“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.

“Volta por cima” popularized the title phrase, which roughly means “come back out on top.” Vanzolini used to remark playfully that he only found out later that the then little-used phrase actually existed “officially” and was defined in Aurélio’s dictionary as “an act of overcoming, resolving a difficult situation.” He said he wrote the song to express a philosophy of life – “how I would like to be.” Vanzolini was on a research trip in the Amazon when the singer known as Noite Ilustrada recorded and released “Volta por cima,” which became an instant sensation. He was surprised when he returned to São Paulo to hear his song on the radio, on its way to becoming Noite Ilustrada’s greatest hit.

Vanzolini wrote “Ronda” when he was a young man in the army and often found himself rounding up drunken soldiers in bars and whorehouses. The song was first recorded in 1953 by the singer Inezita Barroso. Barroso was recording the song “Marvada Pinga” on a 45 record and needed a song for the B-side; Vanzolini, in the studio, offered up “Ronda.” But that record didn’t garner the public’s attention, and “Ronda” only became popular with its 1967 release by the singer Claúdia Moreno on the album of Vanzolini’s compositions, Onze sambas e uma capoeiraThe public grew even more fond of “Ronda” with the singer Márcia‘s 1977 recording, which is the version in the YouTube video linked above.

In his typical spirit of light-hearted self-deprecation, Vanzolini called “Volta por cima” a failure, lamenting, “No one understood that the important part isn’t to come out on top, it’s to acknowledge the fall.” Similarly, he categorized  “Ronda” as something along the lines of “wretched drivel.”

*I’ve translated “o sono alegria me da – nele você está” as “dreams bring happiness – you’re in them,” but a more literal translation is “sleep brings happiness – you’re in it.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

“Volta por cima”

Chorei, não procurei esconder
Todos viram, fingiram
Pena de mim, não precisava
Ali onde eu chorei
Qualquer um chorava
Dar a volta por cima que eu dei
Quero ver quem dava
Um homem de moral não fica no chão
Nem quer que mulher
Venha lhe dar a mão
Reconhece a queda e não desanima
Levanta, sacode a poeira
E dá a volta por cima


De noite eu rondo a cidade
A te procurar sem encontrar
No meio de olhares espio em todos os bares
Você não está
Volto pra casa abatida
Desencantada da vida
O sonho alegria me dá
Nele você está
Ah, se eu tivesse quem bem me quisesse
Esse alguém me diria
Desiste, esta busca é inútil
Eu não desistia
Porém, com perfeita paciência
Volto a te buscar
Hei de encontrar
Bebendo com outras mulheres
Rolando um dadinho
Jogando bilhar
E neste dia então
Vai dar na primeira edição
Cena de sangue num bar
Da avenida são joão

Main 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

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