“Volta por cima” and “Ronda”

Lyrics from “Volta por cima” (1962) and “Ronda” (1967) by Paulo Vanzolini

“Volta por cima”

I cried, I didn’t try to hide it, everyone saw
They pretended to pity me, they needn’t have
There where I cried, anyone would cry
Come back out on top like I did, I’d like to see who could do that

A man of morale doesn’t stay on the ground
Nor does he want a woman to come give him a hand
He acknowledges the fall, but doesn’t despair
He gets up, shakes off the dust and comes back out on top


At night I roam the city looking for you, without finding you
Amidst gazes, I peek into all the bars, and you’re not there
I return home dejected, disenchanted with life
Dreams bring happiness – you’re in them*
Oh if I had someone who cared for me dearly
That someone would tell me, ‘give up, it’s futile’
But I wouldn’t give up
Rather, with perfect patience, I go back to looking, I’m bound to find you
Drinking with other women, rolling dice, playing billiards
And that day, then, it’ll come out in the first edition:
“Bloody scene in a bar on Avenida São João”

— Interpretation —

Paulo Vanzolini, image via veja.abril.com.br.
Paulo Vanzolini, image via veja.abril.com.br.

Paulo Vanzolini died yesterday, April 28th, three days after his 89th birthday, of complications from pneumonia. He was both a beloved samba musician and one of Brazil’s most accomplished and world-renowned scientists – a zoologist specializing in reptiles.

Vanzolini liked to poke fun at himself as a musician, implying that he’d become a popular sambista in spite of himself: “I work as a zoologist 15 hours a day and I love my job,” he told Folha de São Paulo in 1997. “I can’t sing and I don’t even know the difference between minor and major tones.” His air of blithe irreverence and his knack for managing to be at once politically incorrect and entirely lovable made him wildly popular, with the help of course of his compositions like “Volta por cima” and “Ronda,” two of the best known and most requested songs in music venues in his native São Paulo and around the country.
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Falsa Baiana

Lyrics from “Falsa Baiana” by Geraldo Pereira (1944)

Good Audio Versions: João Gilberto, Gal Costa

[This] baiana, who goes into the samba and just stands there
Doesn’t samba, doesn’t dance, doesn’t move or nothing
Doesn’t know how to leave the youth in a craze

[The] baiana is the one who goes into the samba any which way
That moves, that shakes, twists her hips into a knot
Leaving the young’uns’ mouths watering

The phony baiana, when she goes into the samba,
No one goes out of their way, no one claps
No one opens the circle, no one yells “Oba, Salve a Bahia, Lord”
But we like it when a baiana dances samba just right
From the top on down, she rolls her little eyes, saying,
“I’m a daughter of São Salvador”

— Interpretation —

Geraldo Pereira, image via Funarte

Dona Isaura, the wife of the composer Roberto Martins, takes the dubious honor of being the inspiration for this song. On the second to last night of Carnaval in 1944, Martins was at a bar chatting with Geraldo Pereira when Dona Isaura showed up, dressed up as a baiana (a woman from the state of Bahia, where the population is predominantly of African descent). In contrast to Bahian women, who are reputed for being joyful and exuding positive energy – and for knowing how to dance samba “just right” – Dona Isaura was in a sour mood that night, prompting her husband to observe to Geraldo, “Check out the phony baiana.” Martins’s observation got Pereira thinking about how to distinguish a true baiana from an impostor, and he wrote his greatest hit based on that premise.

Baiana dancing
What would appear to be a true baiana, dancing.

Pereira’s innovative style of syncopated samba and the rhythm within the lyrics themselves had a strong influence on João Gilberto, who, in turn, went on the make this song doubly famous with his bossa nova version, released on the 1973 LP João Gilberto.  

Geraldo Pereira was born in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais,  in 1918, and moved to Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Morro da Mangueira  in 1930. He died in 1955, at age 37, from a hemorrhage that was rumored to have been caused by a fight with an almost mythical marginal figure of the carioca night, the drag artist and capoeirista known as Madame Satã (Madam Satan). Although even Satã took advantage of this story, the most reliable sources say Pereira actually died from an untreated intestinal disease that was aggravated by his drinking habits.

How to dress up as a falsa baiana.
How to dress up as a falsa baiana.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Baiana que entra no samba e só fica parada
Não samba, não dança, não bole nem nada
Não sabe deixar a mocidade louca
Baiana é aquela que entra no samba de qualquer maneira
Que mexe, remexe, dá nó nas cadeiras
Deixando a moçada com água na boca

A falsa baiana quando entra no samba
Ninguém se incomoda, ninguém bate palma
Ninguém abre a roda, ninguém grita ôba
Salve a bahia, senhor

Mas a gente gosta quando uma baiana
Samba direitinho, de cima embaixo
Revira os olhinhos dizendo
Eu sou filha de são salvador

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos da músicas brasileiras by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Melo