“A Flor e o Espinho” and “Folhas Secas”

Lyrics from “A Flor e o Espinho” by Nelson Cavaquinho, Guilherme de Brito and Alcides Caminha (1957)

Song begins at 0:55

Good Audio Version (Beth Carvalho)

Get your smile out of the way, cause I want to go by with my pain
Today for you I’m just a thorn, and a thorn doesn’t hurt a flower
I only went wrong when I joined my soul to yours
The sun can’t live near the moon

It’s in the mirror that I see my wound, my pain and my misty eyes
I was once a flower in your life, today I’m a thorn in your love

— Interpretation —

Guilherme de Brito (L) and Nelson Cavaquinho

Nelson Cavaquinho composed the tune for this samba and Guilherme de Brito wrote the lyrics during a session in Praça Tiradentes, Rio de Janeiro. Its tone is typical of the pair, who began writing music together in 1955 — mournful, dejected, pessimistic about love and life. (Meanwhile, Nelson Cavaquinho — lifelong bohemian with a scratchy voice from beer and cigarettes — could most often be found joking with friends over drinks at nearby bars and pool halls. For more on his life philosophy, see this post.)

Exceptionally, in 1973, the duo left the moroseness aside to write about their neighborhood’s samba school, Estação Primeira da Mangueira. The result, “Folhas Secas,” became one of the most cherished sambas in an extensive  repertoire of songs about Mangueira (which means “Mango tree”).  Nonetheless, even this nostalgic samba brings up death, with the singer remarking on how much he’ll miss his boyhood on Mangueira when his time comes. According to Brito, the song was written to be sung by Beth Carvalho, but was also taken to Elis Regina, and both singers’ versions ended up being released at the same time.

Lyrics from “Folhas Secas” by Nelson Cavaquinho and Guilherme de Brito (1973)


Good Audio Version (Nelson Cavaquinho)

When I step on dry leaves, fallen from a Mangueira
I think of my school, and the poets of my First Station

I don’t know how many times I went up the hill singing
With the sun burning me, and that’s how I’m wasting away
When time lets me know I can’t sing anymore
I know I’m going to feel longing, beside my guitar, for my boyhood

Nelson Cavaquinho (L) with fellow sambista from Mangueira, Cartola

Lyrics in Portuguese, “A Flor e o Espinho”

Tire o seu sorriso do caminho
Que eu quero passar com a minha dor
Hoje pra você eu sou espinho
Espinho não machuca flor
Eu só errei quando juntei minh´alma à sua
O sol não pode viver perto lua

É no espelho que eu vejo a minha mágoa
A minha dor e os meus olhos rasos d´água
Eu na tua vida já fui uma flor
Hoje sou espinho em teu amor

Lyrics in Portuguese, “Folhas Secas” 

Quando eu piso em folhas secas
Caídas de uma mangueira
Penso na minha escola
E nos poetas da minha estação primeira

Não sei quantas vezes
Subi o morro cantando
Sempre o sol me queimando
E assim vou me acabando.

Quando o tempo avisar
Que não posso mais cantar
Sei que vou sentir saudade
Ao lado do meu violão
Da minha mocidade

Main sources for this post: A Canção no Tempo by Jairo Severiano and Zuzu Homem de Mello, v. 1 and 2

Chão de Estrelas

Lyrics from “Chão de Estrelas” (Starry Ground) by Orestes Barbosa and Sílvio Caldas (1937)



Good Audio Version (João Gilberto)

My life was an illuminated stage, I was always dressed in gold
A clown of lost illusions
Covered in phony bells of joy, I went around singing my fantasy
Among the feverish palms* of hearts

My shack, on Salgueiro Hill, had the cheerful song of an aviary –
You were the resonance that ended
And today, when the sun’s rays brighten my shack, I feel longing
For the dove-woman that flew away

Our modest clothes hanging out on the line, like waving flags
Looked like an exotic festival
A party of our colored rags, showing that on the poorly dressed hillsides
It’s always a national holiday!

The shack’s door had no latch, but the moon, boring through our tin
Peppered our floor with stars
You stepped on the stars, absent-minded, unaware that the fortune of this life
Is the mulatta, the moonlight and the guitar

— Interpretation —

In 1935, Sílvio Caldas visited the Brazilian poet Guilherme de Almeida and played a new song for him, entitled “Foste a sonoridade que acabou” (“You were the resonance that ended”). After listening,  the poet, touched by Orestes Barbosa’s lyrics, suggested a new name: “Chão de Estrelas.” Thirty years later, Almeida observed: “[At the time] I didn’t even know the author’s name. But what I thought and said of him then, I repeat today: just one of those two images — the colorful clothes hanging on the line and the stars on the floor (…) — is enough for there to still be poets on this earth.”

