Ministério da Economia

Lyrics from “Ministério da Economia” by Geraldo Pereira and Arnaldo Passos (1951)

Mister President, your Excellency has shown that it’s for real
Now everything’s gonna be a steal
Now the poor man can go ahead and eat

Mister President, well that’s just what the people wanted
The Ministry of the Economy seems like it will solve things

Mister President, thank God I’m not gonna eat any more cat
Beef on butchers’ hooks is in abundance
Now I can go ahead and live with my love
I’m going to go get my nega to come live with me
Because I’ve seen there’s no more danger, she’s not going to die of hunger

Life was so tough that I sent my nega so fetchin’
Off to Copacabana, to stick her breasts in the madame’s kitchen
Now I’m going to get my nega, cause I like her so dog-gone much
The cats are the ones that’ll crack up laughing
From joy, up there on the hillside

— Interpretation —

Rocinha favela c. 1950. Image via
Rocinha favela c. 1950. Image via

First a few notes on the translation: Nega is a term of endearment in Portuguese, featured in this post; it refers to the singer’s wife.  “…To stick her breasts in the madame’s kitchen” literally means to work in the kitchen, and just to clarify, the cats are cracking up laughing from joy because they’re no longer going to get eaten, thanks to the Ministry of the Economy.

In 1950, Getulio Vargas, populist president-dictator of Brazil from 1930 – 1945,  ran for and won back the presidency.   Shortly after taking office in 1951, he announced the creation of a new government agency for economic advisement and planning.  But in spite of Vargas’s populist rhetoric about the boons of this economic planning office, Geraldo Pereira, an Afro-Brazilian sambista who grew on Morro da Mangueira, was highly skeptical of how this new agency would help him, so he wrote this sarcastic song about it.

In the late 1940s Ary Barroso remarked, “I am not a sambista, Geraldo Pereira is a sambista.” Above, Geraldo Pereira.

Expressing his frustrations through sharply critical popular sambas, Pereira was one of the most notable composers who reclaimed samba from the state that had largely co-opted it during Getulio Vargas’s dictatorship.

While in power from 1930 – 1945, Vargas supported and exploited the expanding broadcast industry in Brazil to build his popularity.  One of the ways he did this was by heavy-handedly promoting samba-exaltação,  patriotic sambas like Ary Barroso‘s seminal “Aquarela do Brasil” that exalted Brazil’s natural beauty, cultural richness and purported racial harmony. These sambas portrayed the idealized image what it meant to be Brazilian that Vargas wanted people to believe in; and for a decade or so, with Vargas’s help, such patriotic sambas dominated the genre.

But Vargas was deposed in 1945, and under Eurico Dutra’s presidency from 1945-1950, the government withdrew from popular culture. By the time Vargas returned to power in 1951, his reign was too tenuous to exercise the same kind of control over music, and the stark contrast between samba-exaltação’s celebration of Brazil’s beauty and harmony and the dire situation of Rio’s hillside favelas made these celebratory sambas more and more laughable.

Throughout the 1940s, as favelas expanded on Rio’s hillsides, the government repeatedly promised and failed to deliver basic services. Residents became increasingly cut off, economically and socially, from the rest of the city below. This situation, combined with reduced state control over popular culture, made space for Afro-Brazilian sambistas from the favelas, like Geraldo Pereira and Wilson Batista, to create hits with popular songs scoffing at the government’s rhetoric and laying bare the tragic realities of life in the hillside slums.

Other such sambas are “Acertei no milhar” (Wilson Batista and Geraldo Pereira, 1940), “Chico Brito”  (Wilson Batista, 1950) and “Escurinho” (Geraldo Pereira, 1955). For more on this theme, the best source is Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil by Bryan McCann.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Seu Presidente,
Sua Excelência mostrou que é de fato
Agora tudo vai ficar barato
Agora o pobre já pode comer
Seu Presidente,
Pois era isso que o povo queria
O Ministério da Economia
Parece que vai resolver
Seu Presidente
Graças a Deus não vou comer mais gato
Carne de vaca no açougue é mato
Com meu amor eu já posso viver
Eu vou buscar
A minha nega pra morar comigo
Porque já vi que não há mais perigo
Ela de fome já não vai morrer
A vida estava tão difícil
Que eu mandei a minha nega bacana
Meter os peitos na cozinha da madame
Em Copacabana
Agora vou buscar a nega
Porque gosto dela pra cachorro
Os gatos é que vão dar gargalhada
De alegria lá no morro

Main sources for this post:  Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Model Brazil by Bryan McCann; A Canção no Tempo: 85 anos de músicas brasileiras by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello; and Desenvolvimento Econônomico e Reformas Institucionais no Brasilby Salvador Werneck Vianna.

Falsa Baiana

Lyrics from “Falsa Baiana” by Geraldo Pereira (1944)

Good Audio Versions: João Gilberto, Gal Costa

[This] baiana, who goes into the samba and just stands there
Doesn’t samba, doesn’t dance, doesn’t move or nothing
Doesn’t know how to leave the youth in a craze

[The] baiana is the one who goes into the samba any which way
That moves, that shakes, twists her hips into a knot
Leaving the young’uns’ mouths watering

The phony baiana, when she goes into the samba,
No one goes out of their way, no one claps
No one opens the circle, no one yells “Oba, Salve a Bahia, Lord”
But we like it when a baiana dances samba just right
From the top on down, she rolls her little eyes, saying,
“I’m a daughter of São Salvador”

— Interpretation —

Geraldo Pereira, image via Funarte

Dona Isaura, the wife of the composer Roberto Martins, takes the dubious honor of being the inspiration for this song. On the second to last night of Carnaval in 1944, Martins was at a bar chatting with Geraldo Pereira when Dona Isaura showed up, dressed up as a baiana (a woman from the state of Bahia, where the population is predominantly of African descent). In contrast to Bahian women, who are reputed for being joyful and exuding positive energy – and for knowing how to dance samba “just right” – Dona Isaura was in a sour mood that night, prompting her husband to observe to Geraldo, “Check out the phony baiana.” Martins’s observation got Pereira thinking about how to distinguish a true baiana from an impostor, and he wrote his greatest hit based on that premise.

Baiana dancing
What would appear to be a true baiana, dancing.

Pereira’s innovative style of syncopated samba and the rhythm within the lyrics themselves had a strong influence on João Gilberto, who, in turn, went on the make this song doubly famous with his bossa nova version, released on the 1973 LP João Gilberto.  

Geraldo Pereira was born in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais,  in 1918, and moved to Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Morro da Mangueira  in 1930. He died in 1955, at age 37, from a hemorrhage that was rumored to have been caused by a fight with an almost mythical marginal figure of the carioca night, the drag artist and capoeirista known as Madame Satã (Madam Satan). Although even Satã took advantage of this story, the most reliable sources say Pereira actually died from an untreated intestinal disease that was aggravated by his drinking habits.

How to dress up as a falsa baiana.
How to dress up as a falsa baiana.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Baiana que entra no samba e só fica parada
Não samba, não dança, não bole nem nada
Não sabe deixar a mocidade louca
Baiana é aquela que entra no samba de qualquer maneira
Que mexe, remexe, dá nó nas cadeiras
Deixando a moçada com água na boca

A falsa baiana quando entra no samba
Ninguém se incomoda, ninguém bate palma
Ninguém abre a roda, ninguém grita ôba
Salve a bahia, senhor

Mas a gente gosta quando uma baiana
Samba direitinho, de cima embaixo
Revira os olhinhos dizendo
Eu sou filha de são salvador

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos da músicas brasileiras by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Melo