Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido

Lyrics from “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido” by Wilson Batista and Ciro de Souza, released by Aracy de Almeida (1941)

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Ele trabalha de segunda a sábado // He works from Monday to Saturday
Com muito gosto sem reclamar // With great relish without complaining
Mas no domingo ele tira o macacão // But on Sunday he strips off his coveralls
Embandeira o barracão, põe a família pra sambar // Decks out the shack and puts the family to samba
Lá no morro ele pinta o sete // Up on the hillside he cuts loose
Com ele ninguém se mete // No one messes around with him
Ali ninguém é fingido // Up there no one’s phony
Ganha-se pouco, mas é divertido // Money’s short, but it’s fun

Ele nasceu sambista // He’s a born sambista
Tem a tal veia de artista // He has that artist’s vein
Carteira de reservista // Reservist’s Card
Está legal com o senhorio…// In good standing with the authorities
Não pode ouvir pandeiro, não // He can’t hear a pandeiro
Fica cheio de dengo // He swells up with dengo*
É torcida do Flamengo // He’s a fan of Flamengo
Nasceu no Rio de Janeiro // Born in Rio de Janeiro…

— Commentary —

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Wilson Batista, 1957. Image via Instituto Moreira Salles, acervo José Ramos Tinhorão.

Here’s a brighter entry for the Sunday Songs series: no trace of domingueira, or that melancholy Sunday mood, in this classic by Wilson Batista (1913 – 1968) and Ciro de Sousa (1911-1995).

This samba is a typical example of how Batista — a consummate malandro composer best known for his dispute with Noel Rosa over the intricacies of malandragem and samba (on that, see, for example, this post on “Lenço no Pescoço“) — played to the Vargas regime’s (1930-45) demands that samba lyrics promote the sort of upstanding citizen-worker that Vargas projected as the ideal Brazilian.  

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Aracy’s release of “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido” came in the wake of the tremendous success of Batista’s and Ataulfo Alves’s “Oh, seu Oscar!,” which won the DIP’s samba contest in 1940. Image via Carioca acervo, 1940.

Indeed, Batista even voiced support for government censorship of his sambas. As Bryan McCann has written in Hello, Hello, Brazil, Batista once commented on the Vargas-era censors within the most fascist government agency, the Department of Press and Propaganda [DIP]: “Sometimes the DIP censors my lyrics. I get upset, but then I realize they are correct. There has to be some control.”

Batista realized that composers did well to play by the regime’s rules. In 1940, Batista’s and Ataulfo Alves’s samba “Oh, Seu Oscar!” — about a hard-working man burdened by a roving wife — won a DIP-sponsored samba contest, propelling the two Afro-Brazilian composers to new heights of popularity with fans and recording artists.

But to anyone familiar with Batista’s life, it’s hard to read such statements as that above as anything but tongue-in-cheek, and the same goes for many of his verses.

In fact, this song almost line by line embodies the tensions between the two lives and lifestyles portrayed in Batista’s sambas: an upstanding worker who’s really a born sambista; a commanding family man — as long as he doesn’t hear a pandeiro.

*The Afro-descended word dengo is tough to translate but means something like doting attachment and caresses; here it can be taken as something a little more like fiery passion. Most importantly, it provides a brilliant rhyme with “torcida do Flamengo,” Rio’s most popular soccer team on the morros, of which Wilson Batista was indeed a devoted fan. (See, for example, his 1955 “Samba Rubro-Negro” — Samba for the Red & Black.)

 

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Aracy de Almeida, in a photo published in Carioca magazine in 1935, with the caption: “Aracy de Almeida, one of the most celebrated figures of our ‘broadcasting’…”

Aracy de Almeida (1914-1988) was a tremendously popular singer in the 1930s – 50s whose recording career is central to the story of samba’s rise as Brazil’s national sound during the Vargas era. Her singular, nasally singing style was beloved by audiences and critics alike. Mário de Andrade, one of Brazil’s most prominent twentieth-century modernist intellectuals and musicologists, identified the nasal timbre as a key marker of Brazilianness, and commented that Almeida’s was “a hot, sensual nasality, of delicious timbração [timbre], deeply carioca.”

