Meus vinte anos

Lyrics from “Meus vinte anos” by Wilson Batista and Silvio Caldas (1942)

Good Audio Version (Silvio Caldas)

In women’s eyes, in the mirror in my room
Is where I see my age
The portrait in the living room makes me remember achingly my youth
Life for me has been so wretched, only bitter disenchantment
Ay, I’d give everything to be able to go back to being twenty (repeat)

You left in my life the vivid shadow of tremendous yearning
Leaving me, you ended up showing me the counterpoint, killing my faith
And today disillusioned – I’ve suffered a lot –
Full of bitter disenchantment
Ay, I’d give everything to be able to go back to being twenty

— Interpretation —

Wilson Batista, looking dapper c. 1933.

In this samba, Wilson Batista aches over getting older, lamenting that his appearance continues to diverge from that of the portrait in the living room, and that women’s eyes perhaps don’t shine as brightly when they see him.

Batista was a malandrostyle samba composer — an unapologetic scoundrel sort, known for his impassioned defense of waywardness in a battle he fought in samba songs with the more refined bohemian Noel Rosa. (Rosa contended that malandro sambistas should  toss out their razor blades, stop dragging their wood-soled shoes, and basically get over themselves. You can read about the feud here.)

Batista wrote this song when he was twenty-nine — an age when most would scoff at someone for pining for their youthful days of yore. But maybe he knew his lifestyle did not promote longevity; he died at 58.

The theme of fleeting youth is a universal one, and the song was one of Wilson Batista’s greatest successes as a lyricist. Silvio Caldas wrote the melody and recorded the samba in 1942, and the song was a hit throughout the following year.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Nos olhos das mulheres
No espelho do meu quarto
É que eu vejo a minha idade
O retrato na sala
Faz lembrar com saudade
A minha mocidade

A vida para mim tem sido tão ruim
Só desenganos
Ai, eu daria tudo
Para poder voltar
Aos meus vinte anos.

Deixaste em minha vida
A sombra colorida
De uma saudade imensa
Deixando-me ficaste
Mostrando-me o contraste
Matando a minha crença
E hoje desiludido
Muito tenho sofrido
Cheio de desenganos
Ai, eu daria tudo
Para poder voltar
Aos meus vinte anos.

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 1, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

Rapaz folgado

Lyrics from “Rapaz Folgado” (Idle Youth) by Noel Rosa (1933)

Stop dragging your wood-soled shoe
Because a wood-soled shoe was never a sandal
Take that kerchief off your neck
Buy dress shoes and a tie
Throw out that razor
That gets in your way
With your hat to the side, you slipped up
I want you to escape from the police
Making a samba-song
I already gave you paper and a pencil
Arrange a love and a guitar

Malandro is a defeatist word
All it does is take away
All of the value of sambistas
I propose, to the civilized people
To call you not a malandro
But rather an idle youth

— Interpretation —

As I mentioned in the previous post, “Rapaz folgado” was Noel Rosa’s response to Wilson Batista’s anthem to the malandro sambista “Lenço no pescoço.” The dispute continued in samba form over the next couple of years: Batista responded to “Rapaz folgado” with “Mocinho da Vila,” which suggested that a pretty boy from Vila Isabel – the middle class neighborhood where Rosa was born – had no right to discuss malandragem or even penetrate the world of sambas do morro; rather, he should stick to more erudite music and pursue his radio career.  Rosa, in turn, responded with “Feitiço da Vila” (Enchantment of Vila), a technically and lyrically elegant samba that affirmed that sambistas from Vila brought samba to a new level with their poetic lyrics and broader themes. “Feitiço da Vila” quickly became one of the most popular sambas of all time. The dispute continued over the course of a few more sambas, but the success of “Feitiço da Vila” evidently spoke to the popularity of Noel’s perspective.

Noel Rosa (1910 – 1937) is revered as Brazil’s greatest “popular poet” and storyteller: In his brief life — he died of tuberculosis at age 26 —   he contributed profoundly to the evolution of samba and Brazilian national identity, more broadly.

Born to a middle class family in Vila Isabel, Rio de Janeiro, Noel came from a background much different from the Afro-Brazilian sambistas from the nearby favelas.  What’s more, an accident at birth left Noel Rosa with a crushed jaw that left his face permanently distorted, preventing him from achieving the dapper look common to sambistas of the time. Rosa was white, sickly and forlorn, but his clever lyrics and technical prowess brought samba to a new level in Brazil, bridging the favelas — where Rosa often collaborated with  sambistas like Ismael Silva — with the rest of the city, and linking samba symbols — the malandro, the morena and the batucada — to Brazil’s national nascent national identity.

Sources for this post: Hello, Hello Brazil by Bryan McCann; Literature Comentada: Noel Rosa

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)

Lenço no Pescoço

Lyrics from “Lenço no Pescoço” by Wilson Batista
Recorded by Silvio Caldas in 1933

Good audio version(Grooveshark)

My hat tilted to the side
Wood-soled shoe dragging
Kerchief around my neck
Razor in my pocket
I swagger around
I provoke and challenge
I am proud
To be such a vagabond

I know they talk
About this conduct of mine
I see those who work
Living in misery
I’m a vagabond
Because I had the inclination
I remember, as a child I wrote samba songs

(Don’t mess with me, I want to see who’s right… )

My hat tilted to the side
Wood-soled shoe dragging
Kerchief around my neck
Razor in my pocket
I swagger around
I provoke and challenge
I am proud
To be such a vagabond

And they play
And you sing
And I don’t  give in

— Interpretation —

This is perhaps the most characteristic example of “samba malandro” — samba songs celebrating malandragem,  a rough, vagrant life initially associated with the poor black communities that formed in Rio de Janeiro after slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888.  A life of malandragem was a rejection of the societal norms being imposed at the time by the country’s white elite.  A malandro (sometimes translated as a rogue), facing intense racial discrimination and socioeconomic oppression, responded with his own, individual form of justice, achieved through cheating, fooling and foiling the authorities, and generally getting ahead through manipulation, cunning and shrewdness.

The malandro life involved days spent singing and dancing in samba circles, drinking, womanizing, and gambling in games like  Jogo do Bicho – a popular nationwide lottery allowing bets as low as 1 cent.  (The game was officially outlawed in 1946, but it remains widespread and incredibly popular in Brazil even today.)

Malandros dressed rebelliously and spurned wage work and the capitalist system in general.  However, in part because of increasing repression from Getulio Vargas’s regime (1930 – 1945, described in this post) and in part in response to broader popular trends, there were only a few songs — including “Lenço no pescoço” — dedicated explicitly to the benefits of such a life versus the life of a working man. Most of these songs were produced during the late 1920s and early 1930s, when the celebration of malandragem peaked to such an extent that even Vinicius de Moraes – a student of law and future poet and diplomat –  wrote one of his first songs, in partnership with the Irmãos Tapajós, saying “I’m going to go crazy/I don’t want to work/I was born a malandro/Everyone can see I’m a malandro/ I’ll die a malandro.” Along with “Lenço no pescoço,” other well-known songs dedicated to the malandro life are “Malandragem,” from 1928, and “O que será de mim?” (“What will become of me?”), from 1931.

Under increasing censorship and pressure from the Vargas regime for sambistas to clean up their act (authorities demanded sambistas wear impeccable white suits, for instance) and produce sambas de “exaltação” — exaltations of Brazil’s natural beauty and economic opportunities — and in response to changing tastes among listeners and a broadening national audience for Rio de Janeiro’s sambas, with the proliferation of the radio,  the main themes of samba-malandro songs softened around the mid-1930s.  Sambistas began to focus more on malandros’ artfulness, rather than expressly defying the work that Vargas so heartily promoted. (Laws establishing workers’ rights were defined and formalized under Vargas, including many labor institutions — such as the minimum wage and 8-hour workday — that are still in force today. Of course, Vargas had his own interests in mind: tellingly, the system was modeled after the Italian fascist dictator Mussolini’s Carta del Lavoro.) Also, by the mid-1930s, more and more white sambistas from middle class backgrounds were  becoming popular, diluting the samba-malandro message.

Wilson Batista (1913 – 1968) was born in Campos, in the northern interior region of Rio de Janeiro state. In 1930 his family moved to Rio de Janeiro, and Wilson composed his first samba at age 16 – “Na estrada da vida” (“On the road of life”).  As a poor Afro-Brazilian, and an outsider to Rio’s samba circles, Batista truly had to prove his toughness and guile to make it in Rio. Beginning in the early 1930s, he composed a number of sambas with other famous sambistas of the time that became Carnaval hits throughout the 1930s and 1940s. He produced nearly 600 sambas before dying at 55. While in recent years Batista has been largely overlooked by the media and samba critics,  in the 1970s, Paulinho da Viola declared that he regarded Wilson Batisa as the greatest sambista of all time.

“Lenço no pescoço” stoked a dispute between Wilson Batista and Noel Rosa, a feeble and brilliant white sambista from a middle-class background who had relatively little in common with Batista. Rosa was “not a streetwise tough but a Bohemian poet“; still, his eloquent sambas challenged the samba-malandro link, bridging the favelas and morros, cities and nation of Brazil.  Rosa responded to “Lenço no pescoço” in 1933 with the song “Rapaz Folgado,” a critique of Batista.  The rivalry continued for a few years, with a back-and-forth of sambas disputing the malandro identity and the essence of samba. (2019 update: As João Máximo, Noel Rosa’s biographer, points out in this fantastic 2012 show, a common misconception is that Noel Rosa was denouncing malandragem in general, when in fact he was really just interested in taking jabs at Wilson Batista.)

Sources for this post include Roberto DaMatta‘s Carnavais, Malandros e Heróis;  Bryan McCann’s Hello, Hello Brazil; Instituto Moreira Salles Radio Batuta interview with Batisa biographer Rodrigo Alguzuir; and “Gente do samba: malandragem e identidade nacional no final da Primeira República” por Tiago de Melo Gomes.

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)