Cartão de Natal

“Cartão de Natal” (Christmas Card, by Luiz Gonzaga & Zé Dantas, 1954)

Ouvindo os sinos de Deus // Hearing God’s bells
Repicando na matriz // Chiming in the parish church
Para você e os seus // For you and yours
Peço um Natal bem feliz // I wish for a merry Christmas
Blem, blem, blem
Blem, blem, blem

Um ano novo afortunado // A fortunate new year
Venturoso e abençoado //Blithesome and blessed
Tão ditosa oração do além // Let such a felicitous prayer from beyond
Seja ouvida por Deus // Be heard by God
E que os anjos digam amém // And let the angels say amen
Blem, blem, blem
Blem, blem, blem

— Commentary —

young luiz Gonzaga
To add to last year’s “Véspera de Natal,” here’s another Brazilian Christmas song, this one a ballad by the King of Baião,  Luiz Gonzaga. Gonzaga was from Exu, Pernambuco, and had spent the past ten years in the army in Ceará when he went to Rio de Janeiro in 1939. He was initially scheduled to spend just a few months in the barracks there before catching a ship back to Pernambuco. He ended up staying, and and exploded on Rio’s and Brazil’s music scene in the 1940s, essentially creating and popularizing a new genre, baião.  By 1949, Rio’s Diario Carioca reported that baião was “making the vast empire of samba tremble,” and by the time of the 1954 release of this song, recorded with Isis de Oliveira on a 78, Luiz Gonzaga had become one of Brazil’s most successful recording artist, outselling even established radio favorites like Orlando Silva. For more about Gonzaga, see these posts.


“Tenho Sede” and “Lamento Sertanejo”

Lyrics from “Tenho Sede” by Dominguinhos and Anastácia (1975)

Bring me a cup of water, I’m thirsty and this thirst could kill me
My throat yearns for a little water and my eyes yearn for your gaze
A plant needs water when it wants to bloom
The sky in turn darkens when it is about to rain
My heart only needs your love, if you don’t give it, I could die

Lyrics from “Lamento Sertanejo” by Dominguinhos and Gilberto Gil (1973)

Because I’m from there, from the backlandsthe shrubland
Out there, in the middle of the woods
From the brush of the fields
I barely go out, I barely have any friends, I’m barely able to stay in the city
Without living in contradiction

Because I’m from there, for sure that’s why
I don’t like soft beds, I can’t eat without pork rinds
I barely speak, I barely know anything
I’m like stray head of cattle in this crowd, herd walking aimlessly

— Interpretation —

Luiz Gonzaga, foreground, playing with Dominguinhos.
Luiz Gonzaga, foreground, playing with Dominguinhos.

Dominguinhos was the hand-picked successor to Luiz Gonzaga, the musician who practically invented the northeastern baião-forró genre in Brazil in the mid-20th century and made it popular throughout the country. 

Like Luiz Gonzaga, Dominguinhos – born José Domingos de Morais on February, 12, 1941 – was from the interior of Pernambuco (Dominguinhos was from Garanhuns,  about 400 kilometers as the crow flies from Gonzaga’s hometown of Exu); also like Gonzaga, Dominguinhos was the son of a small-scale farmer, accordion player and tuner – Chicão.

As Dominguinhos describes in this program, he began to perform with two of  his brothers at open-air markets, bar entrances and parties when he was seven, and by the time he was eight he was collecting change in a hat to help provide for the family of ten children.

The Tavares Correia Hotel in Garanhuns, Pernambuco, where 8-year-old Dominguinhos played for Luiz Gonzaga for the first time.
The Tavares Correia Hotel in Garanhuns, Pernambuco, where 8-year-old Dominguinhos played for Luiz Gonzaga for the first time.

One place he and his brothers regularly performed was the entryway to the Tavares Correia Hotel. The budding musicians were surprised one day to be invited inside the hotel to play at a banquet: a special guest they’d never heard of was in town and wanted them to perform for him.

Dominguinhos relates, “In 1949 or 1950 Luiz Gonzaga appeared in Garanhuns and I don’t know why but they had us play for him at what they called a banquet. He really liked me, and said, ‘Boy, I’m going to give you a little help’: he gave me a big roll of money – still don’t know to this day how much – and his address in Rio de Janeiro, and told me ‘Any time you go to Rio, you come find me, cause I want to help you’; when I was thirteen, I went and found him in Rio.”

