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

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