Viola Enluarada

Lyrics from “Viola Enluarada” by Marcos Valle and Paulo Sérgio Valle (1968)

Good Audio Version (Marcos Valle and Milton Nascimento)

The hand that plays a guitar, if necessary, makes war
Kills the world, wounds the earth.
The voice that sings a song, if necessary, sings a hymn
Exalts death.
Viola on a moonlit night in the backlands is like a sword
Hope for vengeance.
The same foot that dances a samba, if necessary, goes to combat
He who has a companion at night knows that peace is fleeting
To defend her he gets up and screams:  I’ll go!
Hand, guitar, song and sword
And moonlit viola
Through the countryside and city
Flag bearer, capoeira, marching they go on singing,
Liberty, liberty, liberty…

— Interpretation —

Album cover for Viola Enluarada (1968)
Album cover for Viola Enluarada (1968)

The viola referred to in this song is different from the violin-like instrument that most English speakers know as a viola. In Brazilian music, viola almost always refers to a plucked twelve-string acoustic  guitar that’s associated with the countryside.  “Companion” is used in the feminine, and “to defend her he gets up and screams…” could refer to both the companion and peace.

In 1967, Marcos Valle was in New York recording the album Samba 68. It was his longest stay yet in the United States, and he was looking on from afar during a particularly dark time in Brazil, as the military dictatorship that had seized power in 1964 tightened its grip over society in the months prior to the decree of AI-5. Yearning for home, Marcos composed this distinctly Brazilian melody. When he returned to Brazil, he brought the tune to his eldest brother and partner, Paulo Sérgio Valle, who wrote the lyrics.  Soon after, Marcos met Milton Nascimento at Tom Jobim‘s house in Leblon, and the two sang the song together. They made a perfect pair; the song suited Milton – it even seemed like it could be one of his own.

Among protest songs from the 1960s and 1970s, “Viola Enluarada” stands out for having not only a powerful political message but also a rich, intricate melody. (Many protest songs, perhaps most notoriously “Caminhando/Pra não dizer que não falei das flores” by Geraldo Vandré, were known for having rousing lyrics set to very simple melodies.)  Marcos and Milton released “Viola Enluarada” – with an arrangement by Dori Caymmi  – as a single in 1968.  By that time, stores already had long waiting lists for the single, which the tremendously popular group Quarteto em Cy had been singing in their shows. The song also became the title track for Marcos’s next album, and in the early 70s was adopted as a sort of hymn by the Araguaia guerrillas, who had taken up arms against the military dictatorship.

Lyrics in Portuguese

A mão que toca um violão
Se for preciso faz a guerra,
Mata o mundo, fere a terra.
A voz que canta uma canção
Se for preciso canta um hino,
Louva à morte.
Viola em noite enluarada
No sertão é como espada,
Esperança de vingança.
O mesmo pé que dança um samba
Se preciso vai à luta,
Quem tem de noite a companheira
Sabe que a paz é passageira,
Prá defendê-la se levanta
E grita: Eu vou!
Mão, violão, canção e espada
E viola enluarada
Pelo campo e cidade,
Porta bandeira, capoeira,
Desfilando vão cantando
Quem tem de noite a companheira
Sabe que a paz é passageira,
Prá defendê-la se levanta
E grita: Eu vou!
Porta bandeira, capoeira,
Desfilando vão cantando
Liberdade, liberdade, liberdade…

Main sources for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 2: 1958 – 1985 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello,  and Songbook: Marcos Valle, by Almir Chediak.

4 thoughts on “Viola Enluarada”

  1. Thank you very for posting these facts about Marcos Valle and this wonderful composition. I am Dutch and not fluent in Portuguese. I can understand lyrics when I listen to artists when they ‘re performing, but for the deeper layers of the text I have to read the lyrics.
    I am almost retired form working and the first thing will do when I have the time for it is studying Portuguese.
    so I wwill have a better understanding of the songs from my favourite artists like Milton Nacscimento (listening to one of his albums I heard “Viola Enluarada” for the first time), Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Lô Borges (and in fact the whoe “Clube de Esquino gang”) and so many more Brazilian artists.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s