“Esquiva da Esgrima”

“Esquiva da Esgrima” by Criolo (2014)

Talking too much makes gum go sour
Call in SAMU and teach this fool to respect our principles
There’s more god to give than y’all in a chamberpot
Back in the day words alone sorted things out
An exchange of ideas — respect was enough
Money is vile, uncle transacted, virile instincts
The AR-15’s loaded and boys carry rifles
From Grajaú to Curuzú 
For immigration, my people are mules
My inspirations are Black Alien, Ferréz — not Tia Augusta
Minimal, lyrical verse from an oneiric universe
Every hoodlum has empirical know-how
Rap é forte, better believe it: Oui, Monsieur
Perrenoud, Piaget, Sabotá: Enchanté!
It’s that I’m the son of cearenses
The caatinga’s cruel
And my people have hot blood
Wrecked, following the north star
By the blessin’s of Padre Cícero and the lyrics of Edi Rock
Shutting the loons mouths, because he who showers in hatred
Gives off the aroma of death


There’s no mouth to be kissed
No soul to be cleansed
There’s no life to be lived
But there’s money to be counted
In a suit and tie, fulfilling your father’s wishes
Take my son (//your daughter) for the world to lose
It’s heaven, in hell’s mouth, waiting for you
It’s heaven, in hell’s mouth, waiting for…

A ball to kick, a country to sink
Generation that doesn’t just want weed to smoke
Milianos, bad smells and disillusion
Every truncheon is a lash to a trunk
Bushels, Brazilian latifúndios
In showers of smoke, only vinegar quenches thirst
New packages for the same old interests
The Right’s hook-and-bait turned the Left into a fish
Osiris look after me, keep me away from Diabolyn
You don’t have a moto – you don’t get to be in the photo
Mobylettes with dream motors
He tried to flee, and I saw what happened
With no helmet he got screwed
God help him, let’s go
It’s the esquive in a duel, the forgotten tear
The color of my skin
I know some criticize it
Because serpents are to apples
What the apple reflects to the media
Abel had a brother
But Cain had the malice

The art for the album cover was drawn from pieces from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which recently made 125,000 works publicly available through Creative Commons (https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio?ii=3&p=0)
The art for the album cover was drawn from pieces from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which recently made 125,000 works publicly available through Creative Commons (https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio?ii=3&p=0)

This is the second track on the São Paulo rapper Criolo’s third album, Convoque Seu Buda. Criolo — whose real name is Kleber Gomes — says the title, which translates to “Summon your Buddha,” means that everyone should call up the good energy they have within.  Like Nó na Orelha (2011), the album was produced by Daniel Ganjaman and Marcelo Cabral, who were even more liberal with their musical creativity on this album as compared to Nó na Orelha. Also like Nó na Orelha, the album mixes genres, including a samba – “Fermento pra Massa” – and a reggae, “Pé de breque.”  Criolo is tremendously popular in Brazil and abroad, and the album was simultaneously released in Europe (Sterns Music) and the United States (Circular Moves).


There’s lots of explaining for this one, so I’m going to go almost line by line. The title, “Esquiva da Esgrima” – translated in the song as “the esquive [dodge or evasion] in a duel” – likely refers to the artful, evasive moves needed for survival in the periphery of São Paulo.

Criolo starts the song by criticizing people who are all talk, and says it’s best to teach these fools (comédias, literally, “comedies”) using force – which will make it necessary to call in SAMU,  Brazil’s emergency response service (Serviço de Atendimento Móvel de Urgência). Then he makes a play on the saying, “Tem mais deus pra dar do que o diabo para tirar” — roughly, “there’s more God to give than devil to take” — by turning it into “there’s more god to give than all you [shits] in a chamber pot.”

A little further down, Criolo mentions Grajaú, the south São Paulo neighborhood where he grew up. In 2013, Grajaú-SP was singled out as the worst São Paulo neighborhood to live in, in a city of 19 million. Curuzu is a poor and almost exclusively Afro-Brazilian neighborhood in Salvador, Bahia, which might be why he used the name — on top of the ease of the rhyme. In the line, “From Grajaú to Curuzu, for immigration, my people are mules,” Criolo could be making reference to internal migration in search of better opportunities, and the eventual path to drug trafficking that the frustrated hopes of such migration can lead to; he could also be referring to immigration authorities – and by inference, authorities more broadly – equating poor and darker skinned Brazilians to drug traffickers/mules.

Gustavo Black Alien
Gustavo Black Alien has released one (tremendously popular) album to date, Babylon by Gus vol. 1.

Criolo next cites Black Alien – a profoundly respected rapper from Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, who sang with Planet Hemp and Speedfreaks – and Ferrez, an author and rapper, also from São Paulo’s gritty south zone, famous for his “marginal literature.” Tia Augusta, in turn, was a travel agency in São Paulo that was famous for bringing teen groups to Disney World, a trip that is considered one of the main signs of wealth and the first necessary trip abroad for many Brazilians.

