“Pra Quem Quiser Me Visitar” & “Rio Orleans”

“Pra quem quiser me visitar” (Guinga & Aldir Blanc, 1996 – tribute to Tom Jobim)

Fiz o meu rancho lá nas nuvens // I made my home up there in the clouds
Onde se pode conversar // Where we can talk freely
onde os anjinhos são cor de chope… // Where the little angels are the color of draft beer
Tomo cuidado só em debruçar // I’m just careful when I lean over
Vendo o mar, aí…// Looking at the sea,…
Toco piano e a virgem canta // I play piano and the virgin sings
Diz pro menino: tio tom // She says to the little boy: Uncle Tom
Senta à vontade, e a coxa santa // She sits casually, and that holy thigh
Me dá saudade de Leblon // Makes me miss Leblon
Sei das manhãs // I know about those mornings
Que só nascem de tarde // That only begin in the afternoon
Entre silêncios de alardes // Between silences of fanfare
Vi que o sol sente inveja das asas do urubu…// I saw that the sun envies the wings of the vulture
Aos meus amigos que ficaram // To my friends who stayed behind
Um portador há de levar //A carrier is sure to bring you
Um par de asas // A pair of wings
E um pára-quedas pra quem quiser me visitar // And a parachute for those who wish to visit me

“Rio Orleans” (Guinga & Aldir Blanc, 1991)

Tonto de gin // Drunk on gin
Vejo a Cinelândia piscar pra mim, sim // I see Cinelândia wink at me, yes
Bebo ao meu fim // I drink to my end
No Amarelinho outra dose de ódio // At Amarelinho, another shot of hatred
Eu sou assim // That’s who I am
Um mocinho triste, de um mau cinema // A sad boy from a bad theater
‘I need’ um sax // I need a sax
Que me conte um tema // That’ll spin a theme for me
‘I want you, I want you…’// “I want you, I want you”
Versos, maio // Verses, May
E essa dor não cede // And this pain that doesn’t give way
Eu vejo, no Rex // I see, at the Rex
O amor que se perde // Love that’s lost
Na beira-mar mais gins // On the seaside avenue, more gins
E o Rio é New Orleans // And Rio is New Orleans
A alma canta um blues // My soul sings a blues
”cause I love you’ // Cause I love you
”cause I love you’ // Cause I love you
Longe um radio // From afar, a radio
Vem no vento // Drifts in on the wind
Diz que ‘I remember you’ // It says I remember you

— Commentary —

guinga-1

“Eu fui e sou um fruto do rádio. Minha paixão é o radio. Meu professor de música que tem sido até hoje meu maior professor é o rádio.”

Today, June 10, is Guinga’s 65th birthday. Guinga is one of Brazil’s greatest composers and guitar players, and his two greatest musical partnerships have been with two of MPB’s most extraordinary lyricists of all time: Paulo César Pinheiro and Aldir Blanc.  And just as Guinga says he uses tributes to his many musical idols as an excuse to write songs — like the tribute to Tom Jobim above, which he composed with Aldir Blanc shortly after Jobim’s death — I like to use composers’ birthdays as an excuse to write posts about them.

Born in the samba stronghold of Madureira, Rio de Janeiro, Guinga — born Carlos Althier de Souza Lemos Escobar — went directly to Jacarepagua, where he grew up. The neighborhood, he likes to mention, was home to “Pixinguinha, Jacob do Bandolim, and Candeia,” three of the greatest names in the history of Brazilian popular music.

Shortly after he was born, an aunt gave him the nickname Guinga. She died a few months later, and he says he says her role in his life was to give him his nickname, which apparently is a corruption of the word “gringo” because of his pale skin.  His father was a sergeant in the air force and his mother was a “woman of the home, as they used to say.”  Guinga spent his childhood listening to serestas and modas – genres closely related to choro – on the radio with his parents. He calls himself “a fruit of the radio … my music professor, to this day my greatest teacher, is the radio.”

Guinga learned guitar through observation. When he was a boy his parents separated and he went to live with a great aunt, whose son – ten years older than Guinga – played guitar late into the night, irritating Guinga, who wanted to sleep. He recounts that one day he picked up the guitar and right off the bat was able to play a bit of samba: “I snatched up the [guitar] that day and have never let go of it since.”

Guinga c. 2001 at his dental practice.
Guinga c. 2001 at his dental practice.

