Lyrics to “Conceição” by Dunga and Jairo Amorim, interpreted by Cauby Peixoto (1956)

Good Audio Version

Conceição, I remember so well
Lived up on the hillside, dreaming of things the hillside doesn’t have

That was when, way up there, someone appeared
And told her to smile, and that going down to the city, she would really ascend

If she ascended, nobody knows, nobody saw
Because today her name’s been changed and she’s taken strange paths

I only know that trying to ascend she was brought down
And today she would give a million to be Conceição once again

— Interpretation —

Cauby Peixoto in 1958

“Conceição” was the top hit of 1956 in Brazil, much thanks to Cauby Peixoto’s legendary interpretation – still the most famous and beloved song in his repertoire.  Dunga (Valdemar de Abreu) composed the melody and Jair Amorim wrote the lyrics, which addressed a situation that was becoming increasingly common in Brazilian cities at the time:  young women selling themselves to escape the misery of the rapidly expanding favelas. (For more on the growth of favelas from the 1930s – 1980s, look at this post on “O Meu Guri.”) The girl’s name, before it’s changed, is deeply religious, taken from the Immaculate Conception. The lyrics were written in what Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello call a “picturesque style,” captivating listeners across Brazil.

Cauby Peixoto was born on February 10, 1931, in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Much of his family was involved in music in Rio de Janeiro: His father, Cadete, was a guitar player, and his uncle was the famous pianist Nonô, known for popularizing samba on the piano. Cauby’s cousin was the acclaimed singer Ciro Monteiro (1913-1973), who sang many Carnival hits alongside Carmen Miranda, Francisco Alves, and Mário Reis, and who was best known for playing his percussion on a matchbox.

Peixoto began singing in the choir at the Salesian school where he studied in Niterói, and in 1949 he began participating in amateur radio contests in Rio de Janeiro, which launched his career as a crooner.  He released his first album in 1951, with the samba “Saia branca,” by Geraldo Medeiros, and the march “Ai, que carestia!” by Victor Simon and Liz Monteiro. Shortly thereafter, he moved to São Paulo, where he began singing at bars Arpege and Oásis, and on Rádio Excelsior.  He impressed the musical marking mogul Di Veras with his ability to sing in English, and Veras helped Peixoto create a stage persona and develop a repertoire that included covers of American hits such as “New York, New York.” Peixoto was also one of the first Brazilian musicians to record rock and roll, testing the market in the country before more proper rock musicians began to emerge. After Time Magazine labeled him the “Brazilian Elvis Presley,” he was invited to the United States, where he recorded an album in English under the name Ron Coby. The album included his English version of the popular Brazilian song Maracangalha:

Twenty years after the release of “Conceição,” Jorge Ben wrote a song telling a similar tale, but this time with a happy ending —  “Jesualda.” Jesualda, meaning “she who believes in Christ,” is also drawn to go down from the hilltop (where she’s “up high, but not on top”) to find work in the city. But Jesualda – who could be considered Jorge Ben’s portrayal of the second generation of favelados  –  “has completed primary school,” and is able to find work as a maid. And even that doesn’t last too long: A rich man sees her at a bus stop, falls in love and marries her, and they move abroad. Jorge Ben is known for defending favelados in his music, as he did most expressly with “Charles, Anjo 45.”

Cauby Peixoto still sings regularly at Bar Brahma in São Paulo, where he’s almost always sure to sing “Conceição.”

Cauby Peixoto in 2010, nearing his 80th birthday.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Eu me lembro muito bem
Vivia no morro a sonhar
Com coisas que o morro não tem

Foi então
Que lá em cima apareceu
Alguém que lhe disse a sorrir
Que, descendo à cidade, ela iria subir

Se subiu
Ninguém sabe, ninguém viu
Pois hoje o seu nome mudou
E estranhos caminhos pisou

Só eu sei
Que tentando a subida desceu
E agora daria um milhão
Para ser outra vez Conceição

Main source for this post:  A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, Vol 1: 1901-1957

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