The São Paulo rapper Sabotage (1973 – 2003)

Rap é forte (rap is strong) is a song from Criolo’s first album, Ainda Há Tempo; Criolo switches into French —  “enchanté” – enchanted to meet you — to pay tribute to two French…well, French-named Swiss men: Philippe Perrenoud, the Swiss sociologist renowned for his work on the professionalization of teaching, and Jean Piaget, the Swiss developmental psychologist (1896-1980) who fought for improvements in education for children worldwide, and served as director of the International Bureau of Education. In the same breath, Criolo cites “Sabotá,” turning the São Paulo rapper Sabotage‘s name into a French-sounding name; Criolo thus associates Sabotage with these educational leaders in the same way he associates Edi Rock with Padre Cícero later in the song. Sabotage was killed in 2003, at age 29, in a presumed drug fight.  (Here’s a video of him in Daniel Ganjaman’s studio a day before his death.)

Caatinga is an eco-region found only in the interior of northeastern Brazil. Caatinga comes from the Tupi language, meaning "white vegetation" or "white brush."
Caatinga is an eco-region found only in the interior of northeastern Brazil. Caatinga comes from the Tupi language, meaning “white vegetation” or “white brush.”

Criolo goes on to explain he’s the son of cearenses — people who had migrated to São Paulo from the northeastern state of Ceará. Criolo was born around the peak of Brazil’s rural exodus, mostly from the hot, drought-stricken northeast shrublands – the caatinga – to southeastern cities, especially São Paulo. In 1940, only around 31 percent of Brazil’s population lived in cities; by 1970, urban residents accounted for more than 50 percent of the population, and in 1980, nearly 70 percent.

“My people have hot blood” essentially means people who have been beaten down by the conditions in the northeast are tough.

The North Star is given as a reference for something to guide the way after getting lost; it was the star escaping slaves in the United States used to guide them north to freedom.

padre cíceroPadre Cícero — called “Padim Ciço,” like little father — was a Catholic priest from Carto, Ceará, who is known for his deeply influential role as a spiritual, social and political leader in rural Ceará in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; hundreds of thousands of devotees still visit the town each year.

Edi Rock is a rapper with Racionais MC’s, a rap/hip hop group formed in 1988 and widely considered Brazil’s most influential hip hop group of all time.  Here Criolo implies that the same principles can be found in the teachings of Father Cícero and the lyrics of Edi Rock, and goes on to say these ideas can be used to shut up the “lóki” – a corruption of the word “loucos,” crazies — in this case, those who adopt a discourse of hatred and “give off the scent of death” according to the song.

Edi Rock, left, with the other members of Os Racionais MC's.
Edi Rock, left, with the other members of Racionais MC’s.

The refrain sums up the song by talking about a world lacking true pleasures and values, where money is all that matters; people seeking money — heaven — without realizing they’re in the mouth of hell, at its mercy.

“A ball to kick, a country to sink” has a couple of meanings: it could refer to the country’s dedication to and massive investment in football (soccer)  — including the World Cup that was going on in Brazil as Criolo recorded the album — and to a hit of marijuana, which is sometimes called a “bola” (ball).

“Every truncheon is a lash to a trunk” makes reference to recent — well, ongoing — police brutality, and also to the practice of tying slaves to trunks to whip them.

Latifúndios Brasileiros” refers to Brazil’s extremely unequal land distribution — 1 percent of the population controls about 45 percent of the land — and goes on to say “in showers of smoke” (tear gas and pepper spray used liberally and abusively by police in protests, most recently in the June 2013 protests) “only vinegar quenches thirst” possibly referring to the vinegar that was widely used to counteract the effects of these gases, and maybe to the biblical vinegar given to Jesus for his thirst when he was on the cross.

The “hook and bait” of the Right could be referring to the commitment to the economy, broadly: The invisible hand of the financial markets controls the hook and bait of the Right, which lures the Left into its logic, ultimately killing the Left.

Osiris, the ancient Egyptian king of the dead and ruler of the underworld.
Osiris, the ancient Egyptian king of the dead and ruler of the underworld.

Osiris was the ancient Egyptian god of the dead and ruler of the underworld; Criolo asks Osiris to look out for him and protect him from Diabolyn, the villain from the Disney cartoon Wildfire — Cavalo de Fogo, in Portuguese — who was especially evil and rotten to poor people.

“You don’t have a moto [motorbike/motorcycle]…” is criticizing the value placed on material goods like motorbikes in poor fringe neighborhoods like Grajaú; if someone doesn’t have one, they’re not worthy of being in the photo.

