Sabiá

Lyrics from “Sabiá” (Song-Thrush), 1968
Music by Tom Jobim
Lyrics by Chico Buarque

Good audio verison

I’m going to go back
I know that I’m going to go back, yet
To my  place
It was over there
And it’s still over there
And I will hear
Singing
A Sabiá
Singing
A Sabiá

I’m going to go back
I know that I’m going to go back yet
I’m going to lie down
In the shade of a palm tree
That’s no longer there
Pick the flower
That no longer blooms
And some love
Perhaps might frighten away
The nights that I don’t wish for
And announce the day

I am going to go back
I know that I’m going to go back, yet
It won’t be in vain
That I made so many plans
Of fooling myself
How I made delusions
Of finding myself
How I made roads
For losing myself
I did everything and nothing
For forgetting you…

I’m going to go back

Forgotten verse: added by Tom Jobim and rejected by Chico Buarque (and dropped by Tom Jobim): 

I’m going to go back
I know I’m going to go back yet
And it will be for good
I know love exists
I’m not sad anymore
And the new life is about to arrive
And this lonesomeness is going to end
And this lonesomeness is going to end

The sabiá – in English, the Rufous-Bellied Thrush – is a songbird found throughout most of Brazil. It has been the official state bird of São Paulo since 1966, and became Brazil’s national bird in 2002.

— Interpretation —

“Sabiá” was the winner of Brazil’s 1968 III International Festival of the Song. The victory caused outcry among fans of a competing song, Geraldo Vandré‘s more explicitly rebellious anthem – a call to arms against the military regime – “Pra não dizer que não falei das flores (Caminhando).” Critics claimed “Sabiá” was “escapist” in comparison with Vandré’s wildly popular song, which came in second place.  But a closer look shows that the lyrics evoke a sense of nostalgia for a lost Brazil that was a direct blow to the oppressive military regime that had taken power in 1964, and much of the criticism can be blamed on a final verse that was added at the last minute by Tom Jobim and dropped quickly thereafter.

Sabiá can be classified as a “song of exile,” evoking symbols and imagery from the most well-known song of exile, the poem”Cánção do Exílio,” 1843, by Gonçalves Dias. Gonçalves Dias’s poem, which he wrote while studying at University of Coimbra, in Portugal, came to represent an archetype of an optimistic, romanticized song of exile; in turn, songs like Sabiá serve as a parody, contrasting the romanticized Brazil from the mid-19th century with the dismal reality under military rule.  In Sabiá, the exile from Brazil is temporal, rather than geographical.  (Incidentally, shortly after the 1968 festival, both Chico Buarque and Geraldo Vandré went into exile.)

Dias longs for Brazil’s abundant palm trees and flowers, which in “Sabiá” are “no longer there.”  Dias says “Lonely night-time meditations please me more when I am there”; in “Sabiá,” however, the narrator doesn’t want these nights – which now represent oppression – to come. Even the love or lover, taken for granted in Dias’s poem, becomes something uncertain in “Sabiá.”

Still, while in “Canção de Exilio” Dias pleads to God to return to Brazil before dying, the poet in “Sabiá” makes a firmer declaration, stating “I am going to go back, I know.”

Here is a full English translation of Canção do Exilio. The elements of Brazil that Dias speaks of – the Sabiá (Rufous-Bellied Thrush), palm trees, flowers, loves, and the idea of “over there” – appear again and again in Brazilian popular music. (Gilbert Gil, for example, alludes to Dias’s poem in his exile song “Back in Bahia.”)

Sabiá was one of the first songs Chico Buarque and Tom Jobim composed together. (The first was “Retrato em Branco e Preto“/Portrait in Black and White, from 1967). During these early days of their partnership — which continued until Tom’s death, in 1994 — Chico admits there was still a certain distance between the two. Chico revered Tom, and Tom treated Chico a bit more like a pupil than a partner, responding to his lyrics with effusive praise and encouragement.

