Alegria, Alegria

Lyrics from “Alegria, Alegria” by Caetano Veloso (1967)

Original video from Festival Record (1967), apologies for quality

Good Audio Version

Walking against the wind, no kerchief, no ID
Under the near-December sun
I go…
The Sun is divided among crimes
Spaceships, guerillas
And beautiful Cardinales
I go…
In presidents’ faces, in passionate kisses, in teeth, legs, and flags
Bombs and Brigitte Bardot

The sun on the newsstands fills me with joy and laziness
Who reads that much news?
I go…

Among photos and names
Eyes full of color
And breast full of vain loves
I go…
Why not, why not?

She thinks about marriage
I never went back to school
No kerchief, no ID,
I go…

I drink coca-cola, she thinks about marriage
And a song consoles me
I go…

Among photos and names
No books, no rifle
No hunger, no telephone
In the heart of Brazil…

She doesn’t even know that I even thought about singing on TV
The sun is so lovely
I go…

No kerchief, no ID
Nothing in my pockets or hands
I want to go on living love
I will…
Why not, why not…
Why not, why not…  why not, why not…

— Interpretation —

Caetano singing “Alegria, Alegria” with the Argentine rock group the Beat Boys, 1967

“Alegria, Alegria” (“Joy, joy”) is one of the signature songs that launched Caetano Veloso and the nascent Tropicália movement into the spotlight of the Brazilian music scene in 1967. Caetano performed the song  at the legendary 1967 3rd Record Festival of Música Popular Brasileira (inspiration for the film “A Night in ’67”) with the Argentine rock group the Beat Boys, eliciting jeers from purists who rejected any foreign elements in Brazilian music.  At the same festival, Gil sang “Domingo no Parque.” Together, the two songs introduced Brazil to Caetano and Gil’s “universal sound,” which controversially mixed influences from around the globe – most notably, rock and roll – with regional styles and themes,  especially from their home state of Bahia.

Gil and Caetano came in second and fourth place in the festival, respectively, behind Edu Lobo’s “Ponteio” (first place) and Chico Buarque‘s “Roda Viva” (third place), entries that appealed more to the standards of the festival, which generally valued a song’s message over its musical arrangement. But by the end of 1967, “Alegria, Alegria” was at the top of the IBOPE singles chart for record sales, while the winner “Ponteio” was in tenth place.

The metaphor behind the lyrics of “Alegria Alegria” has been likened to a manifesto for the Tropicália movement:

The song follows a transient walking through city streets (presumably Rio de Janeiro, where Caetano was inspired to write the song on a walk through Copacabana).  The wandering narrator takes in the “confusing, fragmented reality of a modern Brazilian city,” full of imported symbols of  modernity. He browses a newsstand selling the counter-culture newspaper O Sol (The Sun). Headlines and images of crimes, bombs, spaceships and leftist guerrilla uprisings – in this case, Che Guevara’s campaign in Bolivia – compete with photos of foreign actresses and sex symbols (Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale) for the narrator’s attention.

As the list of images goes on, it becomes more fragmented –presidents’ faces, teeth, legs, etc; the narrator, in the meantime, drinks his coca-cola and doesn’t think too much of any of it.  He says the sun fills him with joy and laziness — characteristics typically associated with backward Brazilians (carnavalesque exuberance mixed with laziness), which the military government was ostensibly fighting with its modernization project.  The military regime aimed to bring modernization to the “heart of Brazil” that Caetano refers to, with wildly misguided projects like the Transamazonian Highway; in the meantime, modernization for most people meant this confused influx of mostly superficial symbols and images.

Still, rather than dwelling on bombs or politics, the narrator ponders a potential singing career and how good the summer sun feels. Spurning laws and societal conventions – no ID, little education and ambivalent about marriage – he just wants to go on living and loving freely, without limitations, why not?

