Sujeito de Sorte

Lyrics from “Sujeito de Sorte” by Belchior (1976)

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Presentemente eu posso me considerar um sujeito de sorte // Presently I can consider myself a lucky guy
Porque apesar de muito moço me sinto são e salvo e forte // Because in spite of being very young I feel safe and sound and strong
E tenho comigo pensado Deus é brasileiro e anda do meu lado // And I’ve been thinking to myself God is Brazilian and walks by my side
E assim já não posso sofrer no ano passado // And because of that I can’t suffer anymore in the year gone by

Tenho sangrado demais, tenho chorado pra cachorro // I’ve bled too much, I’ve cried like crazy
Ano passado eu morri mas esse ano eu não morro // Last year I died, but this year I won’t (3x)

— Commentary —

Musico Belchior em 1977.  FOTO DIVULGAÇÃO.
Belchior in 1977. 

Belchior’s 1976 album Alucinação was one of the most important albums of that decade — one of the richest in the history of Brazilian popular music — and remains tremendously popular and relevant today. It was Belchior’s second studio album (after A Palo Seco, 1974), and the Brazilian public devoured it; the album sold over 30,000 copies in the first three weeks after its release.

One Brazilian music critic has attributed the album’s appeal to its quality of “wringing out the anxiety of the Brazilian youth, caught between the violence of the state” — during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85) — “and the end of the dreams of liberation represented by the countercultural revolution.”

Belchior’s death in 2017 coincided with a parallel climate of anxiety. The end of Brazil’s optimistic socioeconomic boom years (~2005-12) culminated in the 2016 impeachment of left-leaning president Dilma Rousseff — Brazil’s first female president — and the rise of authoritarian politicians like the country’s president-elect (to be inaugurated tomorrow, at writing), the far-right retired army captain Jair Bolsonaro. Both the composer’s death and that political turn have brought renewed attention over the past couple years to the messages captured on Belchior’s best-loved album.

Belchior was born Antônio Carlos Gomes Belchior Fontanelle Fernandes in Sobral, Ceará, on October 26, 1946, the thirteenth of twenty-three children. He used to joke that his excessively long name was “one of the greatest in Brazilian popular music,” the kind of name that, in the northeastern backlands where he was born, people said you “crossed on horseback.” Belchior moved to the state capital of Fortaleza for school in 1962, and in the 60s he began performing his compositions for music festivals around the northeast. By the early 1970s he had moved on to the more popular festivals of Rio and São Paulo, taking first place in Rio’s 1971 IV Festival Universitário da Canção with “Hora do Almoço.”

In Rio, Belchior caught the attention of singer-songwriter Sérgio Ricardo, who, in 1972,  launched the short-lived series Disco de Bolso — Pocket Album — with the leftist satirical weekly O Pasquim. The 78rpm series, which unfortunately only lasted two editions, sought to feature a well-known singer-songwriter on one side and promote a relatively unknown composer on the other. The first edition featured Tom Jobim singing his recent composition “Águas de Março” on one side, and the still little-known João Bosco on the other singing “Agnus Sei.”  For the “unknown composer” side of the second edition, Ricardo selected Belchior’s composition “Mucuripe,” a collaboration with Fagner, another singer-songwriter from Ceará who was on his way to becoming tremendously popular. Caetano Veloso recorded the song alongside “A Volta da Asa Branca,” by the northeastern star Luiz Gonzaga.

Elis Regina, one of the greatest voices of Brazilian popular music and one of its most talented curators, took a liking to “Mucuripe,” and released it on her 1972 LP Elis (along with Jobim’s “Águas de Março”). Regina would go on to popularize two of Belchior’s compositions from Alucinação “Como Nossos Pais” and “Velha Roupa Colorida.” The latter song was a call for the counterculture crowd to shed its time-worn “peace-love” trappings and take a renewed and more powerful political stance against the authoritarian dictatorship. Raúl Seixas, perhaps the greatest icon of the counterculture, responded to that song with his 1976 “Eu Também Vou Reclamar” (translated on my Facebook page) which ironized the protest song as little more than a gimmick to sell records. Seixas invoked Belchior’s “Apenas Um Rapaz Latino-Americano” (Just a Latin American Guy) explicitly, singing “Agora sou apenas um latino-americano que não tem cheiro nem sabor (Now I’m just a Latin American guy without any scent or flavor). The little feud was in good fun, though, and Belchior went on to record Seixas’s countercultural anthem “Ouro de Tolo” (Fool’s Gold, translated here) in 1984.

Belchior was often compared to Bob Dylan for his nasal and rough-edged singing style; his lengthy poetic lyrics; and his tendency to speak, rather than sing, parts of those lyrics. Dylan was unquestionably an influence, but Belchior said his style of singing actually came from the Gregorian chants he grew up with in the Catholic school he attended in Ceará.

