Nordeste Pra Frente

Lyrics from “Nordeste pra frente” by Luiz Gonzaga and Luis Queiroga (1968)

Sr. repórter já que tá me entrevistando // Mr. Reporter, since you’re interviewing me
Vá anotando pra botar no seu jornal // Take this down to put in your paper
Que meu Nordeste tá mudado // That my Northeast is changed
Publique isso pra ficar documentado // Publish that, for the record

Qualquer mocinha hoje veste mini-saia // Any ol’ girl these days wears a mini-skirt
Já tem homem com cabelo crescidinho // And now there are men with shaggy hair
O lambe-lambe no sertão já usa flash // The street photographer in the sertão now uses flash
Carro de praça cobra pelo reloginho // And the cars for hire in the square charge by the “little clock” (taximeter)

Já tem conjunto com guitarra americana // Now there are bands with American guitars
Já tem hotel que serve Whisky escocês // Hotels that serve Scotch Whiskey
E tem matuto com gravata italiana // And there are red-necks with Italian ties
Ouvindo jogo no radinho japonês // Listening to the game on their little Japanese radio

Caruaru tem sua universidade // Caruaru has a big university
Campina Grande tem até televisão // Campina Grande even has television
Jaboatão fabrica jipe à vontade // Jaboatão makes loads of jeeps
Lá de Natal já tá subindo foguetão // And over in Natal they’re launching rockets

Lá em Sergipe o petróleo tá jorrando // Over in Sergipe the oil’s gushing
Em Alagoas se cavarem vai jorrar // In Alagoas if they dig it’ll gush too
Publique isso que eu estou lhe afirmando // Publish that, I’m telling you
O meu Nordeste dessa vez vai disparar // This time my Northeast is taking off

Haha… E ainda diziam que meu Nordeste não ia pra frente // Haha, and they said my Northeast was going nowhere
Falavam até que a Sudene não funcionava // Even said the SUDENE did no good
Mas Dr. João chegou lá // But Dr. João got there
Com fé em Deus e no meu Padim Ciço // With faith in God and my Padim Ciço (Padre Cicero)
E todo mundo passou a acreditar no serviço // And everyone started to believe in the service
Essa é que é a história! // That’s history right there for you!

— Commentary —

Luiz Gonzaga_O Sertao eh ele.jpg

December 13 is an important date in Brazilian history.  Given the current political climate, with the president’s son, a federal deputy from Rio de Janeiro, recently suggesting a renewed AI-5, the date may first bring to mind the dark anniversary of that Institutional Act no. 5, issued on December 13, 1968, which marked the beginning of Brazil’s long “years of lead” — the most repressive of the dictatorship.

But let’s focus on a brighter note: December 13 was also Luiz Gonzaga’s birthday. There’s a lot about Gonzaga already on the blog, so I’m going to keep this post brief. Gonzaga was born December 13, 1912, in Exu, a small town in the arid interior of Pernambuco. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1939 and by 1940 was competing on radio talent contests, and his northeastern baião style quickly became wildly popular among southeastern audiences.  As this previous post relates in greater detail, Gonzaga became, in turn, a cultural ambassador for the impoverished and drought-stricken northeast, which by the 1950s had become a top priority for leading economic thinkers in Brazil who sought to remedy the region’s plight as a necessary step toward modernizing Brazil.

As part of that initiative to address what was called the “problem of the northeast,” in 1959, in the wake of a severe drought the previous year, president Juscelino Kubitschek — best known for Brasilia and the slogan “50 years of development in 5” — established the development agency SUDENE (Superintendencia de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste) mentioned in the song. In establishing SUDENE, Kubitschek was following the guidance of his leading economic thinker, Celso Furtado, who became the agency’s first director. Furtado, like Gonzaga, was from the sertão, born in Pombal, Paraíba, in 1920. He was a central figure in defining the regional demarcation of the northeast and in placing the region’s well-being — with a focus on Keynesian-inspired development policies — at the center of mid-century national political and economic debates.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 2.32.09 PMFurtado and SUDENE’s policies were widely criticized as misguided and unrealistic, as the song suggests; and indeed, largely because of the unshakable power of landholding lobbies in the northeast, the agency and the larger Operação Nordeste it was part of never made the difference Furtado sought. Instead, with the military coup of March 31, 1964, Furtado was swiftly removed from office and had his political rights abrogated for ten years. He went into exile in Paris, and the new general-president, Humberto Castelo Branco, appointed “Dr. João” Gonçalves de Souza as director of SUDENE, as outlined in the July 7, 1964, New York Times article included here. Gonzaga’s optimism about Dr. João, the military’s appointee, reveal his unfortunate political persuasions at that time. (I’m not sure how much Gonzaga supported the dictatorship later down the line, especially after Dec. 13, 1968. At any rate, the title of this song, “Nordeste pra frente,” also evokes “Pra frente, Brasil,” a slogan of the dictatorship, popularized through the marchinha for the 1970 World Cup team.)

