Lyrics from “Rara” by Luiz Carlos da Vila and Nelson Sargento (on Benza, Deus2004)


Lara, o seu laraiá é lindo // Lara, your lara-iá is beautiful
Rara ao bailar sorrindo // Exquisite, dancing with a smile
são canções de quem tanto, tantos // They’re the songs of she who so many
corações retém com o seu canto. //hearts keeps so close with her song.
Baila e baila o ar // [She/ it] dances, and the air begins to dance
que ouvindo, vai lá, vem cá // and listening, goes hither and thither
e o mar ao ouvir // and the sea, upon hearing
traz o luar mais pra si // draws the moonlight closer in
faz o jardim beija-flor // makes the hummingbird garden
e o sol se põe a aplaudir // and the sun sets to applauding
o samba que a terra criou // the samba that the earth created
em Lara a mais clara versão do amor // in Lara, the most luminous version of love.

— Commentary —

Walter Alfaiate, Dona Ivone Lara, Moacyr Luz, Beth Carvalho, Luiz Carlos da Vila and João Nogueira on the cover of their 1999 album "Esquina Carioca."
Walter Alfaiate, Dona Ivone Lara, Moacyr Luz, Beth Carvalho, Luiz Carlos da Vila and João Nogueira on the cover of their 1999 album “Esquina Carioca.”
Nelson Sargento, grande Mangueirense and Vascaino, composed the melody for this samba.
Nelson Sargento, grande Mangueirense and Vascaino, composed the melody for this samba.

Since today, April 13, 2015, is Dona Ivone Lara’s 94th birthday, I wanted to post the song that I think is the most beautiful tribute to her, by her friends and fellow sambistas Nelson Sargento (b. July 25, 1924) and the late, deeply cherished Luiz Carlos da Vila (July 21, 1949 – October 20, 2008). Sargento composed the melody and Luiz Carlos da Vila wrote the lyrics, which reveal his singular knack for beautifully humanizing elements of nature in his sambas. My impression is that lara-iá is just a mixture of Lara’s name and the common samba chorus “lá-iá-iá.” The line that says “[she/it] dances” is because it could be referring to Lara herself, but seems to be referring to her song — either way, essentially the same message.

L-R: Wilson Moreira, Aldir Blanc, Luiz Carlos da Vila and Moacyr Luz, celebrating their new samba "Cabô meu pai."
L-R: Wilson Moreira, Aldir Blanc, Luiz Carlos da Vila and Moacyr Luz, celebrating their new samba “Cabô meu pai.”

Dona Ivone Lara is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most revered female samba singers and composers — the most venerated still alive today. She’s been a member of Império Serrano samba school since its founding in 1947, and prior to that, was part of the school Império Serrano broke off from, Prazer da Serrinha. She composed some of the genre’s all-time greatest successes, such as “Acreditar” (1976, with Délcio Carvalho, released initially by fellow imperiano Roberto Ribeiro); “Alguém me avisou” (1980); “Sorriso Negro” (1981); “Enredo do meu samba” (1981, with Jorge Aragão); “Mas quem disse que te esqueço” (1981, with Hermínio Bello de Carvalho); “Sonho Meu” (1978, with Délcio Carvalho); and the samba-enredo “Os Cinco Bailes da História do Rio” (1965, with Silas de Oliveira — the unrivaled master of samba-enredo –for Império Serrano). Here are images from the 1965 Carnaval parade:

Since Carnaval 1965, Lara has been erroneously credited with being the first female composer to have one of her compositions played on the avenue during Carnaval. That particular honor actually goes to Carmelita Brasil, founder, president and composer for Unidos da Ponte, which paraded to her samba in 1958. In the 1930s, Amélia Pires was already composing for the samba school Unidos da Tijuca, although there’s no record of her having composed a samba-enredo for the school.

But that’s not to diminish the importance of her treasured samba compositions, her moving performances and her powerful presence in the male-dominated samba world since the 1960s. Parabéns pra Dona Ivone Lara!

Dona Ivone Lara on the cavaquinho.
Dona Ivone Lara on the cavaquinho.
Lara_Carnaval 1985
Dona Ivone Lara in Carnaval 1985.

Aquarela Brasileira

Lyrics to Aquarela Brasileira by Silas de Oliveira
Written for Império Serrano Samba School, Carnaval 1964

Good audio version: search?q=aquarela+brasileira

Look at this marvel of a setting
It’s a sacred episode
Which the artist, in a brilliant dream
Chose for this carnival
And the asphalt as a catwalk
Will be the canvas for Brazil in watercolor form

Roaming through the Amazon’s surroundings
I saw vast plantations
In Pará, the island of Marajó
And the old  cabin of Timbó
Walking still a bit more
I came across beautiful coconut groves
I was in Ceará, the land of Irapuã
Of Iracema and Tupa

I grew radiant with joy
When I arrived in Bahia
Bahia of Castro Alves, of acarajé
Nights of magic, of candomblé
After crossing the forest of Ipu
I watched, in Pernambuco,
The party of frevo and maracatu
Brasilia stands out
For its art, beauty and architecture
Enchantment of drizzle throughout the range,
São Paulo  ennobles our land
From the east through all the midwest
It’s all beautiful and has lovely shades
Rio, of samba and batucadas
Of the malandros and mulatas
Of feverish requebros

Those green forests of ours
Waterfalls and cascades
Of a subtle combination of colors
And this beautiful indigo-blue sky
Frames my Brasil in watercolor

— Interpretation —

The number of relatively untranslatable words in this song perhaps helps explain why Brazilians have embraced “Aquarela Brasileira” as the anthem of samba-enredo,  a particular style of samba that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s specifically for samba schools like Portela and Mangueira.

