“A voz do morro” and “Acender as velas”

Lyrics from “A voz do morro” by Zé Kéti (1955)


I’m samba, the voice from the morro, that’s me indeed, yes sir
I want to show the world that I have worth
I’m the king of the terreiro, I’m samba
I’m native from here, from Rio de Janeiro
I’m the one who brings joy to millions of Brazilian hearts
Salve samba, we want samba
Who’s asking for it is the voice of the people of a country
Salve samba, we want samba, that melody of a happy Brazil

Lyrics from “Acender as velas” by Zé Kéti (1965)


Lighting candles has become our profession
When there’s no samba, there’s disillusion
It’s another heart that stops beating, an angel goes to heaven
God forgive me, but I’m going to say it, the doctor arrived too late
Because up on the morro, there’s no automobile to go up
No telephone to call, and no beauty to be seen
And we die without wanting to die

— Interpretation —

L-R: Billy Blanco, Odete, Dorival Caymmi (seated), Zé Kéti, Tom Jobim, and Cartola. Zé Kéti was largely responsible for bringing together the worlds of bossa nova and samba do morro in Rio in the early 1960s
L-R: Billy Blanco, Odete, Dorival Caymmi (seated), Zé Kéti, Tom Jobim, and Cartola at Zicartola. Zé Kéti was largely responsible for bringing together the worlds of bossa nova and samba from the morros of Rio de Janeiro in the early 1960s.
Two of the boys from the favela followed in the film Rio, 40 Graus.
Scene in the favela in Rio, 40 Graus.

“A voz do morro” was the samba that brought fame to Zé Kéti in 1955, when it rolled as the theme song on Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s film Rio, 40 Graus. (Along with contributing to the soundtrack, Kéti worked as second camera assistant for the film and played a small part as the character Neguinho.)  On its own, “A voz do morro” seems like an everyday samba-exaltação, celebrating the nation and the genre; the lyrics alone don’t betray protest or even melancholy. But set against the backdrop of Santos’s film, which follows the lives of five boys from the favela selling peanuts in rich areas of Rio de Janeiro on a scorching summer day, the song is deeply poignant and political. The movie contrasts the lives of these boys with the lives of their rich white neighbors in Copacabana and with the luxuriant natural beauty of the city itself. When it was released, it laid bare in a queasy fashion the class conflict and exploitation of Afro-Brazilian favelados that ran deep in Rio de Janeiro, but that the government, media, and city by and large turned a blind eye to. The movie was styled in the postwar Italian neorealist model of political dramas that mimic  documentaries, and marked the start of the Cinema Novo period in Brazil.

Ten years later, Kéti’s low-spirited samba “Acender as velas” brought the same themes to light, but this time more acutely. Kéti wrote the song for Ronaldo Bôscoli, who was doing a vignette on his TV show about the hopeless situation of a sick boy in a favela. The  samba was released in the wake of the 1964 coup that installed a military dictatorship in Brazil. The military government quickly embarked on a series of harsh and misguided policies for dealing with Rio’s favelas, and Kéti’s sambas responded to this treatment.

Spellings for "Kéti" varied, as this ID demonstrates.
Kéti spelled his name in a number of different ways; this ID shows one of them.

Zé Kéti — whose full name was José Flores de Jesús — was born in  Inhaúma, Rio de Janeiro, on September 16, 1921. His nickname Kéti is an adaptation of “quietinho” – or well-behaved. He explained his name saying “quietinho” became “quieti,”  which he changed to Kéti because “K was in fashion at the time — Khrushchev, Kennedy, Kubitschek.”