Guinga was never one for studying music or reading much of anything, saying he only read what he needed to to become a professional dentist. (Throughout his musical career he has continued to see dental patients twice a week.) He says he feels he gets the same pleasure and spiritual liberation from music that he thinks many people find through reading. He entered formal music studies briefly as a teenager, but they only lasted about two months; he didn’t have the discipline or motivation to learn to play other composers’ music, he claims. From that point on he focused on developing his compositions.

Cartola, Roberto Nascimento, Cláudio Jorge, Milton Manhães, Joel Nascimento, Guinga & João Nogueira (clockwise from left)
Cartola, Roberto Nascimento, Cláudio Jorge,Milton Manhães,
Joel Nascimento,  Guinga  & João Nogueira (clockwise from left)

His first chance to compose came when he was 14. A local composer and dentist, Paulo Faia, wanted to get revenge on another neighborhood musician who had refused to write music for his lyrics. So Guinga composed the music for the song called “Pescador” (Fisherman), and found it surprisingly easy. Upon meeting Paulo César Pinheiro a few years later, around age 18, Guinga says he realized that what he wanted to do – and what he was best at – was compose music first and then have a lyricist write the words; he says working with a lyricist as brilliant as Paulo César Pinheiro, he grew “addicted” to this songwriting process.

Guinga quickly became friends with and played with some of the world’s best-known sambistas, like Cartola and Nelson Cavaquinho, having played guitar on Cartola’s first recording of “O mundo é um moinho.”

Guinga-10menorGuinga cites many musical idols, including Villa-Lobos (“The epitome of everything; a phenomenon, not a composer”); Tom Jobim (“the epitome of 20th century popular composition”); Ary Barroso (“Tom Jobim’s ‘musical father'”); Pixinguinha; Ernesto Nazareth; Jacob do Bandolim; Garoto; Moacyr Santos; Baden Powell, Chico Buarque, etc: “Brazilian music is full of geniuses.” And Duke Ellington is another favorite: Guinga jokes that Duke Ellington would have been the greatest popular composer of the 20th century if a boy named Tom Jobim hadn’t been born in Brazil.

He recalls his first recorded composition was “Conversa com o coração,” which he composed with Paulo César Pinheiro and which MPB-4 recorded and released in 1974.  Clara Nunes, the tremendous portelense singer who was married to Paulo César Pinheiro, also recorded several of Guinga’s songs shortly after MPB-4, and he credits MPB-4 and Clara Nunes with having launched him as a professional composer.

Guinga released his first solo album only in 1991, after Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins opened Velas recording studio in part to give Guinga the chance to record his compositions. Singers Leila Pinheiro and Fatima Guedes have recorded several albums of Guinga’s compositions, including Leila’s Catavento e Girassol, which Guinga says he counts as his and Aldir Blanc’s, too.

Chico Buarque declared Guinga’s  “O Silêncio de Iara” (2003, with Luis Felipe Gama) to be “the song of the century”; many have said about the same of “Senhorinha” (1995, with Paulo César Pinheiro).

Accustomed to the songwriting process that he began with Paulo César Pinheiro, Guinga has fewer instrumental compositions,  and he says most of them were either “inspired by or written in tribute to” his musical idols; they include this homage to Duke Ellington:

Here is Guinga at Berklee School of Music a couple years ago playing “Catavento e Girassol

“Fantasia” and “Catavento e Girassol”

Lyrics from “Fantasia” by Aldir Blanc and João Bosco

Olhando na quarta-feira as ruas vazias// On Wednesday, looking out on the empty streets
Com os garis dando um jeito em nossa moral// With the street-sweepers tidying up our dignity
Custei a compreender que fantasia//It took me a long time to understand that a costume [mask]
É um troço que o cara tira no carnaval//Is something a guy takes off during Carnival
E usa nos outros dias por toda a vida// And wears every other day in his life
Dizendo: “Olá! Como vai?” e coisas assim// Saying, “Hello! How are you?” and things like that
O nó da gravata apertando o pescoço// The knot of the tie choking his neck
Olhando o fundo do poço e rindo de mim//Gazing into the bottom of the barrel and laughing at myself
Ria, rasguei a fantasia, ria// I laughed, I tore up my mask, I laughed
Queimei a garantia, ria// I burned my throat, I laughed
Tô solto por aí// I’m on the loose
Doido, eu danço de Pierrot, triste// Mad, I dance as Pierrot, sad
Morrendo em meu amor, ria// Dying in my love, I laughed
Vendo você morrer de rir// Watching you die laughing

