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)

 

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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 —

Image result for odaír josé música brega
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.

Adeus, América

Lyrics from “Adeus, América” by Geraldo Jacques and Haroldo Barbosa (1948)

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Não posso mais, ai que saudade do Brasil // I can’t take it anymore, ai, what saudade of Brazil
Ai que vontade que eu tenho de voltar // Oh how I long to return
Adeus América, essa terra é muito boa // Farewell, America, this land is very good
Mas não posso ficar porque // But I can’t stay because
O samba mandou me chamar // Samba’s sent for me
O samba mandou me chamar // Samba’s sent for me
Eu digo adeus ao boogie woogie, ao woogie boogie // I bid adieu to boogie woogie, woogie boogie
E ao swing também // And the swing too
Chega de hots [rocks], fox-trotes e pinotes // Enough of hots [rocks], fox-trots, and hops
Que isso não me convém // That’s not what I need
Eu voltar pra cuíca, bater na barrica // I’m going back to the cuíca, to beat on the barrel
Tocar tamborim // To play tamborim
Chega de lights e all rights, e de fights, good nights // Enough of lights, all rights, and fights and goodnights
Isso não dá mais pra mim // This just isn’t working for me
Eu quero um samba feito só pra mim // I want a samba made just for me

Oooô, ooooooô

— Commentary —

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Image of “Os Cariocas” printed in “A Cena Muda” – 24 August 1948
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Best-selling albums listed in Diário da Noite, 8 July 1948.

A long line of fervid fans forming in Cinelândia for a show by Spanish-born bandleader Xavier Cugat — largely credited with popularizing rumba and other Latin rhythms in mid-century North America — inspired Geraldo Jacques to write a samba with a nationalist tilt.  Then and there, at a news stand in the square, he wrote the first verses for “Adeus, América,” which Haroldo Barbosa later helped to complete.  The song pays homage to the supreme beauty and allure of Brazilian music, rebuffing such veneration of foreign music — and all things foreign.

With its 1948 release, “Adeus, América” was one of the first hits of the tremendously important vocal group Os Cariocas, which, to add a touch of irony, had been modeled after the American group the Hi-Los.  With their sophisticated vocal harmonization, Os Cariocas represented a dramatic advance in the quality of vocal groups in Brazil.  Several later recordings changed the original “hots” in the lyrics to “rocks”; the internet, unsurprisingly, adopted these as the official lyrics.  However, at the time the song was composed, rock and roll hadn’t even truly congealed as a genre; that would only be around 1955, with Buck Ram’s “The Great Pretender” and the first hits by Chuck Berry. “Hots” in this case refers to a fast swingy style of fox-trot.

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 anos de música brasileira by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, and conversation with Jairo Severiano.

“Quem São Eles (a Bahia é boa terra)” – “Já Te Digo”

Quem São Eles  (“Samba Carnavalesco gravado pelo Bahiano e o corpo de coro para Casa Edison – Rio de Janeiro!”) – 1918

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A Bahia é boa terra// Bahia is a good land
Ela lá e eu aqui – Iaiá // Her up there and me down here, iaiá
Ai, ai, ai // Ai ai ai
Não era assim que meu bem chorava  (2x) // That’s not how my darling cried
(repeat)

Não precisa pedir, que eu vou dar // You don’t need to ask, I’ll give
Dinheiro não tenho mas vou roubar (sambar) // I don’t have money but I’ll steal it
(repeat)

Carreiro olha a canga do boi //  Driver, look at the ox’s yoke
Carreiro olha a canga do boi // Driver, look at the ox’s yoke
Toma cuidado que o luar já se foi // Be careful, cause the moonlight’s gone
Ai que o luar já se foi // Ai, cause the moonlight’s gone
Ai que o luar já se foi // Ai, cause the moonlight’s gone

__(extra verses added for the recording) __

O castelo é coisa a toa // The castle is nothing
Entretanto isso não tira, Iaiá // But that doesn’t matter(?), iaiá
Ai, ai, ai
É lá que a brisa respira (2x) // It’s up there that the breeze breathes
(repeat)

