Charles, Anjo 45

Lyrics from “Charles, Anjo 45” by Jorge Ben
Album: Jorge Ben (LP, 1969)

Oba, oba, oba Charles
What’s the deal
My friend Charles
How are things going Charles?

Charles, Angel 45
Protector of the weak
And the oppressed
Robin Hood of the hillsides
King of malandragem
A true man
With a lot of courage
Just because one day
Charles messed up
He went on vacation, without meaning to
To a penal colony

So the malandro fools
Laid down in the soup
And our hillside turned into a tremendous mess
Because the hillside, which was part of heaven
Without our Charles
Turned into a hell…

But God is just and truthful
And before vacation ends
Our Charles will return
Peace and happiness all over
Every hillside will dance samba
Starting Carnaval early
There will be batucada
A Thanksgiving mass
There will be feijoada
Whiskey with beer
And other trimmings…

Lots of firecrackers
And hailstorms of bullets
In the air
For the moment when our Charles
Comes back…

And all of the people, happy,
Will sing, like so…

Oba, oba, oba, Charles
What’s the deal
My friend Charles
How are things going Charles?

— Interpretation–

After Jorge Ben‘s initial success with his 1963 debut album Samba Esquema Novo, he went six years without producing a major hit.  Then he swept the Brazilian music scene again in 1969 with the release of the LP Jorge Ben, with hits including “Charles, Anjo 45,” “País Tropical” and “Que Pena.”

“Charles, Anjo 45” tells the tale of Charles — an angel with a .45,  a sort of Robinhood of the hillside slums who ends up “on vacation” at a penal colony. The rest of the song predicts the jubilation – including “storms of bullets” – that will mark Charles’s return.

The lyrics are longer, more narrative and more socially engaged than Jorge Ben’s previous successes. The song, which was Ben’s top self-performed hit from the LP, is considered a precursor to Bezerra da Silva‘s bitterly ironic sambas, and even rap,  with its partly recited lyrics that allude to the sad reality of the hillside slums being taken over by drugs and drug traffickers.

Caetano Veloso, a much more politically contentious figure than Jorge Ben Jor  (who declared himself apolitical from the start of his career)  also recorded the song in 1969, and it is often mistakenly attributed to him.  The military leaders loathed the song’s celebration of banditry (as they were wont to loathe anything Caetano did). Shortly thereafter, Caetano went into exile in London.

As in previous posts, I’ve left “malandro” and “malandragem” in Portuguese. Malandro is sometimes translated as “rogue” in English, and “malandragem” is the art of leading a malandro life, described in this post. “Oba” is an exclamation of contentment in Portuguese, and could be translated to something like “great!” The phrase “my friend Charles” is spoken in English in the original version. “Laid down in the soup” can be interpreted as “made a mess of things.”

Jorge Ben LP, 1969

The main source for this post was Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello’s A Canção no Tempo:85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol. 2.

1 thought on “Charles, Anjo 45”

  1. […] Twenty years after the release of “Conceição,” Jorge Ben wrote a song telling a similar tale, but this time with a happy ending –  “Jesualda.” Jesualda, meaning “she who believes in Christ,” is also drawn to go down from the hilltop (where she’s “up high, but not on top”) to find work in the city. But Jesualda – who could be considered Jorge Ben’s portrayal of the second generation of favelados  –  “has completed primary school,” and is able to find work as a maid. And even that doesn’t last too long: A rich man sees her at a bus stop, falls in love and marries her, and they move abroad. Jorge Ben is known for defending favelados in his music, as he did most expressly with “Charles, Anjo 45.” […]

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