Tarzan, o Filho do Alfaiate

Lyrics from “Tarzan, o Filho do Alfaiate” by Noel Rosa and Vadico (1936)

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Quem foi que disse que eu era forte? // Who said I was strong?
Nunca pratiquei esporte // I’ve never played sports
nem conheço futebol…// I don’t follow football
O meu parceiro sempre foi o travesseiro // My partner has always been my pillow
E eu passo o ano inteiro // And I go the whole year
sem ver um raio de sol // without seeing one ray of sunlight
A minha força bruta reside // My brute force resides
Em um clássico cabide // On a classic coat-hanger
já cansado de sofrer // Already weary of suffering
Minha armadura é de casimira dura // My armor is made of stiff cashmere
Que me dá musculatura // Which gives me ‘musculature’
mas que pesa e faz doer // but which is heavy, and causes pain

Eu poso pros fotógrafos // I pose for photographers
e destribuo autógrafos // and give out autographs
A todas as pequenas lá da praia de manhã // To all the broads out on the morning beach
Um argentino disse, me vendo em Copacabana: // An Argentinian said, seeing me in Copacabana:
No hay fuerza sobre-humana que detenga este Tarzan‘// ‘There’s no super-human force that could stop this Tarzan’

De lutas não entendo abacate // Of bouts, I know squat
Pois o meu grande alfaiate // You see my masterful tailor
não faz roupa pra brigar // Doesn’t make clothes to fight in
Sou incapaz de machucar uma formiga // I’m incapable of hurting an ant
Não há homem que consiga nos meus músculos pegar//And there’s no man alive who could touch my muscles
Cheguei até a ser contratado // I had even been signed
Pra subir em um tablado // To go up in a ring
pra vencer um campeão // And beat a champion
Mas a empresa, pra evitar assassinato // But the company – to prevent homicide –
Rasgou logo o meu contrato // swiftly tore up my contract
quando me viu sem roupão // when they saw me sans robe

Eu poso pros fotógrafos // I pose for photographers
e destribuo autógrafos // and distribute autographs
A todas as pequenas lá da praia de manhã // To all the broads out on the morning beach
Um argentino disse, me vendo em Copacabana: // An Argentinian said, seeing me in Copacabana:
No hay fuerza sobre-humana que detenga este Tarzan‘// ‘There’s no super-human force that could stop this Tarzan’

Quem foi que disse que eu era forte? // Who said I was strong?
Nunca pratiquei esporte // I’ve never played sports
nem conheço futebol…// I don’t follow football
O meu parceiro sempre foi o travesseiro // My partner has always been my pillow
E eu passo o ano inteiro // And I go the whole year
sem ver um raio de sol // without seeing one ray of sunlight
A minha força bruta reside // My brute force resides
Em um clássico cabide // On a classic coat-hanger
já cansado de sofrer // Already weary of suffering
Minha armadura é de casimira dura // My armor is made of stiff cashmere
Que me dá musculatura // Which gives me ‘musculature’
mas que pesa e faz doer! // but which is heavy and causes pain!

— Commentary —

Ad for the 1936 movie Cidade Mulher
Ad for the 1936 movie Cidade Mulher
Noel Rosa in 1937
Noel Rosa in 1937. Noel is known for his brilliantly poetic and humorous observations of carioca society in the 1930s.

Noel Rosa composed six songs, including this humorous samba, for the 1936 film Cidade MulherRio is often referred to poetically as cidade-mulher (lady-city) in homage to its exquisite enchantments. (In popular music, along with Noel Rosa’s eponymous marcha composed for the movie, there’s Paulo da Portela’s beautiful samba “Cidade Mulher.”)

The movie in and about Rio provided the perfect opportunity for Noel Rosa to flex his critical poetic muscles. He is known for his witty lyrical commentary on carioca society, and this samba satirizing the scene on Rio’s beaches at the time is a perfect example of his humorous critique of one aspect of society in Rio in the 1930s.

Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan set a tough standard of beauty for boys in Rio to achieve.
Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan set a tough standard of beauty for boys in Rio to achieve.

In the early 1930s, Hollywood movies shattered previous standards for male beauty in Rio, establishing a new, much brawnier image of an attractive man. In the 1933 movie Tarzan the Ape Man, translated in Portuguese to Tarzan, Filho das Selvas (Tarzan, Son of the Jungle – hence the title of this song, “Tarzan, Son of the Tailor”),  Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller played the hero: broad shoulders and booming biceps became the ideal many carioca men strove to achieve.

But when so many of the wispy but well-heeled boys on the beaches of Noel Rosa’s Rio de Janeiro couldn’t live up to this standard of beauty, they turned to their trusty tailors, who gave them enough heavy shoulder padding to add plenty of “musculature.” Their strength therefore resided on a weary weighed-down coat-hanger.

Almirante recorded the song for the movie.