Kéti grew up at his grandfather’s house in Bangu until 1928, when he and his mother moved to Dona Clara, a section of the north-zone neighborhood Madureira, the samba bastion that’s home to the samba schools Portela and Império Serrano. In this 1973 documentary, Kéti recounts that his grandfather was a piano and flute player who was friends with Pixinguinha and Cândido das Neves. Kéti’s father was also a composer, guitar and cavaquinho player, and Kéti attributes his fascination with music from a young age to their influence.  Kéti’s father died when Kéti was still a young boy, apparently poisoned by an ex-lover. (The samba “Meu pai morreu” is about this story; Keti said his father went crazy and died on Rio’s Praia Vermelha.) Kéti’s mother,  a fabric factory worker and domestic servant, brought him along on her nights out at samba bars, and Kéti said he would always sit near the music – entranced – rather than playing with the other kids. Eventually his mother granted his pleas for a flute, and he started making music.

Zé Kéti followed in Ciro Monteiro's footsteps playing percussion on a matchbox. He said to play, the matchbox couldn't be too full nor too empty.
Zé Kéti followed in Ciro Monteiro’s footsteps playing percussion on a matchbox. He said to play, the matchbox couldn’t be too full nor too empty.

As a young man Kéti began frequenting the Portela samba school and composing. When he was 24, the group Vocalistas Tropicais released his composition “Tio Sam no samba,” marking his first samba to be recorded. Shortly after, Ciro Monteiro – Kéti’s inspiration in the art of playing percussion on a matchbox – recorded Kéti’s samba “Vivo bem.” But again, fame only came years later, in the mid-1950s: Nelson Pereira dos Santos was looking for a sambista for the soundtrack for Rio, 40 Graus, and actor Artur Vargas Junior brought Zé Kéti in to sing for him. Santos was enchanted – so much so that, as relates in this program, his next film with a similar theme, Rio, Zona Nortewas a tribute to Zé Kéti, who was represented by Grande Otelo‘s character.

Standing, L-R: Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho da Viola and Zé Kéti at Zicartola.
Standing, L-R: Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho da Viola and Zé Kéti at Zicartola.

In 1963, Cartola and his wife Zica opened their legendary restaurant Zicartola and appointed Zé Kéti as artistic director of the house. Kéti was largely responsible for launching the careers of samba greats including Paulinho da Viola, who went into Zicartola in 1964 as the unknown Paulo Cesar and quickly rose to fame under his new artistic name. In the same 1973 documentary, Kéti says Paulinho’s nickname was, “modesty aside, given by his friend Zé Kéti,” inspired by Império Serrano’s Mano Décio da Viola. Kéti’s friend, journalist Sérgio Cabral, hastily used the nickname in his newspaper column and it thus became official.

During his time at Zicartola, Zé Kéti became friends with Carlos Lyra, and the two made a deal: Kéti would take Lyra to samba schools in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro if Lyra introduced Kéti in the bossa-nova-dominated Zona Sul. That’s how Zé Kéti ended up playing a pivotal role in popularizing samba from Rio’s morros among the city’s elite, and throughout the country and the world.

João do Vale, Zé Kéti, and Nara Leão on stage with the show Opinião.
João do Vale, Zé Kéti, and Nara Leão on stage with the show Opinião.

In 1964, Carlos Lyra introduced Kéti to Nara Leão, the “muse of bossa nova” who was increasingly fed up with that genre. In light of the country’s political plight, Nara deemed bossa nova nauseatingly apolitical: “[Bossa nova] always has the same theme: love-flower-sea-love-flower-sea, and it goes on ad infinitum.” In a controversial interview with the magazine Fatos e Fotos, she continued, “I want pure samba, which has much more to say for itself, which is the people’s way of expressing themselves, and not something written by a small group for another small group.”  Kéti showed Nara his samba “Diz que fui por aí,” which she recorded on her first LP, Nara, that same year. In late 1964 Nara released a second album, Opinião da Narawith “Acender as velas” and Kéti’s equally political samba “Opinião.” The latter protested the military government’s policy of removing favelas around Rio’s Zona Sul and relocating residents to distant developments with names like Vila Kennedy, in honor of the government that was financing the ill-advised initiative. The refrain for that song says, “They can take me prisoner/They can beat me/They can even make me go without food/But I won’t change my opinion/I won’t leave the morro.”

