Rosa Morena

Lyrics from “Rosa Morena” by Dorival Caymmi
Recordings include: Os Anjos do Inferno (1942, Columbia); Dorival Caymmi (Album: Sambas de Caymmi, 1955); João Gilberto  (Album: Chega de Saudade , 1959)

Original Recording:

João Gilberto, on Chega de Saudade:

Rosa Morena
Where are you going, morena, Rosa
With that rose in your hair and that gait of a carefree girl
Morena, morena Rosa
Rosa morena, the samba is waiting
Waiting to see you
Leave aside this act of coyness
Come on, Rosa, come see me
Leave aside this pose, come to the samba, come dance samba
Because the people are tired of waiting, oh Rosa
The people are tired of waiting, morena Rosa
The people are tired of waiting, you hear, Rosa?

— Interpretation —

“Rosa Morena” was first recorded in 1942 by the Anjos do Inferno (Angels from Hell). The group, playfully named after Pixinguinha’s famous orchestra Diabos do Céu (Devils from Heaven), recorded a number of Dorival Caymmi‘s songs in the 1940s, including the hit “Você já foi à Bahia?” (1941).

In 1959, João Gilberto recorded “Rosa Morena” on his iconic debut album Chega de Saudade — generally recognized as the first bossa nova album. Gilberto, who was 27 when he recorded the album, had come to Rio de Janeiro from Bahia, like Caymmi. He was known in the early 1950s for his singing with the group Garotos da Lua, but his career as the voice of bossa nova truly took off with the launch of Chega de Saudade. Many sambistas from Caymmi’s era were put off by bossa nova because it so ardently defied the musical aesthetic of their generation; Caymmi, on the other hand, was full of praise for the young Gilberto. When he heard the song “Chega de Saudade” for the first time, before its initial release in 1958, he told Aloysio de Oliveira, of Odeon Records, “You’ve discovered a gold mine!”

At the same time, Gilberto’s recordings of Caymmi’s songs — and of sambas by Caymmi’s contemporaries, like Ary Barroso (Barroso’s “É luxo só” is on Chega de Saudade) — showed that bossa nova wasn’t the radical rejection of the sambas from the thirties, forties, and fifties that some took it to be. In many cases, it was just a reinterpretation of these songs.  Bossa nova abandoned the previously popular operatic singing style — a vestige of Italian influences in Brazilian music — in favor of Gilberto’s soft-voiced singing style and innovative rhythmic balance between guitar, percussion, and voice.

And João Gilberto recognized “Rosa Morena” as one of the first songs that he experimented with as he developed the bossa nova style:

One of the songs that awoke in me,  that showed me that I could try something different was “Rosa Morena,” by Caymmi.  I felt that the way other singers prolonged the sounds ended up hurting the natural balance of the music. By shortening the sounds of the phrases,  the lyrics fit perfectly within the beats and ended up floating.  I could try different things with the whole structure of the song, without needing to alter anything.  Another thing I didn’t agree with were the changes that singers made with some words, where they would make the accent of the rhythm fall on these words to make a greater balance.  I think that the words should be pronounced in the most natural form, as if I were having a conversation.  Any change ends up altering what the songwriter meant to say with his verses. Another advantage of this concern is that, sometimes, you can start the phrase a little earlier and sometimes make it so that two or more phrases fit in a fixed beat. With that, you can create a rhyme of rhythm. One musical phrase rhymes with the other without the song being artificially altered.

— João Gilberto in interview with Tárik de Souza (Veja, 12 May 1971, my translation)

In turn,  Caymmi declared, “I would like to have recorded my songs the way he [João Gilberto] sang them.  That half-voiced manner, using the voice almost as an instrument — he made a trombone, incredibly in tune.”

Source for this post: Dorival Caymmi: o mar e o tempo, by Stella Caymmi

Note: I’ve noticed some people have found this post after searching for a different song by Caymmi, from 1965, called “Das Rosas,” which has an English translation of “And Roses and Roses” by Ray Gilbert. I’ll add a literal translation soon, but for now, you can listen to the song here.

