João Gilberto – “João Valentão” (Dorival Caymmi) and “Chão de Estrelas” (Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas)

 

“João Valentão” by Dorival Caymmi (1945)

João Valentão é brigão// João Valentão is a tough
De dar bofetão// He throws blows
Não presta atenção e nem pensa na vida// He doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t even contemplate life
A todo João intimida// He intimidates every João
Faz coisas que até Deus duvida// He does things even God can’t believe
Mas tem seu momento na vida// But he has his moment in life…

É quando o sol vai quebrando lá pro fim do mundo pra noite chegar// It’s when the sun goes breaking over the end of the world, for night to arrive
É quando se ouve mais forte o ronco das ondas na beira do mar// It’s when the roar of the waves can be heard more loudly at the edge of the sea
É quando o cansaço da lida, da vida, obriga João se sentar// It’s when the weariness of the struggle, of life, forces João to sit down
É quando a morena se encolhe, se chega pro lado querendo agradar// It’s when the morena curls up, comes to his side, wishing to please
Se a noite é de lua a vontade é de contar mentiras, de se espreguiçar// If the night is moonlit, the urge is to tell fibs, to stretch out
Deitar na areia da praia que acaba onde a vista não pode alcançar// Lie down on the sand on the beach that ends beyond where the eye can see
E assim adormece esse homem que nunca precisa dormir pra sonhar// And that’s how this man falls asleep, who never needs to sleep to dream
Porque não há sonho mais lindo do que sua terra não há// Because there is no dream more beautiful than his land, there’s none

“Chão de Estrelas” by Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas (1937)

Minha vida era um palco iluminado// My life was a lighted stage
Eu vivia vestido de dourado// I was always dressed in gold
Palhaço das perdidas ilusões// Clown of lost illusions
Cheio dos guizos falsos de alegria// Full of the phony bells of joy
Andei cantando minha fantasia// I went around singing my fantasy
Entre as palmas febris dos corações// Among the feverish palms* of hearts

Meu barracão lá no morro do Salgueiro// My shack, on Salgueiro Hill
Tinha o cantar alegre de um viveiro// Had the cheerful song of an aviary
Foste a sonoridade que acabou// You were the sonority that ended
E hoje quando do sol a claridade //And today, when the sun’s rays
Forra meu barracão, sinto saudade// Stream into my shack, I feel saudade
Da mulher, pomba rola, que voou// For the woman, dove that flew away

Nossas roupas comuns dependuradas// Our modest clothes hanging
Na corda, qual bandeiras agitadas// Out on the line, like waving flags
Parecia um estranho festival// Appeared an exotic festival
Festa dos nossos trapos coloridos// A party of our colored rags
A mostrar que nos morros mal vestidos// Showing that on the poorly dressed hillsides
É sempre feriado nacional// It’s always a national holiday

A porta do barraco era sem trinco// The shack’s door had no latch
Mas a lua furando o nosso zinco// But the moon, boring through our tin
Salpicava de estrelas nosso chão// Peppered our floor with stars
E tu pisavas nos astros, distraída// And you stepped on the stars, absent-minded
Sem saber que a ventura dessa vida// Unaware that the fortune of this life
É a cabrocha, o luar, e o violão// Is the cabrocha, the moonlight and the guitar

— Commentary–

 

Última Hora, Missão 2858-59
João Gilberto’s debut at Copacabana Palace, 1959. Photo via Arquivo Publico do Estado de São Paulo. 
Jornal Aqui Sao Paulo;
João Gilberto. Photo via Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo.

It would be hard to find a foreign lover of Brazilian music whose life wasn’t fundamentally changed by João Gilberto, who died yesterday, July 6, at age 88.  I remember listening over and over to a playlist put together by the fantastic Zuim Podcast in 2011 for Gilberto’s 80th birthday. I was living in New York at the time and the songs — which still bring to mind memories of runs in Prospect Park and drab days at a midtown office — helped inspire this blog, which I started a few months later, and my move to Brazil. They included several from this 1958 recording from the casa de Chico Pereira, linked above. Especially beautiful to me was “João Valentão,” to this day, thanks to that recording, maybe my favorite Brazilian song — or at least one of the first that would come to mind if I had to answer that impossible question. It was one of the first songs I translated for the blog back in 2011. Here it is reprised with João Gilberto singing, along with “Chão de Estrelas” (which also has its own post from 2012), which follows “João Valentão” on the album. Over the next few weeks I hope to get time to translate more João Gilberto recordings on here; for now, here are two of my favorites.

