Nordeste Pra Frente

Lyrics from “Nordeste pra frente” by Luiz Gonzaga and Luis Queiroga (1968)

Sr. repórter já que tá me entrevistando // Mr. Reporter, since you’re interviewing me
Vá anotando pra botar no seu jornal // Take this down to put in your paper
Que meu Nordeste tá mudado // That my Northeast is changed
Publique isso pra ficar documentado // Publish that, for the record

Qualquer mocinha hoje veste mini-saia // Any ol’ girl these days wears a mini-skirt
Já tem homem com cabelo crescidinho // And now there are men with shaggy hair
O lambe-lambe no sertão já usa flash // The street photographer in the sertão now uses flash
Carro de praça cobra pelo reloginho // And the cars for hire in the square charge by the “little clock” (taximeter)

Já tem conjunto com guitarra americana // Now there are bands with American guitars
Já tem hotel que serve Whisky escocês // Hotels that serve Scotch Whiskey
E tem matuto com gravata italiana // And there are red-necks with Italian ties
Ouvindo jogo no radinho japonês // Listening to the game on their little Japanese radio

Caruaru tem sua universidade // Caruaru has a big university
Campina Grande tem até televisão // Campina Grande even has television
Jaboatão fabrica jipe à vontade // Jaboatão makes loads of jeeps
Lá de Natal já tá subindo foguetão // And over in Natal they’re launching rockets

Lá em Sergipe o petróleo tá jorrando // Over in Sergipe the oil’s gushing
Em Alagoas se cavarem vai jorrar // In Alagoas if they dig it’ll gush too
Publique isso que eu estou lhe afirmando // Publish that, I’m telling you
O meu Nordeste dessa vez vai disparar // This time my Northeast is taking off

Haha… E ainda diziam que meu Nordeste não ia pra frente // Haha, and they said my Northeast was going nowhere
Falavam até que a Sudene não funcionava // Even said the SUDENE did no good
Mas Dr. João chegou lá // But Dr. João got there
Com fé em Deus e no meu Padim Ciço // With faith in God and my Padim Ciço (Padre Cicero)
E todo mundo passou a acreditar no serviço // And everyone started to believe in the service
Essa é que é a história! // That’s history right there for you!

— Commentary —

Luiz Gonzaga_O Sertao eh ele.jpg

December 13 is an important date in Brazilian history.  Given the current political climate, with the president’s son, a federal deputy from Rio de Janeiro, recently suggesting a renewed AI-5, the date may first bring to mind the dark anniversary of that Institutional Act no. 5, issued on December 13, 1968, which marked the beginning of Brazil’s long “years of lead” — the most repressive of the dictatorship.

But let’s focus on a brighter note: December 13 was also Luiz Gonzaga’s birthday. There’s a lot about Gonzaga already on the blog, so I’m going to keep this post brief. Gonzaga was born December 13, 1912, in Exu, a small town in the arid interior of Pernambuco. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1939 and by 1940 was competing on radio talent contests, and his northeastern baião style quickly became wildly popular among southeastern audiences.  As this previous post relates in greater detail, Gonzaga became, in turn, a cultural ambassador for the impoverished and drought-stricken northeast, which by the 1950s had become a top priority for leading economic thinkers in Brazil who sought to remedy the region’s plight as a necessary step toward modernizing Brazil.

As part of that initiative to address what was called the “problem of the northeast,” in 1959, in the wake of a severe drought the previous year, president Juscelino Kubitschek — best known for Brasilia and the slogan “50 years of development in 5” — established the development agency SUDENE (Superintendencia de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste) mentioned in the song. In establishing SUDENE, Kubitschek was following the guidance of his leading economic thinker, Celso Furtado, who became the agency’s first director. Furtado, like Gonzaga, was from the sertão, born in Pombal, Paraíba, in 1920. He was a central figure in defining the regional demarcation of the northeast and in placing the region’s well-being — with a focus on Keynesian-inspired development policies — at the center of mid-century national political and economic debates.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 2.32.09 PMFurtado and SUDENE’s policies were widely criticized as misguided and unrealistic, as the song suggests; and indeed, largely because of the unshakable power of landholding lobbies in the northeast, the agency and the larger Operação Nordeste it was part of never made the difference Furtado sought. Instead, with the military coup of March 31, 1964, Furtado was swiftly removed from office and had his political rights abrogated for ten years. He went into exile in Paris, and the new general-president, Humberto Castelo Branco, appointed “Dr. João” Gonçalves de Souza as director of SUDENE, as outlined in the July 7, 1964, New York Times article included here. Gonzaga’s optimism about Dr. João, the military’s appointee, reveal his unfortunate political persuasions at that time. (I’m not sure how much Gonzaga supported the dictatorship later down the line, especially after Dec. 13, 1968. At any rate, the title of this song, “Nordeste pra frente,” also evokes “Pra frente, Brasil,” a slogan of the dictatorship, popularized through the marchinha for the 1970 World Cup team.)

The song meanwhile offers a humorous take on the arrival of the 1960s zeitgeist to Brazil’s remote northeast: television; long-haired men and rock n’ roll; the expansion of university education; mini-skirts and scotch: symbols of the global 60s’ angsty modernity.  Ah, and oil and cars of course: the Willys Jeep factory in Jaboatão, Pernambuco, mentioned in the song, opened in 1966, and was the northeast’s first car factory.  The TV in Campina Grande refers to TV Borborema, launched in 1966, a year after the Brazilian Air Force opened South America’s first base for rocket launches near Natal, also referenced in the lyrics.

A couple other notes on the translation: Padre Ciçero was a beloved northeastern priest from Crato, Ceará; an annual pilgrimage to his burial place, in Juazeiro do Norte, Ceará, still takes place every year. Lambe lambe refers to traveling street photographers using old-timey cameras.

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.