Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas

Lyrics from “Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” by Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes (1963)

Original recording (Jorge Goulart)

Our Carnival is over
No one hears songs being sung
No one passes by anymore, playing, happy
And in people’s hearts, longing and ashes are all that’s left
In the streets, the scene is of people who don’t even see one another
Who don’t even smile
Hug and kiss one another and go their separate ways
Dancing and singing love songs
And meanwhile, it’s necessary to sing
More than ever, it’s necessary to sing
It’s necessary to sing and cheer up the city
This sadness we feel will end any day now
Everyone will smile
Hope has returned – it’s the people who dance
Contented with life, happily singing
Because there are so many serene things
And such grand promises of light
So much love to give that we don’t even know about
How I wish I could live to see it
And frolic in other Carnivals
With the beauty of those Carnivals of the past
What lovely marches
And the people singing their song of peace, their song of peace

— Interpretation —

Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra in the early 1960s.
Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra in the early 1960s.

“Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” (March of Ash Wednesday) is a seemingly prescient protest song:  Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra wrote the song in 1963, on the cusp of the coup that installed a  military dictatorship in Brazil until 1985.  The lilting lyrics that lament the end of Carnival can be interpreted as mourning the end of a brighter, more carefree period in Brazil.

Carlos Lyra was an important figure in the wildly popular bossa nova movement of the early 1960s. João Gilberto recorded three of Lyra’s songs — “Maria Ninguém”, “Lobo Bobo”, and “Saudade fez um samba” — on the seminal bossa nova album Chega de Saudade (1959). But Lyra reacted against bossa nova’s lightheartedness – which he felt was too shallow – and quickly established a politically activist musical stance, as this post highlights. In 1961, he helped found the  Centro Popular de Cultura (Popular Culture Center) of the National Students’ Union, which aimed to promote revolutionary art that would politically educate the masses and cultivate a “popular, democratic national culture.”  Carlos and Vinicius wrote this song on the same day that they finished the “Hino da UNE (Hymn of the National Students’ Union), which beckons, “To your feet, young guard/ the student class, always in the vanguard, struggles for Brazil.”

Jorge Goulart was the first singer to release “Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” in 1963, but Nara Leão’s 1964 recording made the song a hit.

In the documentary Mosaícos – A Arte de Vinicius de Moraes, Vinicius and Carlos remember the beginning of their partnership, which Vinicius says began in 1962.  Carlos Lyra recalls, “When he made Orfeu with Tom [Jobim], I practically fell in love with Vinicius.” (Orfeu marked the start of Vinicius’s musical partnership with Tom Jobim, in 1956. ) Lyra continues,  “I called his house and said, ‘Hi, this is Carlos Lyra’ and he said ‘Oh – little Carlos!’ — going ahead and belittling me (laughing) — I’ve heard a lot about you, what can I do for you?’ So I decided to get diminutive too, and said, ‘Oh, I’d just like some little lyrics!’ And he said to come on over!”  Before long, Carlos Lyra, like Tom before him, found himself working with Vinicius on lyrics for a musical, Pobre Menina Rica (1964).

Lyrics in Portuguese

Acabou nosso carnaval
Ninguém ouve cantar canções
Ninguém passa mais
Brincando feliz
E nos corações
Saudades e cinzas
Foi o que restou

Pelas ruas o que se vê
É uma gente que nem se vê
Que nem se sorri
Se beija e se abraça
E sai caminhando
Dançando e cantando
Cantigas de amor

E no entanto é preciso cantar
Mais que nunca é preciso cantar
É preciso cantar e alegrar a cidade

A tristeza que a gente tem
Qualquer dia vai se acabar
Todos vão sorrir
Voltou a esperança
É o povo que dança
Contente da vida
Feliz a cantar

Porque são tantas coisas azuis
E há tão grandes promessas de luz
Tanto amor para amar de que a gente nem sabe

Quem me dera viver pra ver
E brincar outros carnavais
Com a beleza
Dos velhos carnavais
Que marchas tão lindas
E o povo cantando
Seu canto de paz
Seu canto de paz

Main source for this post not linked in the text: A Canção no Tempo: 85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol. 2: 1958 – 1985, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

Pau de Arara

Lyrics from “Pau de Arara” by Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes (1965) from musical Pobre Menina Rica

Good Audio Version (without spoken sections)


