“Senhora Liberdade” (Nei Lopes/Wilson Moreira) and “Tô voltando” (Paulo César Pinheiro/Mauricio Tapajós)

Lyrics from “Senhora Liberdade” by Nei Lopes and Wilson Moreira (1979)

Abre as asas sobre mim // Spread your wings over me
Oh senhora liberdade // Oh, lady liberty
Eu fui condenado// I was condemned
Sem merecimento // Undeservedly
Por um sentimento, por uma paixão // On account of a sentiment, a passion
Violenta emoção // Violent emotion
Pois amar foi meu delito // For loving was my crime
Mas foi um sonho tão bonito // But it was such a beautiful dream
Hoje estou no fim // Today I’m at my end
Senhora liberdade abre as asas sobre mim (2x) // Lady liberty, spread your wings over me
Não vou passar por inocente // I’m not going to pass as innocent
Mas já sofri terrivelmente // But I’ve already suffered terribly
Por caridade, oh liberdade abre as asas sobre mim (2x) // Take mercy, oh liberty, spread your wings over me

“Tô voltando” by Mauricio Tapajós and Paulo César Pinheiro (1979)

Pode ir armando o coreto // You can go ahead and get the bandstand ready
E preparando aquele feijão preto // And start making those black beans
Eu tô voltando // I’m coming back
Põe meia dúzia de Brahma pra gelar // Put a half-dozen Brahmas on ice
Muda a roupa de cama // Change the bedding
Eu tô voltando // I’m coming back

Leva o chinelo pra sala de jantar // Bring my flipflops to the dining room
Que é lá mesmo que a mala eu vou largar // Cause that’s exactly where I’m gonna toss my suitcase
Quero te abraçar, pode se perfumar // I want to hold you, go ahead and put on perfume
Porque eu tô voltando // Cause I’m coming back

Dá uma geral, faz um bom defumador // Give the place a cleaning, a good cleanse
Enche a casa de flor // Fill the house with flowers
Que eu tô voltando // Cause I’m coming back
Pega uma praia, aproveita, tá calor // Hit the beach, enjoy – it’s hot
Vai pegando uma cor // Go on and get tan
Que eu tô voltando // Cause I’m coming back

Faz um cabelo bonito pra eu notar // Do your hair up pretty for me to notice
Que eu só quero mesmo é despentear // Cause all I want is to muss it up
Quero te agarrar // I want to clutch you
Pode se preparar porque eu tô voltando // You better get ready because I’m coming back
Põe pra tocar na vitrola aquele som // Put that one album on the record player
Estréia uma camisola // And put on new negligee
Eu tô voltando // Cause I’m coming back

Dá folga pra empregada // Give the maid a day off
Manda a criançada pra casa da avó // Send the kids to their grandmother’s
Que eu to voltando // Cause I’m coming back
Diz que eu só volto amanhã se alguém chamar // Say I’m only getting back tomorrow, if anyone asks
Telefone não deixa nem tocar // Telephone? don’t even let it even ring
Quero lá, lá, lá, ia, porque eu to voltando! // I want to la-la-la-ya, because I’m coming back

— Commentary —

Wilson Moreira and Nei Lopes, whose musical partnership was one of the most important in the history of samba.
Wilson Moreira and Nei Lopes, whose musical partnership was one of the most important in the history of samba.

On August 28, 1979, Brazil’s military government, led by President João Figueiredo, issued a sweeping amnesty law: Law 6.683 gave amnesty to all those who had been accused of committing or participating in what the military dictatorship (1964 – 1985) deemed political or electoral crimes, stripped of their most basic political and human rights, and imprisoned or forced into exile. (The Law also established full amnesty for the brutal military government, an aspect which continues to stir up controversy in Brazil and in international courts, where its validity is disputed.) A wave of exiles — including leftist political leaders, journalists, artists, and academics — returned to Brazil between September and December of that year, and political prisoners were set free.