“Catavento e Girassol” by Aldir Blanc and Guinga (1993)

Meu catavento tem dentro // My pinwheel has inside it
o que há do lado de fora do teu girassol // What’s on the outside of your sunflower
Entre o escancaro e o contido // Between the boundless and the restrained
eu te pedi sustenido // I asked you for sharp
e você riu bemol // And you laughed flat
Você só pensa no espaço // You only think of the ether
eu exigi duração // I demanded duration
Eu sou um gato de subúrbio // I’m a cat from the outskirts
você é litorânea // You’re a coastal girl
Quando eu respeito os sinais // While I obey traffic lights
vejo você de patins vindo na contramão // I see you coming on skates, against traffic
mas quando ataco de macho // But when I come on as a tough guy
você se faz de capacho // You play the doormat
e não quer confusão // And don’t want any trouble.
Nenhum dos dois se entrega // Neither of us gives in
Nós não ouvimos conselho // We don’t listen to advice
eu sou você que se vai // I’m the you that’s sucked through
no sumidouro do espelho // The drain in the mirror

Eu sou do Engenho de Dentro // I’m from Engenho de Dentro [neighborhood]
e você vive no vento do Arpoador // And you live in the wind of Arpoador
Eu tenho um jeito arredio // I’m withdrawn by nature
e você é expansiva // And you’re expansive
(o inseto e a flor) // (The insect and the flower)
Um torce pra Mia Farrow // One sides with Mia Farrow
o outro é Woody Allen… // The other with Woody Allen
Quando assovio uma seresta // When I whistle a seresta
você dança, havaiana // You dance the Hawaiian hula

Eu vou de tênis e jeans // I go in sneakers and jeans
encontro você demais // And find you overdressed
scarpin, soirée… // Stilettos, evening gown
Quando o pau quebra na esquina // When we fight on the street corner
você ataca de fina // You put on airs
e me ofende em inglês // And insult me in English
é fuck you, bate-bronha // It’s ‘fuck you, screw off’
e ninguém mete o bedelho // And no one dares interfere
você sou eu que me vou // You’re the me that’s sucked through
no sumidouro do espelho // The drain in the mirror

A paz é feita no motel // We make peace in a motel
de alma lavada e passada // Souls washed and pressed
pra descobrir logo depois // Just to realize right after
que não serviu pra nada // That it was all for naught
Nos dias de carnaval // During Carnival
aumentam os desenganos // The disillusion grows deeper
você vai pra Parati // You go to Parati
e eu pro Cacique de Ramos // And I go to Cacique de Ramos (2x)

Meu catavento tem dentro // My pinwheel has inside it
o vento escancarado do Arpoador // The boundless wind of the Arpoador
Teu girassol tem de fora // Your sunflower has on the outside
o escondido do Engenho de Dentro // what’s hidden from the “Engenho de Dentro” [mill within]
da flor // the flower
Eu sinto muita saudade // I ache with saudade
você é contemporânea // You’re modern
eu penso em tudo quanto faço // I think carefully about everything I do
você é tão espontânea! // You’re so spontaneous!

Sei que um depende do outro // I know each depends on the other
só pra ser diferente // Just to be different
pra se completar // To complete one another
Sei que um se afasta do outro // I know we distance ourselves from one another
no sufoco somente pra se aproximar // During hard times, only to grow closer
Cê tem um jeito verde de ser // You have a green way of being
e eu sou meio vermelho // And I’m more red
mas os dois juntos se vão // But together we go
no sumidouro no espelho // Through the drain in the mirror

Aldir Blanc (L) with João Bosco, 1976.
Aldir Blanc (L) with João Bosco, 1976.
IMG_0004
Aldir Blanc during Carnival at age 9, dressed in Chinese costume.
IMG_0005
Aldir Blanc, Carnival, age 5: dressed as a bullfighter.