I was growing tired of how hungry I was, of the hunger I had
I had nothing, what hunger I had…
What a cursed drought in my Ceará
I went and got together what little I had
Two old pairs of pants and a little guitar
And in a pau-de-arara I set off for here
And at night I would stay on the beach of Copacabana
Roaming on the beach of Copacabana
Dancing the Xaxado for the girls to watch
Virgin saint, the hunger was such that I didn’t even have a voice
My God, so many girls, … what hunger I had
More hunger than I had in my Ceará


That’s when I decided to swaller razors
There was a buddy of mine from up there in Quizeramubim that made a lot of money swallowing razors on Copacabana beach. By day, he’d go door to door asking for ol’ razors, and by night he’d swaller them all for everyone to see. I don’t know, but I think he swallowed so many that by the time I got there on the beach, those people watching already had indigestion from seeing that comrade swaller razors. One time, I was so hungry that I went like this to a boy that was passing by: “Decent fellow!  You let me swaller one little razor for you?” “Get outta here, pau-de-arara, you got it?” “Oh, distinguished one! Just one, cause I haven’t eaten anything yet today.” “You really insist, don’t you, pau-de-arara!”  That left me so annoyed, that if it weren’t for the love that I had for my little guitar, I would have smashed it over the head of that father of a mare…


Son of a gun, no life was worse than mine
What a cursed life, what hunger I had
Roaming on the beach, from here to there
When I saw all those people just eatin’ and eatin’,
I swear I felt longing for the hunger,
The hunger that I had in my Ceará
And so I would go on and sing and dance the Xaxado
And I only managed because in the Xaxado, you can really only drag yourself along
Virgin saint, the hunger was such that it even seemed
That even dancing,  my body rose up
Just as if it were trying to fly


Sometimes the hunger was such that a lotta times we stirred up a little fight to go eat some grub in the slammer. Ah, good meal in the stomach… But, forgive my language, we gave it all back afterwards, cause the grub was already spoilt. But, while it was still in our stomachs… calm… what joy!  Nah, but now things is gettin’ better, ya know?  There’s a really nice lady, over there in Leblon, who really likes to see me swaller shards of glass. That’s some real kindness! With that, I already saved some five hundred thousand réis. When I get a little more, I’m getting gone.  I’m going back to my Ceará.


I gonna leave for my Ceará because there I have a name
And here I’m nothing, I’m just a Joe-Hungry
I’m just a “pau-de-arara,” I don’t even know how to sing anymore
I’m going to prod my mule, I’m leaving before everything blows up
Because I’m thinkin’ the weather’s hot
And it can’t get any worse than this

–Interpretation —

The pau de arara truck, which migrants traveled on for days to reach cities like Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

Pau-de-arara — literally “parrot’s perch” — is a rustic truck (pictured above) that millions of migrants from Brazil’s poorest northeastern states traveled on to cities in the southeast, most notably Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.  In turn, in these cities “pau-de-arara” also turned into a pejorative term for migrants from the northeast, as the singer alludes to at the end of the song: “Here… I’m just a pau-de-arara.”

The Xaxado is a traditional northeastern dance in which dancers shuffle, or “drag,” their feet to the rhythm (see this YouTube video). The name Xaxado – pronounced “sha-shado” –  is an onomatopoeia for the sound the dancers’ feet make dragging on the ground. I translated literally, “…What hunger I had” – even though it’s not something we would say in English – mostly to keep the first line as true to the original Portuguese as possible:  “…I had nothing, what hunger I had.”  Some of the northeastern accent/dialect in the song — “para as moças oiá,”  “não pode ficá”  — is lost in the English translation, though I’ve tried to keep it where I could.

As  migration from northeastern Brazil became increasingly intense in the 1950s and 1960s (see this post), and political and social engagement in Brazilian popular music became more popular, songs about the migrants’ condition – both in the drought-plagued northeast and in the southeastern cities – grew more common.  The pau-de-arara itself became a recurrent theme in such songs, perhaps the most well-known being “Pau-de-Arara” by Luiz Gonzaga and Guio de Moraes (1952) and “Ultimo Pau-de-arara” by Venâncio, Corumbá, and José Palmeira Guimarães (1973). (In this 1973 video, Maria Bethânia sings both.)

This song was written during the years of closest collaboration between Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes. In 1962, Carlos presented Vinicius with a set of melodies in need of lyrics.  To Carlos’s surprise, Vinicius declared that the songs went perfectly together, and should be turned into a musical.  During a summer stay in Vinicius’s home in Petrópolis, a mountain resort town in Rio de Janeiro where Vinicius had also written the lyrics for “Garota de Ipanema,” the two worked on the songs together. Vinicius wrote lyrics for Lyra’s melodies and wove them into a story called Pobre Menina Rica, Poor Rich Girl. The musical play was written with Nara Leão in mind as the protagonist, a lonely rich girl who falls in love with a disabled beggar living outside of her home.

