Canto do povo de um lugar

Lyrics from “Canto do povo de um lugar” by Caetano Veloso (1975)

Good Audio Version (Pena Branca and Xavantinho with Renato Teixeira)

Every day the sun rises
And we sing to the sun of each day

Late afternoon, the land blushes
And we weep because the afternoon is gone

When it’s night, the gentle moon
And we dance, worshiping the night

Late at night, sky of stars
And we sleep, dreaming of them

— Interpretation —

The album cover for Caetano Veloso's 1975 album Jóia features the sun and moon,birds, and Caetano looking primitive.
The album cover for Caetano Veloso’s 1975 album Jóia features the sun, moon, birds, and Caetano looking primitive.

Caetano Veloso recorded “Canto do povo de um lugar” – which translates to “Song of a people from a place” – for his 1975 album Jóia.  The song’s folkloric style and lyrics evoke, or even exalt, a simple rural way of life that revolves around the sun, moon and stars. In this way, the song combines Caetano’s nostalgic style and his tendency at the time to focus on metaphysical wonders and people’s veneration of nature.

The song’s style and theme also held an element of protest.  In 1975, the country’s military leaders were consumed with a pursuit of economic growth and full industrialization at whatever cost, and the lives of well-to-do urbanites seemed governed by stiff conventions and material acquisitions. Between 1968 and 1973 – some of the most repressive years of military rule – Brazil’s economy grew at an average rate of over 10 percent. Leaders and the press called it the “Brazilian miracle.” Meanwhile, the country’s wealth became more highly concentrated, and rural populations suffered from both destitution and discrimination. Popular singers including Caetano Veloso, Edu Lobo, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil and Geraldo Vandré  incorporated themes of regional, backcountry life in their music, and performed and praised the music of Luiz Gonzaga – whom Gil called the first spokesperson for the marginalized culture of the northeast – in large measure to draw attention to the plight of rural populations.

Still, “Canto do povo de um lugar” tends more toward nostalgia and wonder than protest, and since its release it has become a treasured folk song in Brazil.

The album Jóia comprises mostly serene acoustic recordings like this one, which, along with others on the LP – “Na asa do vento” (On the wind’s wing), “Asa, asa” (Wing, wing), and “Lua, lua lua” (Moon, moon, moon) – express a reverence for nature and its relationship with music, rhythm and song.  The latter two also illustrate Caetano’s affinity with the concrete poetry movement. In “Asa, asa,” the word “passaro” (bird) serves as the song’s foundation; it is repeated over and over paired with different words or split in different ways so as to make the narrative flow over the backdrop of an unvarying beat. “Lua, lua, lua” recalls the poem “branco…” by one of the leaders of the movement, Haroldo de Campos.

In the versions of “Canto do povo de um lugar” linked above the final verse is left out.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Todo dia o sol levanta
E a gente canta
Ao sol de todo dia

Fim da tarde a terra cora
E a gente chora
Porque finda a tarde

Quando a noite a lua mansa
E a gente dança
Venerando a noite

Madrugada, céu de estrelas
E a gente dorme
sonhando com elas.

Main sources for this post:  Balanço da Bossa e outras bossas by Augusto de Campos and Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song: 1965 – 1985 by Charles Perrone

Alegria, Alegria

Lyrics from “Alegria, Alegria” by Caetano Veloso (1967)

Original video from Festival Record (1967), apologies for quality

Good Audio Version

Walking against the wind, no kerchief, no ID
Under the near-December sun
I go…
The Sun is divided among crimes
Spaceships, guerillas
And beautiful Cardinales
I go…
In presidents’ faces, in passionate kisses, in teeth, legs, and flags
Bombs and Brigitte Bardot

The sun on the newsstands fills me with joy and laziness
Who reads that much news?
I go…

Among photos and names
Eyes full of color
And breast full of vain loves
I go…
Why not, why not?

She thinks about marriage
I never went back to school
No kerchief, no ID,
I go…

I drink coca-cola, she thinks about marriage
And a song consoles me
I go…

Among photos and names
No books, no rifle
No hunger, no telephone
In the heart of Brazil…

She doesn’t even know that I even thought about singing on TV
The sun is so lovely
I go…

No kerchief, no ID
Nothing in my pockets or hands
I want to go on living love
I will…
Why not, why not…
Why not, why not…  why not, why not…

— Interpretation —

Caetano singing “Alegria, Alegria” with the Argentine rock group the Beat Boys, 1967

“Alegria, Alegria” (“Joy, joy”) is one of the signature songs that launched Caetano Veloso and the nascent Tropicália movement into the spotlight of the Brazilian music scene in 1967. Caetano performed the song  at the legendary 1967 3rd Record Festival of Música Popular Brasileira (inspiration for the film “A Night in ’67”) with the Argentine rock group the Beat Boys, eliciting jeers from purists who rejected any foreign elements in Brazilian music.  At the same festival, Gil sang “Domingo no Parque.” Together, the two songs introduced Brazil to Caetano and Gil’s “universal sound,” which controversially mixed influences from around the globe – most notably, rock and roll – with regional styles and themes,  especially from their home state of Bahia.

Gil and Caetano came in second and fourth place in the festival, respectively, behind Edu Lobo’s “Ponteio” (first place) and Chico Buarque‘s “Roda Viva” (third place), entries that appealed more to the standards of the festival, which generally valued a song’s message over its musical arrangement. But by the end of 1967, “Alegria, Alegria” was at the top of the IBOPE singles chart for record sales, while the winner “Ponteio” was in tenth place.

The metaphor behind the lyrics of “Alegria Alegria” has been likened to a manifesto for the Tropicália movement:

The song follows a transient walking through city streets (presumably Rio de Janeiro, where Caetano was inspired to write the song on a walk through Copacabana).  The wandering narrator takes in the “confusing, fragmented reality of a modern Brazilian city,” full of imported symbols of  modernity. He browses a newsstand selling the counter-culture newspaper O Sol (The Sun). Headlines and images of crimes, bombs, spaceships and leftist guerrilla uprisings – in this case, Che Guevara’s campaign in Bolivia – compete with photos of foreign actresses and sex symbols (Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale) for the narrator’s attention.

As the list of images goes on, it becomes more fragmented –presidents’ faces, teeth, legs, etc; the narrator, in the meantime, drinks his coca-cola and doesn’t think too much of any of it.  He says the sun fills him with joy and laziness — characteristics typically associated with backward Brazilians (carnavalesque exuberance mixed with laziness), which the military government was ostensibly fighting with its modernization project.  The military regime aimed to bring modernization to the “heart of Brazil” that Caetano refers to, with wildly misguided projects like the Transamazonian Highway; in the meantime, modernization for most people meant this confused influx of mostly superficial symbols and images.

Still, rather than dwelling on bombs or politics, the narrator ponders a potential singing career and how good the summer sun feels. Spurning laws and societal conventions – no ID, little education and ambivalent about marriage – he just wants to go on living and loving freely, without limitations, why not?

The mixture of all of these images in “Alegria, Alegria” – true to life – neutralizes any social message or criticism in the song. Caetano’s “insubordinate juxtaposition” of national and international politics, triumphs and tragedies with completely quotidian concerns, all sung to a simple marchinha tune, are what made the song revolutionary.  In 1967, the public was accustomed to songs with clearer social messages about poverty, violence and political repression; by contrast, “Alegria, Alegria” was scattered and ambiguous. Embracing contradictions and exposing hypocrisies in society, the arts and the artistic process itself became a defining element of Tropicália.

Written in what’s been called a “descriptive-cinematographic style,” the song reflects the influence of Brazilian Cinema Novo and French New Wave cinema on Caetano’s work. Caetano has remarked that after seeing the 1967 Cinema Novo film Terra em Transe, directed by Glauber Rocher, he set out to create the same effect with his music. The style won the  praise and solidarity of concretistas  like the poet Augusto de Campos and the composer Gilberto Mendes, and from the rock music scene — Caetano appeared in the first edition of Rolling Stone magazine in November 1967.

Helio Oiticica’s 1967 mixed-media installation “Tropicália,” the inspiration for the name of Tropicália movement. Source: IG Blog

In 1968, Caetano released his first solo LP, Caetano Veloso (Tropicália), which served to officially baptize the movement,  named after artist Hélio Oiticica’s 1967 mixed-media installation at the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo. Though the movement is often  referred to as tropicalismo, Caetano, Gil, et al. preferred Tropicalia because they didn’t want to become just another “ism.”