Similarly moved by the lyrics, in 1956, the renowned Brazilian Modernist poet Manuel Bandeira wrote, “If there were a competition (…) to pick the most beautiful verse in our language, perhaps I would vote for Orestes’s: “tu pisavas os astros distraída” (“you stepped on the stars, absentminded”).

Sílvio Caldas and Orestes Barbosa composed fifteen songs together. Some of their other most popular songs include “Quase que eu disse,” “Suburbana,” and “Torturante ironia.” Though “Chão de Estrelas” was first released in 1937, the song only became a national success when Sílvio Caldas rereleased it in 1950.

Salgueiro favela in Rio

Morro do Salgueiro — or Salgueiro Hill — is a historic hillside favela in Rio de Janeiro’s Tijuca neighborhood. It is home to one of the city’s most beloved Carnaval samba schools (described here), GRES Acadêmicos do Salgueiro.

*The first verse of the song ends with “among the feverish palms of hearts.” In Portuguese, the literal translation for “clap” in English is “to beat palms.” Orestes Barbosa played with this phrase, referring to beating hearts as “palms of hearts.” The Portuguese word for “floor” and “ground” are the same — “chão” — which makes the translation a bit complicated. “Ground” implies outside, but “floor” implies that there is actually a floor, which may not have been the case in this shack in the Salgueiro favela.

In 1970, Os Mutantes released a version of “Chão de Estrelas” (below) on their album A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado Caetano Veloso began his song “Livros” (1997, Livro) with a play on the lyrics from “Chão de Estrelas,” singing, “tropeçavas nos astros desastrada” (you tripped on the stars, clumsy).

Silvio Caldas (1908 – 1998) was born in the São Cristóvão neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. His father owned a musical instrument shop and was an amateur waltz composer, so Sílvio had a lot of contact with music from a very early age. In 1934, Ary Barroso brought Sílvio to sing at Rio’s Teatro Recreio, where Sílvio sang his first big hit — Barroso’s “Faceira.” Around then, his blossoming partnership with Orestes Barbosa highlighted his talent for “seresta” – a genre of Brazilian music that evolved from the serenade and which Caldas popularized around Brazil.

Orestes Barbosa (1893 – 1966) was a composer, lyricist, writer and poet from Rio de Janeiro. He was an activist and made his political opinions quite clear in his newspaper articles, which landed him in jail more than once. In 1922 he released his first book of prose, In Prison, which related tales of his time in jail. He wrote other books of poetry and prose before beginning to work as a lyricist in the late 1920s.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Minha vida era um palco iluminado
Eu vivia vestido de dourado
Palhaço das perdidas ilusões
Cheio dos guizos falsos da alegria
Andei cantando a minha fantasia
Entre as palmas febris dos corações
Meu barracão no morro do Salgueiro
Tinha o cantar alegre de um viveiro
Foste a sonoridade que acabou
E hoje, quando do sol, a claridade
Forra o meu barracão, sinto saudade
Da mulher pomba-rola que voou
Nossas roupas comuns dependuradas
Na corda, qual bandeiras agitadas
Pareciam um estranho festival!
Festa dos nossos trapos coloridos
A mostrar que nos morros mal vestidos
É sempre feriado nacional
A porta do barraco era sem trinco
Mas a lua, furando o nosso zinco
Salpicava de estrelas nosso chão
Tu pisavas os astros, distraída,
Sem saber que a ventura desta vida
É a cabrocha, o luar e o violão

The main source for this post was A Cancao no tempo: 85 Anos de Musicas Brasileiras, Vol. 1 by Jairo Severiano and Zuzu Homem de Mello

Expresso 2222

Lyrics from “Expresso 2222” by Gilberto Gil
Album: Expresso 2222 LP (Philips, 1972)

Good Audio Version

The Express 2222 started running
It runs direct from Bonsucesso to the hereafter
The Express 2222 started running
From Brazil Central Station
It runs direct from Bonsucesso
To after the year 2000

