Longe de casa

Lyrics from “Longe de casa” by Paulo Vanzolini and Eduardo Gudin



Good Audio Version (Dona Inah)

Far from home, I cry and want nothing
Because off his land, no one wants nor can do anything
I miss São Paulo, miss hearing, in the wee hours, low guitar strings
And a flute crying its choro notes like silver (repeat)

Pain from love doesn’t wound me
This longing for the drizzle is what kills me
And I go out on the street, whistling intently
An impassioned samba, that Silvio Caldas might sing
And I pretend the drizzle comes to wet my face
But it’s tears, and I cry so much
How I wish I could return today to that land that I love
Because far from home, I cry, and want nothing

— Interpretation —

Renowned sambista and zoologist Paulo Vanzolini. Photo via VejaSP.
Renowned sambista and zoologist Paulo Vanzolini. Photo via VejaSP.

Paulo Vanzolini (b. April 25, 1924) is such a renowned zoologist in Brazil that many people who know him from that field find it hard to believe he’s also the composer behind some of the country’s most beloved sambas. (Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello identify Vanzolini’s 1967 hit “Ronda” as, without a doubt, the most  frequently played song of the São Paulo night.) Similarly, fans of Vanzolini’s music who have little contact with the world of zoology are often unaware of his stature as a scientist. (Sixteen species, mostly reptiles and amphibians, carry his name.)

Vanzolini was born in São Paulo and spent most of his childhood and adolescence there, where his father, Carlos Alberto, was an engineering professor at the University of São Paulo.  When he was ten years old he made his first visit to the snake pits at USP’s biomedical research center, Instituto Butantan; fascinated, he began visiting three times a week to watch poisonous snakes being delivered in crates from all over Brazil. He memorized details about the snakes as they were being unloaded, and decided he wanted to work with reptiles.

Vanzolini in the lab. Photo via mpbnet.com.
Vanzolini in the lab. Photo via mpbnet.com.

Vanzolini’s father’s colleagues from the medical school convinced Paulo that if he wanted to study zoology, he should first study medicine. So he completed his medical degree in 1947, married in 1948, and  in 1949 he went to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to work toward his PhD at Harvard.

He recalls suffering intense culture shock at Harvard — a feeling that he’d “have to read two books at a time, one with each eye,” to catch up to his counterparts in Cambridge.  The dark, cold weather and often dreary surroundings were also a shock to him, and inspired him to write these verses one winter night there.

Vanzolini always preferred the field to the classroom. He spent decades collecting reptiles and amphibians for the University of São Paulo’s Museum of Zoology, where he was director from 1963 to 1993.

He has remarked that the great advantage of this career was that it allowed him to travel all over Brazil and foreign countries without having to spend his own money. He is proud to have covered more than eleven thousand miles of rivers in the Amazon on his research trips. And his collections benefited from his congeniality during the frequent stops on these boat trips: “I’d arrive and announce to the people:  ‘I’m buying little lizards, toads, and snakes!’ The price varied by region; that was a good strategy because it allowed me to be well-received by the locals. I bought their animals at an honorable price.”

But he clearly missed São Paulo when he was away. In the song, Vanzolini makes reference to São Paulo’s reputation as  a cidade da garoa – the city of drizzle – and to Silvio Caldas, one of Brazil’s most famous singers, who was at his height in the 1930s and 1940s. A flute crying “choro” is in reference to the musical style choro, or chorinho. The music for the song is by Eduardo Gudin.

At 88, Vanzolini still plays occasional shows around São Paulo. He is usually accompanied by his companion, Ana Bernardo, who does some of the singing while Vanzolini charms the crowd with his spirited storytelling. In spite of his small body of work – with fewer than fifty songs recorded – he is regarded, alongside Adoniran Barbosa, as one of São Paulo’s greatest sambistas.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Longe de casa eu choro e não quero nada
Pois fora do chão ninguém quer e não pode nada
Sinto falta de São Paulo
De escutar na madrugada
Uns bordões de violões
E uma flauta a chorar prata

Dor de amor não me magoa
A saudade da garoa é que me mata
E eu saio pra rua
Assobiando comprido
Um samba comovido
Que Sivio Caldas cantasse
E me iludo que a garoa
Vem molhar a minha face

Mas é pranto e choro tanto
Quem me dera que hoje mesmo
Eu voltasse pro chão que eu adoro
Pois longe de casa
Eu choro e não quero nada.