The song meanwhile offers a humorous take on the arrival of the 1960s zeitgeist to Brazil’s remote northeast: television; long-haired men and rock n’ roll; the expansion of university education; mini-skirts and scotch: symbols of the global 60s’ angsty modernity.  Ah, and oil and cars of course: the Willys Jeep factory in Jaboatão, Pernambuco, mentioned in the song, opened in 1966, and was the northeast’s first car factory.  The TV in Campina Grande refers to TV Borborema, launched in 1966, a year after the Brazilian Air Force opened South America’s first base for rocket launches near Natal, also referenced in the lyrics.

A couple other notes on the translation: Padre Ciçero was a beloved northeastern priest from Crato, Ceará; an annual pilgrimage to his burial place, in Juazeiro do Norte, Ceará, still takes place every year. Lambe lambe refers to traveling street photographers using old-timey cameras.

Cartão de Natal

“Cartão de Natal” (Christmas Card, by Luiz Gonzaga & Zé Dantas, 1954)

Ouvindo os sinos de Deus // Hearing God’s bells
Repicando na matriz // Chiming in the parish church
Para você e os seus // For you and yours
Peço um Natal bem feliz // I wish for a merry Christmas
Blem, blem, blem
Blem, blem, blem

Um ano novo afortunado // A fortunate new year
Venturoso e abençoado //Blithesome and blessed
Tão ditosa oração do além // Let such a felicitous prayer from beyond
Seja ouvida por Deus // Be heard by God
E que os anjos digam amém // And let the angels say amen
Blem, blem, blem
Blem, blem, blem

— Commentary —

young luiz Gonzaga
To add to last year’s “Véspera de Natal,” here’s another Brazilian Christmas song, this one a ballad by the King of Baião,  Luiz Gonzaga. Gonzaga was from Exu, Pernambuco, and had spent the past ten years in the army in Ceará when he went to Rio de Janeiro in 1939. He was initially scheduled to spend just a few months in the barracks there before catching a ship back to Pernambuco. He ended up staying, and and exploded on Rio’s and Brazil’s music scene in the 1940s, essentially creating and popularizing a new genre, baião.  By 1949, Rio’s Diario Carioca reported that baião was “making the vast empire of samba tremble,” and by the time of the 1954 release of this song, recorded with Isis de Oliveira on a 78, Luiz Gonzaga had become one of Brazil’s most successful recording artist, outselling even established radio favorites like Orlando Silva. For more about Gonzaga, see these posts.


Pagode Russo

Lyrics from “Pagode Russo” by Luiz Gonzaga and João Silva (1984)

Yesterday I dreamed I was in Moscow
Dancing Russian pagode in the Cossacked Club (2x)

It seemed almost like a frevo in that drop-but-don’t-fall
It seemed almost like a frevo in that go-but-don’t-go (2x)
Come here Cossack, Cossack, dance now
In the Cossack dance, no Cossack’s left out

— Interpretation —

Luiz Gonzaga (center) recording in a traditional forró ensemble - zabumba (L), sanfona (accordion), and triangle.
Luiz Gonzaga (center) recording in a traditional forró ensemble – zabumba (L), sanfona (accordion), and triangle.

Today  (December 13) was Luiz Gonzaga’s birthday. As this post explains, Gonzaga — born December 13, 1912 —  was responsible for popularizing forró nationwide at a time when northeasterners and their traditions suffered severe discrimination in cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. His birthday is now National Forró Day in Brazil.

Luiz Gonzaga was known as "Rei do Baião." He practically invented the genre, a sub-genre of forró.
Luiz Gonzaga was known as “Rei do Baião.” He practically invented the genre, a sub-genre of forró.

“Pagode russo” was recorded on the 1984 LP Danado de Bom; a number of artists have since recorded the song, including Zeca Baleiro, in 1999. The song is a traditional quadrilha, a square-dance style popular in the northeast, especially during June’s São João (St. John) festivities. Frevo is a dance style that emerged in Recife, Pernambuco, in the late 19th century, a mix of marchamaxixe and Capoeira, and involves lots of jittery up-and-down, back-and-forth movements. Luiz Gonzaga was from Pernambuco, and in this song, he brings up the similarities between these northeastern genres.

To rhyme with “Moscou” Gonzaga says he was at the club “Cossacou” – which in Portuguese sounds like a verb meaning something like “things got Cossack!”

While the term pagode most often refers to a samba sub-genre these days, over the course of the 20th century – and still today, to a certain extent – it has also been used to refer generically to a party or dance.

Lyrics in Portugese

Ontem eu sonhei que estava em Moscou
Dançando pagode russo na boate Cossacou
Ontem eu sonhei que estava em Moscou
Dançando pagode russo na boate Cossacou

Parecia até um frevo naquele cai e não cai
Parecia até um frevo naquele vai e não vai
Parecia até um frevo naquele cai e não cai
Parecia até um frevo naquele vai e não vai

Vem cá cossaco, cossaco dança agora
Na dança do cossaco, não fica cossaco fora
Vem cá cossaco, cossaco dança agora
Na dança do cossaco, não fica cossaco fora