“Tenho Sede” and “Lamento Sertanejo”

Lyrics from “Tenho Sede” by Dominguinhos and Anastácia (1975)

Bring me a cup of water, I’m thirsty and this thirst could kill me
My throat yearns for a little water and my eyes yearn for your gaze
A plant needs water when it wants to bloom
The sky in turn darkens when it is about to rain
My heart only needs your love, if you don’t give it, I could die

Lyrics from “Lamento Sertanejo” by Dominguinhos and Gilberto Gil (1973)

Because I’m from there, from the backlandsthe shrubland
Out there, in the middle of the woods
From the brush of the fields
I barely go out, I barely have any friends, I’m barely able to stay in the city
Without living in contradiction

Because I’m from there, for sure that’s why
I don’t like soft beds, I can’t eat without pork rinds
I barely speak, I barely know anything
I’m like stray head of cattle in this crowd, herd walking aimlessly

— Interpretation —

Luiz Gonzaga, foreground, playing with Dominguinhos.
Luiz Gonzaga, foreground, playing with Dominguinhos.

Dominguinhos was the hand-picked successor to Luiz Gonzaga, the musician who practically invented the northeastern baião-forró genre in Brazil in the mid-20th century and made it popular throughout the country. 

Like Luiz Gonzaga, Dominguinhos – born José Domingos de Morais on February, 12, 1941 – was from the interior of Pernambuco (Dominguinhos was from Garanhuns,  about 400 kilometers as the crow flies from Gonzaga’s hometown of Exu); also like Gonzaga, Dominguinhos was the son of a small-scale farmer, accordion player and tuner – Chicão.

As Dominguinhos describes in this program, he began to perform with two of  his brothers at open-air markets, bar entrances and parties when he was seven, and by the time he was eight he was collecting change in a hat to help provide for the family of ten children.

The Tavares Correia Hotel in Garanhuns, Pernambuco, where 8-year-old Dominguinhos played for Luiz Gonzaga for the first time.
The Tavares Correia Hotel in Garanhuns, Pernambuco, where 8-year-old Dominguinhos played for Luiz Gonzaga for the first time.

One place he and his brothers regularly performed was the entryway to the Tavares Correia Hotel. The budding musicians were surprised one day to be invited inside the hotel to play at a banquet: a special guest they’d never heard of was in town and wanted them to perform for him.

Dominguinhos relates, “In 1949 or 1950 Luiz Gonzaga appeared in Garanhuns and I don’t know why but they had us play for him at what they called a banquet. He really liked me, and said, ‘Boy, I’m going to give you a little help’: he gave me a big roll of money – still don’t know to this day how much – and his address in Rio de Janeiro, and told me ‘Any time you go to Rio, you come find me, cause I want to help you’; when I was thirteen, I went and found him in Rio.”

At 13, Dominguinhos moved with his family to Rio de Janeiro on a pau-de-arara truck like this one.
At 13, Dominguinhos moved with his family to Rio de Janeiro on a pau-de-arara truck like this one.

Like millions of other migrants who abandoned the arid northeast in the mid to late twentieth century, Dominguinhos made the move with his family to Nilópolis, Rio de Janeiro, on a pau de arara (parrot’s perch) truck after his father gave up farming in Pernambuco. It was an eleven day journey on hard wooden benches. (Around that time, pau de arara was coming into currency as a pejorative term to refer to northeasterners.) Upon arriving in Rio, Dominguinhos and his father hastily sought out Gonzaga, who spoke briefly to Chicão and promptly gave him a new red accordion.

Dominguinhos, left, with Luiz Gonzaga.
Dominguinhos, left, with Luiz Gonzaga.

Dominguinhos said that from that point on he was inseparable from Gonzaga. He began to accompany Gonzaga to the studio, but didn’t play with him there until a few years later: In 1957, the two were in a studio packed with members of the press covering Gonzaga’s new release; Gonzaga surprised Dominguinhos by publicly introducing him as his musical successor and inviting him to join him playing “Forró no escuro.” Dominguinhos said he basically began a new life that day.

Gonzaga also gave Dominguinhos his artistic name. Dominguinhos recalled Gonzaga telling him to scrap his childish nickname — Neném (Baby) — in favor of Dominguinhos (little Domingos), which would also serve as an homage to Domingos Ambrósio, a fellow accordionist Gonzaga had grown close to while serving in the army in Juiz de Fora.

Luiz Gonzaga had a notoriously tumultuous relationship with his adoptive guitarist son Gonzaguinha, who was a few years younger than Dominguinhos. Dominguinhos said Gonzaga called him his “other son,” believing he was the accordionist son Gonzaga had always wanted.

Anastácia and Dominguinhos met on a tour through the northeast of Brazil in 1967.
Anastácia and Dominguinhos met on a tour through the northeast of Brazil in 1967.

Dominguinhos never wrote lyrics; he only composed tunes in his head. He was married to the forró singer and lyricist Anastácia for eleven years, from the late 1960s through the late 1970s, and together they composed some of his best-loved songs.  Anastácia wrote the lyrics for “Tenho Sede” and Dominguinhos said they struck him as weird at first – particularly “Bring me a cup of water”; but he knew not to question Anastácia too much, and the song became one of his most popular. The couple composed about 210 songs together, including the sensation “Eu só quero um xodó,” which Gilberto Gil released in 1973 and which Anastácia calculates was re-recorded by 440 singers around the world.

In the early 1970s, after returning from three years of exile in London, Gilberto Gil – a northeasterner from Bahia – was increasingly exploring northeastern themes and elements in his music. Gil’s producer, Guilherme Araújo, saw Dominguinhos playing with Luiz Gonzaga in 1972 and invited him to work with Gil and Gal Costa. Gil composed lyrics for Dominguinhos’s tune “Lamento Sertanejo,” voicing the sentiments of recently arrived migrants who felt out of place and discriminated against in southeastern Brazilian cities. During these most oppressive years of Brazil’s military dictatorship, calling attention to Brazil’s downtrodden populations – mostly ignored by the state media – represented a less censorable form of protest.

Dominguinhos and Gilberto Gil together on stage in 2010.
Dominguinhos and Gilberto Gil together on stage in 2010.

The 1970s were the peak years of rural exodus in Brazil; destitute northeasterners poured into southeastern Brazilian cities and encountered rampant discrimination and a colder climate and culture. In 1940, about 31% of Brazil’s population lived in cities; by 1970, urban residents accounted for more than 50% of the population, and in 1980, nearly 70%. Dominguinhos recalled  snide remarks like, “Those yucca-eaters, come here dying of hunger,” and remembered being received on stage with boos and paper airplanes from audiences in São Paulo still prejudiced against northeastern music. But he felt he suffered little discrimination in comparison with Luiz Gonzaga: “I got there and the path was already halfway open for me,” he said, remarking on the progress Luiz Gonzaga had already made in combating prejudices by the time he began performing in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Dominguinhos was widely loved for his spirited performances and sweet, sunny demeanor. He passed away on July 23, 2013, in São Paulo, after a long struggle with lung cancer. He had discovered the cancer in 2007, and a couple years into treatment remarked, “I don’t know how I ended up with this – I never smoked. But there are things that just happen that we’re unable to explain.” He played his final show on December 13, 2012, in Exu, Pernambuco – a tribute concert on what would have been Luiz Gonzaga’s 100th birthday.

Dominguinhos playing his final show in Exu, Pernambuco on December 13, 2012, accompanied by the young accordionist Cícero Feitosa.
Dominguinhos playing his final show in Exu, Pernambuco on December 13, 2012, accompanied by the young accordionist Cícero Feitosa.

Above, Dominguinhos plays “Lamento Sertanejo” with Mariana Aydar, Hamilton de Holanda, Duani, Siba, Tavinho and Trio+1.

Lyrics in Portuguese

“Tenho Sede”

Traga-me um copo d’agua, tenho sede
E essa sede pode me matar
Minha garganta pede um pouco d’água
E os meus olhos pedem o teu olhar

A planta pede chuva quando quer brotar
O céu logo escurece quando vai chover
Meu coração só pede o teu amor
Se não me deres posso até morrer

“Lamento Sertanejo”

Por ser de lá
Do sertão, lá do cerrado
Lá do interior do mato
Da caatinga do roçado.
Eu quase não saio
Eu quase não tenho amigos
Eu quase que não consigo
Ficar na cidade sem viver contrariado.

