Back in Bahia

Lyrics from “Back in Bahia” by Gilberto Gil
Album: Expresso 2222 

Over there in London, once in awhile, I felt far away from here
Once in awhile, when I felt far away, I would find myself
Pulling my hair, nervous, wanting to hear  Cely Campelo to keep from falling
In that pit, into which I saw my comrade, from Porto Belo, fall
In that lack of judgment, which I had no reason to take joy in
In that lack of warmth, of color, of salt, of sun, of heart,  To feel
So much longing, preserved in an old silver trunk inside of me

I say in a silver trunk because silver is the color of moonlight
Of the moonlight that I missed so much together with the sea
Sea of Bahia, whose green, once in awhile, it did me good to remember
So different from the green, also so beautiful, of the lawns, the fields over there
Island of the North, where I don’t know if for luck or for punishment I ended up landing
For some time, which in the end, passed hurriedly, as all things must pass
Today I feel as if going there were necessary to return so much more alive
With life more lived, divided between there and here.

— Interpretation —

In January 1972, Gilberto Gil returned to his home state of Bahia after three years in exile in London. As he explains in the book Gilberto Gil: Todas as Letras, shortly after arriving, he went to a festival in Santo Amaro, where Dona Canô – mother of Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethânia – was having a party. He was overwhelmed by the sight of so many people so dear to him, who “emanated cheer,” and reflected on how much he had longed for these kinds of moments when he was in London. Inspired, he began writing “Back in Bahia” in his head and finished the song the following day, in Salvador. The music relies on traditional sounds and rhythms from northeastern Brazil;  the verses use rhythmic and internal rhymes, also typical of northeastern songs, and almost all have 16 syllables  (e.g. the final line: “de vida mais vivida dividida pra lá e pra cá”).

Gil mentions Celly Campelo, who sang “Banho de Lua” —  a Brazilian rock hit from the late 1950s — in a few songs, including “Back in Bahia” and “Retiros Espirituais.” In the verse ” So different from the green, also so beautiful, of the lawns, the fields over there,” the Portuguese line finishes with “campos de lá,” which is an allusion to the romantic poet Gonçalves Dias‘s famous poem “Canção do Exilio” (Song of Exile).

Gilberto Gil, who was introduced on this site in the post on “Panis et Circenses,” was born Gilberto Passos Gil Moreia in Salvador, Bahia, on June 26, 1942. He spent his childhood in Ituaçu, in the interior of Bahia, where he became interested in music listening to Orlando Silva and Luiz Gonzaga. He moved to Salvador at age 9 and began studying accordion; in the late 1950s, inspired by João Gilberto, he began playing guitar.

In 1962, Gil made his first solo recording and met Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia, and Gal Costa. They began to perform together, and in the next couple of years all ended up moving to São Paulo, where Gil and the rest met prestigious singer-songwriters and poets like Chico Buarque and Torquato Neto.  Gil became famous when he sang on the television program “O Fino da Bossa,” which was presented by Elis Regina; he quit his job at the company Gessy-Lever (now Unilever), signed a contract with Phillips, and released his first LP – Louvação – in 1967. In 1968 he released the LPs Gilberto Gil and Tropicalia ou Panis et Circenses, together with Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Torquato Neto, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé and Nara Leão (for more about the Tropicalist movement, see the post on Panis et Circenses). In 1969, the military government determined that Gil and Caetano were subversives and forced them into exile.

Source for this post: Gilberto Gil, Todas as letras

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)

6 thoughts on “Back in Bahia”

  1. I need to know what to look for from Jorge Ben. Was at the record store today and saw a few good looking records….can go back for one later, but I wanted guidance first from lyricalbrazil…maybe a video to steer me in the right direction?

    And I adore Cartola…have this blog to thank!

    1. Hi BFTSM:
      Thanks for your comments! For Jorge Ben, I’d recommend (1) A Tábua de Esmeralda; (2) O Bidu – Silêncio no Brooklyn; (3) Samba Esquema Novo, in that order. Hope it’s not too late to get the record!

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