Lyrics from Sasaci-Pererê by Jorge Ben (1982)


Sasaci Sasaci Pererê
Saci, Saci Pererê
Pula, brinca e joga// Jump joke play
Que eu quero ver //That’s what I want to see

Toda turma vai querer fazer // Every gang is gonna want to make
Uma aposta com você// A bet with you
E essa aposta // And that bet
Você vai ter que ganhar // You’re gonna have to win
Não pode perder não pode perder // You can’t lose, you can’t lose

Sasaci Sasaci Pererê
Saci, Saci Pererê
Pula, brinca e joga // Jump joke play
Que eu quero ver //That’s what I want to see

Pererê, Pererê// Pererê, Pererê
Toda turma vai querer // Every gang’s gonna want
Que você aposte //You to bet
O seu cachimbo e seu chapéu mágico// Your pipe and your magic hat
Contra uma torta de jiló // For a pie of jiló,
Melancia e alho //Watermelon and garlic
Cuidado Saci, cuidado com a touca// Careful Saci, careful with the your cap
Treine bem e não se compromete// Train well, and don’t take risks
Pois esta aposta consiste// Because this bet consists
Em que você ande pelo sítio de patinete// Of you skating around the farm!

— Interpretation —

The beloved tale of Pedrinho and the Saci he captured - by Monteiro Lobato.
The beloved tale of Pedrinho and the Saci he captured – by Monteiro Lobato.

o_saciHalloween keeps getting bigger in Brazil. But since 2003, October 31 has officially been “Dia do Saci,” in honor of the little one-legged rascal from Brazilian folklore. Saci is never without his magic red sock hat and pipe; he lost his leg playing capoeira, and can’t stop getting into mischief. Legend has it that he lives in whirlwinds and can be caught with a net; upon capture, his hat must be removed to ensure his obedience! Sacis are rumored to be born in bamboo shoots, where they live for seven years before emerging to wreak playful havoc for the next seventy-seven years. When they die, they turn into mushrooms.

In 1982, Jorge Ben wrote and recorded the song “Sasaci Pererê” for the TV special Pirlimpimpim, named after “pirlimpim powder,” a kind of fairy dust that Monteiro Lobato included in his stories. Monteiro Lobato was perhaps Brazil’s most beloved children’s writer, and in 1982 Brazil celebrated his centenary. One of Monteiro Lobato’s most treasured stories is about a little boy, Pedrinho, who managed to capture a Saci.

Saci Day was declared in Brazil’s Federal Law 2.762, in 2003, part of a bill presented by Rio de Janeiro’s deputy Chico Alencar (PSOL) in an effort to celebrate Brazilian folklore rather than traditions imported from abroad – in this case, the celtic celebration of Halloween, imported from the United States.

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.


Lyrics from “Zumbi” by Jorge Ben

Album: A Tábua de Esmeralda (1974)

