Lyrics from “Maringá” by Joubert de Carvalho (1932), recorded by Gastão Formenti:

It was in a caravan that the cabocla Maringá ended up being the migrant who caused the greatest stir
And along with her came someone who begged that she never forget the caboclo who stayed behind

In days of old, an unrivaled joy reigned over the people of the city of Pombal
But the drought came, all the rain went away, leaving only the water of my eyes
When they cry
Maringá, Maringá
After you departed everything became so sad here that I began to imagine
Maringá, Maringá
For happiness to happen, this longing must go strike somewhere else
Maringá, Maringá
Come back here to my sertão, so that the heart of a caboclo can be at peace again

— Interpretation —

In 1972, Maringá mayor José Valente dedicated a bust to Joubert de Carvalho, with the inscription, "City that was born of a song."
In 1972, Maringá mayor José Valente dedicated a bust to Joubert de Carvalho, with the inscription, “City that was born of a song.”

This song holds the rare distinction of having a Brazilian city named in its honor.

Av BRasil Maringá 1953
Avenida Brasil in Maringá, Paraná, Brazil, 1953.

In the mid-1940s,  the British-owned Companhia de Melhoramentos do Norte do Paraná built a planned city in the southeastern state of Paraná, Brazil. When it came time to give the city a name, in 1947, Elizabeth Thomas – wife of the company’s president – suggested “Maringá,” the name of one of her favorite Brazilian songs.(Some sources report she heard the workers singing it as they built the city.) The name stuck, and Maringá is now the third-largest city in Paraná.

The composer Joubert de Carvalho was a doctor by profession (a pioneer of psychosomatic medicine in Brazil), and in 1932 he had his heart set on becoming physician for Brazil’s Instituto dos Marítimos. To pursue this coveted government position, he turned to a friend in high places: José Americo de Almeida, Minister of Transport and Public Works for President Getulio Vargas‘s interim government (1930 – 1934). An official working in Almeida’s cabinet, Rui Carneiro, suggested that the composer might improve his chances by writing a song about the drought devastating the northeast:  Almeida was from the northeastern state of Paraíba, and would surely appreciate the gesture.

Without delay, Carvalho composed this song about Maria from Ingá, abbreviated to Maringá.  Ingá is a town near Campina Grande, Paraíba,  one of the most desperately drought-stricken areas at the time. The song also makes reference to the city of Pombal, Paraíba.

Every year in the interior of Ceará, the "Drought Walk" (Caminhada da Seca) pays tribute to migrants who fled the drought of 1932.
Every year in the interior of Ceará, the “Drought Walk” (Caminhada da Seca) pays tribute to migrants who fled the drought of 1932.

Gastão Formenti recorded “Maringá” in June 1932 and the song indeed helped Joubert de Carvalho ingratiate himself with Americo de Almeida and get the post he wanted at the Maritime Institute, where he ended up becoming a director.  Americo de Almeida, meanwhile, is remembered as a savior for the northeast during and after the drought. When rains finally began again, around December 1932, conditions of poor hygiene and malnutrition led to the outbreak of vicious epidemics.  Almeida organized the Medical Commission for Collaboration in Assistance and Prophylactic Medicine for Flagelados (drought victims) as a disaster-relief effort. Much thanks to Americo’s dedication, the government managed to keep the plague in check within a few months.

The drought of 1932 was one of the worst of the century for Brazil's northeast. Above, migrants who passed away while trying to escape.
The drought of 1932 was one of the worst of the century for Brazil’s northeast. Above, migrants who passed away while trying to escape.

Caboclo(a) loosely means someone of mixed white and Indian blood. Sertão refers to the dry hinterlands of Brazil’s northeastern region.

Joubert de Carvalho was born in Uberaba, Minas Gerais, on March 3, 1900. He moved to São Paulo with his family at age 13, the same year he composed his first song: “Cruz vermelha,” inspired by a children’s hospital in São Paulo. His interest in medicine and composing never waned: a few years later he moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he studied medicine and continued composing, as he did throughout his long medical career at the Instituto dos Marítimos.  He died on September 20th, 1977.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Foi numa léva
Que a cabocla Maringá
Ficou sendo a retirante
Que mais dava o que falá.

E junto dela
Veio alguem que suplicou
Prá que nunca se esquecesse
De um caboclo que ficou

Uma alegria sem igual
Dominava aquela gente
Da cidade de Pombal.

Mas veio a seca
Toda chuva foi-se embora
Só restando então as água
Dos meus óio quando chóra.

Maringá, Maringá,
Depois que tu partiste,
Tudo aqui ficou tão triste,
Que eu garrei a maginá:

Maringá, Maringá,
Para havê felicidade,
É preciso que a saudade
Vá batê noutro lugá.