Pernambucan leftist leader Miguel Arraes returns to Brazil on 15 September 1979 after 15 years in exile.
Pernambucan leftist leader Miguel Arraes returns to Brazil on 15 September 1979 after 15 years in exile.

As it happened, that same year, two songs were released that had nothing to do with politics but were passionately adopted as anthems of amnesty: “Senhora Liberdade” and “Tô voltando”.

Apolônio de Carvalho, former leader of the Brazilian Communist Party, returns from exile on 27 October 1979.
Apolônio de Carvalho, former leader of the Brazilian Communist Party, returns from exile on 27 October 1979.

“Senhora Liberdade”:  Nei Lopes — a samba composer, lawyer, historian and essayist — was moved by stories of prisoners who came up with sambas to alleviate the anguish of incarceration.

Political prisoner Inês Etienne Romeo is freed immediately through the amnesty law on 29 August 1979. The sign reads: "Amnesty: Broad; For everyone; unlimited. Free our prisoners."
Political prisoner Inês Etienne Romeo is freed immediately through the amnesty law on 29 August 1979. The sign reads: “Amnesty: Broad; general (for everyone); unrestricted. Free our prisoners.”

Wilson Moreira, Lopes’s celebrated musical partner, was a prison guard by profession, and told Lopes he’d indeed heard such songs. Together they composed this samba in the voice of a prisoner who was convicted for a crime of passion. It quickly ended up being hailed as one of the great anthems of the liberty that came with the Amnesty Law – surely a welcome surprise. The hit also propelled singer Zezé Motta to success.

“Tô voltando” by Maurício Tapajós and Paulo César Pinheiro was released the same year and met a similar fortuitous fate. Pinheiro recalls that Mauricio Tapajós called him one day, yearning to return home after an intense time on the road. Pinheiro recounts Tapajós was struck at the end of the tour by a tremendous longing for “for home, for his wife, for his children, for Leblon, for Rio.”

Paulo César Pinheiro
Paulo César Pinheiro

On the eve of his return to Rio, Tapajós began to repeat to himself, “I can’t believe I’m going back.” He called Pinheiro and began to hum the start of a melody along with that phrase. Pinheiro had a hunch that this samba could work: He went to meet up with Tapajós and they worked the rest of the day on the song, and the next day Pinheiro finished the lyrics, which he recalls flowed easily:

Maurício Tapajós
Maurício Tapajós

“I, who had already experienced the same situation so many times, with so many trips, tremendous longing for home — I know a lot about the issue I set out to write about. It was an issue that was common across our profession. The whole lot of artists felt this same profound anxiousness to get home after each season of touring. And all of them wanted the same things that I scribbled out in that samba. It ended up being beautiful, and full of empathy. We just needed to sing it once, and the second time, everyone joined in – it turned immediately into a chorus. I quickly sensed it would be a success.”

Pinheiro recounts that the singer Simone was picking out songs for her upcoming album at the time and she declared, “This one’s mine!”

When Simone released “Tô voltando” it was an instant sensation.

Shortly after its release, Pinheiro recalls he was watching reports on TV Globo about the exiles returning home; as scenes rolled live inside airplanes “filled with our comrades,” between interviews and tears, he heard someone begin singing “Tô voltando.” He calls the scene a “blow to [his] heart: “Emotion took hold of me and tears rolled down my cheeks (…) I had to take deep breaths and look away from the television to avoid a heart attack.”  The song had taken on a new meaning, to his delight — a meaning many believed, and still believe, it’d had from the start.

The whole phenomenon led Pinheiro to remark, “This shows that the future of our songs isn’t in our hands. They’re whatever they’re meant to be — beyond the motives that inspired them. How wonderful that this song became what it became.”

Main sources for this post: Conversation with Luiz Antônio Simas; Nei Lopes interview here; Histórias das Minhas Canções by Paulo César Pinheiro (2010).

