A Briga do Edifício Itália e do Hilton Hotel

Lyrics from “A Briga do Edifício Itália e do Hilton Hotel” by Tom Zé (1972)



Good Audio Version (Tom Zé)

The Itália building was the king of Ipiranga Avenue
Tall, majestic and handsome, no one came close to its greatness
But now the Hilton Hotel building showed up
Elegant, modern and charming, stealing attention with its beauty

The Itália building got jealous
And spread the word among friends
That to get so white, the Hilton drinks rice-flour tea
Only wears the latest fashion, dresses up right,
And if he goes up Consolação wearing white
Will cause terror even in the cemetery

The Hilton immediately responded in turn:
This obsession with greatness gets you nowhere
Just look: Sure, I may be affected, but I don’t give people any reason to talk
With you it’s different
Cause in the neighborhood, in spite of your peacockish aplomb,
They’re already calling you Dumb Joe from the corner.

(The Itália building was the king of Ipiranga Avenue
Tall, majestic and handsome, no one came close to its greatness
But now the Hilton Hotel building showed up
Elegant, modern and charming, stealing attention with its beauty)

And the Hilton, grinning, said that the Itália building
Acts like an overblown Samson
And what’s more, he only thinks about money
He doesn’t know what love is, he has a body of steel, a robot’s soul
Because he doesn’t have a heart to speak of
Since what beats in his chest is an adding machine

The Itália building stomped with rage, willed a plague upon Hilton
And even insinuated that the Hilton had been born round to call attention
Flaunted those curves to cause a sensation
And even seemed like a crazy girl, or the Tower of Pisa dressed up as a bride

The Itália building was the king of Ipiranga Avenue
Was the king of Ipiranga Avenue, was the king…

–Interpretation–

Edificio Itália in São Paulo. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Edificio Itália in São Paulo. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Edifício Itália, on the corner of Avenida Ipiranga and Rua São Luiz in São Paulo, was the center of attention in São Paulo’s center in the late 1960s. It was the tallest building in Latin America when it was inaugurated with plenty of pomp in September, 1965. The Italian immigrant association Círcolo Itáliano had constructed the building to house its new headquarters. Swank and luxurious, Edifício Itália symbolized the progress the Italian community had made since the founding of Círcolo Itáliano in São Paulo in 1911.

But in October, 1971, just down the way, the white, sleek, cylindrical Hilton Hotel was inaugurated — the first international chain hotel to open in Brazil. The pop-rock icon Roberto Carlos sang at its inauguration.

And in Tom Zé’s eyes, the Edifício Itália felt threatened by this fair and modernistic newcomer.

Hilton Hotel in 1972, the year this song was released. Photo via Estado de São Paulo.
Hilton Hotel in 1972, the year this song was released. Photo via Estado de São Paulo.

The two architectural icons – one Brazilian, one foreign and conspicuously capitalistic, tensely cohabiting this central block of São Paulo – provided perfect material for Tom Zé, one of the Bahian vanguard artists who formed the Tropicália movement in the late 1960s. The movement challenged conservative nationalist currents in Brazilian popular music and society, but also satirized or scorned outright the widespread reverence and replication of imported symbols, styles and sensibilities in Brazil. Tom Zé remarked that the powerful influence of transnational capital was quickly transforming citizens of third-world nations like Brazil into illiterate, commodified androids that served the sole purpose of creating surplus capital. But culture brought hope:  “These androids,” he said, “reveal some inborn ‘defects’: they think, dance, and dream – things that are very dangerous to the First World Bosses.”

Announcement for the inauguration of Edifício Itália. The building was designed by the German-Brazilian architect Franz Heep.
Announcement for the inauguration of Edifício Itália. The building was designed by the German-Brazilian architect Franz Heep.

In this song, the two buildings, anthropomorphized, get into a petty, gossip-fueled feud. (The anthropomorphization is subtler in Portuguese since “he” and “it” are the same word, ele.) The Hilton all but admits to its affectations, but strikes back that the lavish Itália only thinks about money – with an adding machine in place of a heart.

Consolação, mentioned in the song, is a central road in São Paulo; it begins near the block where the Hilton and the Edifício Itália are feuding and a bit up the road is the Consolação Cemetery, the city’s oldest burial ground. Consolação also plays a starring role in another of Zé’s songs about São Paulo, “Augusta, Angélica, e Consolação” in which the streets, like the buildings, are anthropomorphized, in this case as women displaying the traits of their namesake streets.

Tom Zé was born Antônio José Santana Martins on October 11, 1936, in the small town of Irará, Bahia. He studied classical music at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, in Salvador, and at Caetano Veloso‘s urging, Zé moved from Bahia to São Paulo in January, 1968. (In this documentary, Veloso says, “I ended up bringing him, literally – he came with me on the plane down to the southeast.”)

Zé adapted quickly. In 1968, he recorded his composition “Parque Industrial,” which satirized the national fixation with industrialization (its refrain, in English, is “Made, made, made, made in Brazil”) on the album Tropicália: ou Panis et CircensesAnd later that year his composition “São São Paulo,” about São Paulo residents’ conflicting feelings of repulsion and affection for the city, took first place at TV Record’s IV Festival de Música Popular Brasileira.

Zé stopped collaborating with Caetano and Gil shortly thereafter, though. They went into exile from the military dictatorship in London in 1969, and Zé stayed behind in Brazil, where he says word began to spread that there was “an opening” in the tropicalist movement to fill his spot. He had a different, even less conventional style than the rest of the tropicalists, which caused friction; meanwhile, he grew jealous of their success in Brazil and abroad. By the time Gil and Caetano returned from London in 1972, Gil recalls that Zé had become a recluse and it was no longer possible for them to pick up where they’d left off in 1968.

Zé continued to produce new work, but his idiosyncratic musical style and his provocative persona alienated many Brazilian listeners, particularly with the release of Todos os Olhos in 1973, and Estudando o Samba in 1976. Both albums achieved critical success only many years later, after the former Talking Head David Byrne heard the latter album, loved it, and quickly released a compilation album, The Best of Tom Zéon his Luaka Bop label.

Brazilians’ tendency to hold foreigners’ judgments in high regard – a tendency satirized in Tom Zé’s music – ended up favoring Zé’s musical career. Byrne’s accolades and the critical and popular success of The Best of Tom Zé abroad brought Zé renewed respect at home, and he reemerged from relative obscurity to play for a public more prepared for his avant garde style.

The Hilton Hotel relocated to São Paulo’s Centro Empresarial Nações Unidas in 2004. The old building sat empty for a few years, until it was rented by São Paulo’s Tribunal de Justiça (Court of Justice) for office spaces in 2007.

Lyrics in Portuguese

O Edifício Itália
era o rei da Avenida Ipiranga:
alto, majestoso e belo,
ninguém chegava perto
da sua grandeza.
Mas apareceu agora
o prédio do Hilton Hotel
gracioso, moderno e charmoso
roubando as atenções pra sua beleza.

O Edifício Itália ficou enciumado
e declarou a reportagem de amiga:
que o Hilton, pra ficar todo branquinho
toma chá de pó-de-arroz.
Só anda na moda, se veste direitinho
e se ele subir de branco pela Consolação
até no cemitério vai fazer assombração
o Hilton logo logo respondeu em cima:
a mania de grandeza não te dá vantagem
veja só, posso até ser requintado
mas não dou o que falar
Contigo é diferente,
porque na vizinhança
apesar da tua pose de rapina
já andam te chamando
Zé-Boboca da esquina

E o Hilton sorridente
disse que o Edifício Itália
tem um jeito de Sansão descabelado
e ainda mais, só pensa em dinheiro
não sabe o que é amor
tem corpo de aço,
alma de robô,
porque coração ele não tem pra mostrar
Pois o que bate no seu peito
é máquina de somar.

O Edifício Itália sapateou de raiva
rogou praga e
até insinuou que o Hilton
tinha nascido redondo
pra chamar a atenção
abusava das curvas
pra fazer sensação
e até parecia uma menina louca
Ou a torre de Pisa
vestida de noiva

Main sources for this post: Brutality Garden by Christopher Dunn; Fabricando Tom Zé; Tom Zé official siteA Era dos Festivais  by Zuza Homem de Mello.

Leave a Comment

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s