Diz que fui por aí

Lyrics from “Diz que fui por aí” by Zé Kéti and Hortêncio Rocha (1964)

If anyone asks after me, tell them I went out
Carrying my guitar under my arm
On any corner, I’ll stop
At any little bar, I’ll go in
And if there’s reason – that’s another samba I’ll compose
If they want to know if I’ll come back, tell them yes
But only after this saudade leaves me

I’ve got a guitar to keep me company,
I’ve got lots of friends, I’m popular
I’ve got the madrugada as my companion
This saudade hurts, and eats away at my heart
I’m in the city, I’m in the favela,
I’m around, always thinking of her.

— Interpretation —

Zé Kéti in front of the Lapa Arches in Rio.
Zé Kéti in front of the Lapa Arches in Rio.

ze_kéti_tocando fosforoIf he were alive, today would be Zé Kéti’s 93rd birthday. Kéti’s 1964 samba “Diz que fui por aí” proved such a classic that it’s still one of the most common songs to hear at rodas de samba in Rio de Janeiro these days; however — maybe in part as a legacy of Kéti’s unassuming personality — it’s not widely known the song is his. Nara Leão recorded “Diz que fui por aí” on her 1964 album NaraIt was the first of a number of Kéti’s songs that Nara — known as the “muse of bossa nova” (a role she ended up vehemently rejecting) — would record, thus symbolically uniting Rio’s bossa nova and MPB circles with sambistas and sambas from the morro. On the same album, Nara also recorded Cartola‘s “A Sorrir” and Nelson Cavaquinho‘s “Luz negra.”

I’ve left saudade in Portuguese, along with madrugada, which essentially translates as something between the late late night and the “wee hours” of the morning. For more on Zé Kéti, see this post: “A Voz do Morro” and “Acender as Velas.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Se alguém perguntar por mim
Diz que fui por aí
Levando o violão debaixo do braço

Em qualquer esquina eu paro
Em qualquer botequim eu entro
Se houver motivo
É mais um samba que eu faço

Se quiserem saber se eu volto
Diga que sim
Mas só depois que a saudade se afastar de mim

Tenho um violão para me acompanhar
Tenho muitos amigos, eu sou popular
Tenho a madrugada como companheira

A saudade me doi, o meu peito me roi
Eu estou na cidade, eu estou na favela
Eu estou por aí
Sempre pensando nela

Samba do Irajá

Lyrics from “Samba do Irajá” by Nei Lopes (1976)

Original recording by Roberto Ribeiro (1976):

Recording by Nei Lopes (1980):

I have stamped on my face, and in my chest,
On the side opposite the right, a saudade
(What saudade!)
A sensation that in reality I haven’t even been half
Of what you dreamed
(What you dreamed)
It’s roads, it’s schemes
Wrong turns and broken dreams
It’s the rocks against the sea
That’s all it is, oh Irajá
My samba is the only thing that I’m able to give you (2x)
Came by the shade of the mangueira
Took a seat on the lounge chair
And picked up a guitar
Sang the little crab’s mode
Extended a hand to me for a kiss
And offered me an opinion
(opinion, opinion)
Then took a sip of abrideira
And went disappearing in the dust
Never to return
And that’s that, oh Irajá
My samba is the only thing I’m able to give you

— Interpretation —

Nei Lopes (L) at the launch of his book "Contos da Colina" about his football team, Vasco da Gama, written with Mauricio Murad and Luis Maffei.
Nei Lopes (L) at the launch of his book “Contos da Colina” about his football team, Vasco da Gama, written with Mauricio Murad and Luis Maffei.

Nei Lopes is a Brazilian composer; a historian – and blogger – focused on samba and Afro-Brazilian history and culture (he wrote the Brazilian Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora);  a lawyer by training who became fed up with the vagaries and violations of a justice system he found slow and inefficient, and after eight years practicing law, continued down a path of writing and researching music, poetry, fiction and African and Afro-Brazilian culture and politics.

He was born May 9, 1942, in Irajá, Rio de Janeiro, a samba redoubt that has produced other big names of the genre, including Zeca Pagodinho. Lopes’s father was born just before the abolition of slavery, in 1888; he was therefore socially conservative — or cautious — and  not particularly encouraging of Lopes’s initial forays into samba and Afro-Brazilian activism. After all, by his parents’ measure, Lopes recalls, “Why would you want to get involved in black pride in a totally unfavorable context?”

The horse-drawn streetcar that brought Nei Lopes's parents to Irajá Parish in 1918.
The streetcar that brought Nei Lopes’s parents to Irajá Parish in 1918.

After his father’s death Lopes let loose a little more and became increasingly involved in the samba world, parading with Salgueiro samba school in 1963, the same year his first poems were published in the Antologia Novos Poetas. He wrote this samba, which has become a classic of the genre, to express how much he missed his father; his reconciliation with his father’s death and their divergent opinions about how Nei should lead his life; and his apologies for not having lived up to everything his father might have hoped for.

In the translation, I changed “problemas” (problems) to “broken dreams” to keep the rhyme; “opinion” is a literal translation since it fit best that way, but might be closer to something like “offered me a piece of mind.” I kept saudade in Portuguese: In this context it can be interpreted as an aching longing for his father, which comes to life in the song in one of the genre’s most beautiful portrayals of saudade — sneaking in under the shade of the mangueira (mango tree), picking up a guitar and playing what was probably a little tune that was special for the family  — the “crab’s mode.” Abrideira is a kind of liquor — probably one that Lopes’s father was fond of.

Chico Buarque recorded the samba with Nei Lopes in 2000:


Lyrics in Portuguese

Tenho impressa no meu rosto
E, no peito, o lado oposto ao direito
Uma saudade…que saudade!
Sensação de na verdade
Não ter sido nem metade
Daquilo que você sonhou
São caminhos, são esquemas
Descaminhos e problemas
É o rochedo contra o mar
É isso aí, ê Irajá
Meu samba é a única coisa
que eu posso te dar
Saudade veio à sombra da mangueira
Sentou na espreguiçadeira
E pegou num violão
Cantou a moda do caranguejo
Estendeu a mão prum beijo
E me deu opinião(opinião, opinião)
Depois, tomou um gole de abrideira
Foi sumindo na poeira
Para nunca mais voltar
É isso aí, ê Irajá
Meu samba é a única coisa
que eu posso te dar


“Beatriz” by Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque (1983)

I wonder if she’s a maiden
I wonder if she’s sad
I wonder if it’s just the contrary
I wonder if it’s painting
The face of the actress

If she dances in the seventh heaven
If she believes it’s another country
And if she just learns her part by heart
And if I were able to become part of her life

I wonder if she’s made of china
I wonder if she’s made of ether
I wonder if it’s madness
I wonder if it’s a stage set
The home of the actress

If she lives in a skyscraper
And if the walls are made of chalk
And if she cries in a hotel room
And if I were able to become part of her life

Yes, take me for forever, Beatriz
Teach me not to walk with my feet on the ground
Forever is always just barely
So tell me how many disasters are in my hand
Tell me if it’s dangerous for us to be happy

I wonder if it’s a star
I wonder if it’s a lie
I wonder if it’s a comedy
I wonder if it’s divine
The life of the actress
If one day she falls from the sky
And the paying crowd demands an encore
And if the archangel passes around a hat
And if I were able to become part of her life

— Interpretation —

Original show bill for O Grande Circo Místico
Edu Lobo (L) and Chico Buarque
Edu Lobo (L) and Chico Buarque

Edu Lobo composed the music for this waltz quickly, “certain it would turn out well”; Chico Buarque, on the other hand, labored over the lyrics, and “Beatriz” ended up being one of the last songs the pair completed for the soundtrack for the 1983 musical “O Grande Circo Místico,” a production by the dance company Balé Guaíra, from Paraná state. The show was based on the 1938 surrealist poem by the same name by Jorge de Lima; Lima’s poem had been inspired by the story of the Knie family circus, born of an unlikely love story in Austria in the 19th century.

Each song on the "Grande Circo Místico" album came with its own illustration by Naum Alves de Souza
Each song on the “Grande Circo Místico” album came with its own illustration by Naum Alves de Souza

Lima’s poem is about Agnes, an acrobat an Austrian aristocrat falls in love with. In Chico’s lyrics, Agnes becomes Beatriz, an actress, drawing inspiration from Dante’s Beatrice in the Divine Comedy, with whom Dante ascends to the seventh heaven.  In a 1989 interview Chico commented that these kinds of commissioned projects are only worthwhile when “you can be unfaithful to what was requested”: In this case, Chico just wasn’t able to come up with lyrics about Agnes the acrobat – even though he observed that Agnes is a “beautiful name.”

So the song became “Beatriz,” and Chico and Edu were certain “Beatriz” should be sung by Milton Nascimento because of the facility with which Nascimento can hit a wide range of notes and jump into falsetto, as the song demands.  Milton recorded in the studio alone with the pianist Cristóvão Bastos, and the third take was the one they kept.  Long after the recording was completed, Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque realized that by beautiful coincidence, the lowest note in the song falls on the word “chão” (ground) and the highest note, on “céu” (sky).

Lyrics in Portuguese

circo3Será que ela é moça
Será que ela é triste
Será que é o contrário
Será que é pintura
O rosto da atriz

Se ela dança no sétimo céu
Se ela acredita que é outro país
E se ela só decora o seu papel
E se eu pudesse entrar na sua vida

Será que é de louça
Será que é de éter
Será que é loucura
Será que é cenário
A casa da atriz
Se ela mora num arranha-céu
E se as paredes são feitas de giz
E se ela chora num quarto de hotel
E se eu pudesse entrar na sua vida

Sim, me leva pra sempre, Beatriz
Me ensina a não andar com os pés no chão
Para sempre é sempre por um triz
Aí, diz quantos desastres tem na minha mão
Diz se é perigoso a gente ser feliz

Será que é uma estrela
Será que é mentira
Será que é comédia
Será que é divina
A vida da atriz
Se ela um dia despencar do céu
E se os pagantes exigirem bis
E se o arcanjo passar o chapéu
E se eu pudesse entrar na sua vida

Grande Circo - Aecio o circo