“A voz do morro” and “Acender as velas”

Lyrics from “A voz do morro” by Zé Kéti (1955)

I’m samba, the voice from the morro, that’s me indeed, yes sir
I want to show the world that I have worth
I’m the king of the terreiro, I’m samba
I’m native from here, from Rio de Janeiro
I’m the one who brings joy to millions of Brazilian hearts
Salve samba, we want samba
Who’s asking for it is the voice of the people of a country
Salve samba, we want samba, that melody of a happy Brazil

Lyrics from “Acender as velas” by Zé Kéti (1965)

Lighting candles has become our profession
When there’s no samba, there’s disillusion
It’s another heart that stops beating, an angel goes to heaven
God forgive me, but I’m going to say it, the doctor arrived too late
Because up on the morro, there’s no automobile to go up
No telephone to call, and no beauty to be seen
And we die without wanting to die

— Interpretation —

L-R: Billy Blanco, Odete, Dorival Caymmi (seated), Zé Kéti, Tom Jobim, and Cartola. Zé Kéti was largely responsible for bringing together the worlds of bossa nova and samba do morro in Rio in the early 1960s
L-R: Billy Blanco, Odete, Dorival Caymmi (seated), Zé Kéti, Tom Jobim, and Cartola at Zicartola. Zé Kéti was largely responsible for bringing together the worlds of bossa nova and samba from the morros of Rio de Janeiro in the early 1960s.
Two of the boys from the favela followed in the film Rio, 40 Graus.
Scene in the favela in Rio, 40 Graus.

“A voz do morro” was the samba that brought fame to Zé Kéti in 1955, when it rolled as the theme song on Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s film Rio, 40 Graus. (Along with contributing to the soundtrack, Kéti worked as second camera assistant for the film and played a small part as the character Neguinho.)  On its own, “A voz do morro” seems like an everyday samba-exaltação, celebrating the nation and the genre; the lyrics alone don’t betray protest or even melancholy. But set against the backdrop of Santos’s film, which follows the lives of five boys from the favela selling peanuts in rich areas of Rio de Janeiro on a scorching summer day, the song is deeply poignant and political. The movie contrasts the lives of these boys with the lives of their rich white neighbors in Copacabana and with the luxuriant natural beauty of the city itself. When it was released, it laid bare in a queasy fashion the class conflict and exploitation of Afro-Brazilian favelados that ran deep in Rio de Janeiro, but that the government, media, and city by and large turned a blind eye to. The movie was styled in the postwar Italian neorealist model of political dramas that mimic  documentaries, and marked the start of the Cinema Novo period in Brazil.

Ten years later, Kéti’s low-spirited samba “Acender as velas” brought the same themes to light, but this time more acutely. Kéti wrote the song for Ronaldo Bôscoli, who was doing a vignette on his TV show about the hopeless situation of a sick boy in a favela. The  samba was released in the wake of the 1964 coup that installed a military dictatorship in Brazil. The military government quickly embarked on a series of harsh and misguided policies for dealing with Rio’s favelas, and Kéti’s sambas responded to this treatment.

Spellings for "Kéti" varied, as this ID demonstrates.
Kéti spelled his name in a number of different ways; this ID shows one of them.

Zé Kéti — whose full name was José Flores de Jesús — was born in  Inhaúma, Rio de Janeiro, on September 16, 1921. His nickname Kéti is an adaptation of “quietinho” – or well-behaved. He explained his name saying “quietinho” became “quieti,”  which he changed to Kéti because “K was in fashion at the time — Khrushchev, Kennedy, Kubitschek.”

Kéti grew up at his grandfather’s house in Bangu until 1928, when he and his mother moved to Dona Clara, a section of the north-zone neighborhood Madureira, the samba bastion that’s home to the samba schools Portela and Império Serrano. In this 1973 documentary, Kéti recounts that his grandfather was a piano and flute player who was friends with Pixinguinha and Cândido das Neves. Kéti’s father was also a composer, guitar and cavaquinho player, and Kéti attributes his fascination with music from a young age to their influence.  Kéti’s father died when Kéti was still a young boy, apparently poisoned by an ex-lover. (The samba “Meu pai morreu” is about this story; Keti said his father went crazy and died on Rio’s Praia Vermelha.) Kéti’s mother,  a fabric factory worker and domestic servant, brought him along on her nights out at samba bars, and Kéti said he would always sit near the music – entranced – rather than playing with the other kids. Eventually his mother granted his pleas for a flute, and he started making music.

