A Rasteira do Presidente

Lyrics from “A Rasteira do Presidente” by Bicalho/Silvio Modesto, released by Bezerra da Silva (1986)

Alô, alô Dona de Casa // Hello, hello, Housewife
Fiscais do Presidente, se liga // President’s Inspectors, at attention
Tabela de preços na mão // Table of Prices in hand
E vamos lutar contra a inflação // And let’s fight inflation!
E não é mole não  // And it’s not easy, no
Vivendo dessa maneira // Living this way
Eles inventaram essa tal de inflação // They invented that thing called inflation
E o Presidente deu aquela rasteira // And the president pulled that fast one (“made that tackle”)
Não é mole não (tuburão) // It’s not easy, no, shark (predatory businessmen who profited from inflation)(refrain)O meu salário é o mínimo // My salary is the minimum
porém é o máximo que eu consigo vencer // And yet it’s the maximum I’m able to pull in
Desconto pro INPS// Withholdings for Social Security
e o maldito Leão// And that daggone Lion (income tax)
ainda quer me morder // Is still trying to bite me
ORTN e INPC // ORTN (national treasury bonds) and INPC (inflation index)
Eu escuto dizer, mas eu não sei o que é // I keep hearing talk – but I don’t know what it is
Eu só sei que recebi meu pagamento // I just know I received my payment
Que não deu pra comprar meu alimento // And it wasn’t enough to buy my aliment
Remarcaram os preços eu fiquei a pé // They marked up the prices and I was left behind!


O que não consigo entender // And what I just can’t understand
o meu nome é sujo no SPC // My name’s “dirty” in the SPC (credit protection service)
Meu crédito é cortado na praça // My credit’s cut off on the streets
não me vendem fiado nem o que comer //  They won’t even sell me food on the cuff
O banco não me empresta dinheiro // The bank won’t lend me money
porque não tenho bens para me garantir // Because I don’t have any assets as guarantees
Veja bem, não pedi nada emprestado // But look here, I didn’t ask for anything on loan
Dizem que devo dolar adoidado // Yet they say I owe mad dollars
Ao famigerado, FMI // To that infamous IMF

(refrain)E agora é que eu quero ver // And now I want to see
Os ladrões de gravata o que vão fazer // What the crooks in ties are gonna do
O bicho vai pegar adoidado // The beast is gonna go crazy (things are gonna get ugly)
Em cima daquele que não obedecer // On anyone who doesn’t obey
O trabalhador já pode com a sua família // The worker can go ahead with his family
Fazer sua ceia // and make his supper
se os federais chegarem em um supermercado // if the feds get to a supermarket
Encontrem os preços remarcados // And find the prices marked up
Dão bolacha no gato e mete na cadeia // They’ll box the cat’s ears and throw him in jail
Bezerra da Silva said he didn’t sing about love because he could only sing about things he knew: “People talk about making love – where is love made, some factory in Bangu?”
Cover of Bezerra’s 1988 album “Violência Gera Violência“, with headlines including: “Military police shoot into crowd and kill woman in Realengo”;  “Fraud of billions in INAMPS” (National Institute of Medical Aid and Social Security)

Bezerra became famous in the 1970s and ’80s for his hard-core but humorous sambas about the hustling malandro lifestyle and life on the morro (favela). He was revered for his deft denouncement of government corruption, most notably the crooked and brutal police force.

Bezerra’s acquaintances from the morro composed many of his best-love songs. They were bricklayers, carpenters, repairmen, and “22s” (crazies) who had chosen to steer clear of crime, but respected and wrote about malandro precepts like the  “Lei de Murici” (Lei de Murici: Cada um cuida de si — Murici’s law: every man for himself; mind your own business) and especially excelled at writing witty smack about snitches and sogras (mothers-in-law) in thick slang.

“A rasteira do presidente” was composed and released in early 1986, following the launch of a new economic plan, the Plano Cruzado.

At the time, Brazil was in the midst of a bumpy transition from military dictatorship to democracy, and was meanwhile suffering the consequences of the military government’s brash fiscal and monetary policies (which were not much improved upon in the first years of the democracy). Hyperinflation topped 235% in 1985 and was on track to hit 500% in 1986. José Sarney had taken office as transitional president on March 15, 1985, and after a dismal first nine months, promised in January 1986 that he would not allow inflation to continue shooting up. In an ill-fated attempt to keep this promise, on February 28, 1986, Sarney declared a bank holiday and announced his Plano Cruzado –  “shock treatment” for the Brazilian economy, which was also meant to serve as a symbolic rupture from the legacy of the military dictatorship.