 

*The first verse of “Chão de Estrelas” ends with “among the feverish palms of hearts.” In Portuguese, the literal translation for “clap” in English is “to beat palms.” Orestes Barbosa played with this phrase, referring to beating hearts as “palms of hearts.”

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“Saudosa Maloca” & “Torresmo à Milanesa”

Lyrics from “Saudosa Maloca” by Adoniran Barbosa (1951), interpreted by Adoniran Barbosa & Conjunto do Nelson Miranda

___

[intro:
Saudosa maloca // Dear old hut
Maloca querida // Beloved hut
Onde nóis passemos // Where we spent
Dias feliz de nossa vida // Happy days of our life
(2x)]

Se o sinhô não tá lembrado / If you are not recalling, sir
Dá licença de contá // Please do let me tell
Qui aqui onde agora está esse edifício artu // That here where this tall building stands
Era uma casa veia um palacete assobradadu // There was an old house, a two-storey’d palace
Foi aqui seu moço// It was here, my boy
Que eu, Mato Grosso e o Joca // That I, Mato Grosso and Joca
Construímos nossa maloca // Made our quarters
Mas um dia nem quero lembrar // But one day, I don’t even want to think of it
Chegô os homeis com as ferramenta // The men with the tools came
o dono mandô derrubá // The owner ordered it torn down
Peguemo’ tuda nossas coisas // We took all our things
E fumos pro meio da rua // And went out to the middle of the road
Ispiá [espiar] a demolição // To watch the demolition
Que tristeza que eu sentia // What sorrow I felt
Cada tauba [tábua] que caia // Every board that fell
Doía no coração // Hurt in my heart
Mato Grosso quis gritar // Mato Grosso wanted to scream
Mas em cima eu falei // But over him I said
O hômiis tá ‘cá razão // The men they got reason
Nós arranja outro lugar // We’ll find another place
se conformemos quando o Joca falou // We only accepted it when Joca said
“Deus dá o frio conforme o cobertor”// “God deals out cold based on the size of the blanket”
E hoje nóis pega páia nas grama do jardim // And today we collect straw in yards of the garden
E pra esquecê nóis cantemos assim // And to forget, we sing like this
Saudosa maloca, maloca querida // Good old hut, dear hut
Onde nóis passemos dias feliz da nossa vida // Where we spent happy days of our life (3x)

____

Lyrics from “Torresmo à Milanesa” by Adoniran Barbosa and Carlinhos Vergueiro (1979)

___

O enxadão da obra bateu onze hora // The hoe of the construction site just struck 11 o’clock
Vam s’embora, joão! // Les’go, João
Vam s’embora, joão! // Les’go, João
(2x)

Que é que você troxe na marmita, Dito? // What’d you bring in your lunch box, Dito?
Troxe ovo frito, troxe ovo frito // I brought fried egg, I brought fried egg
E você beleza, o que é que você troxe? // And you, beauty, What’d you bring?
Arroz com feijão e um torresmo à milanesa // Rice with beans and a pork rind à milanesa
Da minha Tereza! // From my Tereza!

Vamos armoçar // Let’s have lunch
Sentados na calçada // Sitting on the sidewalk
Conversar sobre isso e aquilo // Talk about this and that
Coisas que nóis não entende nada // Things we don’t know nothing about
Depois, puxá uma páia // And afterwards hit the hay
Andar um pouco // Take a little stroll
Pra fazer o quilo // To aid digestion

É dureza João! // Ain’t it tough, João! (4x)

O mestre falou // The master said
Que hoje não tem vale não // That today there’s no lunch pass
Ele se esqueceu // He forgot
Que lá em casa não sou só eu // That it’s not just me at home!

— Commentary —

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 1.40.17 PM
Adoniran Barbosa with the vocal group Demônios da Garoa, who were the first to record and popularize many of his songs.

I translated “Saudosa Maloca” to show some of my students so decided to take advantage and make a post out of it!

Adoniran Barbosa’s “Trem das Onze” (translated in an old post here) is his song that has achieved the greatest success outside of São Paulo — specifically in the territorial samba circles of Rio — but “Saudosa Maloca” is probably his most iconic and beloved samba among his fellow paulistasThe version included above was the first recording, but the song only became a hit with this 1955 recording by the vocal group Demônios da Garoa:

That group’s role in popularizing Adoniran’s sambas has generated some controversy in recent years, as members of the present-day iteration of the group have claimed that Demônios was responsible for inventing the “‘narfabeto” (illiterate Italian-inflected) style of singing that Adoniran became famous for. The 1951 recording reveals there is little truth to that claim.