Post by Victoria Broadus

João Valentão

Lyrics from “João Valentão” by Dorival Caymmi (1945)

Listen: João Gilberto, recording in Chico Pereira’s house, 1958

João Valentão is a bully, he throws blows
He doesn’t pay attention and he doesn’t even contemplate life
He intimidates every João, he does things that even God can’t believe
But he has his moment in life…

It’s when the sun goes breaking over the end of the world, for night to arrive
It’s when the roar of the waves can be heard more loudly, at the edge of the sea
It’s when the weariness of the struggle – of life –  obliges João to sit down
It’s when the morena curls up, comes to his side, wishing to please
If the night is moonlit, the urge is to tell fibs, to stretch out
Lie down on the sand on the beach that ends where no one can see
And that’s how this man falls asleep, who never needs to sleep to dream
Because there is no dream more beautiful than his land (there’s none)

(Spoken in João Gilberto version linked above:  That land is Bahia...)

— Interpretation —

Dorival Caymmi on the beach, via
Dorival Caymmi on the beach, via

Dorival Caymmi was born in Salvador da Bahia on April 30, 1914.  He composed over a hundred songs — almost all about life and death at sea, fishing, and Bahia — before his death in 2008 at the age of ninety-four.  At first listen, his songs may sound simple or even simplistic: most are short and have few lyrics.  But Caymmi was known for spending years laboring over every word and note in each of his songs (he started “João Valentão in 1936 and finished and released the song in 1945), and this perfectionism is clear in his compositions, which stand alone in their exquisite portrayal of life in Bahia and Brazil in the 20th century. As Caetano Veloso put it, he has few songs “compared to other composers, but each of his songs is a perfect jewel, and his tone is one of a sort of very deep wiseness, that he seems to have always had.” João Gilberto, a fellow Bahian  considered the “father of bossa nova” in Brazil, said that he fine-tuned the bossa nova style while playing around with Caymmi’s song “Rosa Morena,” which he recorded in 1959 on his first LP, Chega de Saudade.

In the book Dorival Caymmi: O Mar e o Tempo, Dorival tells the story behind the song “João Valentão.”  It began as a song about a beloved fisherman in Salvador, whose name he did not know, but whose nickname was Carapeba – a type of fish. Originally, Caymmi wrote the song as “João Carapeba.” Carapeba was a muscular fisherman, the father of Caymmi’s friend Aurelino, and Caymmi says he was an idol of sorts. Fom there, he came up with “João Valentão” – i.e. “big tough João” or João the Bully.

The rest of the story is a mixture of Caymmi’s interpretation – and fabrication – of aspects of Carapeba’s/João’s personality and the Bahian surroundings.  For instance, Caymmi recounts a day when Carapeba invited him to go fishing at 5 a.m., but he decided to spend the day with his friends, instead. When Carapeba returned from fishing, he scolded Caymmi, startling him and all of his friends who exclaimed, “What a foul-mouthed man!” This tale added to the depiction of João as a tough guy in the song. What follows (beginning with “It’s when the sun goes breaking…”), Caymmi says, is purely a product of the atmosphere in which he was writing — starlit nights, beach and sand, fresh sea breezes, lovely ladies, etc.

When he got to the point of describing João Valentão lying on the sand, Caymmi reasoned, “Lying down on the sand is really comfortable, isn’t it? So I stopped there.”

* A couple of notes about the translation: I translate “mentira” in Portuguese as “fibs” rather than “lies,” because the word was meant in a more lighthearted sense in the song.  I’ve left “morena” in Portuguese because the English translation to “brunette” isn’t the same; a morena implies someone with not only brown hair but darker skin and eyes, as well.

Main Sources for this Post: Dorival Caymmi: O Mar e o Tempo, by Stella Caymmi