Rosa de Hiroshima

Lyrics from “Rosa de Hiroshima” by Vinicius de Moraes, music by  Gérson Conrad; released by Secos & Molhados (1973)

Pensem nas criancas // Think of the children
Mudas, Telepáticas // Mute, telepathic
Pensem nas meninas // Think of the girls
Cegas, inexatas // Blind, inexact (amiss)
Pensem nas mulheres // Think of the women
Rotas, alteradas // Torn, altered
Pensem nas feridas // Think of the wounds
Como rosas cálidas // Like burning roses
Mas oh! Nao se esqueçam // But oh! Don’t forget
Da rosa da rosa // The rose of roses
Da rosa de Hiroshima // The rose of Hiroshima
A rosa hereditária // The hereditary rose
A rosa radioativa // The radioactive rose
Estúpida e inválida // Senseless and invalid
A rosa com cirrose // The rose with cirrhosis
A anti-rosa atomica // The atomic anti-rose
Sem cor, sem perfume // Without color, without fragrance
Sem rosa, sem nada // Without rose, without anything

— Commentary —

hiroshima_After via Atlantic via U.S. National Archives
Hiroshima in the aftermath of the attack. Image via The Atlantic .

In the early morning of 6 August 1945, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, lifted off a runway on Tinian Island in the Pacific. Piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, who had named the giant Superfortress after his mother, the Enola Gay carried a ten-thousand-pound atomic bomb known as “Little Boy.” At 8:15 A.M., the crew of the Enola Gay covered their eyes with dark glasses and the bombardier, Thomas Ferebee, released the huge orange and black bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, a city of 250,000 people, many of whom were starting their last day on earth. The bomb exploded over the city with a brilliant flash of purple light, followed by a deafening blast and a powerful shock wave that heated the air as if expanded. A searing fireball eventually enveloped the area around ground zero, temperatures rose to approximate those on the surface of the sun, and a giant mushroom cloud roiled up from the city like an angry gray ghost. Within seconds Hiroshima was destroyed and half of its population was dead or dying. Three days later, a second atomic bomb destroyed the Japanese city of Nagasaki, killing more than 60,000 people. –Michael Hogan: Hiroshima in History and Memory

Vinicius de Moraes composed this poem in 1954. Nearly twenty years later, Gérson Conrad of Secos & Molhados set the poem to music. Secos & Molhados released “Rosa de Hiroshima” on their self-titled debut album, and Ney Matogrosso’s piercing rendition seared the song into popular memory across Brazil.

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Rio de Janeiro’s Diário da Noite from 7 August 1945 announced “Revolution in Methods of War!” A front-page article on the attack described the atomic bomb as “the most terrifying discovery of recent times,” and Hiroshima as “the Japanese city that had the bad luck of being the first to vanish from the map as a consequence of the effects of the atomic bomb.” Image via Hemeroteca da Biblioteca Nacional.

The horror of the atomic bomb was incomprehensible in Japan and around the world.  The scale of the attack was so unfathomable that the Japanese reacted almost as if they’d been struck by a natural disaster, rather than a man-made atrocity released by bombardier Thomas Ferebee at 8:15 that morning.  No prior conceptions or language existed to grapple with the scale of the attack, so reckoning largely came, when it came, through the arts.

The mushroom cloud of the bomb spread as a rose bud blooms and expands, and Vinicius de Moraes treated the bomb as the “anti-rose” in this poem.

Floor of Damaged Bank Building_Oct 6 1945
A woman lies with her child on the floor of a ruined bank building in Hiroshima, 6 October 1945. Image via The Atlantic.

The first verses focus on the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims of the bomb: Rollicking children were rendered mute, killed or surviving without words to express or come to terms with the experience. Girls were blinded by the searing flash;  “inexact” evokes incompleteness, or something amiss.  (I didn’t want to post too gruesome images here, but some of these seem representative of what Vinicius mentions.)

“Rotas, alteradas” can also be interpreted as “rotas alteradas,” or paths altered.

The second part of the lyrics discuss the “senseless” bomb. “Hereditary” rose may refer to the fact that survivors were “presumed to carry the curse of the bombs in their blood,” and were shunned in Japan. Invalid can be interpreted as not valid — out of bounds, unwarranted — or “invalid” in the sense of disabled, as the survivors were left both psychologically and physically. The Japanese government essentially ignored the bomb survivors until November 1953, when it established a research council to conduct surveys of survivors. The news surrounding this movement may have inspired the poem, written shortly thereafter. This rose is fatally flawed, sick with cirrhosis like the survivors who developed cirrhosis of the liver from radiation poisoning.

If the rose represents beauty, passion, and vigor, the bomb was the “anti-rose,” like an anti-christ.