Every Carnival, beginning in the early 1930s, rivaling samba schools wrote and sang a samba-enredo as their parade theme of the year. In the first competition, Mangueira’s sambas  “Pudesse meu Ideal” and “Sorri” were the winners.

From the start, just as the groups had adopted the name “samba school” in the 1920s in an effort to legitimize their organization as black communities in Rio de Janeiro, Rio’s samba schools adopted nationalistic themes in their sambas as a way of garnering official support and social acceptance during the Vargas period (1930 – 1945) and beyond.  In 1930, Getulio Vargas had assumed power in Brazil after a military coup deposed Washington Luis, the last Brazilian president of the “Old Republic.” Vargas ruled as a dictator from 1930 – 1934, then as congressionally elected president from 1934 – 1937, then again as dictator from 1937 – 1945, the period known as Estado Novo.  Vargas didn’t adhere to a particular ideology, but could be described as a conservative populist: staunchly anti-communist, he promoted a new style of inclusive nation-building in Brazil, focused on constructing a deep sense of nationalism and promoting industrialization and expanding state control over most aspects of life in Brazil.  Leaders of Rio’s samba schools adopted a policy of nationalistic themes as a way of ingratiating themselves to the conservative government; the Vargas regime appreciated the gesture and began to demand such themes.

Silas de Oliveira, who composed “Aquarela Brasileira,” is known as the “greatest master of samba-enredo” in Brazil.  His first  composition for Carnaval competitions was “Conferência de São Francisco” or “A Paz Universal,” with Mano Décio da Viola, in 1947, for the samba school Prazer da Serrinha.  That same year, after disagreements with the president of Prazer da Serrinha, dissidents from that school – including Silas de Oliveira and Mano Décio da Viola – formed the Império Serrano samba school, establishing from the start a policy of transparent and democratic management.

In 1964, just over a month before the coup d’etat that initiated a twenty-year period of brutal military rule in Brazil, Império Serrano paraded to “Aquarela Brasileira.” That year, as available sources indicate, Império also became the first school to have a woman – Carmem Silvana – as the lead samba-singer (“puxador[a]”) during their Carnival parade. The song weaves together themes of Brazil’s natural beauty, history, culture and folklore, and to date is still widely recognized as one of the greatest sambas-enredo of all time.

— Lyrics by State (roughly) —

Pará: The island of Marajó is an island in Pará at the mouth of the Amazon River; Timbó, according to folklore from Pará, was a warlock of mixed African and indigenous descent who lived alone in a cabin on Marajó.

Ceará: When the narrator arrives in Ceará, he exclaims, “land of Irapuã, of Iracema and Tupa.” Irapuã is the indigenous Tabajara warrior in José de Alencar‘s novel Iracema, from 1865. Based in Ceará, the novel attempt to retell the story of the colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese. Martim, a Portuguese colonist aligned with a rival tribe, falls in love with the beautiful Tabajara woman Iracema; their child, Moacir, is the  first true Brazilian. The name Iracema comes from the Guarani word “honey-lips” and Iracema is an anagram to America — appropriate given the theme of colonization of the Americas. Tupa is the supreme Guarani god and also the god of light.

Bahia:  Castro Alves refers to Antônio Frederico de Castro Alves (1847 – 1871), a Bahian poet and playwright who was a avid abolitionist. He died of tuberculosis at 24. Acarajé is a typical Bahian dish of African origin made of a black-eyed-pea mash deep fried in palm oil and served with shrimp and dressing. Similarly, Candomblé is a syncretic religion with African origins. Like Santería in Cuba, slaves in Brazil adapted their religious practices to the Roman Catholicism they were forced to officially adhere to.

Pernambuco: Ipu is another region in Ceará that appears in José de Alencar’s novel Iracema. (Apparently the narrator is back farther up north after a jaunt down to Bahia.) Frevo is the typical carnaval music in Pernambuco — here is a video showing a child demonstrating frevo dance — and Maracatu is also a dance form from Pernambuco and a Carnaval group in Recife.

São Paulo: São Paulo is known as the “cidade da garoa”  — the city of drizzle, a phenomenon highlighted in the song.

Rio de Janeiro: Finally, the lyrics address Rio de Janeiro, celebrating its sambas; batucada — an African-influenced Brazilian percussion beat; malandros — something like hooligans or ragamuffins, Rio is known for malandros, generally young men who take part in samba circles and perhaps commit petty crimes — and mulatas. Finally, requebros refers to the quick, undulating dance movements of samba.

Post by Victoria Broadus (About)