Lyrics from “Canção do Sal” by Milton Nascimento (1966)
Trabalhando o sal é amor o suor que me sai/ Working the salt the sweat that pours from me is love
Vou viver cantando o dia tão quente que faz/ I will go on singing for this blistering hot day
Homem ver criança buscando conchinhas no mar/ Man seeing a child seeking shells in the sea
Trabalho o dia inteiro pra vida de gente levar/ I work the whole day to live a dignified (“human”) life (2x)
Água vira sal lá na salina/ Water becomes salt there in the saltern
Quem diminuiu a água do mar?/ Who reduced the sea water?
Água enfrenta o sol lá na salina/ Water confronts the sun there in the saltern
Sol que vai queimando até queimar/ Sun that burns until it scorches
Trabalhando o sal/ Working the salt
Pra ver a mulher se vestir/ To see the wife get dressed
E ao chegar em casa/ And upon coming home
Encontrar a família a sorrir/ Find the family smiling
Filho vir da escola/ Son come from school
Problema maior é o de estudar/ Biggest problem is studying
Que é pra não ter meu trabalho/ So as not to have my work
E vida de gente levar/ And live a dignified life
Milton Nascimento has said that every song he ever wrote, he wrote thinking of Elis Regina. “Canção do Sal” was one of his first compositions — one of two he says he banged out on an office typewriter when he was working as a typist at Furnas Electric in Belo Horizonte in the mid-1960s — and it was his first recorded by Elis. He recalled taking inspiration from traditional work songs and from the salt workers he had observed around Cabo Frio, a coastal community now known as a popular tourist destination near Rio de Janeiro, but which revolved around salt production until the late twentieth century. Most of those mid-century salt workers — “men, women, and children,” as a 1948 government-sponsored documentary plainly states — were brought on for grueling and poorly paid seasonal harvests during the hottest months. They were in the news a lot around the time he wrote the song, as they organized and struck for better work conditions and faced repression from federal troops in response.
In a 1992 tribute to Elis, Milton recalled that he came up with the melody initially thinking it was just a placeholder to get a sense for the “swing” of the lyrics, which were his focus. But when he sang it for Elis, she said, “That’s it.” Elis released the song as the final track on her 1966 LP Elis.