Unlinked source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2: 1958 – 1985, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

“Tocando em Frente” and “Amora”

Lyrics from “Tocando em Frente” by Renato Teixeira and Almir Sater, released by Maria Bethânia (1990)



Good Audio Version (Renato Teixeira)

I go slowly because I’ve already been in a rush
And I wear this smile because I’ve already cried too much
Today I feel stronger, happier – who knows
I carry with me only the certainty that I know very little, or I know nothing

Getting to know mannerisms and mornings
The flavor of  almonds and apples
A lot of love is necessary to push forward
Peace is necessary to be able to go on
And rain is necessary for blooming

I think that to make good on life may be simply
To understand the march, and go playing ahead
Like an old cattleman driving the oxen, I go on driving the days
Down the long road, I go, I’m a road

Each one of us composes our own story
And each carries within the gift of being able to be happy
Everyone loves one day, everyone cries, one day we arrive, and the next we leave.

— Interpretation —

In 1992, Renato Teixeira recorded with Pena Branca and Xavantinho, perhaps Brazil's best loved caipira duo.
In 1992, Renato Teixeira, center, recorded with Pena Branca and Xavantinho, perhaps Brazil’s best-loved caipira duo.

In spite of having been born in the city of Santos, São Paulo, Renato Teixeira is one of Brazil’s most prolific singer-songwriters in the caipira genre — a country-folk style of music from (or about) the hinterlands of the states of São Paulo, Paraná, Minas Gerais,  Goias, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.  This rural genre is closely and often indistinguishably related to classic country music in Brazil, known as sertanejo. (Sertanejo has taken on a different meaning in recent years, with the boom in popularity of pop sertanejo duos). Teixeira’s song “Romaria,” a sensation when sung by Elis Regina in 1977, is credited with having changed the connotations of the word caipira and cut away at prejudices against caipiras in Brazil. TV Globo used the song in its miniseries Carga Pesada, and the revered poet Haroldo de Campos told Veja that he regarded the song as one of the best of the decade.

“Tocando em Frente” became another of Teixeira’s greatest hits. He wrote it with Almir Sater, a singer-songwriter and actor with deeper caipira roots, from Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul. The song has been recorded by a long list of popular Brazilian singers.

Teixeira, born May 20, 1945, spent much of his childhood in Ubatuba, on the northern coast of São Paulo state, before moving at age fourteen to Taubaté, São Paulo.  In his early twenties he began working in radio in Taubaté and was introduced to sertanejo music.  He entered his first MPB Festival in 1967, with “Dadá Maria,” sung by Gal Costa, which qualified for the finals and is an example of his more classic MPB compositions from the late 1960s. In 1972, after participating in an album on Brazilian music from the West, Midwest and Southwest, he began to incorporate more caipira themes and musical elements into his songs.  The success of “Romaria” solidified his mastery of the genre.

In 1985 Teixeira played on the album Grandes Cantores Sertanejos (Great Country Singers), and in 1992, he recorded a live album, Ao Vivo em Tatuí, with one of Brazil’s most beloved caipira duos, the brothers Pena Branca and Xavantinho, for which they received the prestigious Sharp Award for best regional album of the year. The album features songs like “Tocando em Frente,” “Amora” (below),  Caetano Veloso’s “Canto do povo de um lugar,” and “O Cio da Terra,” by Chico Buarque and Milton Nascimento.

A few notes about the translation:  In an attempt to keep some of the alliteration from the original Portuguese in the second stanza (in English), I stretched the translation a bit, using “almonds” instead of “doughs,” which would be a literal translation of “massas,” and “mannerisms” for “manhas,” which would be closer to something like “quirks,” “caprices,” or “cunning.”  In the Portuguese version, all four words begin with “m” and are much more similar phonetically. “Tocar” in Portuguese means both to play (an instrument) and to drive (cattle), so in the second to last stanza it is used throughout in the Portuguese version, while the verb changes in English. “Tocar” can also mean simply “to go on,” which allows for another possible interpretation of “ir tocando em frente” more along the lines of “keep on keepin’ on.” Finally, in some versions, like the audio version provided above, the lyrics differ slightly, saying, “I feel that to carry on in life may be simply…”