Não precisa pedir, que eu vou dar // You don’t need to ask, I’ll give
Dinheiro não tenho mas vou roubar (sambar) // I don’t have money but I’ll steal it
(repeat)

Carreiro olha a canga do boi //  Driver, look at the ox’s yoke
Carreiro olha a canga do boi // Driver, look at the ox’s yoke
Toma cuidado que o luar já se foi // Be careful, cause the moonlight’s gone
Ai que o luar já se foi // Ai, cause the moonlight’s gone
Ai que o luar já se foi // Ai, cause the moonlight’s gone

Quem são eles? // Who are they?
Quem são eles? // Who are they?
Diga lá e não se avexe – Iayá // Go ahead and say it, and don’t get flustered, iaiá
Ai, ai, ai
São peixinhos de escabeche (2x)// They’re little pickled fish
(repeat)

Não precisa pedir que eu vou dar //You don’t need to ask, I’ll give
O resto do caso pra que cantar (2x) // The rest of the case – why sing it?
O melhor do luar já se foi // The best of the moonlight’s gone
O melhor do luar já se foi // The best of the moonlight’s gone
Entre menina que aqui estão de horror // Come in girl, cause they’re in a frenzy here (?)
Ai, que aqui estão de horror // Ai, they’re in a frenzy
Ai, que aqui estão de horror // Ai, they’re in a frenzy

— Commentary —

Sinhô rei do samba
In 1920, José Barbosa da Silva — known by his nickname “Sinhô” — was dubbed the “King of Samba” by the newspaper Correio da Manhã. And the title stuck.
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February 1920 – Correio da Manhã crowns Sinhô the “king of carioca samba”. Sinhô had three major Carnival hits that year.

In 1917, Sinhô (José Barbosa da Silva, 8 September 1888 – 4 August 1930) learned a rather bitter lesson about the money that could be made with Carnival songs when he witnessed the unprecedented commercial success of Donga’s “Pelo Telefone.” The song is widely and erroneously cited as being Brazil’s “first recorded samba.” It’s actually a maxixe, and there were at least 23 recorded  “sambas” released prior to 1916; nevertheless, it was the first recorded “samba” to achieve such resounding commercial success, and to demonstrate to composers that composing songs for Carnival could be a lucrative business. The release of “Pelo Telefone” hence opened the era of Carnival compositions.

The success of “Pelo Telefone” didn’t sit well with Sinhô because the song had in fact been a collaborative effort, based on a popular folk song, in which he had played a significant role, along with others who frequented the famed home of Tia Ciata, the most legendary of the tias baianas (Bahian aunties) who opened their homes around Praça Onze to this gaggle of pioneering composers. But when Donga registered the song, he listed only himself and Mauro de Almeida as the songwriters.

Sinhô’s frustration at being erased from the official history and rights to royalties of “Pelo Telefone” helped spark the inspiration for his first major success, “Quem são eles (a Bahia é boa terra),” first recorded by Bahiano and back-up singers at Casa Edison in Rio de Janeiro.  And this song set off the first major duel in the annals of Brazilian popular music.

carro-alegorico-antigo-fenianos-1923
Fenianos float, Carnival 1923.

Sinhô had initially named the song “A Bahia é Boa Terra,” but the samba ended up taking the name of a Carnival bloco (street parade group) that he was helping to lead that year, Quem são eles, which was associated with one of the city’s three major Carnival societies, Os Fenianos. The provocation “quem são eles” (who are they), then, originally referred to that club’s two principal rivals in Rio,  Democráticos and Tenentes do Diabo. The “castle” mentioned in the song was the name for the Democráticos headquarters, and their members were called carapicus, a kind of fish, hence the “pickled fish” reference. (The Fenianos were called cats, which presumably devour pickled fish.) I assume the observation “it’s up there that the breeze breathes” must be some veiled insult against the rival Carnival club.