The mixture of all of these images in “Alegria, Alegria” – true to life – neutralizes any social message or criticism in the song. Caetano’s “insubordinate juxtaposition” of national and international politics, triumphs and tragedies with completely quotidian concerns, all sung to a simple marchinha tune, are what made the song revolutionary.  In 1967, the public was accustomed to songs with clearer social messages about poverty, violence and political repression; by contrast, “Alegria, Alegria” was scattered and ambiguous. Embracing contradictions and exposing hypocrisies in society, the arts and the artistic process itself became a defining element of Tropicália.

Written in what’s been called a “descriptive-cinematographic style,” the song reflects the influence of Brazilian Cinema Novo and French New Wave cinema on Caetano’s work. Caetano has remarked that after seeing the 1967 Cinema Novo film Terra em Transe, directed by Glauber Rocher, he set out to create the same effect with his music. The style won the  praise and solidarity of concretistas  like the poet Augusto de Campos and the composer Gilberto Mendes, and from the rock music scene — Caetano appeared in the first edition of Rolling Stone magazine in November 1967.

Helio Oiticica’s 1967 mixed-media installation “Tropicália,” the inspiration for the name of Tropicália movement. Source: IG Blog

In 1968, Caetano released his first solo LP, Caetano Veloso (Tropicália), which served to officially baptize the movement,  named after artist Hélio Oiticica’s 1967 mixed-media installation at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo. Though the movement is often  referred to as tropicalismo, Caetano, Gil, et al. preferred Tropicalia because they didn’t want to become just another “ism.”

In this video, Caetano says he considers the song “unsatisfactory,” but is pleased that people like it so much and that it’s had such a strong response.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Caminhando contra o vento
Sem lenço e sem documento
No sol de quase dezembro
Eu vou…

O sol se reparte em crimes
Espaçonaves, guerrilhas
Em cardinales bonitas
Eu vou…

Em caras de presidentes
Em grandes beijos de amor
Em dentes, pernas, bandeiras
Bomba e Brigitte Bardot…

O sol nas bancas de revista
Me enche de alegria e preguiça
Quem lê tanta notícia
Eu vou…

Por entre fotos e nomes
Os olhos cheios de cores
O peito cheio de amores vãos
Eu vou
Por que não, por que não…

Ela pensa em casamento
E eu nunca mais fui à escola
Sem lenço e sem documento,
Eu vou…

Eu tomo uma coca-cola
Ela pensa em casamento
E uma canção me consola
Eu vou…

Por entre fotos e nomes
Sem livros e sem fuzil
Sem fome, sem telefone
No coração do Brasil…

Ela nem sabe até pensei
Em cantar na televisão
O sol é tão bonito
Eu vou…

Sem lenço, sem documento
Nada no bolso ou nas mãos
Eu quero seguir vivendo, amor
Eu vou…

Por que não, por que não…
Por que não, por que não…
Por que não, por que não…
Por que não, por que não…

Main sources for this post include: Tropicália Alegoria Alegria by Celso Favaretto; Brutality Garden by Christopher Dunn; “The Tropes of Tropicality and Tropicalism” by Charles Perrone; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 2 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, and Verdade Tropical by Caetano Veloso.

5 thoughts on “Alegria, Alegria”

  1. Vicky, thanks so much for this blog! I love listening to the music and seeing the videos. My husband and I lived in Brasil from ’69-’71 and you’ve got lots of great stuff from those years. And I loved meeting your mom on our Cuba adventure in June. Hope to meet her again some day.

    1. Thanks so much, Dixie! What an interesting time to have lived here. I´m glad you´re enjoying the blog and let me know if there are any songs you´d like to see. My mom loved the Cuba trip — we´re hoping to go again sometime soon!

  2. I greatly appreciate your writing, I’m a 15 year old American girl who loves Tropicalia and I obviously could have never had the insight to understand these songs on my own, so I love what you do! It’s pretty much impossible to find many other Brazilian song meanings articles in English– I love how in depth you go with the historical context and lyrical inspirations. ❤ — an admiring fan

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