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…

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

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