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–

 

Última Hora, Missão 2858-59
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.”

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Chão de Estrelas

Lyrics from “Chão de Estrelas” (Starry Ground) by Orestes Barbosa and Sílvio Caldas (1937)



Good Audio Version (João Gilberto)

My life was an illuminated stage, I was always dressed in gold
A clown of lost illusions
Covered in phony bells of joy, I went around singing my fantasy
Among the feverish palms* of hearts

My shack, on Salgueiro Hill, had the cheerful song of an aviary –
You were the resonance that ended
And today, when the sun’s rays brighten my shack, I feel longing
For the dove-woman that flew away

Our modest clothes hanging out on the line, like waving flags
Looked like an exotic festival
A party of our colored rags, showing that on the poorly dressed hillsides
It’s always a national holiday!

The shack’s door had no latch, but the moon, boring through our tin
Peppered our floor with stars
You stepped on the stars, absent-minded, unaware that the fortune of this life
Is the mulatta, the moonlight and the guitar

— Interpretation —

In 1935, Sílvio Caldas visited the Brazilian poet Guilherme de Almeida and played a new song for him, entitled “Foste a sonoridade que acabou” (“You were the resonance that ended”). After listening,  the poet, touched by Orestes Barbosa’s lyrics, suggested a new name: “Chão de Estrelas.” Thirty years later, Almeida observed: “[At the time] I didn’t even know the author’s name. But what I thought and said of him then, I repeat today: just one of those two images — the colorful clothes hanging on the line and the stars on the floor (…) — is enough for there to still be poets on this earth.”

Similarly moved by the lyrics, in 1956, the renowned Brazilian Modernist poet Manuel Bandeira wrote, “If there were a competition (…) to pick the most beautiful verse in our language, perhaps I would vote for Orestes’s: “tu pisavas os astros distraída” (“you stepped on the stars, absentminded”).

Sílvio Caldas and Orestes Barbosa composed fifteen songs together. Some of their other most popular songs include “Quase que eu disse,” “Suburbana,” and “Torturante ironia.” Though “Chão de Estrelas” was first released in 1937, the song only became a national success when Sílvio Caldas rereleased it in 1950.

Salgueiro favela in Rio

Morro do Salgueiro — or Salgueiro Hill — is a historic hillside favela in Rio de Janeiro’s Tijuca neighborhood. It is home to one of the city’s most beloved Carnaval samba schools (described here), GRES Acadêmicos do Salgueiro.

*The first verse of the song 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.” The Portuguese word for “floor” and “ground” are the same — “chão” — which makes the translation a bit complicated. “Ground” implies outside, but “floor” implies that there is actually a floor, which may not have been the case in this shack in the Salgueiro favela.

In 1970, Os Mutantes released a version of “Chão de Estrelas” (below) on their album A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado Caetano Veloso began his song “Livros” (1997, Livro) with a play on the lyrics from “Chão de Estrelas,” singing, “tropeçavas nos astros desastrada” (you tripped on the stars, clumsy).

Silvio Caldas (1908 – 1998) was born in the São Cristóvão neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. His father owned a musical instrument shop and was an amateur waltz composer, so Sílvio had a lot of contact with music from a very early age. In 1934, Ary Barroso brought Sílvio to sing at Rio’s Teatro Recreio, where Sílvio sang his first big hit — Barroso’s “Faceira.” Around then, his blossoming partnership with Orestes Barbosa highlighted his talent for “seresta” – a genre of Brazilian music that evolved from the serenade and which Caldas popularized around Brazil.

Orestes Barbosa (1893 – 1966) was a composer, lyricist, writer and poet from Rio de Janeiro. He was an activist and made his political opinions quite clear in his newspaper articles, which landed him in jail more than once. In 1922 he released his first book of prose, In Prison, which related tales of his time in jail. He wrote other books of poetry and prose before beginning to work as a lyricist in the late 1920s.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Minha vida era um palco iluminado
Eu vivia vestido de dourado
Palhaço das perdidas ilusões
Cheio dos guizos falsos da alegria
Andei cantando a minha fantasia
Entre as palmas febris dos corações
Meu barracão no morro do Salgueiro
Tinha o cantar alegre de um viveiro
Foste a sonoridade que acabou
E hoje, quando do sol, a claridade
Forra o meu barracão, sinto saudade
Da mulher pomba-rola que voou
Nossas roupas comuns dependuradas
Na corda, qual bandeiras agitadas
Pareciam um estranho festival!
Festa dos nossos trapos coloridos
A mostrar que nos morros mal vestidos
É sempre feriado nacional
A porta do barraco era sem trinco
Mas a lua, furando o nosso zinco
Salpicava de estrelas nosso chão
Tu pisavas os astros, distraída,
Sem saber que a ventura desta vida
É a cabrocha, o luar e o violão

The main source for this post was A Cancao no tempo: 85 Anos de Musicas Brasileiras, Vol. 1 by Jairo Severiano and Zuzu Homem de Mello