After the release of his final album in late 2002,  Belchior grew increasingly reclusive. He made his last public appearance in 2009, in a show with Tom Zé, and — facing tremendous fines for things like abandoning cars in parking lots — he vanished from the public eye.

Belchior died of a reported heart attack on April 30, 2017, prompting an outpouring of grief from his fans young and old in Brazil. The hashtag/movement #voltabelchior (Come Back, Belchior) swept the internet, and fans in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, established the Carnival bloco (parade group) “Volta Belchior.”

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

Vingança

Lyrics from “Vingança” by José Maria de Abreu and Francisco Matoso; recorded by Gastão Formenti (1935)

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Lá na beira do roçado // Out at the farmland’s edge
Onde a tristeza não vem // Where sorrow doesn’t reach
Eu vivia sossegado // I lived so serenely
Com a viola do meu lado // With my viola by my side
Mais feliz do que ninguém // Happier than anyone

Numa festa no arra // At a party, at the fairgrounds
Vi dois óio (olhos) me o (olhar) // I saw two eyes gazing at me
Decidi no improviso // I made an improvised move
Ela me deu um sorriso // She gave me a smile
E comigo foi mo // And went to live with me

Nunca mais fui cantadô (cantador) // Nevermore was I a troubadour
E a viola descan (descansou) // And my viola reposed
Eu vivia pra caboca (cabocla) // I lived for the cabocla
Eu vivia pra caboca // I lived for the cabocla
Só pensava em meu a (amor) // I thought only of my love

Nunca fui feliz assim // I’ve never been so happy
Eu mesmo disse pra mim // I said to myself
Pensei que a felicidade // I thought this happiness
Pensei que a felicidade // I thought this happiness
Não pudesse   (ter) um fim // Could never end

Mas um dia a marvada (malvada) // But one day the shrew
Foi-se embora e me esqueceu // Ran off and forgot me
Com um caboco decidido // With a determined caboclo
Juca Antônio, um conhecido // Juca Antônio, a well-known
cantadô mais do que eu // Troubadour, more than I

Já cansado de cho  // Already tired of crying
Eu saí a procu // I went out in search of
A caboca que um dia // The cabocla that one day
Le (levou) minha alegria // Took my joy away
E eu jurei de me vin // And I swore I’d take revenge

Numa festa fui can// I went to sing at a fair
E a mulata tava lá // And the mulata was there
Juro por Nossa Senhora // I swear by Our Lady
Juro por Nossa Senhora // I swear by Our Lady
Que a caboca e quis ma // That I wanted to kill the cabocla

Mas fiquei sem respi// But I was left breathless
Quando vi ela dançá// When I saw her dancing
Ela tava tão bonita // She was so splendid
Ela tava tão bonita // She was so splendid
Que esqueci de me vin // That I forgot to take revenge

— Commentary —

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Gastão Formenti featured in a Carioca magazine piece on the “double lives of several figures from the ‘radiophonic’ world” (23/11/1935). Also featured: a driver for city services, sambista Moreira da Silva.

In 1930, Gastão Formenti, alongside Carmen Miranda, became the first Brazilian singer to sign a radio contract.  Electrical recording technology was introduced in Brazil in 1927, and at the dawn of the 1930s the national radio and recording industries were poised for a boom. Formenti became one of the early stars of that boom. He was a tremendously popular romantic singer that decade, specializing in “melancholy waltzes and nostalgic songs,”  according to a short profile in the review Phono-Arte, the first Brazilian publication focused on music and the recording industry, in print from 1928-’31.

Formenti was born to Italian immigrants in 1894 in the interior of São Paulo, and in this song he employs the caipira (hillbilly) accent associated with that region and the countryside in general. This style, smattered with more Italian-immigrant dialect, became famous a few decades later in sambas by another rural-São-Paulo-born son of Italians, Adoniran Barbosa. I’ve italicized the words/word endings that are sung this way: “oiá” instead of “olhar”; marvadainstead of “malvada,” for instance. Cabocla technically means someone of mixed-blood, with indigenous heritage, but also came to be used just to refer to country folk, as seems to be the case in this song.

Formenti was also an accomplished painter (as the photo above highlights), and after 1941 he began painting more and singing less, exhibiting some of his works in museums in Brazil and abroad.

José Maria Abreu and Francisco Matoso together composed dozens of tremendously popular romantic songs in the 1930s, including one of Brazil’s — and Francisco Alves‘s — all-time favorites, “Boa Noite Amor.”  Such slow waltzes and romantic ballads reigned in Brazil in the 1930s; in the ’40s, they were displaced by the more easily danced samba-canção.

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Insert from Diário A Noite, 1 July 1931.                 L-R: Francisco Alves, Gastão Formenti, Carmen Miranda, and Brenno Ferreira. Seated: Lamartine Babo.

 

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An Odeon advertisement, under the headline “Have you heard the new releases this month?” — January 1930