Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido

Lyrics from “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido” by Wilson Batista and Ciro de Souza, released by Aracy de Almeida (1941)

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Ele trabalha de segunda a sábado // He works from Monday to Saturday
Com muito gosto sem reclamar // With great relish without complaining
Mas no domingo ele tira o macacão // But on Sunday he strips off his coveralls
Embandeira o barracão, põe a família pra sambar // Decks out the shack and puts the family to samba
Lá no morro ele pinta o sete // Up on the hillside he cuts loose
Com ele ninguém se mete // No one messes around with him
Ali ninguém é fingido // Up there no one’s phony
Ganha-se pouco, mas é divertido // Money’s short, but it’s fun

Ele nasceu sambista // He’s a born sambista
Tem a tal veia de artista // He has that artist’s vein
Carteira de reservista // Reservist’s Card
Está legal com o senhorio…// In good standing with the authorities
Não pode ouvir pandeiro, não // He can’t hear a pandeiro
Fica cheio de dengo // He swells up with dengo*
É torcida do Flamengo // He’s a fan of Flamengo
Nasceu no Rio de Janeiro // Born in Rio de Janeiro…

— Commentary —

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Wilson Batista, 1957. Image via Instituto Moreira Salles, acervo José Ramos Tinhorão.

Here’s a brighter entry for the Sunday Songs series: no trace of domingueira, or that melancholy Sunday mood, in this classic by Wilson Batista (1913 – 1968) and Ciro de Sousa (1911-1995).

This samba is a typical example of how Batista — a consummate malandro composer best known for his dispute with Noel Rosa over the intricacies of malandragem and samba (on that, see, for example, this post on “Lenço no Pescoço“) — played to the Vargas regime’s (1930-45) demands that samba lyrics promote the sort of upstanding citizen-worker that Vargas projected as the ideal Brazilian.  

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Aracy’s release of “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido” came in the wake of the tremendous success of Batista’s and Ataulfo Alves’s “Oh, seu Oscar!,” which won the DIP’s samba contest in 1940. Image via Carioca acervo, 1940.

Indeed, Batista even voiced support for government censorship of his sambas. As Bryan McCann has written in Hello, Hello, Brazil, Batista once commented on the Vargas-era censors within the most fascist government agency, the Department of Press and Propaganda [DIP]: “Sometimes the DIP censors my lyrics. I get upset, but then I realize they are correct. There has to be some control.”

Batista realized that composers did well to play by the regime’s rules. In 1940, Batista’s and Ataulfo Alves’s samba “Oh, Seu Oscar!” — about a hard-working man burdened by a roving wife — won a DIP-sponsored samba contest, propelling the two Afro-Brazilian composers to new heights of popularity with fans and recording artists.

But to anyone familiar with Batista’s life, it’s hard to read such statements as that above as anything but tongue-in-cheek, and the same goes for many of his verses.

In fact, this song almost line by line embodies the tensions between the two lives and lifestyles portrayed in Batista’s sambas: an upstanding worker who’s really a born sambista; a commanding family man — as long as he doesn’t hear a pandeiro.

*The Afro-descended word dengo is tough to translate but means something like doting attachment and caresses; here it can be taken as something a little more like fiery passion. Most importantly, it provides a brilliant rhyme with “torcida do Flamengo,” Rio’s most popular soccer team on the morros, of which Wilson Batista was indeed a devoted fan. (See, for example, his 1955 “Samba Rubro-Negro” — Samba for the Red & Black.)

 

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Aracy de Almeida, in a photo published in Carioca magazine in 1935, with the caption: “Aracy de Almeida, one of the most celebrated figures of our ‘broadcasting’…”

Aracy de Almeida (1914-1988) was a tremendously popular singer in the 1930s – 50s whose recording career is central to the story of samba’s rise as Brazil’s national sound during the Vargas era. Her singular, nasally singing style was beloved by audiences and critics alike. Mário de Andrade, one of Brazil’s most prominent twentieth-century modernist intellectuals and musicologists, identified the nasal timbre as a key marker of Brazilianness, and commented that Almeida’s was “a hot, sensual nasality, of delicious timbração [timbre], deeply carioca.”

Almeida is widely known in Brazil as the “voice of Noel Rosa,” and her recording of Rosa’s “O X do Problema” became her trademark. Yet as Pedro Paulo Malta and Rodrigo Alzuguir (Batista’s biographer) point out in this excellent documentary series on Aracy de Almeida, Wilson Batista was in fact the composer Aracy recorded the most; indeed, she recorded more of Wilson’s nearly 600 compositions than any other recording artist.

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Ciro de Sousa, image via Acervo Revista Cinearte, 1938.

Another favorite composer of Aracy’s was Ciro de Sousa, Batista’s partner on this song. As de Sousa recalled the story of this song, one day he was in the entry of Café Nice — a  landmark in the history of samba and carioca culture in the 1930s and 40s — when Batista arrived, excited about a samba he’d begun on the bus. Batista sang the first verse up to “tira o macacão” (he strips off his coveralls) and Ciro added “embandeira o barracão” (decks out — literally with little flags — the shack), and the two went on composing from there.  Aracy released the samba in August 1941, with the beautiful backing of Pixinguinha, on flute, and Os Diabos do Céu.

