“A Flor e o Espinho” and “Folhas Secas”

Lyrics from “A Flor e o Espinho” by Nelson Cavaquinho, Guilherme de Brito and Alcides Caminha (1957)

Song begins at 0:55

Good Audio Version (Beth Carvalho)

Get your smile out of the way, cause I want to go by with my pain
Today for you I’m just a thorn, and a thorn doesn’t hurt a flower
I only went wrong when I joined my soul to yours
The sun can’t live near the moon

It’s in the mirror that I see my wound, my pain and my misty eyes
I was once a flower in your life, today I’m a thorn in your love

— Interpretation —

Guilherme de Brito (L) and Nelson Cavaquinho

Nelson Cavaquinho composed the tune for this samba and Guilherme de Brito wrote the lyrics during a session in Praça Tiradentes, Rio de Janeiro. Its tone is typical of the pair, who began writing music together in 1955 — mournful, dejected, pessimistic about love and life. (Meanwhile, Nelson Cavaquinho — lifelong bohemian with a scratchy voice from beer and cigarettes — could most often be found joking with friends over drinks at nearby bars and pool halls. For more on his life philosophy, see this post.)

Exceptionally, in 1973, the duo left the moroseness aside to write about their neighborhood’s samba school, Estação Primeira da Mangueira. The result, “Folhas Secas,” became one of the most cherished sambas in an extensive  repertoire of songs about Mangueira (which means “Mango tree”).  Nonetheless, even this nostalgic samba brings up death, with the singer remarking on how much he’ll miss his boyhood on Mangueira when his time comes. According to Brito, the song was written to be sung by Beth Carvalho, but was also taken to Elis Regina, and both singers’ versions ended up being released at the same time.

Lyrics from “Folhas Secas” by Nelson Cavaquinho and Guilherme de Brito (1973)


Good Audio Version (Nelson Cavaquinho)

When I step on dry leaves, fallen from a Mangueira
I think of my school, and the poets of my First Station

I don’t know how many times I went up the hill singing
With the sun burning me, and that’s how I’m wasting away
When time lets me know I can’t sing anymore
I know I’m going to feel longing, beside my guitar, for my boyhood

Nelson Cavaquinho (L) with fellow sambista from Mangueira, Cartola

Lyrics in Portuguese, “A Flor e o Espinho”

Tire o seu sorriso do caminho
Que eu quero passar com a minha dor
Hoje pra você eu sou espinho
Espinho não machuca flor
Eu só errei quando juntei minh´alma à sua
O sol não pode viver perto lua

É no espelho que eu vejo a minha mágoa
A minha dor e os meus olhos rasos d´água
Eu na tua vida já fui uma flor
Hoje sou espinho em teu amor

Lyrics in Portuguese, “Folhas Secas” 

Quando eu piso em folhas secas
Caídas de uma mangueira
Penso na minha escola
E nos poetas da minha estação primeira

Não sei quantas vezes
Subi o morro cantando
Sempre o sol me queimando
E assim vou me acabando.

Quando o tempo avisar
Que não posso mais cantar
Sei que vou sentir saudade
Ao lado do meu violão
Da minha mocidade

Main sources for this post: A Canção no Tempo by Jairo Severiano and Zuzu Homem de Mello, v. 1 and 2

Luz Negra

Lyrics from “Luz Negra” (Black light) by Nelson Cavaquinho and Amâncio Cardoso

Album: Soundtrack of film A Falecida (1964); LP Elizeth sobe o morro (1965, Elizeth Cardoso);   Depoimento do Poeta  (1970, Nelson Cavaquinho)

Always alone

I live looking for someone

Who suffers like I suffer

And I just can’t find anyone

Always alone

And life goes on like that

I don’t have anyone who takes pity on me

I’m nearing the end

The black light of a cruel destiny

Illuminates a colorless theater

Where I’m playing the role

Of a clown of love

Always alone

And life goes on like that

I don’t have anyone who takes pity on me

And I’m nearing the end, and I’m nearing the end…

— Interpretation–

This is a classic samba de morro – a samba from Rio de Janeiro’s poorer hillside neighborhoods – from one of Brazil’s most iconic sambistas, Nelson Cavaquinho.  Cavaquinho wrote the song upon the request of filmmaker Leon Hirszman, a fellow denizen of Cartola’s restaurant Zicartola, for Hirszman’s film “A falecida” (“The dead woman”) based on Nelson Rodrigues‘ play by the same name.  The samba was arranged for the film by renowned Brazilian composer Radamés Gnattali.

Nelson Cavaquinho was born October 29, 1911, in Rio de Janeiro. He came from a family of modest means, so he left school as boy to work in a factory. There, his coworkers organized samba gatherings, where he earned his nickname because of his early knack for playing cavaquinho and his peculiar style of plucking with just two fingers.  Eventually, Nelson Cavaquinho cast aside his namesake instrument in favor of the guitar.

In 1931, Nelson met and married Alice Ferreira Neves (after her father allegedly dragged him to the courthouse); the couple had four children before separating.  Alice’s father recommended Nelson Cavaquinho for the Military Police Cavalry, and Cavaquinho began patrolling the Mangueira neighborhood atop his horse, Vovô (Grandpa).  In Mangueira, he met and developed friendships with Zé da ZildaCarlos Cachaça, and Cartola. As the story goes, he met Cartola in the square in Mangueira and spent so much time talking with him that Vovô grew tired of waiting and went back to the police station alone. Nelson Cavaquinho was locked up for a few days — a punishment he was rather accustomed to at that point.  By 1938, Cavaquinho had separated from his wife; he was a fixture in Rio’s bohemian samba circles, an iconic member of Mangueira samba school and a frequent attraction at Zicartola, the restaurant that Cartola ran with his wife Zica. In 1952, he moved to Mangueira, and a few years later he met Guilherme de Brito, with whom he composed some of Brazil’s most beloved sambas such as “A Flor e o Espinho” (The Flower and the Thorn) and “Folhas Secas” (Dry Leaves).

Nelson Cavaquinho became  known for his melancholic sambas. He sang mostly about dark themes — death, poverty and perdition.   In spite of his disconsolate tone, he never showed any inclination to abandon his bohemian lifestyle.  Eduardo Gundin, a friend and fellow composer, recalls  a day when he was on his way to pick up Cavaquinho after a radio interview:  Gundin tuned his car radio to the interview, and heard the reporter ask Nelson Cavaquinho about his plans for the future.  He responded: “My plans?  Gudin is going to come pick me up and then we’re going to drink at Bar do Alemão.”

Nelson Cavaquinho died of emphysema on February 18, 1986.

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)