In the Bible, a serpent convinced Adam and Eve to try the apple – the forbidden fruit; like the serpent, the media convinces the population to think what it wants them to think.  Finally, Criolo discusses the bible story of Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel: According to the story,  Cain killed his brother Abel after God preferred Abel’s gift over Cain’s; the story represents the first occurrence of murder – fratricide – among humans.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Falar demais chiclete azeda
Chama o SAMU e ensina pra esse comédia
Respeitar nossos princípios
Tem mais Deus pra dar que cês tudo num penico
Antigamente resolvia na palavra
Uma ideia que se trocava
O respeito que se bastava
Dinheiro é vil, tio geriu, instinto viril
AR-15 é mato e os muleque tão de fuzil
Do Grajaú ao Curuzu, pra imigração meu povo é mula
Inspiração é Black Alien, é Ferrez não é Tia Augusta
Verso mínimo, lírico, de um universo onírico
Cada maloqueiro tem um saber empírico
Rap é forte, pode crê, “oui, monsiuer”
Perrenoud, Piaget, Sabotá, Enchanté
É que eu sou filho de cearense
A caatinga castiga e meu povo tem sangue quente
Naufragar, seguir pela estrela do norte
Nas bença de Padim Ciço as letra de Edi Rock
Calar a boca dos lóki
Pois quem toma banho de ódio exala o aroma da morte

[Refrão x2]
Hoje não tem boca pra se beijar
Não tem alma pra se lavar
Não tem vida pra se viver
Mas tem dinheiro pra se contar
De terno e gravata teu pai agradar
Levar tua filha pro mundo perder
É o céu da boca do inferno esperando você
É o céu da boca do inferno esperando…

[Verso 2]
Uma bola pra chutar, país pra afundar
Geração que não só quer maconha pra fumar
Milianos, mal cheiro e desengano
Cada cassetete é um chicote para um tronco
Alqueires, latifúndios brasileiros
Numa chuva de fumaça só vinagre mata a sede
Novas embalagens pra antigos interesses
É que o anzol da direita fez a esquerda virar peixe
Osiris olhe por mim, me afaste de Diabolyn
Quem não tem moto não sai na foto
Mobiletes com motor de dream
Tentou fugir, foi lá que eu vi
Sem capacete, levou rola, Deus acode e vamo aí
É a esquiva da esgrima, a lagrima esquecida
A cor da minha pele, eu sei, tem quem critica
O que a serpente é pra maçã
É o que a maçã reflete pra mídia
É que Abel tinha um irmão
Mas Caim tinha a malícia


Não Existe Amor em SP

Lyrics from “Não Existe Amor em SP” by Criolo

Album: Nó na Orelha

Love doesn’t exist in SP

A mystical labyrinth

Where the graffiti screams

It’s impossible to describe

In a beautiful phrase on a sweet postcard

Be careful with sweets

São Paulo is a bouquet

Bouquets are dead flowers

In a beautiful arrangement,

A beautiful arrangement made for you

Love doesn’t exist in SP

The bars are full of souls so empty

Profits pulsate, vanity excites

Return my life and die drowned in your own sea of bitterness

Here, nobody goes to heaven

It’s not necessary to die to see god

It’s not necessary to suffer to know what’s best for you

I find two clouds in each pile of debris, in each corner

Give me a sip of life

It’s not necessary to die to see god

Love doesn’t exist in SP…


Criolo broke ground on the São Paulo rap/hip hop scene with his second album, Nó na Orelha (Knot in the ear), which was released for free download on the internet  in early 2011. Nó na Orelha was chosen as Album of the Year at Brazil’s MTV Music Awards and “Não Existe Amor em SP” won Song of the Year.  This song, like many of Criolo’s, portrays the gritty nature of life in São Paulo, where the poor neighborhoods are riddled with drugs and violence and the city is overwhelmed by vanity and greed.

Criolo earned widespread praise for Nó na Orelha in particular because of the unusual diversity of sounds, musical styles and socially conscious themes in the lyrics.  As  Russ Slater put it, Criolo and his collaborators on this album have found “a way in which hip-hop can still be from the streets but can also include elements of Afro-Brazilian rhythms, dub, samba, Amazonian percussion, avant-garde jazz, and whatever other element seem fit to join the mix.”

Criolo was born Kleber Cavalcante Gomes in 1975 in São Paulo’s south zone, son of a metal worker and a teacher. He spent time working as a shoe salesman, a street vendor, and selling clothes from door to door. He began to study Pedagogy but left the university and entered the public school system as a teacher at the age of 18.  But he had already begun rapping a few years earlier, using the name Criolo Doido (the Crazy Creole – Criolo dropped the “Crazy” in 2011, explaining that he would have to do a lot more to be truly “doido” – in the good sense of the word). He released his first album, Ainda Há Tempo, in 2006, and founded Rinha dos MCs (MCs Cockpit), where MCs in São Paulo face off with each other (eg. 

Lyrics in Portuguese

Não existe amor em SP
Um labirinto místico
Onde os grafites gritam
Não dá pra descrever
Numa linda frase
De um postal tão doce
Cuidado com doce
São Paulo é um buquê
Buquês são flores mortas
Num lindo arranjo
Arranjo lindo feito pra você

Não existe amor em SP
Os bares estão cheios de almas tão vazias
A ganância vibra, a vaidade excita
Devolva minha vida e morra afogada em seu próprio mar de fel
Aqui ninguém vai pro céu

Não precisa morrer pra ver Deus
Não precisa sofrer pra saber o que é melhor pra você
Encontro duas nuvens em cada escombro, em cada esquina
Me dê um gole de vida
Não precisa morrer pra ver Deus

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)