Sei lá, Mangueira

Lyrics from “Sei lá, Mangueira” Music by Paulinho da Viola, Lyrics by Hermínio  Bello de Carvalho

Seen like that, from above
It looks more like the sky on the ground
What do I know…
In Mangueira, poetry made a sea, spread out
And the beauty of the place…
To be understood it must be believed
That life isn’t only what we see
It’s a little more
That our eyes aren’t able to perceive
And our hands don’t dare to touch
And our feet refuse to step on
What do I know, I don’t know …
What do I know, I don’t know…
I don’t know if all the beauty I speak to you about
Really just comes out of my heart alone
In Mangueira, poetry, in a constant rise and fall
Walks barefoot, teaching us a new way of life
Of dreaming, thinking and suffering
What do I know, I don’t know… What do I know, I don’t know…
Mangueira is so great That there’s no way explain it

— Interpretation —

Hermínio Bello de Carvalho and Paulinho da Viola. The pair also composed "Timoneiro" together, another of Paulinho's most famous sambas.
Hermínio Bello de Carvalho and Paulinho da Viola. The pair also composed “Timoneiro” together, another of Paulinho’s most famous sambas.

Another song celebrating the samba school Mangueira, “Sei lá, Mangueira” was written by Hermínio Bello de Carvalho, whose friend Paulinho da Viola composed the music.

Hermínio Bello de Carvalho (b. 28/3/1935) is a poet, composer, musical producer and cultural activist. In his early 20s he wrote music education programs for the Ministry of Education’s Rádio MEC, and he published his first book in 1962. When Cartola and his wife opened their restaurant, Zicartola, in Rio de Janeiro in late 1963, Hermínio became a regular. He developed friendships and formed close working partnerships with legendary musicians, including some of Mangueira’s founding members like Cartola and Nelson Cavaquinho. Hermínio is known for having discovered and provided support and encouragement to some of Brazil’s greatest talents.  In the beginning of 1964, when Paulinho da Viola was working at a bank in Rio de Janeiro, Paulinho recognized Hermínio – a client – from the music sessions Paulinho’s father had taken him to at Jacob do Bandolim’s place. Paulinho, normally timid, went to talk to Hermínio, who invited him to his apartment. Paulinho played some of his first sambas for Hermínio.  Shortly thereafter, Hermínio invited Paulinho to Zicartola, where he began playing regular gigs; Paulinho soon quit his job at the bank.

When Paulinho composed the music for “Sei lá, Mangueira,” he at least claims he never imagined that Hermínio would submit the song to the 1968 Festival da Record. The song didn’t win the contest — though Elza Soares, who sang it, was voted best female singer in the contest — but its fame caused trouble for Paulinho, a member of Mangueira’s rival samba school, Portela.  In the documentary Meu Tempo É Hoje, he says that he accepted the task of composing the music because he thought it would be a nice gesture to contribute to a song celebrating his rivals.  Most portelenses didn’t agree, though, which was awkward. (Paulinho says his friends at Portela generally skirted the issue, but he felt tension.) In an attempt to smooth things over, and prove his loyalty and passion for Portela, Paulinho wrote what became his best-known and loved samba, dedicated to Portela: “Foi um rio que passou em minha vida.” Released in 1969, “Foi um rio que passou em minha vida” was the number one song in Brazil in 1970. In 2000, Brazil’s most influential television network – Rede Globo – named the song one of the thirty most influential Brazilian songs of the 20th century.

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