“Senhora Liberdade” (Nei Lopes/Wilson Moreira) and “Tô voltando” (Paulo César Pinheiro/Mauricio Tapajós)

Lyrics from “Senhora Liberdade” by Nei Lopes and Wilson Moreira (1979)

Abre as asas sobre mim // Spread your wings over me
Oh senhora liberdade // Oh, lady liberty
Eu fui condenado// I was condemned
Sem merecimento // Undeservedly
Por um sentimento, por uma paixão // On account of a sentiment, a passion
Violenta emoção // Violent emotion
Pois amar foi meu delito // For loving was my crime
Mas foi um sonho tão bonito // But it was such a beautiful dream
Hoje estou no fim // Today I’m at my end
Senhora liberdade abre as asas sobre mim (2x) // Lady liberty, spread your wings over me
Não vou passar por inocente // I’m not going to pass as innocent
Mas já sofri terrivelmente // But I’ve already suffered terribly
Por caridade, oh liberdade abre as asas sobre mim (2x) // Take mercy, oh liberty, spread your wings over me

“Tô voltando” by Mauricio Tapajós and Paulo César Pinheiro (1979)

Pode ir armando o coreto // You can go ahead and get the bandstand ready
E preparando aquele feijão preto // And start making those black beans
Eu tô voltando // I’m coming back
Põe meia dúzia de Brahma pra gelar // Put a half-dozen Brahmas on ice
Muda a roupa de cama // Change the bedding
Eu tô voltando // I’m coming back

Leva o chinelo pra sala de jantar // Bring my flipflops to the dining room
Que é lá mesmo que a mala eu vou largar // Cause that’s exactly where I’m gonna toss my suitcase
Quero te abraçar, pode se perfumar // I want to hold you, go ahead and put on perfume
Porque eu tô voltando // Cause I’m coming back

Dá uma geral, faz um bom defumador // Give the place a cleaning, a good cleanse
Enche a casa de flor // Fill the house with flowers
Que eu tô voltando // Cause I’m coming back
Pega uma praia, aproveita, tá calor // Hit the beach, enjoy – it’s hot
Vai pegando uma cor // Go on and get tan
Que eu tô voltando // Cause I’m coming back

Faz um cabelo bonito pra eu notar // Do your hair up pretty for me to notice
Que eu só quero mesmo é despentear // Cause all I want is to muss it up
Quero te agarrar // I want to clutch you
Pode se preparar porque eu tô voltando // You better get ready because I’m coming back
Põe pra tocar na vitrola aquele som // Put that one album on the record player
Estréia uma camisola // And put on new negligee
Eu tô voltando // Cause I’m coming back

Dá folga pra empregada // Give the maid a day off
Manda a criançada pra casa da avó // Send the kids to their grandmother’s
Que eu to voltando // Cause I’m coming back
Diz que eu só volto amanhã se alguém chamar // Say I’m only getting back tomorrow, if anyone asks
Telefone não deixa nem tocar // Telephone? don’t even let it even ring
Quero lá, lá, lá, ia, porque eu to voltando! // I want to la-la-la-ya, because I’m coming back

— Commentary —

Wilson Moreira and Nei Lopes, whose musical partnership was one of the most important in the history of samba.
Wilson Moreira and Nei Lopes, whose musical partnership was one of the most important in the history of samba.

On August 28, 1979, Brazil’s military government, led by President João Figueiredo, issued a sweeping amnesty law: Law 6.683 gave amnesty to all those who had been accused of committing or participating in what the military dictatorship (1964 – 1985) deemed political or electoral crimes, stripped of their most basic political and human rights, and imprisoned or forced into exile. (The Law also established full amnesty for the brutal military government, an aspect which continues to stir up controversy in Brazil and in international courts, where its validity is disputed.) A wave of exiles — including leftist political leaders, journalists, artists, and academics — returned to Brazil between September and December of that year, and political prisoners were set free.