Lyrics from “Amora” by Renato Teixeira (1979)

Good Audio Version

After the curve in the road, there’s a guava tree
I feel my eyes water every time I pass by
I feel my heart wounded, wrapped in solitude
I think the fruit of the heart must be sweet

I’m going to tell your father that you date…
I’m going to tell your mother that you ignore me
I’m going to paint my lips the red of the blackberries
That grow over yonder, in the yard of the house where you live

Lyrics in Portuguese: “Tocando em Frente”

Ando devagar
Porque já tive pressa
E levo esse sorriso
Porque já chorei demais

Hoje me sinto mais forte,
Mais feliz, quem sabe
Só levo a certeza
De que muito pouco sei,
Ou nada sei

Conhecer as manhas
E as manhãs
O sabor das massas
E das maçãs

É preciso amor
Pra poder pulsar
É preciso paz pra poder sorrir
É preciso a chuva para florir

Penso que cumprir a vida
Seja simplesmente
Compreender a marcha
E ir tocando em frente

Como um velho boiadeiro
Levando a boiada
Eu vou tocando os dias
Pela longa estrada, eu vou
Estrada eu sou

Conhecer as manhas
E as manhãs
O sabor das massas
E das maçãs

É preciso amor
Pra poder pulsar
É preciso paz pra poder sorrir
É preciso a chuva para florir

Todo mundo ama um dia,
Todo mundo chora
Um dia a gente chega
E no outro vai embora

Cada um de nós compõe a sua história
Cada ser em si
Carrega o dom de ser capaz
E ser feliz

Lyrics in Portuguese: “Amora”

Depois da curva da estrada
Tem um pé de araçá
Sinto vir água nos olhos
Toda vez que passo lá

Sinto o coração flechado
Cercado de solidão
Penso que deve ser doce
A fruta do coração

Vou contar para o seu pai
Que você namora
Vou contar pra sua mãe
Que você me ignora

Vou pintar a minha boca
Do vermelho da amora
Que nasce lá no quintal
Da casa onde você mora

O que é, o que é

Lyrics from “O que é, o que é” by Gonzaguinha
Album: Caminhos do Coração (1982)


Good Audio Version

I stand by the pureness of the children’s response:
It’s life, it’s beautiful, and it’s beautiful

To live and not be ashamed of being happy
To sing, and sing and sing the beauty of being an eternal apprentice
Oh, my God, I know that life ought to be better – and it will be
But that doesn’t keep me from repeating
It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful and it’s beautiful (Repeat)

And life! And life, what is it, tell me my brother
It’s the beat of a heart
It’s a sweet illusion
And life, is it wonder or suffering?  Is it joy or lamentation?
What is it, what is it my brother?
There are those who say that our life is nothing in this world
It’s a drop, it’s a moment that doesn’t last even a second
There are those who say it’s a divine, profound mystery
It’s the breath of the creator, in an act full of love
You say it’s struggles and pleasure
He says that life is to live
She says it’s better to die
Because she’s not loved, and the verb is ‘to suffer’
I just know I trust in the young girl, and in her I put the force of faith
We’re the ones who make life what it is
However possible, however we can or we wish
Always desired, as much as it may be off course
Nobody wants death, only health and good fortune
And the question goes around, and the mind is troubled…
I stand by the pureness of the children’s response:
It’s life, it’s beautiful and it’s beautiful

— Interpretation —

Gonzaguinha, left, singing with his father, the famous forró singer-songwriter Luiz Gonzaga, in Rio de Janeiro in 1987.

O que é, o que é?  (What is it, what is it?) is a children’s guessing game in Brazil (e.g.”What is it, what is it, that’s always broken when spoken?”; answer: a secret).

Gonzaguinha framed this song on the game: He gives a number of potential, complex descriptions of life, and then, eschewing explanations, settles on the simple answer that children provide – it’s life and it’s beautiful.

Luiz Gonzaga do Nascimento Junior (September 22, 1945 – April 30, 1991) was the son of the renowned singer-songwriter Luiz Gonzaga – Brazil’s most legendary forró musician, who popularized the northeastern style throughout Brazil in the 1940s and 1950s – and Odaléia Guedes dos Santos. Because of the timing of Gonzaguinha’s birth, his total lack of physical similarity to Luiz Gonzaga, and Luiz Gonzaga’s likely sterility, Gonzaguinha’s parentage is widely disputed. Nonetheless, the singer’s official website sticks to the story that he was Gonzaga’s biological son.