Almeida is widely known in Brazil as the “voice of Noel Rosa,” and her recording of Rosa’s “O X do Problema” became her trademark. Yet as Pedro Paulo Malta and Rodrigo Alzuguir (Batista’s biographer) point out in this excellent documentary series on Aracy de Almeida, Wilson Batista was in fact the composer Aracy recorded the most; indeed, she recorded more of Wilson’s nearly 600 compositions than any other recording artist.

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Ciro de Sousa, image via Acervo Revista Cinearte, 1938.

Another favorite composer of Aracy’s was Ciro de Sousa, Batista’s partner on this song. As de Sousa recalled the story of this song, one day he was in the entry of Café Nice — a  landmark in the history of samba and carioca culture in the 1930s and 40s — when Batista arrived, excited about a samba he’d begun on the bus. Batista sang the first verse up to “tira o macacão” (he strips off his coveralls) and Ciro added “embandeira o barracão” (decks out — literally with little flags — the shack), and the two went on composing from there.  Aracy released the samba in August 1941, with the beautiful backing of Pixinguinha, on flute, and Os Diabos do Céu.

Wilson Batista, for his part, demonstrated such brilliant melodic inventiveness without training or instruments other than a matchbox that the pianist Custódio Mesquita, one of the greatest classically trained popular composers of the 20th century, nicknamed him the “Maestro Caixa de Fósforos,” the Matchbox Maestro. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, in the 1970s, Paulinho da Viola said he regarded Wilson Batista as the greatest sambista of all time. Paulinho has recorded a number of Batista’s compositions, including most famously “Chico Brito” and “Meu Mundo é Hoje.”

Cristina Buarque made “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido” the title track of her 2000 Batista tribute album. And in 2017, Hermínio Bello de Carvalho produced an album in honor of Aracy’s centenary (a project he had been working on for years), with Marcos Sacramento on vocals and Luiz Flávio Alcofra on guitar. Here is the beautiful medley from that recent album of “Engomadinho,” by Pedro Caetano and Claudionor Cruz, and “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido”:

Nordeste Pra Frente

Lyrics from “Nordeste pra frente” by Luiz Gonzaga and Luis Queiroga (1968)

Sr. repórter já que tá me entrevistando // Mr. Reporter, since you’re interviewing me
Vá anotando pra botar no seu jornal // Take this down to put in your paper
Que meu Nordeste tá mudado // That my Northeast is changed
Publique isso pra ficar documentado // Publish that, for the record

Qualquer mocinha hoje veste mini-saia // Any ol’ girl these days wears a mini-skirt
Já tem homem com cabelo crescidinho // And now there are men with shaggy hair
O lambe-lambe no sertão já usa flash // The street photographer in the sertão now uses flash
Carro de praça cobra pelo reloginho // And the cars for hire in the square charge by the “little clock” (taximeter)

Já tem conjunto com guitarra americana // Now there are bands with American guitars
Já tem hotel que serve Whisky escocês // Hotels that serve Scotch Whiskey
E tem matuto com gravata italiana // And there are red-necks with Italian ties
Ouvindo jogo no radinho japonês // Listening to the game on their little Japanese radio

Caruaru tem sua universidade // Caruaru has a big university
Campina Grande tem até televisão // Campina Grande even has television
Jaboatão fabrica jipe à vontade // Jaboatão makes loads of jeeps
Lá de Natal já tá subindo foguetão // And over in Natal they’re launching rockets

Lá em Sergipe o petróleo tá jorrando // Over in Sergipe the oil’s gushing
Em Alagoas se cavarem vai jorrar // In Alagoas if they dig it’ll gush too
Publique isso que eu estou lhe afirmando // Publish that, I’m telling you
O meu Nordeste dessa vez vai disparar // This time my Northeast is taking off

Haha… E ainda diziam que meu Nordeste não ia pra frente // Haha, and they said my Northeast was going nowhere
Falavam até que a Sudene não funcionava // Even said the SUDENE did no good
Mas Dr. João chegou lá // But Dr. João got there
Com fé em Deus e no meu Padim Ciço // With faith in God and my Padim Ciço (Padre Cicero)
E todo mundo passou a acreditar no serviço // And everyone started to believe in the service
Essa é que é a história! // That’s history right there for you!

— Commentary —

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December 13 is an important date in Brazilian history.  Given the current political climate, with the president’s son, a federal deputy from Rio de Janeiro, recently suggesting a renewed AI-5, the date may first bring to mind the dark anniversary of that Institutional Act no. 5, issued on December 13, 1968, which marked the beginning of Brazil’s long “years of lead” — the most repressive of the dictatorship.

But let’s focus on a brighter note: December 13 was also Luiz Gonzaga’s birthday. There’s a lot about Gonzaga already on the blog, so I’m going to keep this post brief. Gonzaga was born December 13, 1912, in Exu, a small town in the arid interior of Pernambuco. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1939 and by 1940 was competing on radio talent contests, and his northeastern baião style quickly became wildly popular among southeastern audiences.  As this previous post relates in greater detail, Gonzaga became, in turn, a cultural ambassador for the impoverished and drought-stricken northeast, which by the 1950s had become a top priority for leading economic thinkers in Brazil who sought to remedy the region’s plight as a necessary step toward modernizing Brazil.

As part of that initiative to address what was called the “problem of the northeast,” in 1959, in the wake of a severe drought the previous year, president Juscelino Kubitschek — best known for Brasilia and the slogan “50 years of development in 5” — established the development agency SUDENE (Superintendencia de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste) mentioned in the song. In establishing SUDENE, Kubitschek was following the guidance of his leading economic thinker, Celso Furtado, who became the agency’s first director. Furtado, like Gonzaga, was from the sertão, born in Pombal, Paraíba, in 1920. He was a central figure in defining the regional demarcation of the northeast and in placing the region’s well-being — with a focus on Keynesian-inspired development policies — at the center of mid-century national political and economic debates.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 2.32.09 PMFurtado and SUDENE’s policies were widely criticized as misguided and unrealistic, as the song suggests; and indeed, largely because of the unshakable power of landholding lobbies in the northeast, the agency and the larger Operação Nordeste it was part of never made the difference Furtado sought. Instead, with the military coup of March 31, 1964, Furtado was swiftly removed from office and had his political rights abrogated for ten years. He went into exile in Paris, and the new general-president, Humberto Castelo Branco, appointed “Dr. João” Gonçalves de Souza as director of SUDENE, as outlined in the July 7, 1964, New York Times article included here. Gonzaga’s optimism about Dr. João, the military’s appointee, reveal his unfortunate political persuasions at that time. (I’m not sure how much Gonzaga supported the dictatorship later down the line, especially after Dec. 13, 1968. At any rate, the title of this song, “Nordeste pra frente,” also evokes “Pra frente, Brasil,” a slogan of the dictatorship, popularized through the marchinha for the 1970 World Cup team.)

The song meanwhile offers a humorous take on the arrival of the 1960s zeitgeist to Brazil’s remote northeast: television; long-haired men and rock n’ roll; the expansion of university education; mini-skirts and scotch: symbols of the global 60s’ angsty modernity.  Ah, and oil and cars of course: the Willys Jeep factory in Jaboatão, Pernambuco, mentioned in the song, opened in 1966, and was the northeast’s first car factory.  The TV in Campina Grande refers to TV Borborema, launched in 1966, a year after the Brazilian Air Force opened South America’s first base for rocket launches near Natal, also referenced in the lyrics.

A couple other notes on the translation: Padre Ciçero was a beloved northeastern priest from Crato, Ceará; an annual pilgrimage to his burial place, in Juazeiro do Norte, Ceará, still takes place every year. Lambe lambe refers to traveling street photographers using old-timey cameras.

João Gilberto – “João Valentão” (Dorival Caymmi) and “Chão de Estrelas” (Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas)

 

“João Valentão” by Dorival Caymmi (1945)

João Valentão é brigão// João Valentão is a tough
De dar bofetão// He throws blows
Não presta atenção e nem pensa na vida// He doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t even contemplate life
A todo João intimida// He intimidates every João
Faz coisas que até Deus duvida// He does things even God can’t believe
Mas tem seu momento na vida// But he has his moment in life…

É quando o sol vai quebrando lá pro fim do mundo pra noite chegar// It’s when the sun goes breaking over the end of the world, for night to arrive
É quando se ouve mais forte o ronco das ondas na beira do mar// It’s when the roar of the waves can be heard more loudly at the edge of the sea
É quando o cansaço da lida, da vida, obriga João se sentar// It’s when the weariness of the struggle, of life, forces João to sit down
É quando a morena se encolhe, se chega pro lado querendo agradar// It’s when the morena curls up, comes to his side, wishing to please
Se a noite é de lua a vontade é de contar mentiras, de se espreguiçar// If the night is moonlit, the urge is to tell fibs, to stretch out
Deitar na areia da praia que acaba onde a vista não pode alcançar// Lie down on the sand on the beach that ends beyond where the eye can see
E assim adormece esse homem que nunca precisa dormir pra sonhar// And that’s how this man falls asleep, who never needs to sleep to dream
Porque não há sonho mais lindo do que sua terra não há// Because there is no dream more beautiful than his land, there’s none

“Chão de Estrelas” by Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas (1937)

Minha vida era um palco iluminado// My life was a lighted stage
Eu vivia vestido de dourado// I was always dressed in gold
Palhaço das perdidas ilusões// Clown of lost illusions
Cheio dos guizos falsos de alegria// Full of the phony bells of joy
Andei cantando minha fantasia// I went around singing my fantasy
Entre as palmas febris dos corações// Among the feverish palms* of hearts

Meu barracão lá no morro do Salgueiro// My shack, on Salgueiro Hill
Tinha o cantar alegre de um viveiro// Had the cheerful song of an aviary
Foste a sonoridade que acabou// You were the sonority that ended
E hoje quando do sol a claridade //And today, when the sun’s rays
Forra meu barracão, sinto saudade// Stream into my shack, I feel saudade
Da mulher, pomba rola, que voou// For the woman, dove that flew away

Nossas roupas comuns dependuradas// Our modest clothes hanging
Na corda, qual bandeiras agitadas// Out on the line, like waving flags
Parecia um estranho festival// Appeared an exotic festival
Festa dos nossos trapos coloridos// A party of our colored rags
A mostrar que nos morros mal vestidos// Showing that on the poorly dressed hillsides
É sempre feriado nacional// It’s always a national holiday

A porta do barraco era sem trinco// The shack’s door had no latch
Mas a lua furando o nosso zinco// But the moon, boring through our tin
Salpicava de estrelas nosso chão// Peppered our floor with stars
E tu pisavas nos astros, distraída// And you stepped on the stars, absent-minded
Sem saber que a ventura dessa vida// Unaware that the fortune of this life
É a cabrocha, o luar, e o violão// Is the cabrocha, the moonlight and the guitar

— Commentary–

 

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João Gilberto’s debut at Copacabana Palace, 1959. Photo via Arquivo Publico do Estado de São Paulo. 
Jornal Aqui Sao Paulo;
João Gilberto. Photo via Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo.

It would be hard to find a foreign lover of Brazilian music whose life wasn’t fundamentally changed by João Gilberto, who died yesterday, July 6, at age 88.  I remember listening over and over to a playlist put together by the fantastic Zuim Podcast in 2011 for Gilberto’s 80th birthday. I was living in New York at the time and the songs — which still bring to mind memories of runs in Prospect Park and drab days at a midtown office — helped inspire this blog, which I started a few months later, and my move to Brazil. They included several from this 1958 recording from the casa de Chico Pereira, linked above. Especially beautiful to me was “João Valentão,” to this day, thanks to that recording, maybe my favorite Brazilian song — or at least one of the first that would come to mind if I had to answer that impossible question. It was one of the first songs I translated for the blog back in 2011. Here it is reprised with João Gilberto singing, along with “Chão de Estrelas” (which also has its own post from 2012), which follows “João Valentão” on the album. Over the next few weeks I hope to get time to translate more João Gilberto recordings on here; for now, here are two of my favorites.

 

*The first verse of “Chão de Estrelas” ends with “among the feverish palms of hearts.” In Portuguese, the literal translation for “clap” in English is “to beat palms.” Orestes Barbosa played with this phrase, referring to beating hearts as “palms of hearts.”