Source for this post: Noel Rosa: Uma biografia by João Máximo and Carlos Didier

 

Conversa de Botequim

Lyrics from “Conversa de Botequim” by Noel Rosa and Vadico (1935)


Good Audio Version

Mister Waiter, do me a favor and bring me hurriedly
A good coffee that’s not reheated
Some bread, nice and warm, with plenty of butter
A napkin and a cup of chilled water
Close the door on the right, carefully,
As I’m not inclined to be exposed to the sun
And go ask your customer there the result of the football match.

If you go on cleaning the table, I’m not getting up nor will I pay the bill
Go ask your boss for a pen, an inkwell, an envelope and a card
Don’t forget to give me toothpicks, and a cigarette to scare the mosquitoes
Go tell the cigar maker to lend me some magazines, a lighter and an ashtray

Mister Waiter, do me a favor and bring me hurriedly
A good coffee that’s not reheated
Some bread, nice and warm, with plenty of butter
A napkin and a cup of chilled water
Close the door on the right, carefully,
As I’m not inclined to be exposed to the sun
And go ask your customer there the result of the football match.

Call, at least once, to three-four- four- three-three-three
And tell Mr. Osório to send me an umbrella here in our office
Mister Waiter, lend me some money, cause I left mine with the bicheiro
Go tell your manager to hang this tab on the hanger up front

Mister Waiter, do me a favor and bring me hurriedly
A good coffee that’s not reheated
Some bread, nice and warm, with plenty of butter
A napkin and a cup of chilled water
Close the door on the right, carefully,
As I’m not inclined to be exposed to the sun
And go ask your customer there the result of the football match.

— Interpretation —

Noel Rosa, known as “o poeta da Vila” – the poet from Vila Isabel.

Nearly eighty years after its release, “Conversa de Botequim” (roughly, bar talk) is still considered one of the most astute and poetic observations on carioca society in Brazilian popular music. Written by Noel Rosa, whom Ary Vasconcellos calls “without a doubt, the greatest name in samba carioca,” the song spiritedly satirizes a quotidian scene in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s and 1930s that resonates today.

Noel Rosa c. 1936.

Noel Rosa (1910 – 1937) had a face that was badly deformed from an accident right after his birth.  Likely as a result, he spent much of his brief adult life in dimly lit bars and cafés in Rio de Janeiro, and became familiar with their clientele.  This song pokes fun at a customer who acts as if he owns the establishment just because he’s buying a measly coffee and bread. After making a litany of absurd requests of a waiter he addresses with a phony reverence, and referring to the bar as his “office,” the customer says he’s going to have to put the meal on his tab (from Portuguese, this line translates literally to “hang it on the hanger”) since he left his money with the bicheiro – the local boss of the Jogo do Bicho, a popular nationwide lottery allowing bets as low as a cent.

The character is Rosa’s depiction – or mild caricature – of the typical carioca malandro, the likes of which Rosa had little patience for. (The concept of the malandro is explained in this post.) The listener can infer that the character gets by day-to-day with this kind of idle talk and maybe some winnings from the Jogo do Bicho.

The song is also acclaimed for its perfectly matched syncopated melody, by Vadico.  And though many artists went on to record it, Zuza Homem de Mello and Jairo Severiano remark that Rosa’s recording (both versions above) is the best, “because he ‘speaks’ the lyrics with the same naturalness with which a malandro would give all of those orders to a bar waiter.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Seu garçom, faça o favor de me trazer depressa
Uma boa média que não seja requentada
Um pão bem quente com manteiga à beça
Um guardanapo e um copo d’água bem gelada
Feche a porta da direita com muito cuidado
Que não estou disposto a ficar exposto ao sol
Vá perguntar ao seu freguês do lado
Qual foi o resultado do futebol

Se você ficar limpando a mesa
Não me levanto nem pago a despesa
Vá pedir ao seu patrão
Uma caneta, um tinteiro
Um envelope e um cartão
Não se esqueça de me dar palitos
E um cigarro pra espantar mosquitos
Vá dizer ao charuteiro
Que me empreste umas revistas
Um isqueiro e um cinzeiro

Seu garçom, faça o favor de me trazer depressa
Uma boa média que não seja requentada
Um pão bem quente com manteiga à beça
Um guardanapo e um copo d’água bem gelada
Feche a porta da direita com muito cuidado
Que estou disposto a ficar exposto ao sol
Vá perguntar ao seu freguês do lado
Qual foi o resultado do futebol

Telefone ao menos uma vez
Para três quatro, quatro, três, três, três
E ordene ao seu Osório
Que me mande um guarda-chuva
Aqui pro nosso escritório
Seu garçom me empresta algum dinheiro
Que eu deixei o meu com o bicheiro
Vá dizer ao seu gerente
Que pendure esta despesa
No cabide ali em frente

Seu garçom, faça o favor de me trazer depressa
Uma boa média que não seja requentada
Um pão bem quente com manteiga à beça
Um guardanapo e um copo d’água bem gelada
Feche a porta da direita com muito cuidado
Que não estou disposto a ficar exposto ao sol
Vá perguntar ao seu freguês do lado
Qual foi o resultado do futebol

Main sources for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 1: 1901 – 1957 by Zuza Homem de Mello and Jairo Severiano (1997), and Panorama da Música Popular Brasileira, vol. 2, by Ary Vasconcellos (1964)

Coisas Nossas

Lyrics from “Coisas nossas” by Noel Rosa (1932)

I would like to be a tambourine
To feel all day long
Your hand drumming on my skin.
This longing for the guitar and the shack,
Our things, our things

Samba, pennilessness
And other fashions
They’re our things, they’re things of ours!

