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

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Viola Enluarada

Lyrics from “Viola Enluarada” by Marcos Valle and Paulo Sérgio Valle (1968)



Good Audio Version (Marcos Valle and Milton Nascimento)

The hand that plays a guitar, if necessary, makes war
Kills the world, wounds the earth.
The voice that sings a song, if necessary, sings a hymn
Exalts death.
Viola on a moonlit night in the backlands is like a sword
Hope for vengeance.
The same foot that dances a samba, if necessary, goes to combat
Capoeira
He who has a companion at night knows that peace is fleeting
To defend her he gets up and screams:  I’ll go!
Hand, guitar, song and sword
And moonlit viola
Through the countryside and city
Flag bearer, capoeira, marching they go on singing,
Liberty, liberty, liberty…

— Interpretation —

Album cover for Viola Enluarada (1968)
Album cover for Viola Enluarada (1968)

The viola referred to in this song is different from the violin-like instrument that most English speakers know as a viola. In Brazilian music, viola almost always refers to a plucked twelve-string acoustic  guitar that’s associated with the countryside.  “Companion” is used in the feminine, and “to defend her he gets up and screams…” could refer to both the companion and peace.

In 1967, Marcos Valle was in New York recording the album Samba 68. It was his longest stay yet in the United States, and he was looking on from afar during a particularly dark time in Brazil, as the military dictatorship that had seized power in 1964 tightened its grip over society in the months prior to the decree of AI-5. Yearning for home, Marcos composed this distinctly Brazilian melody. When he returned to Brazil, he brought the tune to his eldest brother and partner, Paulo Sérgio Valle, who wrote the lyrics.  Soon after, Marcos met Milton Nascimento at Tom Jobim‘s house in Leblon, and the two sang the song together. They made a perfect pair; the song suited Milton – it even seemed like it could be one of his own.

Among protest songs from the 1960s and 1970s, “Viola Enluarada” stands out for having not only a powerful political message but also a rich, intricate melody. (Many protest songs, perhaps most notoriously “Caminhando/Pra não dizer que não falei das flores” by Geraldo Vandré, were known for having rousing lyrics set to very simple melodies.)  Marcos and Milton released “Viola Enluarada” – with an arrangement by Dori Caymmi  – as a single in 1968.  By that time, stores already had long waiting lists for the single, which the tremendously popular group Quarteto em Cy had been singing in their shows. The song also became the title track for Marcos’s next album, and in the early 70s was adopted as a sort of hymn by the Araguaia guerrillas, who had taken up arms against the military dictatorship.

Lyrics in Portuguese

A mão que toca um violão
Se for preciso faz a guerra,
Mata o mundo, fere a terra.
A voz que canta uma canção
Se for preciso canta um hino,
Louva à morte.
Viola em noite enluarada
No sertão é como espada,
Esperança de vingança.
O mesmo pé que dança um samba
Se preciso vai à luta,
Capoeira.
Quem tem de noite a companheira
Sabe que a paz é passageira,
Prá defendê-la se levanta
E grita: Eu vou!
Mão, violão, canção e espada
E viola enluarada
Pelo campo e cidade,
Porta bandeira, capoeira,
Desfilando vão cantando
Liberdade.
Quem tem de noite a companheira
Sabe que a paz é passageira,
Prá defendê-la se levanta
E grita: Eu vou!
Porta bandeira, capoeira,
Desfilando vão cantando
Liberdade.
Liberdade, liberdade, liberdade…

Main sources for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 2: 1958 – 1985 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello,  and Songbook: Marcos Valle, by Almir Chediak.

Influência do Jazz

Lyrics from “Influência do Jazz” by Carlos Lira (1962)

My poor samba
It started getting mixed up and modernized, and got lost
And the sway, where is it? It’s gone
Where’s that shimmy that stirs us up
Poor thing, my samba changed all of a sudden
Influence of jazz

It almost died
And ends up dying, is almost dying, it didn’t realize
That samba sways from side to side
Jazz is different, forward and back
And samba, half dead, got half warped
Influence of jazz

In the afro-cubano, it’s getting complicated
It’s going down the tubes, it’s going
It’s getting warped, going without rest
Going, leaving, falling off the scale

My poor samba
Go back there to the hillside and seek help where you were born
To not be a samba with too many notes
Not be a warped samba, forward and back
You’re going to have to stand on your own to be able to free yourself
From the influence of jazz

— Interpretation —

In the early 1960s a rift was opening in the bossa nova movement as some – mostly younger – singers developed a taste for including political messages in their songs.  This approach often also involved a rejection of foreign influences in Brazilian music and a return to samba’s roots.   Carlos Lira (often spelled Lyra), born in Rio de Janeiro on May 11, 1936*, was perhaps the greatest leader of the bossa novistas “engajados” — Portuguese for politically and socially “engaged,” whose ranks included  renowned musicians like Edu Lobo and Nara Leão by the mid 1960s. The other side — “purists” who thought bossa nova should remain faithful to the contemplative serenity of songs like “O Barquinho” — included Lira’s former partner (and Nara Leão’s ex-boyfriend) Ronaldo Bôscoli, and the brothers Marcos Valle and Paulo Sérgio Valle. The Valle brothers composed the song “A Resposta” (“The Answer“) to criticize socially “engaged” bossa nova – and Nara Leão in particular.

In 1961, Lira — together with Oduvaldo Viana Filho, Ferreira Gullar, and others —  founded the Popular Culture Center (Centro Popular de Culturaof the National Students’ Union, which aimed to support and disseminate “revolutionary art” among university students. By this point, according to Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, Lira was beginning to express frustrations with bossa nova, feeling it was “just a trite modern style, repeating the same romantic musings as always.” He began to compose more explicitly political and nationalistic songs, including “Mister Golden,” “Os Subdesenvolvidos” (“the Underdeveloped”), and “Influência do Jazz,” which laments the tainting of traditional samba with obvious foreign influences.

While the lyrics protest the influence of jazz, the samba is written in an Americanized, bossa nova style– using the pentatonic scale so pervasive in American jazz and blues compositions — with a melody that purposefully recalls American songs like “You Were Meant for Me,” from Singing in the Rain, and “Indian Love Call,” from Rose-Marie. 

“Influência do Jazz” was first released by the Tamba Trio on Zé Trinidade’s sunday program on TV Rio. It was an immediate hit, and was performed twice at the famous bossa nova show at Carnegie Hall — by Lira and the Oscar Castro Neves Quartet.

*I am using the date cited in A Canção do Tempo, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello (also a main source for this post), although a number of websites list 1939 as Lira’s year of birth.