Zé Kéti followed in Ciro Monteiro's footsteps playing percussion on a matchbox. He said to play, the matchbox couldn't be too full nor too empty.
Zé Kéti followed in Ciro Monteiro’s footsteps playing percussion on a matchbox. He said to play, the matchbox couldn’t be too full nor too empty.

As a young man Kéti began frequenting the Portela samba school and composing. When he was 24, the group Vocalistas Tropicais released his composition “Tio Sam no samba,” marking his first samba to be recorded. Shortly after, Ciro Monteiro – Kéti’s inspiration in the art of playing percussion on a matchbox – recorded Kéti’s samba “Vivo bem.” But again, fame only came years later, in the mid-1950s: Nelson Pereira dos Santos was looking for a sambista for the soundtrack for Rio, 40 Graus, and actor Artur Vargas Junior brought Zé Kéti in to sing for him. Santos was enchanted – so much so that, as relates in this program, his next film with a similar theme, Rio, Zona Nortewas a tribute to Zé Kéti, who was represented by Grande Otelo‘s character.

Standing, L-R: Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho da Viola and Zé Kéti at Zicartola.
Standing, L-R: Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho da Viola and Zé Kéti at Zicartola.

In 1963, Cartola and his wife Zica opened their legendary restaurant Zicartola and appointed Zé Kéti as artistic director of the house. Kéti was largely responsible for launching the careers of samba greats including Paulinho da Viola, who went into Zicartola in 1964 as the unknown Paulo Cesar and quickly rose to fame under his new artistic name. In the same 1973 documentary, Kéti says Paulinho’s nickname was, “modesty aside, given by his friend Zé Kéti,” inspired by Império Serrano’s Mano Décio da Viola. Kéti’s friend, journalist Sérgio Cabral, hastily used the nickname in his newspaper column and it thus became official.

During his time at Zicartola, Zé Kéti became friends with Carlos Lyra, and the two made a deal: Kéti would take Lyra to samba schools in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro if Lyra introduced Kéti in the bossa-nova-dominated Zona Sul. That’s how Zé Kéti ended up playing a pivotal role in popularizing samba from Rio’s morros among the city’s elite, and throughout the country and the world.

João do Vale, Zé Kéti, and Nara Leão on stage with the show Opinião.
João do Vale, Zé Kéti, and Nara Leão on stage with the show Opinião.

In 1964, Carlos Lyra introduced Kéti to Nara Leão, the “muse of bossa nova” who was increasingly fed up with that genre. In light of the country’s political plight, Nara deemed bossa nova nauseatingly apolitical: “[Bossa nova] always has the same theme: love-flower-sea-love-flower-sea, and it goes on ad infinitum.” In a controversial interview with the magazine Fatos e Fotos, she continued, “I want pure samba, which has much more to say for itself, which is the people’s way of expressing themselves, and not something written by a small group for another small group.”  Kéti showed Nara his samba “Diz que fui por aí,” which she recorded on her first LP, Nara, that same year. In late 1964 Nara released a second album, Opinião da Narawith “Acender as velas” and Kéti’s equally political samba “Opinião.” The latter protested the military government’s policy of removing favelas around Rio’s Zona Sul and relocating residents to distant developments with names like Vila Kennedy, in honor of the government that was financing the ill-advised initiative. The refrain for that song says, “They can take me prisoner/They can beat me/They can even make me go without food/But I won’t change my opinion/I won’t leave the morro.”