Pernambucan leftist leader Miguel Arraes returns to Brazil on 15 September 1979 after 15 years in exile.
Pernambucan leftist leader Miguel Arraes returns to Brazil on 15 September 1979 after 15 years in exile.

As it happened, that same year, two songs were released that had nothing to do with politics but were passionately adopted as anthems of amnesty: “Senhora Liberdade” and “Tô voltando”.

Apolônio de Carvalho, former leader of the Brazilian Communist Party, returns from exile on 27 October 1979.
Apolônio de Carvalho, former leader of the Brazilian Communist Party, returns from exile on 27 October 1979.

“Senhora Liberdade”:  Nei Lopes — a samba composer, lawyer, historian and essayist — was moved by stories of prisoners who came up with sambas to alleviate the anguish of incarceration.

Political prisoner Inês Etienne Romeo is freed immediately through the amnesty law on 29 August 1979. The sign reads: "Amnesty: Broad; For everyone; unlimited. Free our prisoners."
Political prisoner Inês Etienne Romeo is freed immediately through the amnesty law on 29 August 1979. The sign reads: “Amnesty: Broad; general (for everyone); unrestricted. Free our prisoners.”

Wilson Moreira, Lopes’s celebrated musical partner, was a prison guard by profession, and told Lopes he’d indeed heard such songs. Together they composed this samba in the voice of a prisoner who was convicted for a crime of passion. It quickly ended up being hailed as one of the great anthems of the liberty that came with the Amnesty Law – surely a welcome surprise. The hit also propelled singer Zezé Motta to success.

“Tô voltando” by Maurício Tapajós and Paulo César Pinheiro was released the same year and met a similar fortuitous fate. Pinheiro recalls that Mauricio Tapajós called him one day, yearning to return home after an intense time on the road. Pinheiro recounts Tapajós was struck at the end of the tour by a tremendous longing for “for home, for his wife, for his children, for Leblon, for Rio.”

Paulo César Pinheiro
Paulo César Pinheiro

On the eve of his return to Rio, Tapajós began to repeat to himself, “I can’t believe I’m going back.” He called Pinheiro and began to hum the start of a melody along with that phrase. Pinheiro had a hunch that this samba could work: He went to meet up with Tapajós and they worked the rest of the day on the song, and the next day Pinheiro finished the lyrics, which he recalls flowed easily:

Maurício Tapajós
Maurício Tapajós

“I, who had already experienced the same situation so many times, with so many trips, tremendous longing for home — I know a lot about the issue I set out to write about. It was an issue that was common across our profession. The whole lot of artists felt this same profound anxiousness to get home after each season of touring. And all of them wanted the same things that I scribbled out in that samba. It ended up being beautiful, and full of empathy. We just needed to sing it once, and the second time, everyone joined in – it turned immediately into a chorus. I quickly sensed it would be a success.”

Pinheiro recounts that the singer Simone was picking out songs for her upcoming album at the time and she declared, “This one’s mine!”

When Simone released “Tô voltando” it was an instant sensation.

Shortly after its release, Pinheiro recalls he was watching reports on TV Globo about the exiles returning home; as scenes rolled live inside airplanes “filled with our comrades,” between interviews and tears, he heard someone begin singing “Tô voltando.” He calls the scene a “blow to [his] heart: “Emotion took hold of me and tears rolled down my cheeks (…) I had to take deep breaths and look away from the television to avoid a heart attack.”  The song had taken on a new meaning, to his delight — a meaning many believed, and still believe, it’d had from the start.

The whole phenomenon led Pinheiro to remark, “This shows that the future of our songs isn’t in our hands. They’re whatever they’re meant to be — beyond the motives that inspired them. How wonderful that this song became what it became.”

Main sources for this post: Conversation with Luiz Antônio Simas; Nei Lopes interview here; Histórias das Minhas Canções by Paulo César Pinheiro (2010).