Wilson Batista, for his part, demonstrated such brilliant melodic inventiveness without training or instruments other than a matchbox that the pianist Custódio Mesquita, one of the greatest classically trained popular composers of the 20th century, nicknamed him the “Maestro Caixa de Fósforos,” the Matchbox Maestro. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, in the 1970s, Paulinho da Viola said he regarded Wilson Batista as the greatest sambista of all time. Paulinho has recorded a number of Batista’s compositions, including most famously “Chico Brito” and “Meu Mundo é Hoje.”

Cristina Buarque made “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido” the title track of her 2000 Batista tribute album. And in 2017, Hermínio Bello de Carvalho produced an album in honor of Aracy’s centenary (a project he had been working on for years), with Marcos Sacramento on vocals and Luiz Flávio Alcofra on guitar. Here is the beautiful medley from that recent album of “Engomadinho,” by Pedro Caetano and Claudionor Cruz, and “Ganha-se Pouco, Mas É Divertido”:

João Gilberto – “João Valentão” (Dorival Caymmi) and “Chão de Estrelas” (Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas)

 

“João Valentão” by Dorival Caymmi (1945)

João Valentão é brigão// João Valentão is a tough
De dar bofetão// He throws blows
Não presta atenção e nem pensa na vida// He doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t even contemplate life
A todo João intimida// He intimidates every João
Faz coisas que até Deus duvida// He does things even God can’t believe
Mas tem seu momento na vida// But he has his moment in life…

É quando o sol vai quebrando lá pro fim do mundo pra noite chegar// It’s when the sun goes breaking over the end of the world, for night to arrive
É quando se ouve mais forte o ronco das ondas na beira do mar// It’s when the roar of the waves can be heard more loudly at the edge of the sea
É quando o cansaço da lida, da vida, obriga João se sentar// It’s when the weariness of the struggle, of life, forces João to sit down
É quando a morena se encolhe, se chega pro lado querendo agradar// It’s when the morena curls up, comes to his side, wishing to please
Se a noite é de lua a vontade é de contar mentiras, de se espreguiçar// If the night is moonlit, the urge is to tell fibs, to stretch out
Deitar na areia da praia que acaba onde a vista não pode alcançar// Lie down on the sand on the beach that ends beyond where the eye can see
E assim adormece esse homem que nunca precisa dormir pra sonhar// And that’s how this man falls asleep, who never needs to sleep to dream
Porque não há sonho mais lindo do que sua terra não há// Because there is no dream more beautiful than his land, there’s none

“Chão de Estrelas” by Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas (1937)

Minha vida era um palco iluminado// My life was a lighted stage
Eu vivia vestido de dourado// I was always dressed in gold
Palhaço das perdidas ilusões// Clown of lost illusions
Cheio dos guizos falsos de alegria// Full of the phony bells of joy
Andei cantando minha fantasia// I went around singing my fantasy
Entre as palmas febris dos corações// Among the feverish palms* of hearts

Meu barracão lá no morro do Salgueiro// My shack, on Salgueiro Hill
Tinha o cantar alegre de um viveiro// Had the cheerful song of an aviary
Foste a sonoridade que acabou// You were the sonority that ended
E hoje quando do sol a claridade //And today, when the sun’s rays
Forra meu barracão, sinto saudade// Stream into my shack, I feel saudade
Da mulher, pomba rola, que voou// For the woman, dove that flew away

Nossas roupas comuns dependuradas// Our modest clothes hanging
Na corda, qual bandeiras agitadas// Out on the line, like waving flags
Parecia um estranho festival// Appeared an exotic festival
Festa dos nossos trapos coloridos// A party of our colored rags
A mostrar que nos morros mal vestidos// Showing that on the poorly dressed hillsides
É sempre feriado nacional// It’s always a national holiday

A porta do barraco era sem trinco// The shack’s door had no latch
Mas a lua furando o nosso zinco// But the moon, boring through our tin
Salpicava de estrelas nosso chão// Peppered our floor with stars
E tu pisavas nos astros, distraída// And you stepped on the stars, absent-minded
Sem saber que a ventura dessa vida// Unaware that the fortune of this life
É a cabrocha, o luar, e o violão// Is the cabrocha, the moonlight and the guitar

— Commentary–

 

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João Gilberto’s debut at Copacabana Palace, 1959. Photo via Arquivo Publico do Estado de São Paulo. 
Jornal Aqui Sao Paulo;
João Gilberto. Photo via Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo.

It would be hard to find a foreign lover of Brazilian music whose life wasn’t fundamentally changed by João Gilberto, who died yesterday, July 6, at age 88.  I remember listening over and over to a playlist put together by the fantastic Zuim Podcast in 2011 for Gilberto’s 80th birthday. I was living in New York at the time and the songs — which still bring to mind memories of runs in Prospect Park and drab days at a midtown office — helped inspire this blog, which I started a few months later, and my move to Brazil. They included several from this 1958 recording from the casa de Chico Pereira, linked above. Especially beautiful to me was “João Valentão,” to this day, thanks to that recording, maybe my favorite Brazilian song — or at least one of the first that would come to mind if I had to answer that impossible question. It was one of the first songs I translated for the blog back in 2011. Here it is reprised with João Gilberto singing, along with “Chão de Estrelas” (which also has its own post from 2012), which follows “João Valentão” on the album. Over the next few weeks I hope to get time to translate more João Gilberto recordings on here; for now, here are two of my favorites.

 

*The first verse of “Chão de Estrelas” ends with “among the feverish palms of hearts.” In Portuguese, the literal translation for “clap” in English is “to beat palms.” Orestes Barbosa played with this phrase, referring to beating hearts as “palms of hearts.”

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.”