Por ser de lá
Na certa por isso mesmo
Não gosto de cama mole
Não sei comer sem torresmo.
Eu quase não falo
Eu quase não sei de nada
Sou como rês desgarrada
Nessa multidão boiada caminhando a esmo.

Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas

Lyrics from “Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” by Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes (1963)


Original recording (Jorge Goulart)

Our Carnival is over
No one hears songs being sung
No one passes by anymore, playing, happy
And in people’s hearts, longing and ashes are all that’s left
In the streets, the scene is of people who don’t even see one another
Who don’t even smile
Hug and kiss one another and go their separate ways
Dancing and singing love songs
And meanwhile, it’s necessary to sing
More than ever, it’s necessary to sing
It’s necessary to sing and cheer up the city
This sadness we feel will end any day now
Everyone will smile
Hope has returned – it’s the people who dance
Contented with life, happily singing
Because there are so many serene things
And such grand promises of light
So much love to give that we don’t even know about
How I wish I could live to see it
And frolic in other Carnivals
With the beauty of those Carnivals of the past
What lovely marches
And the people singing their song of peace, their song of peace

— Interpretation —

Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra in the early 1960s.
Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra in the early 1960s.

“Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” (March of Ash Wednesday) is a seemingly prescient protest song:  Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra wrote the song in 1963, on the cusp of the coup that installed a  military dictatorship in Brazil until 1985.  The lilting lyrics that lament the end of Carnival can be interpreted as mourning the end of a brighter, more carefree period in Brazil.

Carlos Lyra was an important figure in the wildly popular bossa nova movement of the early 1960s. João Gilberto recorded three of Lyra’s songs — “Maria Ninguém”, “Lobo Bobo”, and “Saudade fez um samba” — on the seminal bossa nova album Chega de Saudade (1959). But Lyra reacted against bossa nova’s lightheartedness – which he felt was too shallow – and quickly established a politically activist musical stance, as this post highlights. In 1961, he helped found the  Centro Popular de Cultura (Popular Culture Center) of the National Students’ Union, which aimed to promote revolutionary art that would politically educate the masses and cultivate a “popular, democratic national culture.”  Carlos and Vinicius wrote this song on the same day that they finished the “Hino da UNE (Hymn of the National Students’ Union), which beckons, “To your feet, young guard/ the student class, always in the vanguard, struggles for Brazil.”

Jorge Goulart was the first singer to release “Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” in 1963, but Nara Leão’s 1964 recording made the song a hit.

In the documentary Mosaícos – A Arte de Vinicius de Moraes, Vinicius and Carlos remember the beginning of their partnership, which Vinicius says began in 1962.  Carlos Lyra recalls, “When he made Orfeu with Tom [Jobim], I practically fell in love with Vinicius.” (Orfeu marked the start of Vinicius’s musical partnership with Tom Jobim, in 1956. ) Lyra continues,  “I called his house and said, ‘Hi, this is Carlos Lyra’ and he said ‘Oh – little Carlos!’ — going ahead and belittling me (laughing) — I’ve heard a lot about you, what can I do for you?’ So I decided to get diminutive too, and said, ‘Oh, I’d just like some little lyrics!’ And he said to come on over!”  Before long, Carlos Lyra, like Tom before him, found himself working with Vinicius on lyrics for a musical, Pobre Menina Rica (1964).

Lyrics in Portuguese

Acabou nosso carnaval
Ninguém ouve cantar canções
Ninguém passa mais
Brincando feliz
E nos corações
Saudades e cinzas
Foi o que restou

Pelas ruas o que se vê
É uma gente que nem se vê
Que nem se sorri
Se beija e se abraça
E sai caminhando
Dançando e cantando
Cantigas de amor

E no entanto é preciso cantar
Mais que nunca é preciso cantar
É preciso cantar e alegrar a cidade

A tristeza que a gente tem
Qualquer dia vai se acabar
Todos vão sorrir
Voltou a esperança
É o povo que dança
Contente da vida
Feliz a cantar

Porque são tantas coisas azuis
E há tão grandes promessas de luz
Tanto amor para amar de que a gente nem sabe

Quem me dera viver pra ver
E brincar outros carnavais
Com a beleza
Dos velhos carnavais
Que marchas tão lindas
E o povo cantando
Seu canto de paz
Seu canto de paz

Main source for this post not linked in the text: A Canção no Tempo: 85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol. 2: 1958 – 1985, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello