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.
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