Both of these songs address the rapid expansion of urban Brazil — specifically São Paulo — in the early to mid-twentieth century, and the hard lives of those who built the city but had trouble finding a place in it.

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Italian immigrants at a shelter in São Paulo c. 1890. Most immigrants passed through these special shelters before continuing on to coffee plantations. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

As this earlier post explains, Barbosa was born João Rubinato in 1912 to Italian immigrant parents in the interior of São Paulo state. As millions of Italian immigrants arrived in the United States between 1870 – 1930,  about 4 million more went to South America. Most went to Argentina, but approximately a hundred thousand (exact numbers are hard to come by) disembarked in Brazil. Most of these families, including Barbosa’s, first settled in rural areas to work on and around Brazil’s booming coffee plantations. But as the themes of Barbosa’s songs highlight, most soon ended up seeking better economic possibilities in growing cities.

Sao-Paulo-imigrantes-italianos-1920-mooca_museu-imigracao-bx.jpg
Italian immigrants selling fruit in the Mooca neighborhood of São Paulo, 1920. Image via Museu da imigração.

As mentioned, Barbosa was famous for composing and singing in the Italian-inflected rural style of speech he grew up with, which is still common all around São Paulo, especially in the rural interior of the state.  I’ve put those words/phrases in bold in the original Portuguese lyrics; it’s things like pronouncing an “r” in place of an “l” (e.g. “armoçar” instead of “almoçar,” to have lunch) and mis-conjugating verbs (e.g., “fumos” instead of “fomos,” we went; “se conformemos” instead of “nos conformamos,” and “nois pega” instead of “nós pegamos.”)  I hope that gives a picture. In a few places I’ve tried to translate into parallel English to add a little of that flavor.

“Maloca” is a pretty hard word to translate. The word originally referred to an indigenous communal dwelling, and can connote an improvised dwelling and the concept of “home.” In this song, I believe it refers to something like squatters’ quarters, set up in the old house that gets torn down.  I haven’t been able to come up with any word in English that would carry all of the same connotations without giving an idea of much greater luxury than “maloca,” so I’ve just left it translated as hut, and “quarters” in one place.

“Saudoso/a” is of course also a challenge: it comes from the notoriously untranslatable word “saudade.” Saudoso is one of my favorite derivatives of saudade. It is often used in the way we use “late” (as in dead) in English, but is much more elegant and appropriately sentimental. (For occasions when no sentiment is called for, the word “falecido/a” might be substituted.)

The phrase “fazer o quilo” is, according to the Internet, a popular corruption of “fazer o quimo,” which refers to chymotrypsin, a chemical responsible for digestion.

In the mid-twentieth century there was a tremendous amount of construction in the centrally located neighborhoods of São Paulo known as Jardins (Gardens): Jardim Paulista, Jardim Europa, Jardim America, etc. Those neighborhoods quickly became some of the city’s wealthiest. In the line “we collect straw in the yards of the garden” (i.e. work clearing yards), “garden” probably refers to that construction boom.

Barbosa and his friend Carlinhos Vergueiro composed “Torresmo à Milanesa” in a bar in 1979. The song apparently began as “Bife à Milanesa,” but Barbosa suggested last minute that they change it to “torresmo à milanesa” to make it more comical, since pork rinds à milanesa doesn’t exist. He then suggested they also change it to “um torresmo à milanesa” — a single pork rind — because that’s “sadder.”

A final note on that song: an enxadão is a hoe. Here it might be referring to some other similar tool from a construction site, but I’m assuming the lyrics mean that a boss struck the time using a hoe (or similar instrument) so that the sound would reverberate across the construction site.

Sujeito de Sorte

Lyrics from “Sujeito de Sorte” by Belchior (1976)

___
Presentemente eu posso me considerar um sujeito de sorte // Presently I can consider myself a lucky guy
Porque apesar de muito moço me sinto são e salvo e forte // Because in spite of being very young I feel safe and sound and strong
E tenho comigo pensado Deus é brasileiro e anda do meu lado // And I’ve been thinking to myself God is Brazilian and walks by my side
E assim já não posso sofrer no ano passado // And because of that I can’t suffer anymore in the year gone by

Tenho sangrado demais, tenho chorado pra cachorro // I’ve bled too much, I’ve cried like crazy
Ano passado eu morri mas esse ano eu não morro // Last year I died, but this year I won’t (3x)

— Commentary —

Musico Belchior em 1977.  FOTO DIVULGAÇÃO.
Belchior in 1977. 