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19 January 1921 – Jornal “O Imparcial” announcing the presence of Rio’s three most popular Carnival clubs at a great “battle of confetti” in Vila Isabel

On its surface, in its references to Bahia, the song lampooned an ongoing political skirmish between Bahian politicians Rui Barbosa and J.J. Seabra.  But Sinhô took advantage of the theme to incorporate what were easily interpreted as digs at Bahia and Bahians in general, honing his storied knack for double entendre. His teasing wasn’t taken lightly: tias baianas like Tia Ciata were essential to the emergence of Rio’s samba. They provided the space for musical creation mixed with Afro-Brazilian religious practices that incubated carioca samba in its earliest manifestations. And many of the composers who hung out there – most notably João da Baiana and Donga – were sons of Bahian migrants. Bahia was deeply woven into their upbringing and musical influences. Sinhô  wasn’t born to Bahians, but he was still a musical progeny of this group, having spent a good chunk of his early days as a musician at the homes of tias baianas. So when he released this samba that started out “Bahia is a good land/ her up there, me down here,” that clan not only took offense, but also considered it something of a betrayal by a composer who’d suddenly gotten a bit too big for his britches.

Pixinguinha_João da Baiana_DongaThey were affronted by “I don’t have money/ but I’ll steal it,” interpreting it as a message that Bahians couldn’t be trusted. (Sinhô’s biographer Edgar de Alencar published “sambar” in the place of “roubar,” steal, as the original lyrics. I’m not sure about that.) And they were likely extra galled by the smashing success of the song, which drowned out their 1918 release “O Malhador,” (registered to Donga and Pixinguinha, and also recorded by Bahiano), which had been Donga’s attempt to repeat the success of the prior year’s “Pelo Telefone.”

Funnily enough, in spite of its light mockery, the samba ultimately fit nicely into the style of sambas written by the “Bahian wing” of composers, with its syncopation; the “ai ai ai” that recalls the second part of “Pelo Telefone” (ai, ai, ai, deixa as mágoas para trás, o rapaz), and its evocation of rural scenes like the reference to the ox-cart driver.  Iaiá and ioiô were terms with origins among slaves referring to masters’ sons (ioiô) and daughters (iaiá); the terms eventually evolved into terms of endearment used among slaves or freed slaves, or their offspring. As noted above, the original lyrics ended after the first “o luar já se foi.”  But as was common practice those days, someone — maybe Sinhô, maybe Bahiano, maybe both  — added the extra verses for the recording.

Sensitive to issues of rights and royalties after the case of “Pelo Telefone,” Sinhô ordered a custom stamp made to mark the authorized scores, thereby also marking the start of an era when royalties began to be taken more seriously – the advent of the professionalization of the popular composer.

“Quem são eles” quickly inspired four new compositions in retort: “Não és tão falado assim” (You’re not so widely spoken of), by Hilário Jovino Ferreira, a native of Pernambuco who had grown up and made his name in Bahia and moved at the end of the 19th century to Rio de Janeiro (more on him, an important Carnival booster, here); “Fica calmo que aparece,” by Donga; “Já te digo,” by Pixinguinha and his brother China; and “Entregue o samba aos seus donos,” also by Hilário Jovino, who asserted in the lyrics that Bahians were the true owners of sambas, while Sinhô was just a lame sell-out. What’s more, this song also decried Sinhô’s plagiarism, in this case specifically regarding Sinhô’s latest hit, another rib aimed at Bahian politician Rui Barbosa, “Fala meu louro” (aka “Papagaio louro”). Hilário published the lyrics together with a note denouncing Sinhô for “the most brazen plagiarism in the history of sambistas” and calling on all “sambistas” (with sambistas still published in quotation marks in 1920) to write sambas on this theme:

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 10.42.38 AM.pngEntregue o samba a seus donos // Turn samba over to its owners
É chegada a ocasião // The time has come
Lá no Norte não fizemos // Up north we didn’t make
Do pandeiro profissão // A profession of the pandeiro
Falsos filhos da Bahia // Phony sons of Bahia
Que nunca passaram lá // Who’ve never even been there
Que não comeram pimenta // Never eaten chili sauce
Na moqueca e vatapá // In moqueca and vatapá
Mandioca mais se presta //Manioc is the good stuff
Muito mais que a tapioca //Much more than tapioca
Na Bahia não tem mais coco? //There’s no more coconut in Bahia?
É plágio de um carioca //That’s plagiarism by a carioca

Neither of Hilário Jovino’s responses were recorded, and today there’s unfortunately no record of “Não és tão falado assim” – lyrics or melody. Pixinguinha recorded an instrumental version of Donga’s “Fica calmo que aparece,” and the banal lyrics on the score make no apparent reference to the spat (“Keep calm, love will appear/ Passion is something that’s never forgotten”), suggesting these were merely the “official” lyrics, and that the song likely had an alternative set of spicier lyrics that have since been lost.

The most beautiful (by my judgment) and enduring of these four responses — “Já te digo” (also recorded by the fixture Bahiano for Casa Edison) — was also the most pointed roast of Sinhô, taking aim at his looks (“he’s tall/skinny/ugly, missing teeth”); his extravagant manner of dressing (“he suffered to use a stiff standing collar”); his short-lived flute-playing days (“When he used to play flute/ What agony!”), and his general  dandy persona (“today he’s all dapper / on the dime of the suckers of Rio de Janeiro”):

“Já te digo” by Pixinguinha and China (1919)

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Um sou eu, e o outro não sei quem é // One is me, I don’t know who the other one is
Um sou eu, e o outro não sei quem é // One is me, I don’t know who the other one is
Ele sofreu pra usar colarinho em pé // He suffered to use a stiff standing collar (?)
Ele sofreu pra usar colarinho em pé// He suffered to use a stiff standing collar

Vocês não sabem quem é ele, pois eu vos digo // You all don’t know who he is, well I’ll tell you
Vocês não sabem quem é ele, pois eu vos digo // You all don’t know who he is, well I’ll tell you
Ele é um cabra muito feio, que fala sem receio // He’s a real ugly guy, who says whatever he wants
Não tem medo de perigo // Has no fear of danger
Ele é um cabra muito feio, que fala sem receio // He’s a real ugly guy who says whatever he wants
Não tem medo de perigo // Has no fear of danger

Um sou eu, e o outro não sei quem é //One is me, I don’t know who the other one is
Um sou eu, e o outro não sei quem é //One is me, I don’t know who the other one is
Ele sofreu pra usar colarinho em pé // He suffered to use a stiff standing collar
Ele sofreu pra usar colarinho em pé// He suffered to use a stiff standing collar

Ele é alto, magro e feio // He’s tall, skinny and ugly
É desdentado // He’s missing teeth
Ele é alto, magro e feio // He’s tall, skinny and ugly
É desdentado // He’s missing teeth
Ele fala do mundo inteiro // He bad-mouths everyone
E já está avacalhado no Rio de Janeiro // And is already scorned around Rio
Ele fala do mundo inteiro // He bad-mouths everyone
E já está avacalhado no Rio de Janeiro // And is already scorned around Rio

To the dismay of Sinhô’s detractors, the public really didn’t care about the feud or the accusations of plagiarism; they loved Sinhô’s songs, and he quickly established his place as Brazil’s most successful popular music composer of the 1920s,”teaching Brazil to like samba,” as Jairo Severiano has put it.

Just in 1920 he had three major hits, which all hid digs at his rivals: “Vou me benzer” (I’m going to get blessed/ to rid myself / of those evil eyes / they cast on me”);  the marchinha “Pé de Anjo,” a blatant copy of the French waltz “C’est pas difficile,” which took aim at Pixinguinha’s brother China, who was known for having huge feet (and which also launched Francisco Alves‘s career as a recording artist); and “Fala meu louro,” mentioned above, about Bahian Rui Barbosa’s loss in the 1919 presidential elections.

Likewise, the success of “Já te digo” propelled Pixinguinha’s career, which of course was so paramount and prolific that historian and musicologist Ary Vasconcellos famously wrote in his classic Panorama da Música Popular Brasileira, “If you have 15 volumes to talk about all Brazilian popular music, you can be sure that it’s too little.  But if you have only enough space for one word, not everything is lost; write quickly: Pixinguinha.”
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Main sources for this post: Uma História do Samba, vol. I, by Lira Neto; Nosso Sinhô do Samba by Edgar de Alencar; Feitiço Decente by Carlos Sandroni; and conversations with Jairo Severiano