Coisas Nossas

Lyrics from “Coisas nossas” by Noel Rosa (1932)

I would like to be a tambourine
To feel all day long
Your hand drumming on my skin.
This longing for the guitar and the shack,
Our things, our things

Samba, pennilessness
And other fashions
They’re our things, they’re things of ours!

The malandro that doesn’t drink,
That doesn’t eat
But that doesn’t abandon samba
Because samba kills hunger
The beautiful morena from out there in the country
Our thing, our thing

Samba, pennilessness
And other fashions
They’re our things, they’re things of ours!

The candy vendor, the paper boy
The motorman, the driver and the passenger
Loansharks and con men
And the tram that looks like a wagon
Our thing, very much ours

Samba, pennilessness
And other fashions
They’re our things, they’re things of ours!

The girl that courts
On the corner and at the gate
The married guy with ten kids and without a dime
If her father finds out he’s gonna give a beating
Our thing, very much ours

Samba, pennilessness
And other fashions
They’re our things, they’re things of ours!

— Interpretation —

This poster for the 1931 musical Coisas nossas boasts “A stupendous film, spoken and sung, made in Brazil!”

One of the most common questions about bossa nova is what bossa actually means, and this song, which predates bossa nova by nearly 30 years, provides a good answer. The refrain in Portuguese goes, “O samba, a prontidão, e outras bossas, são coisas nossas…” While bossa doesn’t have a great direct translation in English, I’ve translated it here as fashion: bossa can be understood as fashion in the sense that it’s  “a distinctive or peculiar and often habitual manner or way” and “a prevailing custom, usage, or style,” definitions from Merriam Webster.  So, when bossa nova came along at the end of the 1950s, the name suggested that it represented a new fashion or manner in music.

Back to the old bossas: In 1931, Wallace Downey , an American producer with Columbia Records based in Rio, was eager to take advantage of new recording technologies to profit off of Brazilian popular culture. He went after his dream of building a Brazilian Hollywood by producing his first musical film, Coisas nossastogether with Columbia’s São Paulo-based partner, Byington & Co. Downey then went on to partner with Rio’s better equipped Cinédia Studios to produce three more musicals in quick succession. All of the films were hits, outgrossing even the popular imported American films.

Coisas nossas  is considered Brazil’s first commercially successful talkie. Along with Downey’s other musicals, which featured Brazil’s most popular musical performers of the time, it helped establish and shape the Brazilian movie industry just as Downey had hoped. As Bryan McCann describes in Hello, Hello Brazil, Downey’s Brazilian musicals  “helped to create the film industry, promote the recording industry, and foster a vision of Brazilian popular music that was as glamorous and exciting as anything Hollywood had to offer.”

Perhaps inspired by the film,  Noel Rosa wrote his now legendary song by the same name (the song is alternatively called “São coisas nossas”), which he recorded — along with four other sambas — with Downey’s Columbia Records in Rio in 1932.  The song contains Rosa’s musings about habits, fads and other bossas that are typically Brazilian, invoking some of samba’s most ever-present symbols of brasilidade — the pandeiro (tambourine), the poor malandro sambista, and the beautiful morena.

A note about the translation of “prontidão”:  this could be translated as something like quickness, agility, or readiness;  at the time, though,  prontidão was also used to mean something like “pennilessness.” I think that’s what it was meant to convey here — the broke sambista — but I’m open to other suggestions.

Noel Rosa’s face was deformed in an accident when he was born. He died in 1937 at age 26, and in spite of his premature death, remains one of Brazil’s most legendary sambistas.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Queria ser pandeiro
Pra sentir o dia inteiro
A tua mão na minha pele a batucar
Saudade do violão e da palhoça
Coisa nossa, coisa nossa

O samba, a prontidão
E outras bossas,
São nossas coisas,
São coisas nossas!

Malandro que não bebe,
Que não come,
Que não abandona o samba
Pois o samba mata a fome,
Morena bem bonita lá da roça,
Coisa nossa, coisa nossa

O samba, a prontidão
E outras bossas,
São nossas coisas,
São coisas nossas!

Baleiro, jornaleiro
Motorneiro, condutor e passageiro,
Prestamista e o vigarista
E o bonde que parece uma carroça,
Coisa nossa, muito nossa

O samba, a prontidão
E outras bossas,
São nossas coisas,
São coisas nossas!

Menina que namora
Na esquina e no portão
Rapaz casado com dez filhos, sem tostão,
Se o pai descobre o truque dá uma coça
Coisa nossa, muito nossa

O samba, a prontidão
E outras bossas,
São nossas coisas,
São coisas nossas!

Main sources for this post were  Hello, Hello Brazil  by Bryan McCann and A Canção no Tempo, 85 Anos de músicas brasileiras vol. 1: 1901 – 1957  by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello.

2 thoughts on “Coisas Nossas”

  1. I’m an American who loves Brazilian music, and so many people put out playlists on the occasion of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, that I’ve been assembling a lot more of it, along with the lyrics and, whenI can find them, English translations. Your translations and commentaries are most helpful. Muito obrigado!

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