Belchior’s 1976 album Alucinação was one of the most important albums of that decade — one of the richest in the history of Brazilian popular music — and remains tremendously popular and relevant today. It was Belchior’s second studio album (after A Palo Seco, 1974), and the Brazilian public devoured it; the album sold over 30,000 copies in the first three weeks after its release.

One Brazilian music critic has attributed the album’s appeal to its quality of “wringing out the anxiety of the Brazilian youth, caught between the violence of the state” — during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85) — “and the end of the dreams of liberation represented by the countercultural revolution.”

Belchior’s death in 2017 coincided with a parallel climate of anxiety. The end of Brazil’s optimistic socioeconomic boom years (~2005-12) culminated in the 2016 impeachment of left-leaning president Dilma Rousseff — Brazil’s first female president — and the rise of authoritarian politicians like the country’s president-elect (to be inaugurated tomorrow, at writing), the far-right retired army captain Jair Bolsonaro. Both the composer’s death and that political turn have brought renewed attention over the past couple years to the messages captured on Belchior’s best-loved album.

Belchior was born Antônio Carlos Gomes Belchior Fontanelle Fernandes in Sobral, Ceará, on October 26, 1946, the thirteenth of twenty-three children. He used to joke that his excessively long name was “one of the greatest in Brazilian popular music,” the kind of name that, in the northeastern backlands where he was born, people said you “crossed on horseback.” Belchior moved to the state capital of Fortaleza for school in 1962, and in the 60s he began performing his compositions for music festivals around the northeast. By the early 1970s he had moved on to the more popular festivals of Rio and São Paulo, taking first place in Rio’s 1971 IV Festival Universitário da Canção with “Hora do Almoço.”

In Rio, Belchior caught the attention of singer-songwriter Sérgio Ricardo, who, in 1972,  launched the short-lived series Disco de Bolso — Pocket Album — with the leftist satirical weekly O Pasquim. The 78rpm series, which unfortunately only lasted two editions, sought to feature a well-known singer-songwriter on one side and promote a relatively unknown composer on the other. The first edition featured Tom Jobim singing his recent composition “Águas de Março” on one side, and the still little-known João Bosco on the other singing “Agnus Sei.”  For the “unknown composer” side of the second edition, Ricardo selected Belchior’s composition “Mucuripe,” a collaboration with Fagner, another singer-songwriter from Ceará who was on his way to becoming tremendously popular. Caetano Veloso recorded the song alongside “A Volta da Asa Branca,” by the northeastern star Luiz Gonzaga.

Elis Regina, one of the greatest voices of Brazilian popular music and one of its most talented curators, took a liking to “Mucuripe,” and released it on her 1972 LP Elis (along with Jobim’s “Águas de Março”). Regina would go on to popularize two of Belchior’s compositions from Alucinação “Como Nossos Pais” and “Velha Roupa Colorida.” The latter song was a call for the counterculture crowd to shed its time-worn “peace-love” trappings and take a renewed and more powerful political stance against the authoritarian dictatorship. Raúl Seixas, perhaps the greatest icon of the counterculture, responded to that song with his 1976 “Eu Também Vou Reclamar” (translated on my Facebook page) which ironized the protest song as little more than a gimmick to sell records. Seixas invoked Belchior’s “Apenas Um Rapaz Latino-Americano” (Just a Latin American Guy) explicitly, singing “Agora sou apenas um latino-americano que não tem cheiro nem sabor (Now I’m just a Latin American guy without any scent or flavor). The little feud was in good fun, though, and Belchior went on to record Seixas’s countercultural anthem “Ouro de Tolo” (Fool’s Gold, translated here) in 1984.

Belchior was often compared to Bob Dylan for his nasal and rough-edged singing style; his lengthy poetic lyrics; and his tendency to speak, rather than sing, parts of those lyrics. Dylan was unquestionably an influence, but Belchior said his style of singing actually came from the Gregorian chants he grew up with in the Catholic school he attended in Ceará.

After the release of his final album in late 2002,  Belchior grew increasingly reclusive. He made his last public appearance in 2009, in a show with Tom Zé, and — facing tremendous fines for things like abandoning cars in parking lots — he vanished from the public eye.

Belchior died of a reported heart attack on April 30, 2017, prompting an outpouring of grief from his fans young and old in Brazil. The hashtag/movement #voltabelchior (Come Back, Belchior) swept the internet, and fans in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, established the Carnival bloco (parade group) “Volta Belchior.”