Also in late 1964, the Teatro Arena opened up in Copacabana and Zé Kéti was invited to act alongside Nara Leão and João do Vale in a musical play named after his samba “Opinião.” The show addressed social strife in Rio through the three characters: João do Vale played a northeastern migrant, Kéti played the part of the malandro carioca, and Nara played the rich student from the Zona Sul. They toured the country with the tremendously popular play; the theater ended up taking on the name Opinião, and when Nara Leão took time off to rest her voice, she recommended Maria Bethânia as her replacement, and another star was revealed.

R-L: Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and the Velha Guarda da Portela.
R-L: Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and the Velha Guarda da Portela.

Among Kéti’s other major hits is the Carnival march “Mascara Negra” (1967, with Hildebrando Pereira Matos), which won first place in the 1967 Carnival contest and remains one of Brazil’s most beloved Carnival themes. Kéti was soft spoken, humble, and good humored, a devoted member of the Portela samba school and fan of the Vasco da Gama football club. He died on November 14, 1999, a year after receiving the prestigious Shell Prize for MPB, and a few months after the death of his close friend Carlos Cachaça, which had left him deeply distraught. He was buried in Inhaúma, with the blue-and-white Portela flag, as “Voz do morro” played in the background.

A few notes on the translations: morro means hill or hillside, but here and in general refers to the community on the hillside – the favela; terreiro was the space where Afro-Brazilian religions were practiced and where samba was created and performed; and the line “we die without wanting to die” could also be translated as “the people die without wanting to die,” since the Portuguese line says a gente, which can mean both “we” or “the people.” Since a gente is almost exclusively used in Rio to mean “we,” that’s how I translated it in the song.

Lyrics in Portuguese: “A voz do morro”

Eu sou o samba
A voz do morro sou eu mesmo sim senhor
Quero mostrar ao mundo que tenho valor
Eu sou o rei do terreiro
Eu sou o samba
Sou natural daqui do Rio de Janeiro
Sou eu quem levo a alegria
Para milhões de corações brasileiros
Salve o samba, queremos samba
Quem está pedindo é a voz do povo de um país
Salve o samba, queremos samba
Essa melodia de um Brasil feliz

Lyrics in Portuguese: “Acender as velas”

Acender as velas
Já é profissão
Quando não tem samba
Tem desilusão
É mais um coração
Que deixa de bater
Um anjo vai pro céu
Deus me perdoe
Mas vou dizer
O doutor chegou tarde demais
Porque no morro
Não tem automóvel pra subir
Não tem telefone pra chamar
E não tem beleza pra se ver
E a gente morre sem querer morrer

 Main sources for this post: Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil by Bryan McCann; Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World by Ruy Castro; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 1 &2, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello.

Faroeste Caboclo

Lyrics from “Faroeste Caboclo” by Renato Russo

Album: Que País é Este 1978/1987

“He wasn’t afraid, that João de Santo Cristo”

Was what everyone said when he disappeared.

He left behind all the stagnation of the farm

Just to feel in his blood the hatred that Jesus gave him.

As a child, he just thought of being a bandit,

Even more so when his father died from a soldier’s bullet

He was the terror of the backlands where he lived

And even the professor learned from him.

He would go to church just to steal the money

That the little old ladies left in the altar basket.

He really felt that he was really different

He felt that all of that wasn’t the place for him.

He wanted to leave to see the sea

See everything he saw on TV

He saved money to be able to travel

By his own choice, he chose solitude.

He slept with all of the girls in the city

From so much playing doctor, at twelve he was a professor.

At fifteen he was sent to the reformatory,

Where his hatred grew, in the face of such terror.

He couldn’t understand how life worked

Discrimination because of his class, his color

He got tired of trying to find the answer

He bought a ticket, and went directly to Salvador.

Arriving there, he went to drink a coffee

And he found a cowboy, with whom he went to talk.

And the cowboy had a ticket, and was going to miss his trip

But João saved him…

He was saying,

“I’m going to Brasilia, in this country there’s no place better,

I need to visit my daughter, so I’ll stay here, and you go in my place.”