Later on, as the two became more comfortable working together, they would admittedly argue heatedly over each word that went into the songs they wrote together. Still, Tom’s desire to control the lyrics in his songs already manifested itself in Sabiá:  After the two finished the song, Chico went on a trip, and in his absence, Tom added the final verse – in gray, above – because he thought the song was repetitive and needed additional lyrics. Chico confesses he was a bit peeved when he found out about the change.  At any rate, he says, Tom came around and quickly abandoned the final verse, which had changed the tone of the song and invited sharp criticism of the song as escapist.

Sources for this post: Luiz Roberto Oliveira’s interviews with Chico Buarque, on Tom Jobim’s website, and Adélia Bezerra de Meneses’s book Desenho Mágico: poesia e política em Chico Buarque (Editora Hucitec, São Paulo, 1982).

Post by Victoria Broadus

Back in Bahia

Lyrics from “Back in Bahia” by Gilberto Gil
Album: Expresso 2222 

Over there in London, once in awhile, I felt far away from here
Once in awhile, when I felt far away, I would find myself
Pulling my hair, nervous, wanting to hear  Cely Campelo to keep from falling
In that pit, into which I saw my comrade, from Porto Belo, fall
In that lack of judgment, which I had no reason to take joy in
In that lack of warmth, of color, of salt, of sun, of heart,  To feel
So much longing, preserved in an old silver trunk inside of me

I say in a silver trunk because silver is the color of moonlight
Of the moonlight that I missed so much together with the sea
Sea of Bahia, whose green, once in awhile, it did me good to remember
So different from the green, also so beautiful, of the lawns, the fields over there
Island of the North, where I don’t know if for luck or for punishment I ended up landing
For some time, which in the end, passed hurriedly, as all things must pass
Today I feel as if going there were necessary to return so much more alive
With life more lived, divided between there and here.

— Interpretation —

In January 1972, Gilberto Gil returned to his home state of Bahia after three years in exile in London. As he explains in the book Gilberto Gil: Todas as Letras, shortly after arriving, he went to a festival in Santo Amaro, where Dona Canô – mother of Caetano Veloso and Maria Bethânia – was having a party. He was overwhelmed by the sight of so many people so dear to him, who “emanated cheer,” and reflected on how much he had longed for these kinds of moments when he was in London. Inspired, he began writing “Back in Bahia” in his head and finished the song the following day, in Salvador. The music relies on traditional sounds and rhythms from northeastern Brazil;  the verses use rhythmic and internal rhymes, also typical of northeastern songs, and almost all have 16 syllables  (e.g. the final line: “de vida mais vivida dividida pra lá e pra cá”).

Gil mentions Celly Campelo, who sang “Banho de Lua” —  a Brazilian rock hit from the late 1950s — in a few songs, including “Back in Bahia” and “Retiros Espirituais.” In the verse ” So different from the green, also so beautiful, of the lawns, the fields over there,” the Portuguese line finishes with “campos de lá,” which is an allusion to the romantic poet Gonçalves Dias‘s famous poem “Canção do Exilio” (Song of Exile).

Gilberto Gil, who was introduced on this site in the post on “Panis et Circenses,” was born Gilberto Passos Gil Moreia in Salvador, Bahia, on June 26, 1942. He spent his childhood in Ituaçu, in the interior of Bahia, where he became interested in music listening to Orlando Silva and Luiz Gonzaga. He moved to Salvador at age 9 and began studying accordion; in the late 1950s, inspired by João Gilberto, he began playing guitar.

In 1962, Gil made his first solo recording and met Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia, and Gal Costa. They began to perform together, and in the next couple of years all ended up moving to São Paulo, where Gil and the rest met prestigious singer-songwriters and poets like Chico Buarque and Torquato Neto.  Gil became famous when he sang on the television program “O Fino da Bossa,” which was presented by Elis Regina; he quit his job at the company Gessy-Lever (now Unilever), signed a contract with Phillips, and released his first LP – Louvação – in 1967. In 1968 he released the LPs Gilberto Gil and Tropicalia ou Panis et Circenses, together with Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Torquato Neto, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé and Nara Leão (for more about the Tropicalist movement, see the post on Panis et Circenses). In 1969, the military government determined that Gil and Caetano were subversives and forced them into exile.

Source for this post: Gilberto Gil, Todas as letras

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)