Lyrics from “A vida é uma só (pare de tomar a pílula)” by Odaír José (1973)
Já nem sei há quanto tempo // I don’t even know how long it’s been
Nossa vida é uma vida só// Our life is only one
E nada mais// And nothing more
Nossos dias vão passando// Our days go passing by
E você sempre deixando// And you’re always leaving
Tudo pra depois// Everything for later
Todo dia a gente ama// Every day we love one another
Mais você não quer deixar nascer// But you don’t want to give birth
O fruto desse amor//To the fruit of that love
Não entende que é preciso// You don’t understand that we need
Ter alguém em nossa vida// Someone in our life
Seja como for// No matter what
Você diz que me adora// You say you adore me
Que tudo nessa vida sou eu// That I’m everything in this life
Então eu quero ver você// So I want to see you
Esperando um filho meu// Carrying my child
Entao eu quero ver você// So I want to see you
Esperando um filho meu// Carrying my child
Pare de tomar a pílula!// Stop taking the pill!
Pare de tomar a pílula
Pare de tomar a pílula
Porque ela não deixa o nosso filho nascer (3x)// Because it keeps our child from being born
— Commentary —
Most people associate protest music during Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-85) with MPB singers like Chico Buarque, Geraldo Vandré, and Elis Regina. But even songs like this one, from the brega (corny, cheesy, lowbrow…) genre — an over-the-top romantic style from the northeast — were vehicles of resistance. Composers of brega ballads critiqued racism, social inequality, and the social conservatism of the regime, and advocated for things such as the legalization of divorce (only passed through a constitutional amendment known as the “divorce law” in 1977). Their songs represented a major channel for political discourse among Brazil’s poorest populations.
This song serves as a perfect example. The military government treated the impoverished northeast as a problem: an overpopulated and undercivilized hinterland that bred radical peasants and hindered the country’s drive toward order and progress. To try to stamp out that problem without instituting meaningful social reforms, the regime pushed birth control pills and IUDs across the region. State-sponsored population-control programs attempted to win hearts and minds with the uninspired slogan “take the pill with lots of love” (tome a pílula com muito amor); this song responded with “stop taking the pill!”
The song was catchy, irreverent, and amusing, and was a runaway hit. After a while, the military regime’s censors caught on to the ruse and did not find it amusing: the song was banned and the discs were taken out of circulation.
Like Chico Buarque, who continued to perform banned songs such as “Cálice” and “Apesar de você,” José continued to sing this one at shows. But after a run-in with an angry general who told him, “if you’re not satisfied with the country, leave,” José opted to leave, and went into exile in England.
The late sixties and early seventies were the worst period of Brazil’s dictatorship, known as the “years of lead” (anos de chumbo). Things began to change in 1974, when General Ernesto Geisel took office as president. More moderate than the hardliners who had ruled since ’67, Geisel began a gradual liberalization program known as “distensão,” which sought to slowly reintroduce some (uncertain) degree of political liberties. Under that aegis, the mid-seventies saw a loosening of censorship and repression, and Odaír José returned to Brazil. His song, meanwhile, experienced a resurgence of popularity in the mid-nineties, when it was the unlikely soundtrack for a C&A department-store commercial that aired throughout Brazil; legions of teenage boys began singing it again, with no clue as to its original context.
Main source for this post: Eu Não Sou Cachorro, Não, by Paulo César Araújo.
Lyrics from “Saudosa Maloca” by Adoniran Barbosa (1951), interpreted by Adoniran Barbosa & Conjunto do Nelson Miranda
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
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 mandôderrubá // 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 hômiistá ‘cá razão // The men they got reason Nós arranja outro lugar // We’ll find another place
Só 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 páianas grama do jardim // And today we collect straw in yards of the garden
E pra esquecênóis 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
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 —
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 paulistas. The 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.
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.
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.
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 —
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.
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.”