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