They say there are a lot of people from now
Getting ahead, leaving to go there
To 2001, and 2, and  times beyond
To wherever that highway of time will end up
Of time will end up
Of time will end up, little girl, of time goes

According to those who already rode the Express
Round about the year 2000 is that
Final station of the life-path
On mother earth, conceived
Of wind, of fire, of water and salt
Of water and salt
Of water and salt
Oh, little girl, of water and salt

They say it looks like the tram on Mount Corcovado
Except that you don’t catch it, get on, sit down and ride
The track has become a glow that has no end

Hey, that has no end
That has no end
Oh, little girl, that has no end

You never get to the concrete Christ
Of material, or anything real
After 2001 and 2 and times beyond
Christ is like someone who was seen
Rising to heaven
Rising to heaven
On the veil of a shining cloud rising to heaven

— Interpretation —

Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso in Trafalgar Square, London, 1969.

I’ve noticed a lot of people being directed to this site looking for “Expresso 2222.” The song is the title track for Gilberto Gil‘s 1972 LP ( No. 26 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s ranking of the 100 best Brazilian albums of all time), which includes a number of songs that Gil wrote while in exile in London during the most repressive years of Brazil’s military regime.

Gil says the first verse of the song — in Portuguese, “Começou a circular o Expresso 2222/Que parte direto de Bonsucesso pra depois” — came to him one day in London; he wrote it in a notebook, but the last part – “to the hereafter” – gave him a block and he couldn’t write any more.  He decided to let the verse sit, “like wine in a barrel, to age.” Nearly a year later he re-opened the notebook, which he had also used for messages and notes to his wife, and picked up where he’d left off, quickly finishing the lyrics and putting the words to music.

Gil explains that his childhood and adolescence were marked by train travel, “one of the most fundamental modes of transportation for us in Bahia.” The Leste Brasileiro trains that ran into and out of the central stations in Ituaçu, Nazaré das Farinhas, and Salvador – the towns in Bahia, Brazil, where Gil grew up – had  made a lasting impression on him, and for some reason the image of a train with the number 222 stuck in his head; he says it was the first image that came to mind when he began writing the song.

The Express 2222 is a metaphor for a drug trip, according to Gil, who relates, “It was a time of a lot of marijuana, LSD, and mescaline; this culture was at its height in London, and the train was a literal allegory of all of this.” Bonsucesso, a neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, made its way into the song most importantly because it rhymed, but also because it represented to Gil a place where he came from and where the journey could have started — “Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, that neighborhood — going from there to the hereafter.”

The train to Christ the Redeemer on Mt. Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro.

The tram of Corcovado that Gil mentions in the song is the train that ends up at Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue. The little girl addressed in the song only made it in because Gil needed a word, in this case “menina,” to make the “rhythmic transition between one line and the next, like the hitch between two train cars.”  After including her, however, Gil brought her back in the next verse, saying “I felt the need to bring her back in the next scene, to see her again at the next station… Those crazy things:  The pattern for a song is craziness!”

I’ve seen translations beginning with “Here comes the Express 2222,” which I think this sounds better than “The Express 2222 started running,” but I’ve left the latter since it’s the most literal translation.  Lyrics in Portuguese:

Começou a circular o Expresso 2222
Que parte direto de Bonsucesso pra depois
Começou a circular o Expresso 2222
Da Central do Brasil
Que parte direto de Bonsucesso
Pra depois do ano 2000
Dizem que tem muita gente de agora
Se adiantando, partindo pra lá
Pra 2001 e 2 e tempo afora
Até onde essa estrada do tempo vai dar
Do tempo vai dar
Do tempo vai dar, menina, do tempo vai
Segundo quem já andou no Expresso
Lá pelo ano 2000 fica a tal
Estação final do percurso-vida
Na terra-mãe concebida
De vento, de fogo, de água e sal
De água e sal, de água e sal
Ô, menina, de água e sal
Dizem que parece o bonde do morro
Do Corcovado daqui
Só que não se pega e entra e senta e anda
O trilho é feito um brilho que não tem fim
Oi, que não tem fim
Que não tem fim
Ô, menina, que não tem fim
Nunca se chega no Cristo concreto
De matéria ou qualquer coisa real
Depois de 2001 e 2 e tempo afora
O Cristo é como quem foi visto subindo ao céu
Subindo ao céu
Num véu de nuvem brilhante subindo ao céu

Main source for this post: Gilberto Gil: Todas as Letrased. Carlos Rennó, 2003