At 13, Dominguinhos moved with his family to Rio de Janeiro on a pau-de-arara truck like this one.
At 13, Dominguinhos moved with his family to Rio de Janeiro on a pau-de-arara truck like this one.

Like millions of other migrants who abandoned the arid northeast in the mid to late twentieth century, Dominguinhos made the move with his family to Nilópolis, Rio de Janeiro, on a pau de arara (parrot’s perch) truck after his father gave up farming in Pernambuco. It was an eleven day journey on hard wooden benches. (Around that time, pau de arara was coming into currency as a pejorative term to refer to northeasterners.) Upon arriving in Rio, Dominguinhos and his father hastily sought out Gonzaga, who spoke briefly to Chicão and promptly gave him a new red accordion.

Dominguinhos, left, with Luiz Gonzaga.
Dominguinhos, left, with Luiz Gonzaga.

Dominguinhos said that from that point on he was inseparable from Gonzaga. He began to accompany Gonzaga to the studio, but didn’t play with him there until a few years later: In 1957, the two were in a studio packed with members of the press covering Gonzaga’s new release; Gonzaga surprised Dominguinhos by publicly introducing him as his musical successor and inviting him to join him playing “Forró no escuro.” Dominguinhos said he basically began a new life that day.

Gonzaga also gave Dominguinhos his artistic name. Dominguinhos recalled Gonzaga telling him to scrap his childish nickname — Neném (Baby) — in favor of Dominguinhos (little Domingos), which would also serve as an homage to Domingos Ambrósio, a fellow accordionist Gonzaga had grown close to while serving in the army in Juiz de Fora.

Luiz Gonzaga had a notoriously tumultuous relationship with his adoptive guitarist son Gonzaguinha, who was a few years younger than Dominguinhos. Dominguinhos said Gonzaga called him his “other son,” believing he was the accordionist son Gonzaga had always wanted.

Anastácia and Dominguinhos met on a tour through the northeast of Brazil in 1967.
Anastácia and Dominguinhos met on a tour through the northeast of Brazil in 1967.

Dominguinhos never wrote lyrics; he only composed tunes in his head. He was married to the forró singer and lyricist Anastácia for eleven years, from the late 1960s through the late 1970s, and together they composed some of his best-loved songs.  Anastácia wrote the lyrics for “Tenho Sede” and Dominguinhos said they struck him as weird at first – particularly “Bring me a cup of water”; but he knew not to question Anastácia too much, and the song became one of his most popular. The couple composed about 210 songs together, including the sensation “Eu só quero um xodó,” which Gilberto Gil released in 1973 and which Anastácia calculates was re-recorded by 440 singers around the world.

In the early 1970s, after returning from three years of exile in London, Gilberto Gil – a northeasterner from Bahia – was increasingly exploring northeastern themes and elements in his music. Gil’s producer, Guilherme Araújo, saw Dominguinhos playing with Luiz Gonzaga in 1972 and invited him to work with Gil and Gal Costa. Gil composed lyrics for Dominguinhos’s tune “Lamento Sertanejo,” voicing the sentiments of recently arrived migrants who felt out of place and discriminated against in southeastern Brazilian cities. During these most oppressive years of Brazil’s military dictatorship, calling attention to Brazil’s downtrodden populations – mostly ignored by the state media – represented a less censorable form of protest.

Dominguinhos and Gilberto Gil together on stage in 2010.
Dominguinhos and Gilberto Gil together on stage in 2010.

The 1970s were the peak years of rural exodus in Brazil; destitute northeasterners poured into southeastern Brazilian cities and encountered rampant discrimination and a colder climate and culture. In 1940, about 31% of Brazil’s population lived in cities; by 1970, urban residents accounted for more than 50% of the population, and in 1980, nearly 70%. Dominguinhos recalled  snide remarks like, “Those yucca-eaters, come here dying of hunger,” and remembered being received on stage with boos and paper airplanes from audiences in São Paulo still prejudiced against northeastern music. But he felt he suffered little discrimination in comparison with Luiz Gonzaga: “I got there and the path was already halfway open for me,” he said, remarking on the progress Luiz Gonzaga had already made in combating prejudices by the time he began performing in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Dominguinhos was widely loved for his spirited performances and sweet, sunny demeanor. He passed away on July 23, 2013, in São Paulo, after a long struggle with lung cancer. He had discovered the cancer in 2007, and a couple years into treatment remarked, “I don’t know how I ended up with this – I never smoked. But there are things that just happen that we’re unable to explain.” He played his final show on December 13, 2012, in Exu, Pernambuco – a tribute concert on what would have been Luiz Gonzaga’s 100th birthday.

Dominguinhos playing his final show in Exu, Pernambuco on December 13, 2012, accompanied by the young accordionist Cícero Feitosa.
Dominguinhos playing his final show in Exu, Pernambuco on December 13, 2012, accompanied by the young accordionist Cícero Feitosa.

Above, Dominguinhos plays “Lamento Sertanejo” with Mariana Aydar, Hamilton de Holanda, Duani, Siba, Tavinho and Trio+1.

Lyrics in Portuguese

“Tenho Sede”

Traga-me um copo d’agua, tenho sede
E essa sede pode me matar
Minha garganta pede um pouco d’água
E os meus olhos pedem o teu olhar

A planta pede chuva quando quer brotar
O céu logo escurece quando vai chover
Meu coração só pede o teu amor
Se não me deres posso até morrer

“Lamento Sertanejo”

Por ser de lá
Do sertão, lá do cerrado
Lá do interior do mato
Da caatinga do roçado.
Eu quase não saio
Eu quase não tenho amigos
Eu quase que não consigo
Ficar na cidade sem viver contrariado.

Por ser de lá
Na certa por isso mesmo
Não gosto de cama mole
Não sei comer sem torresmo.
Eu quase não falo
Eu quase não sei de nada
Sou como rês desgarrada
Nessa multidão boiada caminhando a esmo.

O que é, o que é

Lyrics from “O que é, o que é” by Gonzaguinha
Album: Caminhos do Coração (1982)

Good Audio Version

I stand by the pureness of the children’s response:
It’s life, it’s beautiful, and it’s beautiful

To live and not be ashamed of being happy
To sing, and sing and sing the beauty of being an eternal apprentice
Oh, my God, I know that life ought to be better – and it will be
But that doesn’t keep me from repeating
It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful and it’s beautiful (Repeat)

And life! And life, what is it, tell me my brother
It’s the beat of a heart
It’s a sweet illusion
And life, is it wonder or suffering?  Is it joy or lamentation?
What is it, what is it my brother?
There are those who say that our life is nothing in this world
It’s a drop, it’s a moment that doesn’t last even a second
There are those who say it’s a divine, profound mystery
It’s the breath of the creator, in an act full of love
You say it’s struggles and pleasure
He says that life is to live
She says it’s better to die
Because she’s not loved, and the verb is ‘to suffer’
I just know I trust in the young girl, and in her I put the force of faith
We’re the ones who make life what it is
However possible, however we can or we wish
Always desired, as much as it may be off course
Nobody wants death, only health and good fortune
And the question goes around, and the mind is troubled…
I stand by the pureness of the children’s response:
It’s life, it’s beautiful and it’s beautiful

— Interpretation —

Gonzaguinha, left, singing with his father, the famous forró singer-songwriter Luiz Gonzaga, in Rio de Janeiro in 1987.

O que é, o que é?  (What is it, what is it?) is a children’s guessing game in Brazil (e.g.”What is it, what is it, that’s always broken when spoken?”; answer: a secret).

Gonzaguinha framed this song on the game: He gives a number of potential, complex descriptions of life, and then, eschewing explanations, settles on the simple answer that children provide – it’s life and it’s beautiful.

Luiz Gonzaga do Nascimento Junior (September 22, 1945 – April 30, 1991) was the son of the renowned singer-songwriter Luiz Gonzaga – Brazil’s most legendary forró musician, who popularized the northeastern style throughout Brazil in the 1940s and 1950s – and Odaléia Guedes dos Santos. Because of the timing of Gonzaguinha’s birth, his total lack of physical similarity to Luiz Gonzaga, and Luiz Gonzaga’s likely sterility, Gonzaguinha’s parentage is widely disputed. Nonetheless, the singer’s official website sticks to the story that he was Gonzaga’s biological son.

