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 —

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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.

A vida é uma só (pare de tomar a pílula)

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

(refrain)
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 —

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Odaír José, c. 1973.

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.

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!

(refrain)

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
(refrain)
___
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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?”
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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%.

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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.

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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.

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