Samba do Irajá

Lyrics from “Samba do Irajá” by Nei Lopes (1976)

Original recording by Roberto Ribeiro (1976):

Recording by Nei Lopes (1980):

I have stamped on my face, and in my chest,
On the side opposite the right, a saudade
(What saudade!)
A sensation that in reality I haven’t even been half
Of what you dreamed
(What you dreamed)
It’s roads, it’s schemes
Wrong turns and broken dreams
It’s the rocks against the sea
That’s all it is, oh Irajá
My samba is the only thing that I’m able to give you (2x)
Saudade
Came by the shade of the mangueira
Took a seat on the lounge chair
And picked up a guitar
Sang the little crab’s mode
Extended a hand to me for a kiss
And offered me an opinion
(opinion, opinion)
Then took a sip of abrideira
And went disappearing in the dust
Never to return
And that’s that, oh Irajá
My samba is the only thing I’m able to give you

— Interpretation —

Nei Lopes (L) at the launch of his book "Contos da Colina" about his football team, Vasco da Gama, written with Mauricio Murad and Luis Maffei.
Nei Lopes (L) at the launch of his book “Contos da Colina” about his football team, Vasco da Gama, written with Mauricio Murad and Luis Maffei.

Nei Lopes is a Brazilian composer; a historian – and blogger – focused on samba and Afro-Brazilian history and culture (he wrote the Brazilian Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora);  a lawyer by training who became fed up with the vagaries and violations of a justice system he found slow and inefficient, and after eight years practicing law, continued down a path of writing and researching music, poetry, fiction and African and Afro-Brazilian culture and politics.

He was born May 9, 1942, in Irajá, Rio de Janeiro, a samba redoubt that has produced other big names of the genre, including Zeca Pagodinho. Lopes’s father was born just before the abolition of slavery, in 1888; he was therefore socially conservative — or cautious — and  not particularly encouraging of Lopes’s initial forays into samba and Afro-Brazilian activism. After all, by his parents’ measure, Lopes recalls, “Why would you want to get involved in black pride in a totally unfavorable context?”

The horse-drawn streetcar that brought Nei Lopes's parents to Irajá Parish in 1918.
The streetcar that brought Nei Lopes’s parents to Irajá Parish in 1918.

After his father’s death Lopes let loose a little more and became increasingly involved in the samba world, parading with Salgueiro samba school in 1963, the same year his first poems were published in the Antologia Novos Poetas. He wrote this samba, which has become a classic of the genre, to express how much he missed his father; his reconciliation with his father’s death and their divergent opinions about how Nei should lead his life; and his apologies for not having lived up to everything his father might have hoped for.

In the translation, I changed “problemas” (problems) to “broken dreams” to keep the rhyme; “opinion” is a literal translation since it fit best that way, but might be closer to something like “offered me a piece of mind.” I kept saudade in Portuguese: In this context it can be interpreted as an aching longing for his father, which comes to life in the song in one of the genre’s most beautiful portrayals of saudade — sneaking in under the shade of the mangueira (mango tree), picking up a guitar and playing what was probably a little tune that was special for the family  — the “crab’s mode.” Abrideira is a kind of liquor — probably one that Lopes’s father was fond of.

Chico Buarque recorded the samba with Nei Lopes in 2000:

 

Lyrics in Portuguese

Tenho impressa no meu rosto
E, no peito, o lado oposto ao direito
Uma saudade…que saudade!
Sensação de na verdade
Não ter sido nem metade
Daquilo que você sonhou
São caminhos, são esquemas
Descaminhos e problemas
É o rochedo contra o mar
É isso aí, ê Irajá
Meu samba é a única coisa
que eu posso te dar
Saudade veio à sombra da mangueira
Sentou na espreguiçadeira
E pegou num violão
Cantou a moda do caranguejo
Estendeu a mão prum beijo
E me deu opinião(opinião, opinião)
Depois, tomou um gole de abrideira
Foi sumindo na poeira
Para nunca mais voltar
É isso aí, ê Irajá
Meu samba é a única coisa
que eu posso te dar