Lígia

Lyrics from “Lígia” by Tom Jobim (1972)



Good Audio Version (João Gilberto)

I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the movies
I don’t like samba, I don’t go to Ipanema
I don’t like rain, I don’t like sun
I never called you up, why, if I knew?
I never attempted – and would never dare – the sweet nothings
That I learned with you
No, Lígia, Lígia

To go out with you holding hands on a serene afternoon
A cold beer in a bar in Ipanema
Walk along the beach down to Leblon
I’ve never fallen in love, I’d never be able to marry you
I would suffer such pain inevitably just to lose you in the end

You come close to me with your peculiar ways, and I say yes
But your brown eyes fill me with more fear than a ray of sun
Lígia, Lígia

— Interpretation–

Tom Jobim at Ipanema Beach, c. 1968
Tom Jobim at Ipanema Beach, c. 1968

Tom Jobim used to say that any song with a woman’s name just stirred up trouble. He cited the case of Dorival Caymmi’s “Marina,” which provoked threats to Caymmi from an angry husband who thought the song had been written for his wife.

And indeed “Lígia” caused some problems for Tom, since the name happened to be the name of his close friend Fernando Sabino’s wife.

In interviews over the years following the release of “Ligia,” Tom avoided the subject or denied that the song was written for Sabino’s wife, Lygia Marina de Moraes. But in a 1988 interview with Ruy Castro for Playboy, Tom hinted that his denials could be interpreted in the same way as the denials in the song: “Fernando Sabino is a good friend, I get along really well with him and his wife, Lygia. They come to my house, I want all the best for them and, naturally, Lygia is a very beautiful woman and all that. What exists in  “Lígia” is the following: something that you deny so much that ultimately it turns into an affirmation – a supreme affirmation of love. ‘I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the cinema… when I called you… it was just an illusion, I ripped up your name.’ That is to say, I’m not even close to Lygia.”
Continue reading “Lígia”

Quando o Carnaval Chegar

Lyrics from “Quando o Carnaval Chegar” by Chico Buarque (1972)



Good Audio Version (Chico Buarque)

For those who see me just standing there, distant
Who guarantee I don’t know how to samba
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes

I’m just watching, knowing, feeling, hearing – and I can’t speak
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
I see the china legs of the girl who passes – and I can’t touch
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
How long I’ve desired her kiss, wet with passionfruit
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes

And for those who offend me, humiliate me, step on me
Thinking I’ll put up with it
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
And for those who see me taking beatings in life
Who doubt I’ll reply in kind
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
I see the first beam of day emerging, asking us to sing
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes

I have so much joy postponed, suffocated
Oh what I’d give to scream

I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes…

— Interpretation —

Album cover for the soundtrack to the 1972 musical Quando o Carnaval Chegar
Album cover for the soundtrack to the 1972 musical Quando o Carnaval Chegar.

In 1972, Brazil was in the midst of the period known as the Anos de Chumbo (Years of Lead) following the decree of Institutional Act 5 (AI-5) at the end of 1968.  The president, military general Emílio Médici, was one of the most repressive of the military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 – 1985.  As Médici stepped up censorship, repression, persecution and torture in his ostensible effort to prepare Brazil for a return to democracy, he boasted of the “Brazilian Miracle” – consecutive years of annual GDP growth surpassing 10% – in spite of figures showing skyrocketing poverty and inequality in the country.

Meanwhile, by 1972 a number of artists who had left Brazil in fear or protest in the wake of AI-5  had returned from exile, and were doing their best to produce music and films (and thus make a living) despite these inauspicious conditions.  Chico Buarque had returned from exile in Italy in 1970; Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were back from London; and likewise,  Carlos “Cacá” Diegues, the celebrated Cinema Novo director, and his wife, singer Nara Leão (known as the “muse of bossa nova”) were  back in Brazil after over a year in Paris.

Maria Bethânia and Chico on the painted schoolbus.
Maria Bethânia and Chico on the painted schoolbus.

Diegues enlisted Buarque’s help to write the soundtrack for his experimental musical Quando o Carnaval Chegar , (full movie available here – but without subtitles) and this song was the title track.  Buarque starred in the musical alongside Caetano’s sister, Maria Bethânia, and Nara Leão. The three singers play a hapless trio of radio performers who spend much of their time riding a painted school bus around Brazil. They’re driven by Cuíca, a black cuíca player from the favela, and guided by the whims of their slick, flamboyant producer, Lourival, who has arranged for them to sing at a “party for a king” and struggles to keep the troupe together for the party in spite of new loves, jealousies and broken hearts. The movie portrays the extravagance and false hopes of the so-called Brazilian Miracle years and the anticipation of new beginnings with the arrival of Carnival. It is the only Cinema Novo musical, and a chanchada a campy musical comedy style that was popular in Brazil from the 1930s – 1950s.

Diegues was aligned politically and artistically with the  Centro Popular de Culturaa collective of artists who sought to create a “democratic national popular culture” by  educating the popular classes through revolutionary art. To that end,  he attempted to appeal to a wide audience with his movies, thus drawing criticism from factions of the political left who favored ideological purity at the expense of popular appeal in the arts. In 1978, Diegues stirred up controversy when he referred to such critics as “ideological patrols.”  Regardless, this film was not Diegues’s greatest success with critics or crowds. But the title track has become one of Chico Buarque’s best loved songs in Brazil, even more so in the weeks preceding Carnival.

The song begins by contrasting the singer’s subdued, somber, and highly restricted day-to-day existence with the liberty that Carnival will bring. The metaphors for censorship and repression – and the euphoria that will come when the offenders get their comeuppance and all of this “postponed joy” is released – grow clearer at the end of the song, and recall Chico’s most famous protest song (which he calls his only true protest song), Apesar de você.”