In this video, Caetano says he considers the song “unsatisfactory,” but is pleased that people like it so much and that it’s had such a strong response.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Caminhando contra o vento
Sem lenço e sem documento
No sol de quase dezembro
Eu vou…

O sol se reparte em crimes
Espaçonaves, guerrilhas
Em cardinales bonitas
Eu vou…

Em caras de presidentes
Em grandes beijos de amor
Em dentes, pernas, bandeiras
Bomba e Brigitte Bardot…

O sol nas bancas de revista
Me enche de alegria e preguiça
Quem lê tanta notícia
Eu vou…

Por entre fotos e nomes
Os olhos cheios de cores
O peito cheio de amores vãos
Eu vou
Por que não, por que não…

Ela pensa em casamento
E eu nunca mais fui à escola
Sem lenço e sem documento,
Eu vou…

Eu tomo uma coca-cola
Ela pensa em casamento
E uma canção me consola
Eu vou…

Por entre fotos e nomes
Sem livros e sem fuzil
Sem fome, sem telefone
No coração do Brasil…

Ela nem sabe até pensei
Em cantar na televisão
O sol é tão bonito
Eu vou…

Sem lenço, sem documento
Nada no bolso ou nas mãos
Eu quero seguir vivendo, amor
Eu vou…

Por que não, por que não…
Por que não, por que não…
Por que não, por que não…
Por que não, por que não…

Main sources for this post include: Tropicália Alegoria Alegria by Celso Favaretto; Brutality Garden by Christopher Dunn; “The Tropes of Tropicality and Tropicalism” by Charles Perrone; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 2 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, and Verdade Tropical by Caetano Veloso.

Charles, Anjo 45

Lyrics from “Charles, Anjo 45” by Jorge Ben
Album: Jorge Ben (LP, 1969)

Oba, oba, oba Charles
What’s the deal
My friend Charles
How are things going Charles?

Charles, Angel 45
Protector of the weak
And the oppressed
Robin Hood of the hillsides
King of malandragem
A true man
With a lot of courage
Just because one day
Charles messed up
He went on vacation, without meaning to
To a penal colony

So the malandro fools
Laid down in the soup
And our hillside turned into a tremendous mess
Because the hillside, which was part of heaven
Without our Charles
Turned into a hell…

But God is just and truthful
And before vacation ends
Our Charles will return
Peace and happiness all over
Every hillside will dance samba
Starting Carnaval early
There will be batucada
A Thanksgiving mass
There will be feijoada
Whiskey with beer
And other trimmings…

Lots of firecrackers
And hailstorms of bullets
In the air
For the moment when our Charles
Comes back…

And all of the people, happy,
Will sing, like so…

Oba, oba, oba, Charles
What’s the deal
My friend Charles
How are things going Charles?

— Interpretation–

After Jorge Ben‘s initial success with his 1963 debut album Samba Esquema Novo, he went six years without producing a major hit.  Then he swept the Brazilian music scene again in 1969 with the release of the LP Jorge Ben, with hits including “Charles, Anjo 45,” “País Tropical” and “Que Pena.”

“Charles, Anjo 45” tells the tale of Charles — an angel with a .45,  a sort of Robinhood of the hillside slums who ends up “on vacation” at a penal colony. The rest of the song predicts the jubilation – including “storms of bullets” – that will mark Charles’s return.

The lyrics are longer, more narrative and more socially engaged than Jorge Ben’s previous successes. The song, which was Ben’s top self-performed hit from the LP, is considered a precursor to Bezerra da Silva‘s bitterly ironic sambas, and even rap,  with its partly recited lyrics that allude to the sad reality of the hillside slums being taken over by drugs and drug traffickers.

Caetano Veloso, a much more politically contentious figure than Jorge Ben Jor  (who declared himself apolitical from the start of his career)  also recorded the song in 1969, and it is often mistakenly attributed to him.  The military leaders loathed the song’s celebration of banditry (as they were wont to loathe anything Caetano did). Shortly thereafter, Caetano went into exile in London.

As in previous posts, I’ve left “malandro” and “malandragem” in Portuguese. Malandro is sometimes translated as “rogue” in English, and “malandragem” is the art of leading a malandro life, described in this post. “Oba” is an exclamation of contentment in Portuguese, and could be translated to something like “great!” The phrase “my friend Charles” is spoken in English in the original version. “Laid down in the soup” can be interpreted as “made a mess of things.”

Jorge Ben LP, 1969

The main source for this post was Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello’s A Canção no Tempo:85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol. 2.