Angola, Congo, Benguela

Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina

Quiloa, Rebolo

Here where the men are

There’s a big auction

They say that in the auction,

There’s  a princess for sale

Who came, together with her subjects

Chained on an oxcart

I want to see, I want to see, I want to see

Angola, Congo, Benguela

Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina

Quiloa, Rebolo

Here where the men are

To one side, sugarcane

To the other side, the coffee plantation

In the middle, seated gentlemen

Watching the cotton crop, so white

Being picked by black hands

I want to see, I want to see, I want to see

When Zumbi arrives

What will happen

Zumbi is a warlord

A lord of demands

When Zumbi arrives, Zumbi

Is the one who gives orders

I want to see, I want to see, I want to see


Jorge Ben (now known as Jorge Ben Jor) was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1942.  His first major hit was “Mas que nada,” a catchy samba-pop song released in 1963 and subsequently re-recorded around the globe.  With his fusion of samba, bossa nova, rock, rhythm and blues and African American soul music, Jorge Ben did not easily fit in with either the MPB or the Jovem Guarda movements that dominated the Brazilian music scene at the time. He tried to reconcile this by declaring in a song that he came from “the jovem-samba” (“eu sou da jovem-samba”). It didn’t work; the name jovem-samba didn’t catch on (later, samba-rock would stick), and  Caetano Veloso says Jorge Ben was “ostracized by the more prestigious figures” of Brazil’s music and arts scene at the time.  Veloso and Gilberto Gil, who were playing together in Bahia in the early to mid 1960s,  had a deep reverence for Jorge Ben.  Caetano even recounts a time when Gil declared that he would “never again sing any of his own songs because there was a new guy by the name of Jorge Ben who did everything Gil thought he himself ought to be doing”; Caetano found this posture to be a bit exaggerated, and appreciated that it did not last long (though Gil did play one concert of entirely Jorge Ben songs).   A few years later, in 1968, Jorge Ben aligned himself with the tropicalist movement led by Gil and Veloso. Today, Jorge Ben is known as the “father of samba-rock,” a genre whose origins are traced to his 1967 album, Bidu-Silêncio no Brooklin (Brooklin is the name of a neighborhood in São Paulo), which he recorded with the Brazilian rock band The Fevers.

What set Jorge Ben apart at the time, and earned such admiration from Gil and others, was not only his unique musical style but his artistic stance: Veloso describes him as “not only the first great black composer since bossa nova…[but] also and most importantly the first to make that blackness the determining stylistic element… Jorge Ben brought a tone of black consciousness to Brazilian pop music.”

The song “Zumbi” exemplifies this incorporation of black consciousness in Jorge Ben’s songs.

Jorge Ben celebrated black nobility and female beauty in his songs. In Zumbi, he speaks of an African princess, chained to an oxcart; nobility and beauty are immediately associated with the African woman. The names at the beginning of the song are places in Angola. Zumbi refers to Zumbi dos Palmares (b. 1655 — d. 1695), the last leader of the Quilombo of Palmares.  Quilombos were runaway slave settlements, similar to maroon societies in the southern United States or palenques in Cuba. Palmares was the most well-known of Brazil’s quilombos:  in present-day Alagoas state, Palmares was really a community of  ten quilombos, with a total estimated population of 20,000 in 1671.  Runaway slaves initially settled there sometime around 1580, and the settlement eventually attracted not only a steady stream of runaways from the region’s sugar plantations, but also fugitives of other races, including white women accused of witchcraft. The quilombo’s population boomed during Dutch invasions of Brazil’s northeast (1624 – 1654). Overseers on plantations were distracted, allowing more runaways, and in addition, the Portuguese offered freedom to slaves who fought the Dutch; many slaves took advantage of the chance to leave the plantation, deserted the war effort, and fled to Palmares.

Slave masters led frequent expeditions to try to break up Palmares and recapture runaway slaves. During one such mission, a baby from the quilombo was given to the priest of Porto Calvo. Baptized Francisco, the child grew up learning Portuguese and Latin, until he ran away at fifteen to return to Palmares. He took the name Zumbi, which most likely came from the Bantu word Nzumbi, meaning warrior or religious leader.

Zumbi led the quilombo’s resistance until the Portuguese destroyed the settlement with a massive military invasion in February 1694.  Zumbi survived the attacks and fled, but was captured and killed on November 20, 1695. Indignant, the Portuguese put Zumbi’s head on a post on display in Recife, Brazil, in an effort to quiet rumors of his immortality.  Nonetheless,  the myth surrounding Zumbi only grew after his death. To this day he remains the most powerful symbolic figure of  Afro-Brazilian heritage, and November 20 — the day of his death — was designated Black Awareness Day in Brazil.

In this song, when Ben says “When Zumbi arrives,” he draws upon the  Umbanda religion: he is literally stating that Zumbi’s spirit is going to descend to Earth. Umbanda mixes elements of African religions like Candomblé, indigenous lore, Catholicism, and Spiritism, and maintains that spirits descend and inhabit our bodies, or are reincarnated.

Jorge Ben rarely gives interviews. When he gives interviews, he identifies himself as a Catholic; however, a number of his songs have clear references to the Umbanda religion.

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)