 

 

 

Main source for this post: Hiroshima in History and Memory, ed. Mark Hogan

Sangue Latino

Lyrics to “Sangue Latino” by Secos & Molhados, 1973 (lyrics by João Ricardo and Paulinho Mendonça)

I swore by lies and I go on alone
I acknowledge my sins
The northern winds don’t move mills
And all I have left is just a whimper
My life, my dead, my twisted paths
My latin blood, my captive soul
I breached treaties, I betrayed rites
I broke the lance, I lanced into the nothingness a cry – a release
And what matters to me is that I’m not defeated
My life, my dead, my twisted paths
My latin blood, my captive soul

— Interpretation —

Folha de São Paulo called the cover of Secos e Molhados' 1973 debut album the "best Brazilian long play album cover of all time"
Folha de São Paulo called the cover of Secos & Molhados’ 1973 debut album the “best Brazilian long play album cover of all time.”

Secos & Molhados appeared on Brazil’s music scene at the height of the country’s military dictatorship, four years into the so-called “years of lead” (anos de chumbo) following the decree of Institutional Act V in December 1968. Censorship and repression were at their height. The unruly trio — João Ricardo, Gerson Conrad, and lead singer Ney de Souza Pereira (known as Ney Matogrosso because of his home state, Mato Grosso do Sul) — fused Brazilian regional sounds with international pop-rock influences, especially from the glam rock genre that was reaching its apex in the United Kingdom at the time. Similar to glam rockers David Bowie and Marc Bolan in the U.K., band members – especially Matogrosso, with his high-pitched womanly voice – played up androgyny. They wore theatrical, often campy, outfits with heavy make-up, and danced provocatively on stage, defying accepted standards of performance, gender and sexuality. (Rumors abound in Brazil that the American band Kiss, formed in January 1973, began using make-up after seeing Secos & Molhados; Kiss band members have always denied this, however, and appear to be telling the truth.)

Secos e Molhados, with Ney Mattogrosso in the middle.
Secos e Molhados, with Ney Matogrosso in the middle.

Secos & Molhados emerged in São Paulo about five years after the tropicalia movement had shocked and delighted the country in 1967 and 1968. In a way, tropicalia – with its controversial “universal sound” and Caetano Veloso‘s defiant flamboyance – set the stage for the band.

In the late 1960s, international cultural elements like rock and roll were still regarded as symbols of northern imperialism in many circles in Brazil.  The renowned music critic José Ramos Tinhorão notoriously likened tropicalia’s cultural project to the military dictatorship’s economic and technical projects.  (In 1967, after being booed and berated for using back-up electric guitars in “Domingo no Parque,” Gilberto Gil said he felt as if he was on trial for betraying Brazilian popular music, and that according to this logic, Brazilians should only be using indigenous instruments.)

But tropicalist musicians, led by Veloso and Gil, rejected this polarized view. They challenged prejudices against international cultural influences, and incited Brazilians to defy authority in new ways, cultivating a counter-culture that went beyond political opposition to the military dictatorship and rebelled against broader understandings of music, society and nationalism, psychology, the body and sexuality. What were once “outcast” qualities became cool, and were considered forms of rejecting authoritarian attempts to mold and manipulate the mass media and society.

Ney Matogrosso at age 70. The singer asks photographers not to retouch any photos of him, claiming his "right to age."
Ney Matogrosso at age 70. The singer asks photographers not to retouch any photos of him, claiming his “right to age.”

By the early 1970s Brazil was ripe for a band like Secos & Molhados to give new voice and form to this feeling. Composer João Ricardo brought the band together in São Paulo in 1971. In 1972 they gave a tremendously successful show at Teatro Ruth Escobar and were invited to record an LP with Continental Records. The self-titled LP was released in August 1973 and was the top selling album that year. It’s listed as no. 5 on Rolling Stone’s list of top 100 Brazilian albums of all time. Seven of the thirteen tracks are poems set to music, including Vinicius de Moraes‘s “Rosa de Hiroshima” and Manuel Bandeira‘s “Rondo do Capitão.

Another poem set to music, “Primavera nos dentes,” by  João Apolinário – João Ricardo’s father – and “Mulher barriguda” are the most overtly anti-dictatorship songs on the album.

“Sangue Latino” is about the Latin American condition of struggles, missteps, oppression, and resilience. The song is representative of the group’s fusion of political messages and pop rock clichés. Another big hit from the album was the rock track “O Vira,” which alludes to the Portuguese folk dance by the same name:

Lyrics in Portuguese

Jurei mentiras
E sigo sozinho
Assumo os pecados
Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh!

Os ventos do norte
Não movem moinhos
E o que me resta
É só um gemido

Minha vida, meus mortos
Meus caminhos tortos
Meu Sangue Latino
Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh!
Minh’alma cativa

Rompi tratados
Traí os ritos
Quebrei a lança
Lancei no espaço
Um grito, um desabafo

E o que me importa
É não estar vencido
Minha vida, meus mortos
Meus caminhos tortos
Meu Sangue Latino
Minh’alma cativa

Main source for this post: Secos & Molhados: o novo sentido da encenação da canção by José Roberto Zan