Camisa Amarela

Lyrics from “Camisa Amarela” by Ary Barroso (1939)

Original Recording by Araci de Almeida:

1956 Recording by Ary Barroso:

I found my man in the avenue
In a yellow shirt
Singing Florisbela, ah, Florisbela
I invited him to come home in my company
He showed me an ironic smile
And disappeared in the tumult of the gallery

He wasn’t well at all, my man, in truth
He was rather tipsy, loaded, wasted
He went staggering around
Finishing himself off on the rope
With the reco-reco in his hand
Later on I found him in a cheap café in Largo da Lapa
A full-blooded reveler, drinking his fourth cup of cachaça
And this is no joke

He came back at 7 a.m.
But just on Wednesday
Singing Jardineira, ohh, Jardineira
He asked me, still reeling, for a cup of water with baking soda

My man was really bad, cause he fell into bed
And didn’t even take off his shoes

And he snored a week, woke up in a bad mood
And tried to fight with me
What trouble, but I don’t mind!
My man conquers me, he captivates me – he’s the one

That’s why I let it slide
He took the shirt, the yellow shirt
And set fire to it
That’s how I like him
Once playtime’s over and he’s just for me
My Senhor de Bomfim

— Interpretation —

The female protagonist in this song tells a tale about finding her man — in the Portuguese lyrics, literally her “piece” (pedaço) — drunk in the avenue during Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.  The song was released in 1939, and the protagonist mentions two Carnaval hits from that year, “Florisbela” and “Jardineira.” The mention of those songs — along with Rio’s Carnaval landmarks: Largo da Lapa, the Avenue (Rio Branco) and the Gallery (Cruzeiro) —  bring the story to life.  The reco-reco is a noisemaker, played by scraping a stick over notches in the hollow instrument (pictured below). The rope mentioned in the song is the rope used to cordon off Carnaval parades.

A young Brazilian boy playing the reco-reco during a Carnaval festival

Araci de Almeida released the song in 1939, and in 1956, Ary Barroso recorded it himself, unfazed by its feminine voice.

Eleven years later, Chico Buarque released his first song written from a female point of view, “Com Açucar e com Afeto,” on the LP Chico Buarque de Hollanda 2. Chico, who was just 23 at the time, said he was worried everyone would think he was gay if he sang the song himself, so it was recorded by a woman. Later on, Chico heard Ary Barroso’s recording of “Camisa Amarela” and decided it was fine for him to sing in a female voice.  He quickly became renowned for his lyrics written from a female point of view, including “Olhos nos Olhos,” “Folhetim,” “Tatuagem,” and “Anna de Amsterdam.” (He has attributed his talent for writing songs from a feminine perspective to the number of women in his life: his former wife Marieta, his three daughters, their friends, and the household’s maids.)

“Camisa amarela” speaks to the hardships suffered by women in Brazil’s mid-20th century machista society.  The protagonist in the song resigns herself to being happy with her husband’s attention whenever he’s not out partying; he returns home on Wednesday – the end of Carnaval –  and she takes care of him in his drunken state, pleased just to have him around again.  (Chico’s songs with female protagonists, or those written about women, frequently address the same issues – often ironically.)

Ary Barroso (1903 – 1964) is widely considered the greatest master of Brazilian popular music, alongside Pixinguinha. Born in Ubá, Minas Gerais, his mother and father both died when he was just eight years old, and he went into his maternal grandmother’s care. He began playing piano and first appeared in public at age 12, in Ubá’s cinema Ideal. When he was seventeen, an uncle died and left him an inheritance, which he used to go to Rio de Janeiro.  He began law school, but ran out of money after the first two years, and started playing piano around Rio de Janeiro to support himself.

Carmen Miranda incorporated many of Barroso’s songs into her repertoire.

Ary had written his first song, “De longe,” at age 15, and shortly after, “Ubaenses Carnavalescos,” and he began to write more during his years in Rio. He was hired by the maestro Sebastião Cirino to play in Cirino’s orchestra, and made enough money to go back to law school in 1926. In 1929, Ary finished law school and had his first hit song: “Vamos deixar de intimidade,”  recorded by his friend and classmate Mário Reis. The same year, he entered and won first place in Casa Edison‘s contest for Carnaval songs with “Dá Nela,” and used the prize money to marry Ivone Belforte de Arantes.

Ary Barroso at Radio Tupi

Renato Murce invited Ary to work at Radio Philips in 1932, and throughout the 1930s, Ary worked as a commentator, comedian, and musician on a number of radio stations. In 1938, he composed the hit “Na baixa do sapateiro,” which Carmen Miranda recorded; in 1939, he released “Aquarela do Brasil,” sung by Francisco Alves, which was a hit in Brazil and abroad, recorded by the most esteemed singers around the world. “Aquarela do Brasil” was considered the first song in an entirely new genre, called  samba de exaltação — samba songs that sang praise of Brazil, which were popular with Getulio Vargas. (For more on this, see this post on “Aquarela brasileira.“)

Ary’s international fame grew with his soundtrack for Walt Disney’s movie The Three Caballeros (in Brazil, entitled Você já foi a Bahia?), and he spent much of 1944 in the United States, where he composed the theme song to Three Little Girls in Blue

Preoccupied with keeping samba “authentic,” Ary was a vocal critic of bossa nova and its “American chords.” Nonetheless, João Gilberto made a hit – a second time around – of Ary’s song “É luxo só” when he sang it bossa-nova style on his debut album, Chega de saudade. 

Ary Barroso died of liver cirrhosis in February, 1964, during the Carnaval in which Império Serrano paid tribute to him with the samba “Aquarela brasileira.” Since his death, his songs have been rerecorded by many of Brazil’s best-loved voices, including Gal Costa, Elis Regina, Paulinho da Viola, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, and Tom Jobim.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Encontrei o meu pedaço na avenida
De camisa amarela
Cantando a Florisbela, oi, a Florisbela
Convidei-o a voltar pra casa
Em minha companhia
Exibiu-me um sorriso de ironia
Desapareceu no turbilhão da galeria

Não estava nada bom
O meu pedaço na verdade
Estava bem mamado
Bem chumbado, atravessado
Foi por aí cambaleando
Se acabando num cordão
Com o reco-reco na mão
Mais tarde o encontrei
Num café zurrapa
Do Largo da Lapa
Folião de raça
Tomando o quarto copo de cachaça
Isto não é chalaça

Voltou às sete horas da manhã
Mas só na quarta feira
Cantando A Jardineira, oi, A Jardineira
Me pediu ainda zonzo
Um copo d’água com bicarbonato

O meu pedaço estava ruim de fato
Pois caiu na cama
E não tirou nem o sapato

E roncou uma semana
Despertou mal humorado
Quis brigar comigo
Que perigo, mas não ligo!
O meu pedaço me domina
Me fascina, ele é o tal

Por isso não levo a mal
Pegou a camisa, a camisa amarela
E botou fogo nela
Gosto dele assim
Passada a brincadeira
E ele é pra mim
Meu Sinhô do Bonfim

Main sources for this post: Panorama da Música Popular Brasileira, by Ary Vasconcelos (1964); Chico Buarque: Análise poético-musical by Gilberto de Carvalho (1982); and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 1, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello (1997)

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