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 —

tom-jobim-e-vinicius-de-moraes-na-rua-codajc3a1s-leblon-by-paulo-scheuenstuhl-2

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.

tomevinicius-300x264
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.”

“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