex
This one is for after lunch
Boy from the bar
This one is for the coy girl
To make love

This one is to play on the radio…
This one is to play on the radio…


— Interpretation —

In Gilberto Gil: Todas as LetrasGil explains that he wrote this song to satirize the selective process for songs to play on Brazilian radio. Particularly by the 1970s, when forms of mass media were becoming extremely specialized, radio stations were extraordinarily picky about the songs they played, judging them based on the station’s internal preferences and the culture of mass media in general. According to Gil, the song makes fun of the system wherein songs are only played on the radio because they’re hits, but they’re hits because they’re played on the radio — what he calls the vicious, hermetic cycle of the radio community.

Gil describes the song, then, as a joke on the radio community: “This one won’t be played on the radio, so this one is for the people at the radio stations, who don’t play the things that could be played; who don’t have space, nor time, nor a program to play everything, and have to play just a few things; those of you have to live that inadequacy, that confinement, that reductionism that’s necessary for the medium.”

At the same time, as a challenge, the song contains many elements that would make for a radio success, according to the norms at the time: the girl in the end, the boy who works at the shop, the taxi driver. The song was meant to set up this “game of opposites,” according to Gil, and the music itself also lends itself to the game, with a mix of funk — which Gil regards as the first time he worked with the explicit intention of using the genre — and rural northeastern sounds and rhythms.

Indeed, the song meant to be played on the radio was not selected to be played on the radio, although a few stations in Rio and São Paulo played it during certain alternative hours, according to Gil.

For more on Gil, see this previous post.

The source for this post is commentary by Gilberto Gil in Gilberto Gil: Todas as Letras, compiled by Carlos Remnó.


Post by Victoria Broadus (About)

Apesar de você

Lyrics from “Apesar de você” by Chico Buarque (1970)
Album: Chico Buarque (Samambaia) 1978

Good audio version: Apesar de você

Tomorrow will be another day…

Today, you’re the one who calls the shots
That’s it,  it’s been spoken
There’s no arguing
My people walk around today
Speaking to the side and looking toward the ground
Got it?
You, who invented this State,
Invented by inventing
All darkness
You who invented sin
Forgot to invent forgiveness

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day
I ask you, where will you hide
From the great euphoria?
How will you prohibit
When the rooster insists on crowing?
New water flowing,
And our people loving one another, without stopping

When the moment arrives
This suffering of mine
I’m going to charge with interest, I swear
All this love repressed
This scream contained
This samba in the dark

You who invented sadness
Now kindly “disinvent” it
You’re going to pay – and doubled
Every tear that rolled
In this anguish of mine

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day
I will still pay to see
The garden bloom
The one you didn’t want to

You’re going to become embittered
Seeing the day break
Without asking your permission
And I’m going to die of laughter
And that day is bound to come
Sooner than you think
In spite of you

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day
You will have to see
The morning reborn
And pour out poetry

How will you explain to yourself
Seeing the sky clear, suddenly
With impunity?

How are you going to stifle
Our chorus singing
Right in front of you
In spite of you

In spite of you
Tomorrow is going to be another day
You’re going to to be out of luck
Etcetera and so on
La la-ya, la la-ya, la….


After spending approximately a year in Italy in exile from Brazil’s military dictatorship,  Chico Buarque returned to Brazil in 1970 and met with a rigid censorship machine — a result of Ato Institucional V, which institutionalized the pre-release censorship process.

In an interview in September 1971, Chico lamented, “Of every three songs I write, two are censored. After being censored so much, something troubling is happening with me: I’m beginning to self-censor, and that is terrible.”

The censors had grown particularly harsh with Chico after their inadvertent release of his thinly veiled protest anthem “Apesar de você.”

Chico wrote and released “Apesar de você” as a single in 1970. The censors initially approved the song and it became a quick hit on the radio. As the song became popular, rumors spread that it was dedicated specifically to general Médici, who served as president from 1969 – 1974.(Chico says the “you” in the song actually referred to the entire system.) To the censors, Chico argued that he had written the song for a rooster that mistakenly believed that the day only broke as a result of his song, until one night when the rooster lost track of time and realized that day broke in spite of him. Unconvinced, the censors banned the song and punished those who had let it through.

After the song was banned, Chico says he received the treatment of a traitor who had attempted to dupe the censors.  As a result, he faced even more stringent censorship. “Apesar de você” was re-approved and re-released on the album Chico Buarque (Samambaia) in 1978, as the government began a gradual political liberalization process during Ernesto Geisel’s presidency.

(The source for most of this post is the book Chico Buarque para Todos by Regina Zappa, Rio de Janeiro, 1999.)

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)