Also in late 1964, the Teatro Arena opened up in Copacabana and Zé Kéti was invited to act alongside Nara Leão and João do Vale in a musical play named after his samba “Opinião.” The show addressed social strife in Rio through the three characters: João do Vale played a northeastern migrant, Kéti played the part of the malandro carioca, and Nara played the rich student from the Zona Sul. They toured the country with the tremendously popular play; the theater ended up taking on the name Opinião, and when Nara Leão took time off to rest her voice, she recommended Maria Bethânia as her replacement, and another star was revealed.

R-L: Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and the Velha Guarda da Portela.
R-L: Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and the Velha Guarda da Portela.

Among Kéti’s other major hits is the Carnival march “Mascara Negra” (1967, with Hildebrando Pereira Matos), which won first place in the 1967 Carnival contest and remains one of Brazil’s most beloved Carnival themes. Kéti was soft spoken, humble, and good humored, a devoted member of the Portela samba school and fan of the Vasco da Gama football club. He died on November 14, 1999, a year after receiving the prestigious Shell Prize for MPB, and a few months after the death of his close friend Carlos Cachaça, which had left him deeply distraught. He was buried in Inhaúma, with the blue-and-white Portela flag, as “Voz do morro” played in the background.

A few notes on the translations: morro means hill or hillside, but here and in general refers to the community on the hillside – the favela; terreiro was the space where Afro-Brazilian religions were practiced and where samba was created and performed; and the line “we die without wanting to die” could also be translated as “the people die without wanting to die,” since the Portuguese line says a gente, which can mean both “we” or “the people.” Since a gente is almost exclusively used in Rio to mean “we,” that’s how I translated it in the song.


Lyrics in Portuguese: “A voz do morro”

Eu sou o samba
A voz do morro sou eu mesmo sim senhor
Quero mostrar ao mundo que tenho valor
Eu sou o rei do terreiro
Eu sou o samba
Sou natural daqui do Rio de Janeiro
Sou eu quem levo a alegria
Para milhões de corações brasileiros
Salve o samba, queremos samba
Quem está pedindo é a voz do povo de um país
Salve o samba, queremos samba
Essa melodia de um Brasil feliz

Lyrics in Portuguese: “Acender as velas”

Acender as velas
Já é profissão
Quando não tem samba
Tem desilusão
É mais um coração
Que deixa de bater
Um anjo vai pro céu
Deus me perdoe
Mas vou dizer
O doutor chegou tarde demais
Porque no morro
Não tem automóvel pra subir
Não tem telefone pra chamar
E não tem beleza pra se ver
E a gente morre sem querer morrer

 Main sources for this post: Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil by Bryan McCann; Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World by Ruy Castro; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 1 &2, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello.

Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas

Lyrics from “Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” by Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes (1963)



Original recording (Jorge Goulart)

Our Carnival is over
No one hears songs being sung
No one passes by anymore, playing, happy
And in people’s hearts, longing and ashes are all that’s left
In the streets, the scene is of people who don’t even see one another
Who don’t even smile
Hug and kiss one another and go their separate ways
Dancing and singing love songs
And meanwhile, it’s necessary to sing
More than ever, it’s necessary to sing
It’s necessary to sing and cheer up the city
This sadness we feel will end any day now
Everyone will smile
Hope has returned – it’s the people who dance
Contented with life, happily singing
Because there are so many serene things
And such grand promises of light
So much love to give that we don’t even know about
How I wish I could live to see it
And frolic in other Carnivals
With the beauty of those Carnivals of the past
What lovely marches
And the people singing their song of peace, their song of peace

— Interpretation —

Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra in the early 1960s.
Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra in the early 1960s.

“Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” (March of Ash Wednesday) is a seemingly prescient protest song:  Vinicius de Moraes and Carlos Lyra wrote the song in 1963, on the cusp of the coup that installed a  military dictatorship in Brazil until 1985.  The lilting lyrics that lament the end of Carnival can be interpreted as mourning the end of a brighter, more carefree period in Brazil.