This “heterodox plan”replaced Brazil’s currency the Cruzeiro with the Cruzado (worth 1,000 cruzeiros), fixed at 13.84 to the dollar. Salaries were adjusted up by 8% (public servants) and 15% (minimum wage), and an “inflation insurance” mechanism was put in place to increase salaries automatically if inflation hit 20%.

A “fiscal do presidente” checks her price table.

The plan also froze prices for food, gasoline, hygiene and cleaning products, and services. These fixed prices were published on a table (mentioned in the song) as a means of holding business-owners to account. In announcing the plan, Sarney called upon every Brazilian citizen to be “um fiscal do president” – a president’s inspector – making sure that shops were sticking strictly to the price table. And indeed, as the song makes reference to, the government shut down businesses that were caught cheating.

Not surprisingly, the plan led to basic supply-and-demand mismatches, empty shelves, dissatisfied producers and consumers… which as usual nurtured a flourishing black market. In November 1986, Sarney’s government was forced to abandon the plan and launch Plano Cruzado II. Cruzado II unfroze prices and signaled the return of staggering inflation, which would plague Brazil and Bezerra’s friends on the morro until 1994, when the Plano Real finally pulled the country out of this financial quagmire.

21 March 1986: a supermarket in Salvador, Bahia, that was closed for “practicing prices above those that are authorized.”

Another element of this quagmire that comes up in the song: In the 1980s, Brazil was drowning in billions of dollars of external debt, a legacy of the military government’s over-borrowing to finance ill-advised national development projects. Over the course of the ’80s, Brazil signed eleven bail-out agreements with the “infamous IMF.”

Bezerrra, who was born in 1927 in Recife, Pernambuco, and arrived in Rio as a stowaway in the 1940s, died in January 2005 at the age of 77.

Busy supermarket El Dorado in São Paulo in March 1986. The Cruzado plan led to a rush on supermarkets.

Quero voltar pra Bahia (I want to go back to Bahia)

Lyrics from “Quero Voltar Pra Bahia (I Want To Go Back To Bahia)” by Paulo Diniz/Odibar (1970)

I don’t want to stay here
I wanna to go back to Bahia

Eu tenho andado tão só // I’ve been so alone lately
Quem me olha nem me vê // People look at me and don’t even see me
Silêncio em meu violão // My guitar’s fallen silent
Nem eu mesmo sei por qu. // And I don’t even know why
De repente ficou frio // It suddenly grew cold
Eu não vim aqui para ser feliz // I didn’t come here to be happy
Cadê o meu sol dourado? // Where’s my golden sun?
Cadê as coisas do meu país? // Where are the things from my country?

I don’t want to stay here
I wanna to go back to Bahia.

Eu tenho andado tão só // I’ve been so alone lately
Quem me olha nem me vê// People look at me and don’t even see me
Silêncio em meu violão // My guitar’s fallen silent
Nem eu mesmo sei por que // And I don’t even know why
Via Intelsat eu mando // Via Intelsat, I send
Notícias minhas para “O Pasquim” // News of myself to “O Pasquim”
Beijos pra minha amada // Kisses to my love
Que tem saudades e pensa em mim // Who misses me and pines over me

I don’t want to stay here
I wanna to go back to Bahia.

— Commentary —


This 1970 soul sensation was inspired by Caetano Veloso, who was depressed in exile in London at the time. Legions of fans embraced it as an anthem pleading for Caetano’s return to Brazil.

Caetano and Gil displayed the image 

As the song exploded, Brazil was living through the direct aftermath of decree Ato Institucional V (AI-5), issued on 13 December 1968, which shut down the national Congress, abolished habeas corpus, and essentially opened the path for Brazil’s military regime to expand its systematic repression, censorship, and persecution of anyone perceived as a leftist sympathizer or societal provocateur. That same month, Caetano and Gil were arrested, ostensibly for having featured tropicalist artist Helio Oiticica’s image of a marginal — representing 23-year-old Cara de Cavaloshot dead two months earlier by a Rio police death squad — with the caption “Be an outlaw, be a hero!” in a December 1968 show in Rio de Janeiro.

Caetano in London, c. 1970.