Maringá, Maringá,
Volta aqui pro meu sertão
Pra de novo o coração
De um caboclo assossegá.

Main Sources for this post:  Correspondence with Jairo Severiano; Como e Porque Nascem as Canções, Radio Batuta, Instituto Moreira Salles

Faroeste Caboclo

Lyrics from “Faroeste Caboclo” by Renato Russo

Album: Que País é Este 1978/1987

“He wasn’t afraid, that João de Santo Cristo”

Was what everyone said when he disappeared.

He left behind all the stagnation of the farm

Just to feel in his blood the hatred that Jesus gave him.

As a child, he just thought of being a bandit,

Even more so when his father died from a soldier’s bullet

He was the terror of the backlands where he lived

And even the professor learned from him.

He would go to church just to steal the money

That the little old ladies left in the altar basket.

He really felt that he was really different

He felt that all of that wasn’t the place for him.

He wanted to leave to see the sea

See everything he saw on TV

He saved money to be able to travel

By his own choice, he chose solitude.

He slept with all of the girls in the city

From so much playing doctor, at twelve he was a professor.

At fifteen he was sent to the reformatory,

Where his hatred grew, in the face of such terror.

He couldn’t understand how life worked

Discrimination because of his class, his color

He got tired of trying to find the answer

He bought a ticket, and went directly to Salvador.

Arriving there, he went to drink a coffee

And he found a cowboy, with whom he went to talk.

And the cowboy had a ticket, and was going to miss his trip

But João saved him…

He was saying,

“I’m going to Brasilia, in this country there’s no place better,

I need to visit my daughter, so I’ll stay here, and you go in my place.”

And João accepted his proposal

And on the bus, he entered the Central Plain.

He was stunned by the city

Leaving the bus station, he saw the Christmas lights,

“My God, what a beautiful city,

In the new year, I’ll start to work!”

Cutting wood, a carpenter’s apprentice,

He earned 100,000 per month in Taguatinga.

On Fridays he would go to the district in the city

To spend all his working-man’s money.

And he met a lot of interesting people there,

Even the bastard grandson of his great grandfather.

A Peruvian who was living in Bolivia

And brought a lot of things from there

His name was Pablo, and he said

He was getting ready to start a business.

And Santo Cristo was working himself to death

But wasn’t earning enough to eat.

And he would listen to the seven o’clock news

Saying that his Minister was going to help.

But he didn’t want to hear any more talk

And decided that he would get by the same way Pablo did.

Once again, he drafted his saintly plan

And without being crucified, he went to start his plantation,

Right away, the crazies from the city found out the news:

“There’s some great shit there!”

And João de Santo Cristo got rich

And finished off all the traffickers from the area.

He made friends, he would go to Asa Norte

And he would go to rock parties as a release.

But suddenly

Under the bad influence of the punks from the city

He began to steal.

In his first robbery, he messed up

And he went to hell for the first time.

Violence, and rape of his body

“You guys will see, I’ll get you!”

And now Santo Cristo was a bandit,

Fearless and feared in the Federal District.

He wasn’t afraid of police,

Captain or trafficker, playboy or General.

That was when he met a girl,

And he repented for all his sins.

Maria Lúcia was a beautiful girl,

And Santo Cristo promised his heart to her.

He said he wanted to get married

And he went back to being a carpenter.

“Maria Lúcia, I’ll love you forever,

And I want to have a child with you.”

Time passes, then one day at the door

There’s an upper-class man, with money in his hand.

And he makes an indelicate proposal

And says he awaits a response, a response from João:

“I don’t put bombs in newsstands or in elementary schools,

I don’t do that,

Nor do I protect a ten-star General

Who just stays behind the table, shitting himself with fear.

And it’s best you get out of my house,

Never mess with a Pisces/Scorpio ascendant.”

But before leaving, the man looked at Santo Cristo with hatred,

and said,

“You lost your life, my brother”

You lost your life,  my brother,

You lost your life,  my brother.

Those words will go to the heart

I’ll suffer the consequences like a dog.

It wasn’t that Santo Cristo was sure,

His future was unsure, and he didn’t go to work.

He got drunk and in the midst of his drunkenness

He discovered that someone else was working in his place.

He told Pablo that he wanted a partner,

that he had money and wanted to arm himself.

Pablo brought contraband from Bolivia

and Santo Cristo resold it in Planaltina.

But it so happens that a certain Jeremias,

a well-known trafficker, appeared there.

He found out about João’s plans,

and decided he was going to finish him off.

But Pablo brought a Winchester-22,

and Santo Cristo already knew how to shoot,

and he decided to use the gun

only after Jeremias started to fight.

Jeremias, a shameless pothead

organized the Rock party and made everyone dance.

He took innocent girls’ virginity,

and he said he was a believer, but he didn’t know how to pray.

And it had been a long time since  Santo Cristo had been home,

And his longing was beginning to afflict him.

“I’m leaving, I’m going to see Maria Lúcia,

It’s about time for us to get married.”

Arriving at home, then, he began to cry,

and went to hell for the second time.

Maria Lúcia had married Jeremias

and he had made a child in her.

Santo Cristo was only hatred inside,

So then he called Jeremias to a duel.

“Tomorrow, at two o’clock, in Ceilandia,

In front of Lot 14, that’s where I’ll go.

And you can choose your weapon,

I’ll finish you off anyway, you traitorous pig,

And I’ll kill Maria Lúcia, too,

That false girl that I swore my love to.”

And Santo Cristo didn’t know what to do

When he saw the reporter on the television

Announcing the duel on TV

Giving the time, the place, and the reason.

So Saturday, then, at two o’clock

Everyone, with haste, went just to see,

A man who fired at another from behind,

And hit Santo Cristo, and began to smile.

Feeling the blood in his throat,

João looked at the waving flags and the cheering crowd,

And he looked at the ice cream man, and the cameras

And the TV crews that were filming everything

And he remembered when he was a child,

And everything he had lived up til then

And he decided to jump into that dance,

“If the Via Crucis turned into a circus,  I’m here.”

And with that, the sun blinded his eyes,

and then he recognized Maria Lúcia.

She was carrying the Winchester-22

The gun that his cousin Pablo gave him.

“Jeremias, I’m a man, something that you are not,

and I don’t shoot at someone from behind.

Look over here, you shameless son of a bitch,

Take a look at my blood and come feel your pardon.”

And Santo Cristo took the Winchester -22 and

Put five shots in the traitor bandit.

Maria Lúcia repented (regretted), next,

and died together with João, her protecter.

And the people declared that João de Santo Cristo

was a saint because he knew how to die.

And the bourgeoisie from the city

couldn’t believe the story they saw on the TV.

And João never achieved what he had wanted

when he came to Brasilia, and found the devil,

He had wanted to tell the President

To help all these people who all they do is…

… Suffer

— Interpretation —

Renato Russo called Faroeste Caboclo his own “Hurricane.”  Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” came out in 1976, and Russo wrote Faroeste Caboclo in 1979 during his so-called “solitary troubadour” phase;  the main difference, of course, is that Russo’s story is fictitious.

Faroeste Caboclo is a statement on Brazilian society — poverty, racism, drug trafficking, and the corrupt military government — woven into a Christian allegory, and in Brazilian folkloric style.

João tells the story of a black Brazilian boy born in the poor Northeast back country – probably in the state of Bahia, since he goes to the capital, Salvador.  His anger grows as he faces racism and class injustices; the State only makes matters worse by placing him in its infamous juvenile reformatory system. (Contemporary discussion of the effects of these reformatories can be found in the 2002 documentary Onibus 174.)

After reaching Brasilia, João works as hard as he can at a decent job but still can’t even afford to eat, and resorts to drug trafficking.  In the meantime, he is approached by an upper class man with a proposal. The man represents the military regime — in power in Brazil from 1964-1985 — which planted bombs in public areas and blamed the bombings on “subversives.” When  João refuses his proposal, the man – who also presumably represents the devil – tells  João de Santo Cristo his life is over;  João loses his job and Jeremias enters his life, killing him shortly thereafter.

The song can be interpreted as a rebuke to Christianity.  Biblical references are replete in the story. João de Santo Cristo – a carpenter –  represents Christ.   At 12, he’s a professor (see Luke 2:42-51:  at twelve, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to Jerusalem where he lingered after they left, impressing the elders with his precociousness and his learning).  Where Jesus was betrayed by Judas, Santo Cristo was betrayed by Maria Lúcia.  While Santo Cristo’s life parallels that of Jesus in certain ways, their stories diverge when Santo Cristo quits carpentry for crime, rather than to spread a message.

He robs, sleeps with young girls, falls into the world of drug trafficking and dies without being able to help people — in other words, he dies in vain, after calling the crucifixion a “circus” and saying “come look at my blood – feel your pardon.” Jeremias, on the other hand – a hypocrite (he said he was a believer but didn’t know how to pray) – could be interpreted as the devil, living a more successful version of  João de Santo Cristo’s life (e.g. he actually marries Maria, rather than just saying he will.)

Renato Russo (1960 – 1996) was born into a Catholic family in Rio de Janeiro and spent part of his childhood in Queens after his father was transferred there for work. He came out to his family as a bisexual at 18.  Russo formed the band Legiao Urbana with Dado Villa-l and died Marcelo Bonfa.  The band broke up when Russo died of complications from AIDS in 1996, weighing just 99 pounds.  He was sick from the illness in the performance shown above.

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