“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.

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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

Quando o Carnaval Chegar

Lyrics from “Quando o Carnaval Chegar” by Chico Buarque (1972)



Good Audio Version (Chico Buarque)

For those who see me just standing there, distant
Who guarantee I don’t know how to samba
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes

I’m just watching, knowing, feeling, hearing – and I can’t speak
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
I see the china legs of the girl who passes – and I can’t touch
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
How long I’ve desired her kiss, wet with passionfruit
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes

And for those who offend me, humiliate me, step on me
Thinking I’ll put up with it
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
And for those who see me taking beatings in life
Who doubt I’ll reply in kind
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
I see the first beam of day emerging, asking us to sing
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes

I have so much joy postponed, suffocated
Oh what I’d give to scream

I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes
I’m saving myself for when Carnival comes…

— Interpretation —

Album cover for the soundtrack to the 1972 musical Quando o Carnaval Chegar
Album cover for the soundtrack to the 1972 musical Quando o Carnaval Chegar.

In 1972, Brazil was in the midst of the period known as the Anos de Chumbo (Years of Lead) following the decree of Institutional Act 5 (AI-5) at the end of 1968.  The president, military general Emílio Médici, was one of the most repressive of the military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 – 1985.  As Médici stepped up censorship, repression, persecution and torture in his ostensible effort to prepare Brazil for a return to democracy, he boasted of the “Brazilian Miracle” – consecutive years of annual GDP growth surpassing 10% – in spite of figures showing skyrocketing poverty and inequality in the country.

Meanwhile, by 1972 a number of artists who had left Brazil in fear or protest in the wake of AI-5  had returned from exile, and were doing their best to produce music and films (and thus make a living) despite these inauspicious conditions.  Chico Buarque had returned from exile in Italy in 1970; Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were back from London; and likewise,  Carlos “Cacá” Diegues, the celebrated Cinema Novo director, and his wife, singer Nara Leão (known as the “muse of bossa nova”) were  back in Brazil after over a year in Paris.

Maria Bethânia and Chico on the painted schoolbus.
Maria Bethânia and Chico on the painted schoolbus.

Diegues enlisted Buarque’s help to write the soundtrack for his experimental musical Quando o Carnaval Chegar , (full movie available here – but without subtitles) and this song was the title track.  Buarque starred in the musical alongside Caetano’s sister, Maria Bethânia, and Nara Leão. The three singers play a hapless trio of radio performers who spend much of their time riding a painted school bus around Brazil. They’re driven by Cuíca, a black cuíca player from the favela, and guided by the whims of their slick, flamboyant producer, Lourival, who has arranged for them to sing at a “party for a king” and struggles to keep the troupe together for the party in spite of new loves, jealousies and broken hearts. The movie portrays the extravagance and false hopes of the so-called Brazilian Miracle years and the anticipation of new beginnings with the arrival of Carnival. It is the only Cinema Novo musical, and a chanchada a campy musical comedy style that was popular in Brazil from the 1930s – 1950s.

Diegues was aligned politically and artistically with the  Centro Popular de Culturaa collective of artists who sought to create a “democratic national popular culture” by  educating the popular classes through revolutionary art. To that end,  he attempted to appeal to a wide audience with his movies, thus drawing criticism from factions of the political left who favored ideological purity at the expense of popular appeal in the arts. In 1978, Diegues stirred up controversy when he referred to such critics as “ideological patrols.”  Regardless, this film was not Diegues’s greatest success with critics or crowds. But the title track has become one of Chico Buarque’s best loved songs in Brazil, even more so in the weeks preceding Carnival.

The song begins by contrasting the singer’s subdued, somber, and highly restricted day-to-day existence with the liberty that Carnival will bring. The metaphors for censorship and repression – and the euphoria that will come when the offenders get their comeuppance and all of this “postponed joy” is released – grow clearer at the end of the song, and recall Chico’s most famous protest song (which he calls his only true protest song), Apesar de você.”

These days, outside of its original political context, the song represents a larger, universal human sentiment of yearning for a more carefree life where sensibility, sincerity and personal liberty are supreme.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Quem me vê sempre parado,
Distante garante que eu não sei sambar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Eu tô só vendo, sabendo,
Sentindo, escutando e não posso falar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Eu vejo as pernas de louça
Da moça que passa e não posso pegar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Há quanto tempo desejo seu beijo
Molhado de maracujá…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

E quem me ofende, humilhando, pisando,
Pensando que eu vou aturar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

E quem me vê apanhando da vida,
Duvida que eu vá revidar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Eu vejo a barra do dia surgindo,
Pedindo pra gente cantar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Eu tenho tanta alegria, adiada,
Abafada, quem dera gritar…
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar

Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar
Tô me guardando pra quando o carnaval chegar…

Main sources for this post: Revolução do Cinema Novo by Glauber Rocha; Chico Buarque do Brasil, ed. Rinaldo de Fernandes; Brazilian Popular Music and Globalization, ed. Charles Perrone and Christopher Dunn; and this blog post.