The two were thrown in jail for two months, placed on house arrest for four more, and then forced into exile in 1969.  Caetano missed Brazil tremendously; he has called his 1971 album recorded in London “a document of depression.” (For more on this period, see “Back in Bahia” [Gilberto Gil, 1972]; “Panis et Circenses” [1968] and “Expresso 2222” [Gilberto Gil, 1972].)

As Brazil plunged into the AI-5-era known as the anos de chumbo (years of lead), Paulo Diniz released this song, infused with his strong northeastern accent and Caribbean sounds, providing a perfect example of the new twists that Brazilians brought to soul music, inspired by 60’s R&B, Motown and James Brown’s funk.

Pasquim, mentioned in the song, was a leftist magazine with a weekly circulation of about 200,000, established in 1969 as an outlet of resistance against the military dictatorship.

Main source for this post: Vale Tudo: Tim Maia, by Nelson Motta

Carta ao Tom/Berimbau

-begins min. 1:14-

Translation Below
Carta de Vinícius de Moraes a Tom Jobim (“Carta ao Tom”):

Porto do Havre, 7 de setembro de 1964

Tomzinho querido,

Estou aqui num quarto de hotel, que dá para uma praça, que dá para toda solidão do mundo.

São 10 horas da noite, e não se vê vivalma.

Meu navio só sai amanhã à tarde e é impossível alguém estar mais triste do que eu.

E como sempre, nestas horas, escrevo para você cartas que nunca mando.

Deixei Paris para trás com a saudade de um ano de amor, e pela frente, tem o Brasil, que é uma paixão permanente em minha vida de constante exilado.

A coisa ruim é que hoje é 7 de setembro, a data nacional, e eu sei que em nossa embaixada há uma festa, que me cairia muito bem, com o Baden mandando brasa no violão.

Há pouco telefonei para lá para cumprimentar o embaixador, e veio todo mundo ao telefone.
Estão queimando um óleo firme!

Você já passou um 7 de setembro Tomzinho, sozinho, num porto estrangeiro, numa noite sem qualquer perspectiva? É fogo maestro!

Estou doido para ver você e Carlinhos e recomeçar a trabalhar. Imagine que este ano foi praticamente dedicado ao Baden, pois Paris não é brincadeira! Mas agora o Tremendão aconteceu mesmo! A Europa teve que curvar-se! Mas ainda assim, fizemos umas músiquinhas, como “Formosa“. Você vai ver! Tudo sambão! Parece até que a saudade do Brasil quando a gente está longe, procura mais a forma do samba tradicional do que a Bossa Nova; não é engraçado? São como diria o Lucio Rangel: “as raízes!”.

Vou agora escrever para casa, pedindo dois menus diferentes para minha chegada. Para o almoço, um tutuzinho com torresmo, um lombinho de porco bem tostadinho, uma couvinha mineira e, doce de coco. Para o jantar, uma galinha ao molho pardo, com arroz bem soltinho e, papos de anjo. Mas daqueles que só a mãe da gente sabe fazer! Daqueles, que se a pessoa fosse honrada mesmo, só devia comer, metida em banho morno, em trevas totais, pensando no máximo, na mulher amada. Por aí, você vê como estou me sentindo; nem cá, nem lá!

Fiquei muito contente com o sucesso de “Garota de Ipanema“, nos Estados Unidos. E Astrudinha, hein? Que negocio tão direito. Vamos ver se desta vez, os intermediários deixam “algum” para nós!

Fiquei muito contente também, com a noticia do sucesso de “Berimbau” aí no Brasil. Dizem que estão tocando a músiquinha “pra valer”! Isso me alegra muito pelo Baden. E pra que mentir? Por mim também! É bom saber que a gente não foi esquecido, que o povo continua cantando as nossas coisas; pois no fundo mesmo, é pra ele que a gente compõe! Lembro-me tão bem, quando fizemos o samba, uma madrugada, há uns 3 anos atrás, por aí. Eu disse ao Baden: isso tem pinta de sucesso. E ficamos cantando e cantando o samba até o sol raiar.
Letter from Vinícius de Moraes to Tom Jobim:

Port of Le Havre, September 7, 1964

Dearest Tom,

I’m here in a hotel room, which looks out over a plaza, which looks out over all of the lonesomeness in the world.

It’s 10 p.m. and not a soul to be seen.

My ship leaves only tomorrow afternoon and it’s impossible that anyone’s sadder than I am.

And as always at these times, I write you letters that I never send.

I left Paris behind with the longing of a year of love, and ahead of me, there’s Brazil, which is a permanent passion in my life as a constant exile.