Aldir Blanc was born in Estácio neighborhood,  a samba hotbed in Rio de Janeiro named after the city’s founder, Estácio de Sá. In the same neighborhood just about 20 years before Aldir’s birth,  sambistas came up with the name “samba school” for their group, and the rhythm Ismael Silva defined as “bum bum paticumbum prugurundum” (samba that can be marched/danced along with in a Carnival bloco). Blanc grew up in another samba stronghold, on Rua dos Artistas in Vila Isabel – Tijuca, and became not only one of the most renowned lyricists in the history of Brazilian popular music, but also perhaps the city’s favorite cronista (a writer of short newspaper narratives about day-to-day life). His humorous tales portray Rio de Janeiro’s precious peculiarities  through characters he swears were exclusively based upon people he knew growing up– except Penteado, the character who makes the final joke at the end of the crônicas, weaving separate story lines together. One of Rio de Janeiro’s most traditional Carnival blocos took its name from Aldir’s character Esmeraldo Simpatia-é-Quase-Amor. Blanc is most well known for his songs written together with João Bosco, who was studying engineering in Ouro Preto in 1969 when Aldir’s friend Pedro Lourenço Gomes saw him play some of his compositions and suggested he partner with Aldir.

Aldir was surrounded by fragility growing up. He says his birth after 10 months of gestation and 24 hours of labor left his mother, Helena — known in his crônicas as “a formosa Helena” (the beautiful Helena) — with “permanent post-partum depression”: “She had pre-menstrual depression, menstrual depression, and post-menstrual depression. Not many days were left over.” Meanwhile, Aldir’s father, Alceu — called Ceceu Rico in Aldir’s literature — suffered from severe asthma, and Aldir too often found himself holding his father’s hand as they hoped for an ambulance to arrive in time. Likely largely in response to these circumstances, Aldir studied medicine and became a psychiatrist.

But these circumstances growing up also contributed to Aldir’s keen sense of observation and singular sense of humor, and he was always writing and composing. In his early 20s he started out as a percussionist; he cites the influence of bossa nova as an inspiration to learn more about harmony. In 1970 — just around the time he met João Bosco, who would become his inseparable musical partner for over ten years — Aldir Blanc and Sílvio da Silva Junior decided to give a chance to a two-year-old samba they’d written while on vacation in Paquetá, “Amigo é pra essas coisas.” They submitted the song to the Festival Internacional da Canção; it didn’t make the cut for the national phase of that festival, but it made it into the Festival Universitário, and was a sensation with the crowd, becoming Aldir Blanc’s first big hit.

João Bosco, L, and Aldir Blanc, late 1970s.
João Bosco, L, and Aldir Blanc, late 1970s.

In 1971, Elis Regina recorded a beautiful rendition of Aldir’s song “Ela” — composed with César Costa Filho — on her album by the same name. Meanwhile, Aldir was becoming a closer partner of João Bosco, and Elis Regina began to get first dibs on the pair’s songs; she released whichever songs she chose, and later on, in some cases, João Bosco released his rendition. Elis recorded 20 songs by the pair, including some of her (and their) biggest hits, like “Dois pra lá, dois pra cá,” “Mestre-Sala dos Mares,” and “O Bêbado e o Equilibrista.” (More on these songs in upcoming posts.)

Through 1973, Aldir was still a practicing psychiatrist, but in 1974, after the death of his newborn twins, Aldir abandoned medicine; he said if he couldn’t save his first-born children, he no longer wished to try to save anyone. Since then he has dedicated himself fully to writing and composing.

Moacyr Luz and Aldir Blanc discovered they lived in the same building on Rua Garibaldi, in Tijuca, in 1984. This made it very easy for them to compose together!
Moacyr Luz and Aldir Blanc discovered they lived in the same building on Rua Garibaldi, in Tijuca, in 1984; their physical proximity made it very easy for them to compose together.

Around 1980, Aldir and João Bosco had a falling out, though neither likes to comment on the matter. During the 1980s and 1990s, Aldir grew closer to Moacyr Luz, with whom he composed Saudades da Guanabara,  a gorgeous anthem to Rio de Janeiro, together with Paulo César Pinheiro, and the popular anthem to bohemian life, “Pra que pedir perdão?,” with the refrain, “Why ask for your forgiveness if I don’t even forgive myself?” He also began composing with the songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Guinga, with whom he composed the second song in this post, one of the most beautiful from the pair: “Catavento e Girassol.”

Main source for this post: Aldir Blanc: Resposta ao Tempo by Luiz Fernando Vianna, and the documentary Aldir Blanc: Dois pra lá, Dois pra cá.