And João accepted his proposal

And on the bus, he entered the Central Plain.

He was stunned by the city

Leaving the bus station, he saw the Christmas lights,

“My God, what a beautiful city,

In the new year, I’ll start to work!”

Cutting wood, a carpenter’s apprentice,

He earned 100,000 per month in Taguatinga.

On Fridays he would go to the district in the city

To spend all his working-man’s money.

And he met a lot of interesting people there,

Even the bastard grandson of his great grandfather.

A Peruvian who was living in Bolivia

And brought a lot of things from there

His name was Pablo, and he said

He was getting ready to start a business.

And Santo Cristo was working himself to death

But wasn’t earning enough to eat.

And he would listen to the seven o’clock news

Saying that his Minister was going to help.

But he didn’t want to hear any more talk

And decided that he would get by the same way Pablo did.

Once again, he drafted his saintly plan

And without being crucified, he went to start his plantation,

Right away, the crazies from the city found out the news:

“There’s some great shit there!”

And João de Santo Cristo got rich

And finished off all the traffickers from the area.

He made friends, he would go to Asa Norte

And he would go to rock parties as a release.

But suddenly

Under the bad influence of the punks from the city

He began to steal.

In his first robbery, he messed up

And he went to hell for the first time.

Violence, and rape of his body

“You guys will see, I’ll get you!”

And now Santo Cristo was a bandit,

Fearless and feared in the Federal District.

He wasn’t afraid of police,

Captain or trafficker, playboy or General.

That was when he met a girl,

And he repented for all his sins.

Maria Lúcia was a beautiful girl,

And Santo Cristo promised his heart to her.

He said he wanted to get married

And he went back to being a carpenter.

“Maria Lúcia, I’ll love you forever,

And I want to have a child with you.”

Time passes, then one day at the door

There’s an upper-class man, with money in his hand.

And he makes an indelicate proposal

And says he awaits a response, a response from João:

“I don’t put bombs in newsstands or in elementary schools,

I don’t do that,

Nor do I protect a ten-star General

Who just stays behind the table, shitting himself with fear.

And it’s best you get out of my house,

Never mess with a Pisces/Scorpio ascendant.”

But before leaving, the man looked at Santo Cristo with hatred,

and said,

“You lost your life, my brother”

You lost your life,  my brother,

You lost your life,  my brother.

Those words will go to the heart

I’ll suffer the consequences like a dog.

It wasn’t that Santo Cristo was sure,

His future was unsure, and he didn’t go to work.

He got drunk and in the midst of his drunkenness

He discovered that someone else was working in his place.

He told Pablo that he wanted a partner,

that he had money and wanted to arm himself.

Pablo brought contraband from Bolivia

and Santo Cristo resold it in Planaltina.

But it so happens that a certain Jeremias,

a well-known trafficker, appeared there.

He found out about João’s plans,

and decided he was going to finish him off.

But Pablo brought a Winchester-22,

and Santo Cristo already knew how to shoot,

and he decided to use the gun

only after Jeremias started to fight.

Jeremias, a shameless pothead

organized the Rock party and made everyone dance.

He took innocent girls’ virginity,

and he said he was a believer, but he didn’t know how to pray.

And it had been a long time since  Santo Cristo had been home,

And his longing was beginning to afflict him.

“I’m leaving, I’m going to see Maria Lúcia,

It’s about time for us to get married.”

Arriving at home, then, he began to cry,

and went to hell for the second time.

Maria Lúcia had married Jeremias

and he had made a child in her.

Santo Cristo was only hatred inside,

So then he called Jeremias to a duel.

“Tomorrow, at two o’clock, in Ceilandia,

In front of Lot 14, that’s where I’ll go.

And you can choose your weapon,

I’ll finish you off anyway, you traitorous pig,

And I’ll kill Maria Lúcia, too,

That false girl that I swore my love to.”

And Santo Cristo didn’t know what to do

When he saw the reporter on the television

Announcing the duel on TV

Giving the time, the place, and the reason.

So Saturday, then, at two o’clock

Everyone, with haste, went just to see,

A man who fired at another from behind,

And hit Santo Cristo, and began to smile.

Feeling the blood in his throat,

João looked at the waving flags and the cheering crowd,

And he looked at the ice cream man, and the cameras

And the TV crews that were filming everything

And he remembered when he was a child,

And everything he had lived up til then

And he decided to jump into that dance,

“If the Via Crucis turned into a circus,  I’m here.”

And with that, the sun blinded his eyes,

and then he recognized Maria Lúcia.

She was carrying the Winchester-22

The gun that his cousin Pablo gave him.

“Jeremias, I’m a man, something that you are not,

and I don’t shoot at someone from behind.

Look over here, you shameless son of a bitch,

Take a look at my blood and come feel your pardon.”

And Santo Cristo took the Winchester -22 and

Put five shots in the traitor bandit.

Maria Lúcia repented (regretted), next,

and died together with João, her protecter.

And the people declared that João de Santo Cristo

was a saint because he knew how to die.

And the bourgeoisie from the city

couldn’t believe the story they saw on the TV.

And João never achieved what he had wanted

when he came to Brasilia, and found the devil,

He had wanted to tell the President

To help all these people who all they do is…

… Suffer

— Interpretation —

Renato Russo called Faroeste Caboclo his own “Hurricane.”  Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” came out in 1976, and Russo wrote Faroeste Caboclo in 1979 during his so-called “solitary troubadour” phase;  the main difference, of course, is that Russo’s story is fictitious.

Faroeste Caboclo is a statement on Brazilian society — poverty, racism, drug trafficking, and the corrupt military government — woven into a Christian allegory, and in Brazilian folkloric style.

João tells the story of a black Brazilian boy born in the poor Northeast back country – probably in the state of Bahia, since he goes to the capital, Salvador.  His anger grows as he faces racism and class injustices; the State only makes matters worse by placing him in its infamous juvenile reformatory system. (Contemporary discussion of the effects of these reformatories can be found in the 2002 documentary Onibus 174.)

After reaching Brasilia, João works as hard as he can at a decent job but still can’t even afford to eat, and resorts to drug trafficking.  In the meantime, he is approached by an upper class man with a proposal. The man represents the military regime — in power in Brazil from 1964-1985 — which planted bombs in public areas and blamed the bombings on “subversives.” When  João refuses his proposal, the man – who also presumably represents the devil – tells  João de Santo Cristo his life is over;  João loses his job and Jeremias enters his life, killing him shortly thereafter.

The song can be interpreted as a rebuke to Christianity.  Biblical references are replete in the story. João de Santo Cristo – a carpenter –  represents Christ.   At 12, he’s a professor (see Luke 2:42-51:  at twelve, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem where he lingered after they left, impressing the elders with his precociousness and his learning).  Where Jesus was betrayed by Judas, Santo Cristo was betrayed by Maria Lúcia.  While Santo Cristo’s life parallels that of Jesus in certain ways, their stories diverge when Santo Cristo quits carpentry for crime, rather than to spread a message.

He robs, sleeps with young girls, falls into the world of drug trafficking and dies without being able to help people — in other words, he dies in vain, after calling the crucifixion a “circus” and saying “come look at my blood – feel your pardon.” Jeremias, on the other hand – a hypocrite (he said he was a believer but didn’t know how to pray) – could be interpreted as the devil, living a more successful version of  João de Santo Cristo’s life (e.g. he actually marries Maria, rather than just saying he will.)

Renato Russo (1960 – 1996) was born into a Catholic family in Rio de Janeiro and spent part of his childhood in Queens after his father was transferred there for work. He came out to his family as a bisexual at 18.  Russo formed the band Legiao Urbana with Dado Villa-l and died Marcelo Bonfa.  The band broke up when Russo died of complications from AIDS in 1996, weighing just 99 pounds.  He was sick from the illness in the performance shown above.

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)