Rosa Morena

Lyrics from “Rosa Morena” by Dorival Caymmi
Recordings include: Os Anjos do Inferno (1942, Columbia); Dorival Caymmi (Album: Sambas de Caymmi, 1955); João Gilberto  (Album: Chega de Saudade , 1959)

Original Recording:

João Gilberto, on Chega de Saudade:

Rosa Morena
Where are you going, morena, Rosa
With that rose in your hair and that gait of a carefree girl
Morena, morena Rosa
Rosa morena, the samba is waiting
Waiting to see you
Leave aside this act of coyness
Come on, Rosa, come see me
Leave aside this pose, come to the samba, come dance samba
Because the people are tired of waiting, oh Rosa
The people are tired of waiting, morena Rosa
The people are tired of waiting, you hear, Rosa?

— Interpretation —

“Rosa Morena” was first recorded in 1942 by the Anjos do Inferno (Angels from Hell). The group, playfully named after Pixinguinha’s famous orchestra Diabos do Céu (Devils from Heaven), recorded a number of Dorival Caymmi‘s songs in the 1940s, including the hit “Você já foi à Bahia?” (1941).

In 1959, João Gilberto recorded “Rosa Morena” on his iconic debut album Chega de Saudade — generally recognized as the first bossa nova album. Gilberto, who was 27 when he recorded the album, had come to Rio de Janeiro from Bahia, like Caymmi. He was known in the early 1950s for his singing with the group Garotos da Lua, but his career as the voice of bossa nova truly took off with the launch of Chega de Saudade. Many sambistas from Caymmi’s era were put off by bossa nova because it so ardently defied the musical aesthetic of their generation; Caymmi, on the other hand, was full of praise for the young Gilberto. When he heard the song “Chega de Saudade” for the first time, before its initial release in 1958, he told Aloysio de Oliveira, of Odeon Records, “You’ve discovered a gold mine!”

At the same time, Gilberto’s recordings of Caymmi’s songs — and of sambas by Caymmi’s contemporaries, like Ary Barroso (Barroso’s “É luxo só” is on Chega de Saudade) — showed that bossa nova wasn’t the radical rejection of the sambas from the thirties, forties, and fifties that some took it to be. In many cases, it was just a reinterpretation of these songs.  Bossa nova abandoned the previously popular operatic singing style — a vestige of Italian influences in Brazilian music — in favor of Gilberto’s soft-voiced singing style and innovative rhythmic balance between guitar, percussion, and voice.

And João Gilberto recognized “Rosa Morena” as one of the first songs that he experimented with as he developed the bossa nova style:

One of the songs that awoke in me,  that showed me that I could try something different was “Rosa Morena,” by Caymmi.  I felt that the way other singers prolonged the sounds ended up hurting the natural balance of the music. By shortening the sounds of the phrases,  the lyrics fit perfectly within the beats and ended up floating.  I could try different things with the whole structure of the song, without needing to alter anything.  Another thing I didn’t agree with were the changes that singers made with some words, where they would make the accent of the rhythm fall on these words to make a greater balance.  I think that the words should be pronounced in the most natural form, as if I were having a conversation.  Any change ends up altering what the songwriter meant to say with his verses. Another advantage of this concern is that, sometimes, you can start the phrase a little earlier and sometimes make it so that two or more phrases fit in a fixed beat. With that, you can create a rhyme of rhythm. One musical phrase rhymes with the other without the song being artificially altered.

— João Gilberto in interview with Tárik de Souza (Veja, 12 May 1971, my translation)

In turn,  Caymmi declared, “I would like to have recorded my songs the way he [João Gilberto] sang them.  That half-voiced manner, using the voice almost as an instrument — he made a trombone, incredibly in tune.”

Source for this post: Dorival Caymmi: o mar e o tempo, by Stella Caymmi

Note: I’ve noticed some people have found this post after searching for a different song by Caymmi, from 1965, called “Das Rosas,” which has an English translation of “And Roses and Roses” by Ray Gilbert. I’ll add a literal translation soon, but for now, you can listen to the song here.

Post by Victoria Broadus

5 thoughts on “Rosa Morena”

  1. Great post! I loved the history of the recording from 1942, as I’m much more familiar with the João Gilberto recording with solo guitar accompaniment (which I love).

  2. What an insightful post about bossa nova and how it evolved from earlier Brazilian styles! Thanks for sharing. The quote from Joao says everything about how he and his contemporaries created the sensual, intimate sound that came to be called bossa nova.

  3. Muito obrigado. I am currently learning this tune for my guitar ensemble and I heard this tune played and sang by Eliane Eliasl. I was looking for the original composer and artist of the tune and I assumed it was Joao Gilberto; due to the oldest recordings that accumulated. I really enjoy learning historical information’s about arts and music; Ary Barroso and Dorival Caymmi are both historical and musical influence in bringing Brasil to the word.

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