Juscelino summoned me – I’m going to die of saudade, but I’m going
Goodbye, Mangueira, goodbye my Vigário Geral
Goodbye, my samba, goodbye federal capital
I was born on the morro (ai ai ai), and I grew up on the morro (ai ai ai)
Excuse me, Sir, I’m going to take my people with me
Mangueira — first station — is a witness that I can’t live without dancing samba
— Interpretation —
In 1958, the same year bossa nova was emerging from musical encounters in seaside apartments in Copacabana, and “Chega de Saudade” was first released, Brazil was in the midst of a dramatic period of development. Two years earlier, in September 1956, Congress had approved President Juscelino Kubitschek’s plan to build a new capital city in the middle of the arid central highlands state of Goiás. The ambitious idea for a capital in the middle of the vast country had been floating around since the late 19th century, but Kubitschek adopted the initiative with passion, dedicated to the idea of thus uniting the nation. In response to congressional approval of the project, Kubitschek reportedly told a friend, “Today is the happiest day of my life. And you know why the project was approved? They don’t think I can make it happen.”
Kubitschek enlisted a few key men to help him prove Congress wrong. As the Brazilian writer Otto Lauro Resende put it, Brasilia was the “conjunction of the loucuras (madness) of four men”: Kubitschek; Israel Pinheiro, the engineer who presided over the Companhia Urbanizadora da Nova Capital – the government body created in September 1956 to take care of all aspects of construction of the new capital; Oscar Niemeyer, the modernist architect responsible for much of the city; and the French-born planner and architect Lúcio Costa, whose “pilot plan” won the controversial contest in 1957 for the design of the new capital.
Indeed, thanks to the feverish pace of these four leaders in particular, in just forty-three months Brazil had a new capital, inaugurated on April 21, 1960. The lofty modernist aspirations of Brasilia’s planners fell notoriously flat, of course: The city’s separation of areas for work, leisure, and residency ended up doing away with so many of the encounters and exchanges that make cities vibrant. Brasilia was soon criticized as a “heartless city,” a “city without street corners,” a “city of bureaucrats,” and a “fantasy island.” This was clearly not the most appealing place to be transferred to from Rio de Janeiro.
Herivelto Martins composed “Adeus, Mangueira” together with Grande Othelo for the 1958 chanchada film É de chuá. The samba reflects the sadness of a worker who was summoned to leave the still-federal capital, Rio de Janeiro, to go work for the government in the desolate new city. It surely captures the dismay many workers with deep roots in Rio must have felt in response to the capital being transferred to soulless Brasilia.
I’ve translated saudade in other posts, but in this post thought it was best to keep it in Portuguese; here it is essentially saying, “I’m going to die of homesickness/longing [for Rio].” As in other posts, I’ve also left morro in Portuguese since the Portuguese word captures both “hillside” and “favela.” Mangueira is the morro so well known in the samba world — probably the most mentioned in all samba compositions — where Cartola, Carlinhos Cachaça and others founded one of the first samba schools, G.R.E.S. Estação Primeira de Mangueira. Here, as in the name of the school itself, “estação primeira” (first station) refers to the fact that Mangueira was the first station on the suburban train line out of Central Station. And Vigário Geral is another neighborhood in Rio’s north zone; it was probably included to rhyme with “capital federal.”
Lyrics in Portuguese
Adeus meu Vigario Geral
Adeus meu samba
Adeus capital federal
Foi no morro que eu nasci (ai ai ai)
e no morro me criei (ai ai ai)
Brasilia me chamou pra trabalhar
seu dotor dá licença
minha gente eu vou levar
Mangueira, estação primeira
é testemunha que eu não vivo sem sambar