Gonzaguinha’s personality also differed dramatically from his father’s. While “Gonzagão” (Big Gonzaga) exuded cheer and lightheartedness, Gonzaguinha generally came across as bitter and tormented, both in person and in his music. He’d had a difficult childhood: His mother died when he was two, and Luiz Gonzaga left him in the care of friends, Dina and Henrique Xavier. The couple raised Gonzaguinha, who grew up feeling abandoned by his father. Later in life, Gonzaguinha gave Dina and Henrique credit for his music career, saying he learned to play guitar because of them.

Gonzaguinha, top right, with other members of the Movimento Artístico Universitário
Gonzaguinha, top right, with other members of the Movimento Artístico Universitário

After a brief and troubled stay with his father when he was sixteen, Gonzaguinha went to study economics in Rio de Janeiro, where he participated in the Movimento Artístico Universitário (Students’ Artistic Movement) – a group of students who got together to play music every Friday and aimed to “break down barriers” in the music market in Brazil. TV Globo created a show based on the movement – Som Livre Exportação (Free Sound Exportation) – hosted by Ivan Lins and Elis Regina. The weekly program, which ran from late 1970 to mid-1971, launched the music careers of group members like Gonzaguinha, Ivan Lins, Aldir Blanc and César Costa Filho.

Gonzaguinha initially took great pains to distance himself artistically from his father. But after touring northeast Brazil in 1975, he said he gained greater appreciation for his father’s music and its influence in the northeast.  In 1976 he released an LP with a recording of his father’s greatest hit, “Asa Branca,” and the pair performed together for the first time in 1979, in a show – and later a tour – called “Vida do Viajante” (Wanderer’s Life) after another one of Luiz Gonzaga’s most popular songs. Afterwards, Gonzaguinha and Gonzagão both demonstrated a desire to remain closer to one another, until Luiz Gonzaga’s death in 1989. Two years later, Gonzaguinha died in a car accident in Paraná, Brazil; he was 45.

Gonzaguinha was known for his sharply critical lyrics – often banned by the military censors – and his abrasive personality. “O que é o que é” stands out as one of the few exuberant songs in his body of work, alongside “O homem falou.” He composed the song in the Carnivalesque samba-enredo style, suggesting that it was meant to be belted out enthusiastically by masses of people, like the Carnival themes of Rio’s samba schools. In A Canção no Tempo, Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello call “O que é, o que é” a “true hymn of love for life.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Eu fico
Com a pureza
Da resposta das crianças
É a vida, é bonita
E é bonita…

Viver!
E não ter a vergonha
De ser feliz
Cantar e cantar e cantar
A beleza de ser
Um eterno aprendiz…

Ah meu Deus!
Eu sei, eu sei
Que a vida devia ser
Bem melhor e será
Mas isso não impede
Que eu repita
É bonita, é bonita
E é bonita…

E a vida!
E a vida o que é?
Diga lá, meu irmão
Ela é a batida
De um coração
Ela é uma doce ilusão
Hê! Hô!…

E a vida
Ela é maravilha
Ou é sofrimento?
Ela é alegria
Ou lamento?
O que é? O que é?
Meu irmão…

Há quem fale
Que a vida da gente
É um nada no mundo
É uma gota, é um tempo
Que nem dá um segundo…

Há quem fale
Que é um divino
Mistério profundo
É o sopro do criador
Numa atitude repleta de amor…

Você diz que é luta e prazer
Ele diz que a vida é viver
Ela diz que melhor é morrer
Pois amada não é
E o verbo é sofrer…

Eu só sei que confio na moça
E na moça eu ponho a força da fé
Somos nós que fazemos a vida
Como der, ou puder, ou quiser…

Sempre desejada
Por mais que esteja errada
Ninguém quer a morte
Só saúde e sorte…

E a pergunta roda
E a cabeça agita
Eu fico com a pureza
Da resposta das crianças
É a vida, é bonita
E é bonita…

Main sources for this post: Gonzaguinha e Gonzagão: Uma história brasileira by Regina Echeverria; A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2: 1958 – 1985 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello