“Samba em prelúdio” by Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell (1962)
Without you, I have no purpose
Because without you, I don’t even know how to cry
I’m a flame without glow, a garden without moonlight
Moonlight without love, love without being given
Without you, I’m just lovelessness
A ship without sea, a field without flowers
Sadness that goes, sadness that comes
Without you my love, I’m no one
Ah, what saudade, what desire to see our life reborn
Come back, my dear
My arms need yours, your embraces need mine
I’m so alone, my eyes weary of staring into the distance
Come, behold life
Without you, my love, I’m no one
— Interpretation —
One evening in 1962, Baden Powell went to Vinicius de Moraes‘s house with this song — which he described as “full of love” — for Vinicius to write the lyrics. In this video, Baden recalls that he got to Vinicius’s at around 9 p.m., excited to show him the song, which he imagined being sung by a man and woman together. (The woman’s part is noted in the lyrics above.) He played the song for Vinicius and then they began to throw back their usual whiskey. By the time they were on their third bottle at around 3 or 4 a.m., Baden grew worried that they still had no lyrics and were “nearly drunk.”
Baden asked Vinicius what was wrong. Vinicius was evasive at first, telling Baden the issue was “disagreeable,” but that they should leave the song aside for the time being. Baden pushed him, and he exclaimed, “I think this is plagiary! It will be all over the newspapers, ‘Baden and Vinicius plagiarize.'”
Baden told Vinicius the song wasn’t plagiarized, but said “Ok, plagiary of whom, of what?” Vinicius responded, “This is clearly Chopin!”
Baden assured Vinicius the song wasn’t Chopin’s, but Vinicius told him he never made mistakes – and that perhaps Baden had had too much to drink. Vinicius said he’d get confirmation from Lucinha, his wife of the moment, who played piano and loved Chopin. In spite of Baden’s protests about waking Lucinha at that hour, with day nearly breaking, Vinicius summoned her to listen to Baden play the song. Lucinha confirmed to the tipsy duo that the song was beautiful, romantic, and by no means Chopin’s. Vinicius responded to Lucinha, “Even you are against me!” He turned to Baden and said, “In that case, Chopin forgot to compose this song.” He then turned to the typewriter and wrote the lyrics, all at once.
While Vinicius was a poet and diplomat born into Rio’s high society zona sul, Baden Powell (August 6, 1937 – September 26, 2000) was born in rural Varre-Sai, Rio de Janeiro. When he was just three months old his family moved to the humble São Cristóvão neighborhood, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro; he said he therefore always considered himself carioca. Powell’s father – on top of being a scouting enthusiast, hence Baden’s name – was a leather craftsman and violin player, and often organized musical get-togethers at the family home, which Baden said influenced him profoundly from a very young age.
Baden quickly excelled as a virtuoso guitarist, demonstrating singular talent for playing a vast range of styles. At fifteen he began performing in little bars around Rio, and at eighteen began playing regular gigs with a jazz trio at Boate Copacabana. Around that time, he composed his first major hit, “Samba triste,” with Billy Blanco, whom Baden referred to as his first true musical partner. Shortly thereafter – “some time around 1958” – he met Vinicius at Boate Arpège, where Tom Jobim had a show with Ary Barroso.
In this documentary, Baden recalls he was thrilled when Vinicius, whom he admired from afar, called him over to the table where he was drinking whiskey. Vinicius said, “I know you’re a composer, you have a few songs and all – what about if we tried a little partnership?” Telling the story, Baden remarks, “I was really timid — like I am to this day, even though it might not seem that way — so I mostly just let him do the talking, but I said it would be the greatest pleasure to work with him.” The two met a few days later at Hotel Miramar, and composed their first two songs together, “Canção de Ninar,” and “Sonho de amor e paz.”
Soon after, Baden went to Vinicius’s house to work on a song with him, and ended up staying for four months. They would often pull down all the shades to compose, so that they wouldn’t notice the passage of time, night and day.
The pair’s 1966 album Os Afro-Sambas remains one of the best-loved MPB albums of all time.
After Vinicius’s death in 1980, Baden began performing “Samba em prelúdio” with the lyrics “without you, my poet, I’m no one; without you, my Vinicius, I’m no one.”
Main source for this post not linked in text: Livro de Letras: Vinicius de Moraes (Companhia das Letras)