These days, outside of its original political context, the song represents a larger, universal human sentiment of yearning for a more carefree life where sensibility, sincerity and personal liberty are supreme.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Quem me vê sempre parado,
Distante garante que eu não sei sambar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Eu tô só vendo, sabendo,
Sentindo, escutando e não posso falar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Eu vejo as pernas de louça
Da moça que passa e não posso pegar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Há quanto tempo desejo seu beijo
Molhado de maracujá…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

E quem me ofende, humilhando, pisando,
Pensando que eu vou aturar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

E quem me vê apanhando da vida,
Duvida que eu vá revidar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Eu vejo a barra do dia surgindo,
Pedindo pra gente cantar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Eu tenho tanta alegria, adiada,
Abafada, quem dera gritar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar…

Main sources for this post: Revolução do Cinema Novo by Glauber Rocha; Chico Buarque do Brasil, ed. Rinaldo de Fernandes; Brazilian Popular Music and Globalization, ed. Charles Perrone and Christopher Dunn; and this blog post.

Retrato em Branco e Preto

Lyrics from “Retrato em branco e preto” by Tom Jobim and Chico Buarque (1968)



Good Audio Version (Elis Regina)

I’m familiar with each step along this road
I know it goes nowhere
I know its secrets by heart
I’m familiar with the stones in the path
And I know, too, that there, alone,
I’m going to end up so much the worse
What can I do to fight the enchantment
Of this love that I deny so much, I avoid so much
And that, nevertheless, always recasts its spell
With its same sad old facts that, in a picture album, I insist on collecting

Here I go again, like a fool, seeking the despondency
Of whose acquaintance I’ve grown weary
New sad days, sleepless nights
Verses, letters, my dear
And still I write to you again, to tell you this is a sin
My breast is so scored with memories from the past
And you know the reason
I’m going to collect one more sonnet, another portrait in white and black
To mistreat my heart

— Interpretation —

Chico Buarque, Tom Jobim, and Vinicius de Moraes
Chico Buarque (L), Tom Jobim, and Vinicius de Moraes. Photo via Catraca Livre.

This was the first song that Tom Jobim and Chico Buarque worked on together, and its instrumental version has become a jazz standard.

Chico Buarque (standing) and Tom Jobim.
Chico Buarque (standing) and Tom Jobim.

Jobim and Buarque were introduced in 1964 or 1965, as Chico recalls, by the music producer Aloísio de Oliveira; later, their mutual friend and partner Vinicius de Moraes brought them closer. In 1967 Tom asked Chico to write the lyrics to this song, which he’d already released in its instrumental version as “Zíngaro,” meaning gypsy. (The use of half tones in the first verses evokes a certain aimlessness.)

Chico was nervous.  He had only written lyrics for one song that was not his own – a partnership with his close friend Toquinho, “Lua Cheia” – and he was unsure of his talents as a lyricist.  But he recounts that at this point, Tom treated him more like a pupil than a partner, offering effusive encouragement and telling him that his lyrics were simply splendid.

As Charles Perrone points out in Seven Faces: Brazilian Poetry since Modernism, Chico’s sonnetlike lyrics, with two fourteen-line stanzas, recall Vinicius de Moraes’s romantic poems, which is not surprising since Chico had grown up admiring Vinicius, a close friend of his father, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda.

Tom’s only question – which you, too, may have wondered –  was why they should use “portrait in white and black” when everyone says “black and white.” Chico defended his phrasing by suggesting that, were the word order reversed, the only word he might rhyme with “branco” (white) would be “tamanco” – a wood-soled shoe. Tom preferred the singer collect another sonnet, and not a shoe.

Chico, for his part, tried to change the lyrics shortly before recording, asking Tom if they might substitute the words “peito tão marcado” – translated here as “breast so scored” – with “peito carregado”, or heavy breast; he said he’d used “so” in the first version merely as a crutch. But for Tom, Chico’s suggested change called to mind a tuberculosis patient, since “peito” means both breast and chest in Portuguese, and “carregado” can mean gloomy or heavy, but can also mean full, loaded, or in some cases, congested. So they stuck with the original lyrics, and João Gilberto recorded the song in 1968. (Here he is singing it.)

As the pair continued working together, Tom abandoned his accepting attitude and second-guessed many of Chico’s lyrics. In the following posts you can read about their spirited spats over the lyrics for “Piano na Mangueira” and “Sabiá.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Já conheço os passos dessa estrada
Sei que não vai dar em nada
Seus segredos sei de cor
Já conheço as pedras do caminho
E sei também que ali sozinho
Eu vou ficar, tanto pior
O que é que eu posso contra o encanto
Desse amor que eu nego tanto
Evito tanto
E que no entanto
Volta sempre a enfeitiçar
Com seus mesmos tristes velhos fatos
Que num álbum de retrato
Eu teimo em colecionar

Lá vou eu de novo como um tolo
Procurar o desconsolo
Que cansei de conhecer
Novos dias tristes, noites claras
Versos, cartas, minha cara
Ainda volto a lhe escrever
Pra dizer que isso é pecado
Eu trago o peito tão marcado
De lembranças do passado
E você sabe a razão
Vou colecionar mais um soneto
Outro retrato em branco e preto
A maltratar meu coração

Main sources for this post:  Interviews with Chico Buarque on Tom Jobim’s website and Histórias de Canções: Tom Jobim, by Wagner Homem and Luiz Roberto Oliveira.