Carlos Lyra was an important figure in the wildly popular bossa nova movement of the early 1960s. João Gilberto recorded three of Lyra’s songs — “Maria Ninguém”, “Lobo Bobo”, and “Saudade fez um samba” — on the seminal bossa nova album Chega de Saudade (1959). But Lyra reacted against bossa nova’s lightheartedness – which he felt was too shallow – and quickly established a politically activist musical stance, as this post highlights. In 1961, he helped found the  Centro Popular de Cultura (Popular Culture Center) of the National Students’ Union, which aimed to promote revolutionary art that would politically educate the masses and cultivate a “popular, democratic national culture.”  Carlos and Vinicius wrote this song on the same day that they finished the “Hino da UNE (Hymn of the National Students’ Union), which beckons, “To your feet, young guard/ the student class, always in the vanguard, struggles for Brazil.”

Jorge Goulart was the first singer to release “Marcha da Quarta-Feira de Cinzas” in 1963, but Nara Leão’s 1964 recording made the song a hit.

In the documentary Mosaícos – A Arte de Vinicius de Moraes, Vinicius and Carlos remember the beginning of their partnership, which Vinicius says began in 1962.  Carlos Lyra recalls, “When he made Orfeu with Tom [Jobim], I practically fell in love with Vinicius.” (Orfeu marked the start of Vinicius’s musical partnership with Tom Jobim, in 1956. ) Lyra continues,  “I called his house and said, ‘Hi, this is Carlos Lyra’ and he said ‘Oh – little Carlos!’ — going ahead and belittling me (laughing) — I’ve heard a lot about you, what can I do for you?’ So I decided to get diminutive too, and said, ‘Oh, I’d just like some little lyrics!’ And he said to come on over!”  Before long, Carlos Lyra, like Tom before him, found himself working with Vinicius on lyrics for a musical, Pobre Menina Rica (1964).

Lyrics in Portuguese

Acabou nosso carnaval
Ninguém ouve cantar canções
Ninguém passa mais
Brincando feliz
E nos corações
Saudades e cinzas
Foi o que restou

Pelas ruas o que se vê
É uma gente que nem se vê
Que nem se sorri
Se beija e se abraça
E sai caminhando
Dançando e cantando
Cantigas de amor

E no entanto é preciso cantar
Mais que nunca é preciso cantar
É preciso cantar e alegrar a cidade

A tristeza que a gente tem
Qualquer dia vai se acabar
Todos vão sorrir
Voltou a esperança
É o povo que dança
Contente da vida
Feliz a cantar

Porque são tantas coisas azuis
E há tão grandes promessas de luz
Tanto amor para amar de que a gente nem sabe

Quem me dera viver pra ver
E brincar outros carnavais
Com a beleza
Dos velhos carnavais
Que marchas tão lindas
E o povo cantando
Seu canto de paz
Seu canto de paz

Main source for this post not linked in the text: A Canção no Tempo: 85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol. 2: 1958 – 1985, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

Sangue Latino

Lyrics to “Sangue Latino” by Secos & Molhados, 1973 (lyrics by João Ricardo and Paulinho Mendonça)

I swore by lies and I go on alone
I acknowledge my sins
The northern winds don’t move mills
And all I have left is just a whimper
My life, my dead, my twisted paths
My latin blood, my captive soul
I breached treaties, I betrayed rites
I broke the lance, I lanced into the nothingness a cry – a release
And what matters to me is that I’m not defeated
My life, my dead, my twisted paths
My latin blood, my captive soul

— Interpretation —

Folha de São Paulo called the cover of Secos e Molhados' 1973 debut album the "best Brazilian long play album cover of all time"
Folha de São Paulo called the cover of Secos & Molhados’ 1973 debut album the “best Brazilian long play album cover of all time.”

Secos & Molhados appeared on Brazil’s music scene at the height of the country’s military dictatorship, four years into the so-called “years of lead” (anos de chumbo) following the decree of Institutional Act V in December 1968. Censorship and repression were at their height. The unruly trio — João Ricardo, Gerson Conrad, and lead singer Ney de Souza Pereira (known as Ney Matogrosso because of his home state, Mato Grosso do Sul) — fused Brazilian regional sounds with international pop-rock influences, especially from the glam rock genre that was reaching its apex in the United Kingdom at the time. Similar to glam rockers David Bowie and Marc Bolan in the U.K., band members – especially Matogrosso, with his high-pitched womanly voice – played up androgyny. They wore theatrical, often campy, outfits with heavy make-up, and danced provocatively on stage, defying accepted standards of performance, gender and sexuality. (Rumors abound in Brazil that the American band Kiss, formed in January 1973, began using make-up after seeing Secos & Molhados; Kiss band members have always denied this, however, and appear to be telling the truth.)

Secos e Molhados, with Ney Mattogrosso in the middle.
Secos e Molhados, with Ney Matogrosso in the middle.

Secos & Molhados emerged in São Paulo about five years after the tropicalia movement had shocked and delighted the country in 1967 and 1968. In a way, tropicalia – with its controversial “universal sound” and Caetano Veloso‘s defiant flamboyance – set the stage for the band.

In the late 1960s, international cultural elements like rock and roll were still regarded as symbols of northern imperialism in many circles in Brazil.  The renowned music critic José Ramos Tinhorão notoriously likened tropicalia’s cultural project to the military dictatorship’s economic and technical projects.  (In 1967, after being booed and berated for using back-up electric guitars in “Domingo no Parque,” Gilberto Gil said he felt as if he was on trial for betraying Brazilian popular music, and that according to this logic, Brazilians should only be using indigenous instruments.)

But tropicalist musicians, led by Veloso and Gil, rejected this polarized view. They challenged prejudices against international cultural influences, and incited Brazilians to defy authority in new ways, cultivating a counter-culture that went beyond political opposition to the military dictatorship and rebelled against broader understandings of music, society and nationalism, psychology, the body and sexuality. What were once “outcast” qualities became cool, and were considered forms of rejecting authoritarian attempts to mold and manipulate the mass media and society.

Ney Matogrosso at age 70. The singer asks photographers not to retouch any photos of him, claiming his "right to age."
Ney Matogrosso at age 70. The singer asks photographers not to retouch any photos of him, claiming his “right to age.”

By the early 1970s Brazil was ripe for a band like Secos & Molhados to give new voice and form to this feeling. Composer João Ricardo brought the band together in São Paulo in 1971. In 1972 they gave a tremendously successful show at Teatro Ruth Escobar and were invited to record an LP with Continental Records. The self-titled LP was released in August 1973 and was the top selling album that year. It’s listed as no. 5 on Rolling Stone’s list of top 100 Brazilian albums of all time. Seven of the thirteen tracks are poems set to music, including Vinicius de Moraes‘s “Rosa de Hiroshima” and Manuel Bandeira‘s “Rondo do Capitão.

Another poem set to music, “Primavera nos dentes,” by  João Apolinário – João Ricardo’s father – and “Mulher barriguda” are the most overtly anti-dictatorship songs on the album.

“Sangue Latino” is about the Latin American condition of struggles, missteps, oppression, and resilience. The song is representative of the group’s fusion of political messages and pop rock clichés. Another big hit from the album was the rock track “O Vira,” which alludes to the Portuguese folk dance by the same name:

Lyrics in Portuguese

Jurei mentiras
E sigo sozinho
Assumo os pecados
Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh!

Os ventos do norte
Não movem moinhos
E o que me resta
É só um gemido

Minha vida, meus mortos
Meus caminhos tortos
Meu Sangue Latino
Uh! Uh! Uh! Uh!
Minh’alma cativa

Rompi tratados
Traí os ritos
Quebrei a lança
Lancei no espaço
Um grito, um desabafo

E o que me importa
É não estar vencido
Minha vida, meus mortos
Meus caminhos tortos
Meu Sangue Latino
Minh’alma cativa

Main source for this post: Secos & Molhados: o novo sentido da encenação da canção by José Roberto Zan