The bad part is that today is September 7th – the national holiday – and I know that in our embassy there’s a party that would do me good, with Baden [Powell] tearing it up on the guitar.

A little while ago I called over there to greet the ambassador, and everyone came to the phone. They’re really burning the midnight oil!

Have you ever spent September 7, my dear Tom, alone, in a foreign port, on a night without any prospects? It’s rough, maestro!

I can’t wait to see you and Carlinhos [Lyra] and get back to work. Think that this year was practically dedicated to Baden, because Paris is no joke! But now the shit really went down; Europe had to bend over! But even so, we made some songs, like “Formosa,” – you’ll see! All sambão! It almost seems like when we miss Brazil, when we’re far away, we seek out the more traditional sort of samba rather than bossa nova; isn’t it funny? As Lucio Rangel would say, ‘roots!'”

I’m going to write home now requesting two different menus for my arrival. For lunch, a “tutuzinho” [dish of beans, bacon and manioc meal] with crackling, a toasty little pork loin, collard greens, and coconut sweets. For dinner, chicken with brown gravy, with rice that’s really loose just so, and “papos de anjo” (like Angels’ double chin – traditional Portuguese dessert). But the kind that only mom makes best! The kind that, if the person were truly honorable, should only be eaten while tucked into a warm bath, in total darkness, thinking at most about the woman he loves. You can see how I am: neither here nor there!

I was really pleased by the success of ‘Girl from Ipanema’ in the United States. And lil’ Astrud!? What a perfect deal. Let’s see if this time the intermediaries leave ‘some’ for us!

I was also really pleased by the news of the success of ‘Berimbau’ there in Brazil. I hear they’re playing the song ‘for real!’ That makes me really happy for Baden. And why lie? For myself too. It’s good to know that we haven’t been forgotten, that the people continue singing our songs; after all, deep down, that’s why we compose! I remember so well when we wrote the samba, one late late night, about three years ago. I told Baden: ‘this looks like a hit.’ And we sang and sang the samba until the sun came up.
Quem é homem de bem não trai o amor que lhe quer seu bem// A good man doesn’t betray the love that wants the best for him

Quem diz muito que vai não vai, assim como não vai, não vem // A man who says too much that he goes, doesn’t go, and just as he doesn’t go, he doesn’t come

Quem de dentro de si não sai, vai morrer sem amar ninguém // A man who doesn’t come out from within himself will die without loving anyone

O dinheiro de quem não dá, é o trabalho de quem não tem. // The money of the man who doesn’t give is the work of the man who doesn’t have it

Capoeira que é bom, não cai, e se um dia ele cai, cai bem. // Capoeira who’s good doesn’t fall, and if he falls one day, he falls right.

Capoeira me mandou, dizer que já chegou, chegou para lutar. // Capoeira sent me, sent me to announce he’s come to fight

Berimbau me confirmou, vai ter briga de amor, tristeza, camará // The berimbau confirmed for me, there’s going to be a duel of passion, sadness, my friend

— Commentary —


In 1963, Vinicius de Moraes assumed a post with the Brazilian delegation for UNESCO in Paris. He had worked as a diplomat since 1946, when he took his first post as Brazilian Vice-Consul in Los Angeles, beginning a life of “constant exile,” which he makes reference to in the letter. Lúcio Rangel, whom he quotes in the letter, was the music critic who introduced Vinicius and Tom in 1956.  September 7th is Brazil’s independence day.

In early 1962 Vinicius met Baden Powell, and the two began an intense period of musical collaboration. Baden joined Vinicius in Paris in November, 1963.

Tom & Vinicius became close friends and partners after working together on Vinicius’s musical “Orfeu Negro” (Black Orpheus) in 1956.

When the military overthrew João Goulart’s government on March 31, 1964, Vinicius de Moraes returned to Brazil, where he resumed work as a cronista for Fatos e Fotos and writing pieces on MPB for Diário Carioca. As the country sank into the darkest years of the military dictatorship, Vinicius turned his attention more and more to his music. In 1964 he had a five-month run in a famous show with Dorival Caymmi, Oscar Castro Neves and Quarteto em Cy at Copacabana’s  Zum Zum nightclub; the show’s 1965 album included this recording of the letter to Tom, and “Berimbau.”  In 1966, Vinicius and Baden released their groundbreaking album Afrosambas, with sambas composed between 1962 and 1965, including “Berimbau.”