Carlos Lyra wasn’t convinced by the plot, and asked Vinicius, “Don’t you think it’s a bit unlikely that this beautiful rich girl would fall in love with a beggar?”  Vinicius, ever the romantic, responded, “It so happens that this beggar is charming, advanced, and put-together… and what’s more, it was Spring, my dear partner, Spring, understand?” Ultimately, the perhaps implausible plot was overshadowed by the lovely songs in the play, including “Primavera,” “Sabe você,” “Maria Moita,” and “Samba do Carioca,” along with “Pau de Arara.”

The play was put on first at Teatro Maison de France, then moved to Teatro de Bolsa, at which point some of the actors were replaced. That’s when the comedian Ary Toledo (singing in the video above) began playing the role of the migrant from Ceará, who was based on a poor northeasterner, familiar to Vinicius, who lived on Copacabana and got by dancing Xaxado and swallowing razors. Toledo asked Carlos Lyra for permission to record the song for the soundtrack, in 1964, and went on to record a live version at Teatro Record during the program O Fino da Bossahosted by Elis Regina and Jair Rodrigues. The audience laughed heartily at Toledo’s comic performance, as you can hear in the recording.

Tom Jobim was meant to provide musical arrangement for the album Pobre Menina Rica, and Elis Regina, just 19 years old at the time, was considered to sing the rich girl’s songs on the soundtrack.  Tom nixed Elis for the role, though, saying her disheveled appearance made her look more like a country bumpkin than a patrician (even though no one would actually have seen her). Ultimately, Tom didn’t end up handing in musical arrangements, either. Carlos Lyra said this was because the 1964 military coup left Tom worried about dictatorship’s reaction to the musical’s “social theme”; Tom said he just didn’t have time. Thus, for the soundtrack, the part of the rich girl ended up going to Dulce Nunes, and Radamés Gnatalli took over the musical arrangement. And so, as Ruy Castro mentions in Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias da Bossa Nova, Pobre Menina Rica “missed the chance to bring together Tom Jobim and Elis Regina ten years earlier than they finally ended up working together,” on the legendary 1974 album Elis & Tom.

Carlos Lyra (left), Aloysio de Oliveira, Nara Leão and Vinicius de Moraes preparing the musical “Pobre Menina Rica”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Eu vinha cansado da fome que tava, da fome que eu tinha
Eu não tinha nada, que fome que eu tinha
Que seca danada no meu Ceará
Eu peguei e juntei um restinho de coisa que eu tinha
Duas calça velha, uma violinha
E num pau-de-arara toquei para cá
E de noite ficava na praia de Copacabana
Zanzando na praia de Copacabana
Dançando o xaxado pras moças oiá
Virgem Santa, que a fome era tanta que nem voz eu tinha
Meu Deus, tanta moça… que fome que eu tinha
Mais fome que eu tinha no meu Ceará


Foi aí que eu resolvi comê gilete.
Tinha um compadre meu lá de Quixeramubim que ganhou um dinheirão comendo gilete na praia de Copacabana. De dia ele ia de casa em casa pedindo gilete véia, e de noite ele comia aquilo tudinho pro pessoal vê. Eu não sei não, mas acho que ele comeu tanto, que quando eu cheguei lá na praia aquele pessoá já tava até com indigestão de tanto vê o camarada comê gilete. Uma vez, eu tava com tanta fome que falei assim prum moço que ia passando: “Decente! Voismecê deixa eu comê uma giletezinha pra voismecê vê?” “Sai pra lá, pau-de-arara. Tu não te manca, não?” “Oh, distinto! Só uma, que eu não comi nadinha ainda hoje.” “Tu enche, hein, pau-de-arara!” Aquilo me deixou tão aperriado, que se não fosse o amor que eu tinha na minha violinha, eu tinha arrebentado ela na cabeça daquele pai-d’égua.


Puxa vida, não tinha uma vida pior do que a minha
Que vida danada, que fome que eu tinha
Zanzando na praia, pra lá e pra cá
Quando eu via toda aquela gente no come-que-come
Eu juro que tinha saudade da fome
Da fome que eu tinha no meu Ceará
E daí eu pegava e cantava e dançava o xaxado
E só conseguia porque no xaxado
Agente só pode mesmo se arrastar
Virgem Santa, que a fome era tanta que até parecia
Que mesmo xaxando meu corpo subia
Igual se tivesse querendo voar


Às vezes a fome era tanta que volta e meia a gente arrumava uma briguinha pra ir comê uma bóia no xadrez. Eta quentinho bom na barriga… Mas, com perdão da palavra, a gente devolvia tudo depois, que a bóia já vinha estragada. Mas, enquanto ela tava ali dentro da barriga… Quietinha… Que felicidade! Não… Mas agora as coisas tão meiorando, sabe? Tem uma senhora muito bondosa, lá no Leblon, que gosta muito de vê eu comê caco de vrido. Isso é que é bondade da boa. Com isso, já juntei assim uns quinhento mil réis. Quando tivé mais um pouquinho, eu vou-se embora. Volto pro meu Ceará.


Vou-se embora pro meu Ceará porque lá tenho um nome
E aqui não sou nada, sou só Zé-com-fome
Sou só pau-de-arara, nem sei mais cantar
Vou picar minha mula, vou antes que tudo rebente
Porque tô achando que o tempo tá quente
Pior do que anda não pode ficá

Main sources for this post:  A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2: 1958-1985, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello;  Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias da Bossa Nova by Ruy Castro; and the documentary Vinícius (2005).

Influência do Jazz

Lyrics from “Influência do Jazz” by Carlos Lira (1962)

My poor samba
It started getting mixed up and modernized, and got lost
And the sway, where is it? It’s gone
Where’s that shimmy that stirs us up
Poor thing, my samba changed all of a sudden
Influence of jazz

It almost died
And ends up dying, is almost dying, it didn’t realize
That samba sways from side to side
Jazz is different, forward and back
And samba, half dead, got half warped
Influence of jazz

In the afro-cubano, it’s getting complicated
It’s going down the tubes, it’s going
It’s getting warped, going without rest
Going, leaving, falling off the scale

My poor samba
Go back there to the hillside and seek help where you were born
To not be a samba with too many notes
Not be a warped samba, forward and back
You’re going to have to stand on your own to be able to free yourself
From the influence of jazz

— Interpretation —

In the early 1960s a rift was opening in the bossa nova movement as some – mostly younger – singers developed a taste for including political messages in their songs.  This approach often also involved a rejection of foreign influences in Brazilian music and a return to samba’s roots.   Carlos Lira (often spelled Lyra), born in Rio de Janeiro on May 11, 1936*, was perhaps the greatest leader of the bossa novistas “engajados” — Portuguese for politically and socially “engaged,” whose ranks included  renowned musicians like Edu Lobo and Nara Leão by the mid 1960s. The other side — “purists” who thought bossa nova should remain faithful to the contemplative serenity of songs like “O Barquinho” — included Lira’s former partner (and Nara Leão’s ex-boyfriend) Ronaldo Bôscoli, and the brothers Marcos Valle and Paulo Sérgio Valle. The Valle brothers composed the song “A Resposta” (“The Answer“) to criticize socially “engaged” bossa nova – and Nara Leão in particular.

In 1961, Lira — together with Oduvaldo Viana Filho, Ferreira Gullar, and others —  founded the Popular Culture Center (Centro Popular de Culturaof the National Students’ Union, which aimed to support and disseminate “revolutionary art” among university students. By this point, according to Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, Lira was beginning to express frustrations with bossa nova, feeling it was “just a trite modern style, repeating the same romantic musings as always.” He began to compose more explicitly political and nationalistic songs, including “Mister Golden,” “Os Subdesenvolvidos” (“the Underdeveloped”), and “Influência do Jazz,” which laments the tainting of traditional samba with obvious foreign influences.

While the lyrics protest the influence of jazz, the samba is written in an Americanized, bossa nova style– using the pentatonic scale so pervasive in American jazz and blues compositions — with a melody that purposefully recalls American songs like “You Were Meant for Me,” from Singing in the Rain, and “Indian Love Call,” from Rose-Marie. 

“Influência do Jazz” was first released by the Tamba Trio on Zé Trinidade’s sunday program on TV Rio. It was an immediate hit, and was performed twice at the famous bossa nova show at Carnegie Hall — by Lira and the Oscar Castro Neves Quartet.

*I am using the date cited in A Canção do Tempo, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello (also a main source for this post), although a number of websites list 1939 as Lira’s year of birth.