The malandro that doesn’t drink,
That doesn’t eat
But that doesn’t abandon samba
Because samba kills hunger
The beautiful morena from out there in the country
Our thing, our thing

Samba, pennilessness
And other fashions
They’re our things, they’re things of ours!

The candy vendor, the paper boy
The motorman, the driver and the passenger
Loansharks and con men
And the tram that looks like a wagon
Our thing, very much ours

Samba, pennilessness
And other fashions
They’re our things, they’re things of ours!

The girl that courts
On the corner and at the gate
The married guy with ten kids and without a dime
If her father finds out he’s gonna give a beating
Our thing, very much ours

Samba, pennilessness
And other fashions
They’re our things, they’re things of ours!

— Interpretation —

This poster for the 1931 musical Coisas nossas boasts “A stupendous film, spoken and sung, made in Brazil!”

One of the most common questions about bossa nova is what bossa actually means, and this song, which predates bossa nova by nearly 30 years, provides a good answer. The refrain in Portuguese goes, “O samba, a prontidão, e outras bossas, são coisas nossas…” While bossa doesn’t have a great direct translation in English, I’ve translated it here as fashion: bossa can be understood as fashion in the sense that it’s  “a distinctive or peculiar and often habitual manner or way” and “a prevailing custom, usage, or style,” definitions from Merriam Webster.  So, when bossa nova came along at the end of the 1950s, the name suggested that it represented a new fashion or manner in music.

Back to the old bossas: In 1931, Wallace Downey , an American producer with Columbia Records based in Rio, was eager to take advantage of new recording technologies to profit off of Brazilian popular culture. He went after his dream of building a Brazilian Hollywood by producing his first musical film, Coisas nossastogether with Columbia’s São Paulo-based partner, Byington & Co. Downey then went on to partner with Rio’s better equipped Cinédia Studios to produce three more musicals in quick succession. All of the films were hits, outgrossing even the popular imported American films.

Coisas nossas  is considered Brazil’s first commercially successful talkie. Along with Downey’s other musicals, which featured Brazil’s most popular musical performers of the time, it helped establish and shape the Brazilian movie industry just as Downey had hoped. As Bryan McCann describes in Hello, Hello Brazil, Downey’s Brazilian musicals  “helped to create the film industry, promote the recording industry, and foster a vision of Brazilian popular music that was as glamorous and exciting as anything Hollywood had to offer.”

Perhaps inspired by the film,  Noel Rosa wrote his now legendary song by the same name (the song is alternatively called “São coisas nossas”), which he recorded — along with four other sambas — with Downey’s Columbia Records in Rio in 1932.  The song contains Rosa’s musings about habits, fads and other bossas that are typically Brazilian, invoking some of samba’s most ever-present symbols of brasilidade — the pandeiro (tambourine), the poor malandro sambista, and the beautiful morena.

A note about the translation of “prontidão”:  this could be translated as something like quickness, agility, or readiness;  at the time, though,  prontidão was also used to mean something like “pennilessness.” I think that’s what it was meant to convey here — the broke sambista — but I’m open to other suggestions.

Noel Rosa’s face was deformed in an accident when he was born. He died in 1937 at age 26, and in spite of his premature death, remains one of Brazil’s most legendary sambistas.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Queria ser pandeiro
Pra sentir o dia inteiro
A tua mão na minha pele a batucar
Saudade do violão e da palhoça
Coisa nossa, coisa nossa

O samba, a prontidão
E outras bossas,
São nossas coisas,
São coisas nossas!

Malandro que não bebe,
Que não come,
Que não abandona o samba
Pois o samba mata a fome,
Morena bem bonita lá da roça,
Coisa nossa, coisa nossa

O samba, a prontidão
E outras bossas,
São nossas coisas,
São coisas nossas!

Baleiro, jornaleiro
Motorneiro, condutor e passageiro,
Prestamista e o vigarista
E o bonde que parece uma carroça,
Coisa nossa, muito nossa

O samba, a prontidão
E outras bossas,
São nossas coisas,
São coisas nossas!

Menina que namora
Na esquina e no portão
Rapaz casado com dez filhos, sem tostão,
Se o pai descobre o truque dá uma coça
Coisa nossa, muito nossa

O samba, a prontidão
E outras bossas,
São nossas coisas,
São coisas nossas!

Main sources for this post were  Hello, Hello Brazil  by Bryan McCann and A Canção no Tempo, 85 Anos de músicas brasileiras vol. 1: 1901 – 1957  by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello.