Nordeste Pra Frente

Lyrics from “Nordeste pra frente” by Luiz Gonzaga and Luis Queiroga (1968)

Sr. repórter já que tá me entrevistando // Mr. Reporter, since you’re interviewing me
Vá anotando pra botar no seu jornal // Take this down to put in your paper
Que meu Nordeste tá mudado // That my Northeast is changed
Publique isso pra ficar documentado // Publish that, for the record

Qualquer mocinha hoje veste mini-saia // Any ol’ girl these days wears a mini-skirt
Já tem homem com cabelo crescidinho // And now there are men with shaggy hair
O lambe-lambe no sertão já usa flash // The street photographer in the sertão now uses flash
Carro de praça cobra pelo reloginho // And the cars for hire in the square charge by the “little clock” (taximeter)

Já tem conjunto com guitarra americana // Now there are bands with American guitars
Já tem hotel que serve Whisky escocês // Hotels that serve Scotch Whiskey
E tem matuto com gravata italiana // And there are red-necks with Italian ties
Ouvindo jogo no radinho japonês // Listening to the game on their little Japanese radio

Caruaru tem sua universidade // Caruaru has a big university
Campina Grande tem até televisão // Campina Grande even has television
Jaboatão fabrica jipe à vontade // Jaboatão makes loads of jeeps
Lá de Natal já tá subindo foguetão // And over in Natal they’re launching rockets

Lá em Sergipe o petróleo tá jorrando // Over in Sergipe the oil’s gushing
Em Alagoas se cavarem vai jorrar // In Alagoas if they dig it’ll gush too
Publique isso que eu estou lhe afirmando // Publish that, I’m telling you
O meu Nordeste dessa vez vai disparar // This time my Northeast is taking off

Haha… E ainda diziam que meu Nordeste não ia pra frente // Haha, and they said my Northeast was going nowhere
Falavam até que a Sudene não funcionava // Even said the SUDENE did no good
Mas Dr. João chegou lá // But Dr. João got there
Com fé em Deus e no meu Padim Ciço // With faith in God and my Padim Ciço (Padre Cicero)
E todo mundo passou a acreditar no serviço // And everyone started to believe in the service
Essa é que é a história! // That’s history right there for you!

— Commentary —

Luiz Gonzaga_O Sertao eh ele.jpg

December 13 is an important date in Brazilian history.  Given the current political climate, with the president’s son, a federal deputy from Rio de Janeiro, recently suggesting a renewed AI-5, the date may first bring to mind the dark anniversary of that Institutional Act no. 5, issued on December 13, 1968, which marked the beginning of Brazil’s long “years of lead” — the most repressive of the dictatorship.

But let’s focus on a brighter note: December 13 was also Luiz Gonzaga’s birthday. There’s a lot about Gonzaga already on the blog, so I’m going to keep this post brief. Gonzaga was born December 13, 1912, in Exu, a small town in the arid interior of Pernambuco. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1939 and by 1940 was competing on radio talent contests, and his northeastern baião style quickly became wildly popular among southeastern audiences.  As this previous post relates in greater detail, Gonzaga became, in turn, a cultural ambassador for the impoverished and drought-stricken northeast, which by the 1950s had become a top priority for leading economic thinkers in Brazil who sought to remedy the region’s plight as a necessary step toward modernizing Brazil.

As part of that initiative to address what was called the “problem of the northeast,” in 1959, in the wake of a severe drought the previous year, president Juscelino Kubitschek — best known for Brasilia and the slogan “50 years of development in 5” — established the development agency SUDENE (Superintendencia de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste) mentioned in the song. In establishing SUDENE, Kubitschek was following the guidance of his leading economic thinker, Celso Furtado, who became the agency’s first director. Furtado, like Gonzaga, was from the sertão, born in Pombal, Paraíba, in 1920. He was a central figure in defining the regional demarcation of the northeast and in placing the region’s well-being — with a focus on Keynesian-inspired development policies — at the center of mid-century national political and economic debates.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 2.32.09 PMFurtado and SUDENE’s policies were widely criticized as misguided and unrealistic, as the song suggests; and indeed, largely because of the unshakable power of landholding lobbies in the northeast, the agency and the larger Operação Nordeste it was part of never made the difference Furtado sought. Instead, with the military coup of March 31, 1964, Furtado was swiftly removed from office and had his political rights abrogated for ten years. He went into exile in Paris, and the new general-president, Humberto Castelo Branco, appointed “Dr. João” Gonçalves de Souza as director of SUDENE, as outlined in the July 7, 1964, New York Times article included here. Gonzaga’s optimism about Dr. João, the military’s appointee, reveal his unfortunate political persuasions at that time. (I’m not sure how much Gonzaga supported the dictatorship later down the line, especially after Dec. 13, 1968. At any rate, the title of this song, “Nordeste pra frente,” also evokes “Pra frente, Brasil,” a slogan of the dictatorship, popularized through the marchinha for the 1970 World Cup team.)

The song meanwhile offers a humorous take on the arrival of the 1960s zeitgeist to Brazil’s remote northeast: television; long-haired men and rock n’ roll; the expansion of university education; mini-skirts and scotch: symbols of the global 60s’ angsty modernity.  Ah, and oil and cars of course: the Willys Jeep factory in Jaboatão, Pernambuco, mentioned in the song, opened in 1966, and was the northeast’s first car factory.  The TV in Campina Grande refers to TV Borborema, launched in 1966, a year after the Brazilian Air Force opened South America’s first base for rocket launches near Natal, also referenced in the lyrics.

A couple other notes on the translation: Padre Ciçero was a beloved northeastern priest from Crato, Ceará; an annual pilgrimage to his burial place, in Juazeiro do Norte, Ceará, still takes place every year. Lambe lambe refers to traveling street photographers using old-timey cameras.

Quero voltar pra Bahia (I want to go back to Bahia)

Lyrics from “Quero Voltar Pra Bahia (I Want To Go Back To Bahia)” by Paulo Diniz/Odibar (1970)

I don’t want to stay here
I wanna to go back to Bahia

Eu tenho andado tão só // I’ve been so alone lately
Quem me olha nem me vê // People look at me and don’t even see me
Silêncio em meu violão // My guitar’s fallen silent
Nem eu mesmo sei por qu. // And I don’t even know why
De repente ficou frio // It suddenly grew cold
Eu não vim aqui para ser feliz // I didn’t come here to be happy
Cadê o meu sol dourado? // Where’s my golden sun?
Cadê as coisas do meu país? // Where are the things from my country?

I don’t want to stay here
I wanna to go back to Bahia.

Eu tenho andado tão só // I’ve been so alone lately
Quem me olha nem me vê// People look at me and don’t even see me
Silêncio em meu violão // My guitar’s fallen silent
Nem eu mesmo sei por que // And I don’t even know why
Via Intelsat eu mando // Via Intelsat, I send
Notícias minhas para “O Pasquim” // News of myself to “O Pasquim”
Beijos pra minha amada // Kisses to my love
Que tem saudades e pensa em mim // Who misses me and pines over me

I don’t want to stay here
I wanna to go back to Bahia.

— Commentary —

1970-paulo-diniz_quero-voltar-para-bahia

This 1970 soul sensation was inspired by Caetano Veloso, who was depressed in exile in London at the time. Legions of fans embraced it as an anthem pleading for Caetano’s return to Brazil.

seja-marginal
Caetano and Gil displayed the image 

As the song exploded, Brazil was living through the direct aftermath of decree Ato Institucional V (AI-5), issued on 13 December 1968, which shut down the national Congress, abolished habeas corpus, and essentially opened the path for Brazil’s military regime to expand its systematic repression, censorship, and persecution of anyone perceived as a leftist sympathizer or societal provocateur. That same month, Caetano and Gil were arrested, ostensibly for having featured tropicalist artist Helio Oiticica’s image of a marginal — representing 23-year-old Cara de Cavaloshot dead two months earlier by a Rio police death squad — with the caption “Be an outlaw, be a hero!” in a December 1968 show in Rio de Janeiro.

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Caetano in London, c. 1970.

The two were thrown in jail for two months, placed on house arrest for four more, and then forced into exile in 1969.  Caetano missed Brazil tremendously; he has called his 1971 album recorded in London “a document of depression.” (For more on this period, see “Back in Bahia” [Gilberto Gil, 1972]; “Panis et Circenses” [1968] and “Expresso 2222” [Gilberto Gil, 1972].)

As Brazil plunged into the AI-5-era known as the anos de chumbo (years of lead), Paulo Diniz released this song, infused with his strong northeastern accent and Caribbean sounds, providing a perfect example of the new twists that Brazilians brought to soul music, inspired by 60’s R&B, Motown and James Brown’s funk.

Pasquim, mentioned in the song, was a leftist magazine with a weekly circulation of about 200,000, established in 1969 as an outlet of resistance against the military dictatorship.

Main source for this post: Vale Tudo: Tim Maia, by Nelson Motta

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