Só vendo que beleza

Lyrics from “Só vendo que beleza” by Henricão and Rubens Campos (1942)

I have a little house out at Marambaia
It’s on the shore of the beach, gotta see it to believe such beauty
There’s a vine that in the springtime blooms bounteous Dollar Princesses
When summer comes, I sit on the veranda, pick up my guitar and start to play
And my moreno who’s always in a good mood sits down next to me and starts to sing
When afternoon falls a swell of swallows swoops in a swarm, making it summer
And out in the woods a thrush warbles a beautiful melody, to delight my heart
At six o’clock the chapel bell rings the Ave Maria chimes
And the moon rises from behind the ridge, announcing the end of daytime
I said I have a little house out at Marambaia…

— Interpretation —

Carmen Costa recording for the the TV Cultura program MPB Especial in the early 1970s.
Carmen Costa recording for the TV Cultura program MPB Especial in the early 1970s.

This was the song that brought fame to the celebrated radio singer Carmen Costa, along with the hit “Está chegando a hora,” an adaptation of the Mexican classic “Cielito Lindo,” which she released on the same album in 1942. Costa had moved from the interior of Rio de Janeiro to the capital in 1935, at age 15, where she began working as a maid in Francisco Alves’s home.  Alves encouraged her to pursue singing, and she participated in several amateur radio contests, forming a duo with the composer and singer Henricão in 1937. Upon Henricão’s suggestion, she dropped her given name, Carmelita Madriaga, and began going by Carmen Costa. Costa was among the first singers to record Luiz Gonzaga, releasing “Chamego” in 1944 and “Sarapaté” in 1945. She married an American in 1945 and spent the next four years in the United States. Upon returning to Brazil in 1949 she met and began a romance with the composer Mirabeau Pinheiro, who together with Lúcio de Castro, Heber Lobato, and Marinósio Filho composed Carmen’s greatest Carnival hit, “Cachaça” (1953), which she recorded with Colé.

Dollar Princess is a kind of fuchsia flower, known as "princess's earrings" in Brazil.
Dollar Princess is a kind of fuchsia flower, known as “princess’s earrings” in Brazil.

“Só vendo que beleza” counts among the most widely known compositions by Henricão and Rubens Campos. Henrique Felipe de Costa, or Henricão (Jan. 11, 1908 – Jun. 11, 1984) was born in Itapira, São Paulo. After moving to Rio de Janeiro he began composing with Rubens Campos (Aug. 16, 1912 – Nov. 3, 1985); the pair collaborated with Nelson Cavaquinho on the first of Cavaquinho’s sambas to be recorded, “Não faça a vontade dela,” released by Alcides Gerardi in 1939. The pair’s composition “Está chegando a hora” was adopted as a theme to end Carnival dances and also remains a popular song that the crowd sings at the end of football matches in Brazil.

“Só vendo que beleza” came as part of a series of countryside-themed songs, including “Minha palhoça” (1935) and “No rancho fundo” (1931). The song’s popularity inspired Henricão and Rubens Campos to compose a follow-up (which was not nearly as popular), called “Casinha de Marambaia,” which begins at minute 3:14 in the clip of both songs below. “Só vendo que beleza” was eventually recorded by Elis Regina and Maria Bethânia, among others.  

A number of Carnival songs use the proverb “uma andorinha não faz verão” (one swallow does not make a summer), including João de Barro‘s 1931 march by just that name: “Uma andorinha não faz verão.” In this song, by contrast, a bunch of swallows fly together, making it summertime. “Só vendo” (just seeing) essentially means “you gotta see it to believe it/understand.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

 Eu tenho uma casinha lá na Marambaia
Fica na beira da praia, só vendo que beleza.
Tem uma trepadeira que na primavera
Fica toda florescida de brincos de princesa.
Quando chega o verão eu sento na varanda,
Pego o meu violão e começo a tocar.
E o meu moreno que está sempre bem disposto
Senta ao meu lado e começa a cantar.
Quando chega a tarde um bando de andorinhas
Voa em revoada fazendo verão
E lá na mata um sabiá gorjeia
Linda melodia pra alegrar
meu coração
Às seis horas o sino da capela
Toca as badaladas da Ave Maria
A lua nasce por de trás da serra
Anunciando que acabou o dia.
Eu tenho uma casinha lá na Marambaia

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol 1, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello.

“A voz do morro” and “Acender as velas”

Lyrics from “A voz do morro” by Zé Kéti (1955)

I’m samba, the voice from the morro, that’s me indeed, yes sir
I want to show the world that I have worth
I’m the king of the terreiro, I’m samba
I’m native from here, from Rio de Janeiro
I’m the one who brings joy to millions of Brazilian hearts
Salve samba, we want samba
Who’s asking for it is the voice of the people of a country
Salve samba, we want samba, that melody of a happy Brazil

Lyrics from “Acender as velas” by Zé Kéti (1965)

Lighting candles has become our profession
When there’s no samba, there’s disillusion
It’s another heart that stops beating, an angel goes to heaven
God forgive me, but I’m going to say it, the doctor arrived too late
Because up on the morro, there’s no automobile to go up
No telephone to call, and no beauty to be seen
And we die without wanting to die

— Interpretation —

L-R: Billy Blanco, Odete, Dorival Caymmi (seated), Zé Kéti, Tom Jobim, and Cartola. Zé Kéti was largely responsible for bringing together the worlds of bossa nova and samba do morro in Rio in the early 1960s
L-R: Billy Blanco, Odete, Dorival Caymmi (seated), Zé Kéti, Tom Jobim, and Cartola at Zicartola. Zé Kéti was largely responsible for bringing together the worlds of bossa nova and samba from the morros of Rio de Janeiro in the early 1960s.
Two of the boys from the favela followed in the film Rio, 40 Graus.
Scene in the favela in Rio, 40 Graus.

“A voz do morro” was the samba that brought fame to Zé Kéti in 1955, when it rolled as the theme song on Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s film Rio, 40 Graus. (Along with contributing to the soundtrack, Kéti worked as second camera assistant for the film and played a small part as the character Neguinho.)  On its own, “A voz do morro” seems like an everyday samba-exaltação, celebrating the nation and the genre; the lyrics alone don’t betray protest or even melancholy. But set against the backdrop of Santos’s film, which follows the lives of five boys from the favela selling peanuts in rich areas of Rio de Janeiro on a scorching summer day, the song is deeply poignant and political. The movie contrasts the lives of these boys with the lives of their rich white neighbors in Copacabana and with the luxuriant natural beauty of the city itself. When it was released, it laid bare in a queasy fashion the class conflict and exploitation of Afro-Brazilian favelados that ran deep in Rio de Janeiro, but that the government, media, and city by and large turned a blind eye to. The movie was styled in the postwar Italian neorealist model of political dramas that mimic  documentaries, and marked the start of the Cinema Novo period in Brazil.

Ten years later, Kéti’s low-spirited samba “Acender as velas” brought the same themes to light, but this time more acutely. Kéti wrote the song for Ronaldo Bôscoli, who was doing a vignette on his TV show about the hopeless situation of a sick boy in a favela. The  samba was released in the wake of the 1964 coup that installed a military dictatorship in Brazil. The military government quickly embarked on a series of harsh and misguided policies for dealing with Rio’s favelas, and Kéti’s sambas responded to this treatment.

Spellings for "Kéti" varied, as this ID demonstrates.
Kéti spelled his name in a number of different ways; this ID shows one of them.

Zé Kéti — whose full name was José Flores de Jesús — was born in  Inhaúma, Rio de Janeiro, on September 16, 1921. His nickname Kéti is an adaptation of “quietinho” – or well-behaved. He explained his name saying “quietinho” became “quieti,”  which he changed to Kéti because “K was in fashion at the time — Khrushchev, Kennedy, Kubitschek.”

Kéti grew up at his grandfather’s house in Bangu until 1928, when he and his mother moved to Dona Clara, a section of the north-zone neighborhood Madureira, the samba bastion that’s home to the samba schools Portela and Império Serrano. In this 1973 documentary, Kéti recounts that his grandfather was a piano and flute player who was friends with Pixinguinha and Cândido das Neves. Kéti’s father was also a composer, guitar and cavaquinho player, and Kéti attributes his fascination with music from a young age to their influence.  Kéti’s father died when Kéti was still a young boy, apparently poisoned by an ex-lover. (The samba “Meu pai morreu” is about this story; Keti said his father went crazy and died on Rio’s Praia Vermelha.) Kéti’s mother,  a fabric factory worker and domestic servant, brought him along on her nights out at samba bars, and Kéti said he would always sit near the music – entranced – rather than playing with the other kids. Eventually his mother granted his pleas for a flute, and he started making music.

Zé Kéti followed in Ciro Monteiro's footsteps playing percussion on a matchbox. He said to play, the matchbox couldn't be too full nor too empty.
Zé Kéti followed in Ciro Monteiro’s footsteps playing percussion on a matchbox. He said to play, the matchbox couldn’t be too full nor too empty.

As a young man Kéti began frequenting the Portela samba school and composing. When he was 24, the group Vocalistas Tropicais released his composition “Tio Sam no samba,” marking his first samba to be recorded. Shortly after, Ciro Monteiro – Kéti’s inspiration in the art of playing percussion on a matchbox – recorded Kéti’s samba “Vivo bem.” But again, fame only came years later, in the mid-1950s: Nelson Pereira dos Santos was looking for a sambista for the soundtrack for Rio, 40 Graus, and actor Artur Vargas Junior brought Zé Kéti in to sing for him. Santos was enchanted – so much so that, as relates in this program, his next film with a similar theme, Rio, Zona Nortewas a tribute to Zé Kéti, who was represented by Grande Otelo‘s character.

Standing, L-R: Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho da Viola and Zé Kéti at Zicartola.
Standing, L-R: Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho da Viola and Zé Kéti at Zicartola.

In 1963, Cartola and his wife Zica opened their legendary restaurant Zicartola and appointed Zé Kéti as artistic director of the house. Kéti was largely responsible for launching the careers of samba greats including Paulinho da Viola, who went into Zicartola in 1964 as the unknown Paulo Cesar and quickly rose to fame under his new artistic name. In the same 1973 documentary, Kéti says Paulinho’s nickname was, “modesty aside, given by his friend Zé Kéti,” inspired by Império Serrano’s Mano Décio da Viola. Kéti’s friend, journalist Sérgio Cabral, hastily used the nickname in his newspaper column and it thus became official.

During his time at Zicartola, Zé Kéti became friends with Carlos Lyra, and the two made a deal: Kéti would take Lyra to samba schools in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro if Lyra introduced Kéti in the bossa-nova-dominated Zona Sul. That’s how Zé Kéti ended up playing a pivotal role in popularizing samba from Rio’s morros among the city’s elite, and throughout the country and the world.

João do Vale, Zé Kéti, and Nara Leão on stage with the show Opinião.
João do Vale, Zé Kéti, and Nara Leão on stage with the show Opinião.

In 1964, Carlos Lyra introduced Kéti to Nara Leão, the “muse of bossa nova” who was increasingly fed up with that genre. In light of the country’s political plight, Nara deemed bossa nova nauseatingly apolitical: “[Bossa nova] always has the same theme: love-flower-sea-love-flower-sea, and it goes on ad infinitum.” In a controversial interview with the magazine Fatos e Fotos, she continued, “I want pure samba, which has much more to say for itself, which is the people’s way of expressing themselves, and not something written by a small group for another small group.”  Kéti showed Nara his samba “Diz que fui por aí,” which she recorded on her first LP, Nara, that same year. In late 1964 Nara released a second album, Opinião da Narawith “Acender as velas” and Kéti’s equally political samba “Opinião.” The latter protested the military government’s policy of removing favelas around Rio’s Zona Sul and relocating residents to distant developments with names like Vila Kennedy, in honor of the government that was financing the ill-advised initiative. The refrain for that song says, “They can take me prisoner/They can beat me/They can even make me go without food/But I won’t change my opinion/I won’t leave the morro.”

Also in late 1964, the Teatro Arena opened up in Copacabana and Zé Kéti was invited to act alongside Nara Leão and João do Vale in a musical play named after his samba “Opinião.” The show addressed social strife in Rio through the three characters: João do Vale played a northeastern migrant, Kéti played the part of the malandro carioca, and Nara played the rich student from the Zona Sul. They toured the country with the tremendously popular play; the theater ended up taking on the name Opinião, and when Nara Leão took time off to rest her voice, she recommended Maria Bethânia as her replacement, and another star was revealed.

R-L: Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and the Velha Guarda da Portela.
R-L: Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and the Velha Guarda da Portela.

Among Kéti’s other major hits is the Carnival march “Mascara Negra” (1967, with Hildebrando Pereira Matos), which won first place in the 1967 Carnival contest and remains one of Brazil’s most beloved Carnival themes. Kéti was soft spoken, humble, and good humored, a devoted member of the Portela samba school and fan of the Vasco da Gama football club. He died on November 14, 1999, a year after receiving the prestigious Shell Prize for MPB, and a few months after the death of his close friend Carlos Cachaça, which had left him deeply distraught. He was buried in Inhaúma, with the blue-and-white Portela flag, as “Voz do morro” played in the background.

A few notes on the translations: morro means hill or hillside, but here and in general refers to the community on the hillside – the favela; terreiro was the space where Afro-Brazilian religions were practiced and where samba was created and performed; and the line “we die without wanting to die” could also be translated as “the people die without wanting to die,” since the Portuguese line says a gente, which can mean both “we” or “the people.” Since a gente is almost exclusively used in Rio to mean “we,” that’s how I translated it in the song.

Lyrics in Portuguese: “A voz do morro”

Eu sou o samba
A voz do morro sou eu mesmo sim senhor
Quero mostrar ao mundo que tenho valor
Eu sou o rei do terreiro
Eu sou o samba
Sou natural daqui do Rio de Janeiro
Sou eu quem levo a alegria
Para milhões de corações brasileiros
Salve o samba, queremos samba
Quem está pedindo é a voz do povo de um país
Salve o samba, queremos samba
Essa melodia de um Brasil feliz

Lyrics in Portuguese: “Acender as velas”

Acender as velas
Já é profissão
Quando não tem samba
Tem desilusão
É mais um coração
Que deixa de bater
Um anjo vai pro céu
Deus me perdoe
Mas vou dizer
O doutor chegou tarde demais
Porque no morro
Não tem automóvel pra subir
Não tem telefone pra chamar
E não tem beleza pra se ver
E a gente morre sem querer morrer

 Main sources for this post: Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil by Bryan McCann; Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World by Ruy Castro; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 1 &2, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello.

Ai, que saudades da Amélia

Lyrics from “Ai, que saudades da Amélia” by Ataulfo Alves and Mário Lago (1942)


I’ve never seen someone make so many demands, nor do what you do to me
You don’t know what a conscience is, and don’t get that I’m just a poor guy
You only think about luxury and riches, everything you see, you want
Oh my God, how I miss Amélia
That was a true woman

Sometimes she went hungry by my side
And she thought it was quaint to have nothing to eat
And when she saw me upset, she’d say, “My boy, what can be done?”
Amélia wasn’t the least bit vain
Amélia was a real woman.

— Interpretation —

Ataulfo was known for leading music with his white handkerchief. Here he is pictured with Jacob do Bandolim.
Ataulfo was known for “directing” with his white handkerchief. Here he is pictured with Jacob do Bandolim.

“Ai, que saudades da Amélia” was an unlikely Carnival sensation in 1942, mostly thanks to Ataulfo Alves’s conviction that the rather somber-sounding samba was destined to be a hit.

Mario Lago and Ataulfo Alves
Mario Lago and Ataulfo Alves

Alves persisted in recording and furiously promoting the song in spite of protests from his partner Mário Lago, who had written the original verses. Alves expanded upon and changed Lago’s lyrics to an extent that upon hearing the final version, Lago told Alves that he didn’t want his name associated with the song. But Ataulfo was confident in his poetic prowess, and stuck by the song, enlisting publisher Emílio Vitale to help him get it recorded.

The pair peddled the samba to some of the most famous radio singers of the time: Moreira da Silva, Cyro Monteiro, Carlos Galhardo and Orlando Silva. All of them rejected it; Moreira da Silva remarked that the samba sounded more like a funeral march to him. So Alves decided to record it himself. This was a gamble: it was still rare at the time for a samba composer to record his own songs. Alves had released “Leva meu samba” and “Alegria na casa de pobre,” but considered this more of a fluke than anything else. But the executives at Odeon gave the go-ahead to Alves, who swiftly sought out Jacob do Bandolim to accompany him. When Jacob protested that he didn’t have a mandolin on hand,  Alves ran over to Rua do Senado and bought a cheap cavaquinho that Jacob played on, improvising the now famous introduction.

Odeon planned to release the song on its Carnival supplement in 1942, but Alves insisted on getting Mário Lago’s signature first. Lago conceded, in exchange for an advance of 500,000 Reis — cash that Alves couldn’t even dream of getting from Odeon.  Emilio Vitale gave the money, but demanded all rights to the song; Alves agreed, making the “worst deal of his life as a composer,” according to his friend and biographer Sérgio Cabral. In bitter disputes over royalties in the 1940s, Alves ended up on one side, and Vitale — with “Ai, que saudades da Amélia” — on the other. Meanwhile, the samba was so successful that the word Amélia even made its way into Aurelio’s Dictionary, first defined as “a woman who accepts any kind of privation and vexation or offense without complaining, out of love for her man.” (Today in the online dictionary it’s been changed to “hard working woman.”)

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 6.06.08 PMMany Brazilians embraced the song as representative of the ideal Brazilian woman. Others were disgusted by it, and it can still stir up controversy. It’s worth remembering that song was inspired by a joke, and definitely carries a bit of that tongue-in-cheek tone: In a 1953 interview with Radiolândia, Mario Lago revealed that the inspiration for Amélia came from the singer Aracy de Almeida’s brother, the percussionist Almeidinha, who would joke about the former family maid, Amélia: “Ah, Amélia, that was a real woman – she washed, ironed, starched, cooked and took beatings, and never complained.” According to Cabral, Amélia dos Santos Ferreira lived in Realengo, Rio de Janeiro, until her death in 2001, at age 91.

Ataulfo Alves (right) with Louis Armstrong and  Juscelino Kubischek, 1960.
Ataulfo Alves (right) with Louis Armstrong and Juscelino Kubischek at Catete Palace, 1960.

Alves recorded “Ai, que saudades da Amélia” in November 1941 and it was released in January ’42, with Cartola’s “Não posso viver sem ela.” After its release even  Lago was convinced the song had something special,  particularly because it was well received by the crowd of musicians, composers and adepts who gathered at Café Nice. But the disk didn’t sell well. So Alves stepped in again, this time with a fantastically executed show that won over two of the most powerful radio hosts of the time. One of them, Julio Louzada, dedicated an entire Sunday afternoon to “Amélia,” playing it dozens of times on repeat with a few pauses for interviews about the song; suddenly everyone wanted the album.

In the heated Carnival-song contest of 1942, the samba was up against the tremendously popular “Praça Onze” by Herivelto Martins and Grande Otelo. That contest, held in the Fluminense stadium, was decided by audience response. Response to both songs was so overwhelming that the Fluminense team president — who happened to be married to an Amélia — declared a tie for first place. (In a February 1942 letter to Moacir Werneck de Castro, Mário de Andrade expressed a bit of the sentiment behind the tie, writing, “I really, truly liked ‘Amélia’ — it’s about as carioca as it gets. But ‘Vão acabar com Praça Onze’ strangles me with emotion, my word.”  [“Gostei sim, muitíssimo, do Amélia, é das coisas mais cariocas que se pode imaginar. Mas o Vão acabar com a Praça Onze me estrangula de comoção, palavra.”])

Ataulfo Alves was born to a poor family in Miraí, Minas Gerais, on May 2, 1909. His father worked in the coffee fields, played guitar and accordion, and was an extemporaneous speaker. Ataulfo told MIS that by the time he was eight he was out singing and improvising with his father, who was known as “the Captain” around town because his way with words led the plantation owners to effectively make him  their deputy.

But Ataulfo’s father died when Ataulfo was ten, and the family struggled to make ends meet. Soon Ataulfo went to work, first as a milk boy, then as an ox driver, luggage carrier at the train station, shoe-shiner, lunch-box carrier and message delivery boy.

Ataulfo with Roberto Carlos and Caçulinha
Ataulfo with Roberto Carlos and Caçulinha

He moved to Rio in 1927, when a doctor from Miraí invited to work with in a clinic he was opening in the capital. The experience with the doctor and his family resembled indentured servitude, and Alves ended up finding a job at the compounding pharmacy Farmácia e Drogaria do Povo, first as a window-washer and then in the lab, mixing medications. At the same time, Alves began going to the rodas de samba in his neighborhood, Rio Comprido, and eventually organized his own group, remarking, “I could make sambas just like I could make medicine.” One of the most successful samba composers of the 1940s and 1950s, Alves’s poise helped him throughout his career. He was known for being confident, elegant and refined, and for his loyalty to the populist president-dictator Getúlio Vargas. Alves died on April 20th, 1969, just a couple weeks shy of his 60th birthday.

Main sources for this post: Ataulfo Alves: Vida e Obra by Sérgio Cabral, and A Canção no tempo: 85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol. 1, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello.