A Rasteira do Presidente

Lyrics from “A Rasteira do Presidente” by Bicalho/Silvio Modesto, released by Bezerra da Silva (1986)

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Alô, alô Dona de Casa // Hello, hello, Housewife
Fiscais do Presidente, se liga // President’s Inspectors, at attention
Tabela de preços na mão // Table of Prices in hand
E vamos lutar contra a inflação // And let’s fight inflation!
E não é mole não  // And it’s not easy, no
Vivendo dessa maneira // Living this way
Eles inventaram essa tal de inflação // They invented that thing called inflation
E o Presidente deu aquela rasteira // And the president pulled that fast one (“made that tackle”)
Não é mole não (tuburão) // It’s not easy, no, shark (predatory businessmen who profited from inflation)(refrain)O meu salário é o mínimo // My salary is the minimum
porém é o máximo que eu consigo vencer // And yet it’s the maximum I’m able to pull in
Desconto pro INPS// Withholdings for Social Security
e o maldito Leão// And that daggone Lion (income tax)
ainda quer me morder // Is still trying to bite me
ORTN e INPC // ORTN (national treasury bonds) and INPC (inflation index)
Eu escuto dizer, mas eu não sei o que é // I keep hearing talk – but I don’t know what it is
Eu só sei que recebi meu pagamento // I just know I received my payment
Que não deu pra comprar meu alimento // And it wasn’t enough to buy my aliment
Remarcaram os preços eu fiquei a pé // They marked up the prices and I was left behind!

(refrain)

O que não consigo entender // And what I just can’t understand
o meu nome é sujo no SPC // My name’s “dirty” in the SPC (credit protection service)
Meu crédito é cortado na praça // My credit’s cut off on the streets
não me vendem fiado nem o que comer //  They won’t even sell me food on the cuff
O banco não me empresta dinheiro // The bank won’t lend me money
porque não tenho bens para me garantir // Because I don’t have any assets as guarantees
Veja bem, não pedi nada emprestado // But look here, I didn’t ask for anything on loan
Dizem que devo dolar adoidado // Yet they say I owe mad dollars
Ao famigerado, FMI // To that infamous IMF

(refrain)E agora é que eu quero ver // And now I want to see
Os ladrões de gravata o que vão fazer // What the crooks in ties are gonna do
O bicho vai pegar adoidado // The beast is gonna go crazy (things are gonna get ugly)
Em cima daquele que não obedecer // On anyone who doesn’t obey
O trabalhador já pode com a sua família // The worker can go ahead with his family
Fazer sua ceia // and make his supper
se os federais chegarem em um supermercado // if the feds get to a supermarket
Encontrem os preços remarcados // And find the prices marked up
Dão bolacha no gato e mete na cadeia // They’ll box the cat’s ears and throw him in jail
(refrain)
___
bezerra-da-silva
Bezerra da Silva said he didn’t sing about love because he could only sing about things he knew: “People talk about making love – where is love made, some factory in Bangu?”
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Cover of Bezerra’s 1988 album “Violência Gera Violência“, with headlines including: “Military police shoot into crowd and kill woman in Realengo”;  “Fraud of billions in INAMPS” (National Institute of Medical Aid and Social Security)

Bezerra became famous in the 1970s and ’80s for his hard-core but humorous sambas about the hustling malandro lifestyle and life on the morro (favela). He was revered for his deft denouncement of government corruption, most notably the crooked and brutal police force.

Bezerra’s acquaintances from the morro composed many of his best-love songs. They were bricklayers, carpenters, repairmen, and “22s” (crazies) who had chosen to steer clear of crime, but respected and wrote about malandro precepts like the  “Lei de Murici” (Lei de Murici: Cada um cuida de si — Murici’s law: every man for himself; mind your own business) and especially excelled at writing witty smack about snitches and sogras (mothers-in-law) in thick slang.

“A rasteira do presidente” was composed and released in early 1986, following the launch of a new economic plan, the Plano Cruzado.

At the time, Brazil was in the midst of a bumpy transition from military dictatorship to democracy, and was meanwhile suffering the consequences of the military government’s brash fiscal and monetary policies (which were not much improved upon in the first years of the democracy). Hyperinflation topped 235% in 1985 and was on track to hit 500% in 1986. José Sarney had taken office as transitional president on March 15, 1985, and after a dismal first nine months, promised in January 1986 that he would not allow inflation to continue shooting up. In an ill-fated attempt to keep this promise, on February 28, 1986, Sarney declared a bank holiday and announced his Plano Cruzado –  “shock treatment” for the Brazilian economy, which was also meant to serve as a symbolic rupture from the legacy of the military dictatorship.

This “heterodox plan”replaced Brazil’s currency the Cruzeiro with the Cruzado (worth 1,000 cruzeiros), fixed at 13.84 to the dollar. Salaries were adjusted up by 8% (public servants) and 15% (minimum wage), and an “inflation insurance” mechanism was put in place to increase salaries automatically if inflation hit 20%.

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A “fiscal do presidente” checks her price table.

The plan also froze prices for food, gasoline, hygiene and cleaning products, and services. These fixed prices were published on a table (mentioned in the song) as a means of holding business-owners to account. In announcing the plan, Sarney called upon every Brazilian citizen to be “um fiscal do president” – a president’s inspector – making sure that shops were sticking strictly to the price table. And indeed, as the song makes reference to, the government shut down businesses that were caught cheating.

Not surprisingly, the plan led to basic supply-and-demand mismatches, empty shelves, dissatisfied producers and consumers… which as usual nurtured a flourishing black market. In November 1986, Sarney’s government was forced to abandon the plan and launch Plano Cruzado II. Cruzado II unfroze prices and signaled the return of staggering inflation, which would plague Brazil and Bezerra’s friends on the morro until 1994, when the Plano Real finally pulled the country out of this financial quagmire.

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21 March 1986: a supermarket in Salvador, Bahia, that was closed for “practicing prices above those that are authorized.”

Another element of this quagmire that comes up in the song: In the 1980s, Brazil was drowning in billions of dollars of external debt, a legacy of the military government’s over-borrowing to finance ill-advised national development projects. Over the course of the ’80s, Brazil signed eleven bail-out agreements with the “infamous IMF.”

Bezerrra, who was born in 1927 in Recife, Pernambuco, and arrived in Rio as a stowaway in the 1940s, died in January 2005 at the age of 77.

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Busy supermarket El Dorado in São Paulo in March 1986. The Cruzado plan led to a rush on supermarkets.
fiscal-do-sarney-sticker

Tarzan, o Filho do Alfaiate

Lyrics from “Tarzan, o Filho do Alfaiate” by Noel Rosa and Vadico (1936)

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Quem foi que disse que eu era forte? // Who said I was strong?
Nunca pratiquei esporte // I’ve never played sports
nem conheço futebol…// I don’t follow football
O meu parceiro sempre foi o travesseiro // My partner has always been my pillow
E eu passo o ano inteiro // And I go the whole year
sem ver um raio de sol // without seeing one ray of sunlight
A minha força bruta reside // My brute force resides
Em um clássico cabide // On a classic coat-hanger
já cansado de sofrer // Already weary of suffering
Minha armadura é de casimira dura // My armor is made of stiff cashmere
Que me dá musculatura // Which gives me ‘musculature’
mas que pesa e faz doer // but which is heavy, and causes pain

Eu poso pros fotógrafos // I pose for photographers
e destribuo autógrafos // and give out autographs
A todas as pequenas lá da praia de manhã // To all the broads out on the morning beach
Um argentino disse, me vendo em Copacabana: // An Argentinian said, seeing me in Copacabana:
No hay fuerza sobre-humana que detenga este Tarzan‘// ‘There’s no super-human force that could stop this Tarzan’

De lutas não entendo abacate // Of bouts, I know squat
Pois o meu grande alfaiate // You see my masterful tailor
não faz roupa pra brigar // Doesn’t make clothes to fight in
Sou incapaz de machucar uma formiga // I’m incapable of hurting an ant
Não há homem que consiga nos meus músculos pegar//And there’s no man alive who could touch my muscles
Cheguei até a ser contratado // I had even been signed
Pra subir em um tablado // To go up in a ring
pra vencer um campeão // And beat a champion
Mas a empresa, pra evitar assassinato // But the company – to prevent homicide –
Rasgou logo o meu contrato // swiftly tore up my contract
quando me viu sem roupão // when they saw me sans robe

Eu poso pros fotógrafos // I pose for photographers
e destribuo autógrafos // and distribute autographs
A todas as pequenas lá da praia de manhã // To all the broads out on the morning beach
Um argentino disse, me vendo em Copacabana: // An Argentinian said, seeing me in Copacabana:
No hay fuerza sobre-humana que detenga este Tarzan‘// ‘There’s no super-human force that could stop this Tarzan’

Quem foi que disse que eu era forte? // Who said I was strong?
Nunca pratiquei esporte // I’ve never played sports
nem conheço futebol…// I don’t follow football
O meu parceiro sempre foi o travesseiro // My partner has always been my pillow
E eu passo o ano inteiro // And I go the whole year
sem ver um raio de sol // without seeing one ray of sunlight
A minha força bruta reside // My brute force resides
Em um clássico cabide // On a classic coat-hanger
já cansado de sofrer // Already weary of suffering
Minha armadura é de casimira dura // My armor is made of stiff cashmere
Que me dá musculatura // Which gives me ‘musculature’
mas que pesa e faz doer! // but which is heavy and causes pain!

— Commentary —

Ad for the 1936 movie Cidade Mulher
Ad for the 1936 movie Cidade Mulher
Noel Rosa in 1937
Noel Rosa in 1937. Noel is known for his brilliantly poetic and humorous observations of carioca society in the 1930s.

Noel Rosa composed six songs, including this humorous samba, for the 1936 film Cidade MulherRio is often referred to poetically as cidade-mulher (lady-city) in homage to its exquisite enchantments. (In popular music, along with Noel Rosa’s eponymous marcha composed for the movie, there’s Paulo da Portela’s beautiful samba “Cidade Mulher.”)

The movie in and about Rio provided the perfect opportunity for Noel Rosa to flex his critical poetic muscles. He is known for his witty lyrical commentary on carioca society, and this samba satirizing the scene on Rio’s beaches at the time is a perfect example of his humorous critique of one aspect of society in Rio in the 1930s.

Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan set a tough standard of beauty for boys in Rio to achieve.
Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan set a tough standard of beauty for boys in Rio to achieve.

In the early 1930s, Hollywood movies shattered previous standards for male beauty in Rio, establishing a new, much brawnier image of an attractive man. In the 1933 movie Tarzan the Ape Man, translated in Portuguese to Tarzan, Filho das Selvas (Tarzan, Son of the Jungle – hence the title of this song, “Tarzan, Son of the Tailor”),  Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller played the hero: broad shoulders and booming biceps became the ideal many carioca men strove to achieve.

But when so many of the wispy but well-heeled boys on the beaches of Noel Rosa’s Rio de Janeiro couldn’t live up to this standard of beauty, they turned to their trusty tailors, who gave them enough heavy shoulder padding to add plenty of “musculature.” Their strength therefore resided on a weary weighed-down coat-hanger.

Almirante recorded the song for the movie.

Source for this post: Noel Rosa: Uma biografia by João Máximo and Carlos Didier

 

Cordas de aço

Lyrics from “Cordas de aço” by Cartola; first recorded on Cartola II (1976)


Ah, essas cordas de aço // Ah, these steel strings
Este minúsculo braço // This minuscule arm*
Do violão que os dedos meus acariciam // Of the guitar that my fingers caress
Ah, este bojo perfeito // Ah, this perfect body
Que trago junto ao meu peito // That I carry close to my heart
Só você violão // Only you, guitar
Compreende porque perdi toda alegria // Truly understand why I lost all of my joy
E no entanto meu pinho // And nevertheless, my pine
Pode crer, eu adivinho // You can believe, I divine:
Aquela mulher // That woman
Até hoje está nos esperando // To this day is waiting for us
Solte o teu som da madeira // Let your song out of that wood
Eu você e a companheira // You and I and our lady
À madrugada iremos pra casa cantando // Will go back home singing at dawn

— Commentary —

cordas de aço
Cartola‘s fellow Mangueirense composer Nelson Sargento famously pronounced: “Cartola didn’t really exist; he was a dream we had,” (Cartola não existiu, foi um sonho que a gente teve) and sambas like this one lend credence to his claim. Cartola first recorded this beautiful homage to the guitar and the companionship of a musical instrument on his second LP, Cartola II (1976). Luiz Melodia (1988), Beth Carvalho (1991), Gal Costa (1992), and Ney Matogrosso (2002), among others, went on to record the song.

*Arm in Portuguese is used for the part of the guitar that is called the neck in English.