Gonzaguinha’s personality also differed dramatically from his father’s. While “Gonzagão” (Big Gonzaga) exuded cheer and lightheartedness, Gonzaguinha generally came across as bitter and tormented, both in person and in his music. He’d had a difficult childhood: His mother died when he was two, and Luiz Gonzaga left him in the care of friends, Dina and Henrique Xavier. The couple raised Gonzaguinha, who grew up feeling abandoned by his father. Later in life, Gonzaguinha gave Dina and Henrique credit for his music career, saying he learned to play guitar because of them.

Gonzaguinha, top right, with other members of the Movimento Artístico Universitário
Gonzaguinha, top right, with other members of the Movimento Artístico Universitário

After a brief and troubled stay with his father when he was sixteen, Gonzaguinha went to study economics in Rio de Janeiro, where he participated in the Movimento Artístico Universitário (Students’ Artistic Movement) – a group of students who got together to play music every Friday and aimed to “break down barriers” in the music market in Brazil. TV Globo created a show based on the movement – Som Livre Exportação (Free Sound Exportation) – hosted by Ivan Lins and Elis Regina. The weekly program, which ran from late 1970 to mid-1971, launched the music careers of group members like Gonzaguinha, Ivan Lins, Aldir Blanc and César Costa Filho.

Gonzaguinha initially took great pains to distance himself artistically from his father. But after touring northeast Brazil in 1975, he said he gained greater appreciation for his father’s music and its influence in the northeast.  In 1976 he released an LP with a recording of his father’s greatest hit, “Asa Branca,” and the pair performed together for the first time in 1979, in a show – and later a tour – called “Vida do Viajante” (Wanderer’s Life) after another one of Luiz Gonzaga’s most popular songs. Afterwards, Gonzaguinha and Gonzagão both demonstrated a desire to remain closer to one another, until Luiz Gonzaga’s death in 1989. Two years later, Gonzaguinha died in a car accident in Paraná, Brazil; he was 45.

Gonzaguinha was known for his sharply critical lyrics – often banned by the military censors – and his abrasive personality. “O que é o que é” stands out as one of the few exuberant songs in his body of work, alongside “O homem falou.” He composed the song in the Carnivalesque samba-enredo style, suggesting that it was meant to be belted out enthusiastically by masses of people, like the Carnival themes of Rio’s samba schools. In A Canção no Tempo, Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello call “O que é, o que é” a “true hymn of love for life.”

Lyrics in Portuguese

Eu fico
Com a pureza
Da resposta das crianças
É a vida, é bonita
E é bonita…

E não ter a vergonha
De ser feliz
Cantar e cantar e cantar
A beleza de ser
Um eterno aprendiz…

Ah meu Deus!
Eu sei, eu sei
Que a vida devia ser
Bem melhor e será
Mas isso não impede
Que eu repita
É bonita, é bonita
E é bonita…

E a vida!
E a vida o que é?
Diga lá, meu irmão
Ela é a batida
De um coração
Ela é uma doce ilusão
Hê! Hô!…

E a vida
Ela é maravilha
Ou é sofrimento?
Ela é alegria
Ou lamento?
O que é? O que é?
Meu irmão…

Há quem fale
Que a vida da gente
É um nada no mundo
É uma gota, é um tempo
Que nem dá um segundo…

Há quem fale
Que é um divino
Mistério profundo
É o sopro do criador
Numa atitude repleta de amor…

Você diz que é luta e prazer
Ele diz que a vida é viver
Ela diz que melhor é morrer
Pois amada não é
E o verbo é sofrer…

Eu só sei que confio na moça
E na moça eu ponho a força da fé
Somos nós que fazemos a vida
Como der, ou puder, ou quiser…

Sempre desejada
Por mais que esteja errada
Ninguém quer a morte
Só saúde e sorte…

E a pergunta roda
E a cabeça agita
Eu fico com a pureza
Da resposta das crianças
É a vida, é bonita
E é bonita…

Main sources for this post: Gonzaguinha e Gonzagão: Uma história brasileira by Regina Echeverria; A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2: 1958 – 1985 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello