Presentemente eu posso me considerar um sujeito de sorte // Presently I can consider myself a lucky guy
Porque apesar de muito moço me sinto são e salvo e forte // Because in spite of being very young I feel safe and sound and strong
E tenho comigo pensado Deus é brasileiro e anda do meu lado // And I’ve been thinking to myself God is Brazilian and walks by my side
E assim já não posso sofrer no ano passado // And because of that I can’t suffer anymore in the year gone by
Tenho sangrado demais, tenho chorado pra cachorro // I’ve bled too much, I’ve cried like crazy
Ano passado eu morri mas esse ano eu não morro // Last year I died, but this year I won’t (3x)
— Commentary —
Belchior’s 1976 album Alucinação was one of the most important albums of that decade — one of the richest in the history of Brazilian popular music — and remains tremendously popular and relevant today. It was Belchior’s second studio album (after A Palo Seco, 1974), and the Brazilian public devoured it; the album sold over 30,000 copies in the first three weeks after its release.
One Brazilian music critic has attributed the album’s appeal to its quality of “wringing out the anxiety of the Brazilian youth, caught between the violence of the state” — during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85) — “and the end of the dreams of liberation represented by the countercultural revolution.”
Belchior’s death in 2017 coincided with a parallel climate of anxiety. The end of Brazil’s optimistic socioeconomic boom years (~2005-12) culminated in the 2016 impeachment of left-leaning president Dilma Rousseff — Brazil’s first female president — and the rise of authoritarian politicians like the country’s president-elect (to be inaugurated tomorrow, at writing), the far-right retired army captain Jair Bolsonaro. Both the composer’s death and that political turn have brought renewed attention over the past couple years to the messages captured on Belchior’s best-loved album.
Belchior was born Antônio Carlos Gomes Belchior Fontanelle Fernandes in Sobral, Ceará, on October 26, 1946, the thirteenth of twenty-three children. He used to joke that his excessively long name was “one of the greatest in Brazilian popular music,” the kind of name that, in the northeastern backlands where he was born, people said you “crossed on horseback.” Belchior moved to the state capital of Fortaleza for school in 1962, and in the 60s he began performing his compositions for music festivals around the northeast. By the early 1970s he had moved on to the more popular festivals of Rio and São Paulo, taking first place in Rio’s 1971 IV Festival Universitário da Canção with “Hora do Almoço.”
In Rio, Belchior caught the attention of singer-songwriter Sérgio Ricardo, who, in 1972, launched the short-lived series Disco de Bolso — Pocket Album — with the leftist satirical weekly O Pasquim. The 78rpm series, which unfortunately only lasted two editions, sought to feature a well-known singer-songwriter on one side and promote a relatively unknown composer on the other. The first edition featured Tom Jobim singing his recent composition “Águas de Março” on one side, and the still little-known João Bosco on the other singing “Agnus Sei.” For the “unknown composer” side of the second edition, Ricardo selected Belchior’s composition “Mucuripe,” a collaboration with Fagner, another singer-songwriter from Ceará who was on his way to becoming tremendously popular. Caetano Veloso recorded the song alongside “A Volta da Asa Branca,” by the northeastern star Luiz Gonzaga.
Elis Regina, one of the greatest voices of Brazilian popular music and one of its most talented curators, took a liking to “Mucuripe,” and released it on her 1972 LP Elis (along with Jobim’s “Águas de Março”). Regina would go on to popularize two of Belchior’s compositions from Alucinação: “Como Nossos Pais” and “Velha Roupa Colorida.” The latter song was a call for the counterculture crowd to shed its time-worn “peace-love” trappings and take a renewed and more powerful political stance against the authoritarian dictatorship. Raúl Seixas, perhaps the greatest icon of the counterculture, responded to that song with his 1976 “Eu Também Vou Reclamar” (translated on my Facebook page) which ironized the protest song as little more than a gimmick to sell records. Seixas invoked Belchior’s “Apenas Um Rapaz Latino-Americano” (Just a Latin American Guy) explicitly, singing “Agora sou apenas um latino-americano que não tem cheiro nem sabor (Now I’m just a Latin American guy without any scent or flavor). The little feud was in good fun, though, and Belchior went on to record Seixas’s countercultural anthem “Ouro de Tolo” (Fool’s Gold, translated here) in 1984.
Belchior was often compared to Bob Dylan for his nasal and rough-edged singing style; his lengthy poetic lyrics; and his tendency to speak, rather than sing, parts of those lyrics. Dylan was unquestionably an influence, but Belchior said his style of singing actually came from the Gregorian chants he grew up with in the Catholic school he attended in Ceará.
Belchior died of a reported heart attack on April 30, 2017, prompting an outpouring of grief from his fans young and old in Brazil. The hashtag/movement #voltabelchior (Come Back, Belchior) swept the internet, and fans in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, established the Carnival bloco (parade group) “Volta Belchior.”
— Numa vasta extensão // On a vast expanse Onde não há plantação // Where there’s nothing planted Nem ninguém morando lá // And no one living there Cada pobre que passa por ali // Every poor man who passes by Só pensa em construir seu lar // Can only think of building a home E quando o primeiro começa // And when the first begins Os outros depressa procuram marcar // The others rush to try to mark Seu pedacinho de terra pra morar // Their little piece of land to live on E assim a região // And that’s how the region sofre modificação // Undergoes modification Fica sendo chamada de a nova aquarela // Ends up being called the “new watercolor” E é aí, é aí que o lugar // And that’s when, that’s when the place Então passa a se chamar favela // Starts being called “favela”
— “Vida de Operário” by Padeirinho & Quincas do Cavaco (first recording 1966 – Jamelão)
Ora vejam // Now look
Com é a vida de um operário // What the life of a factory-hand is like
Sai todos os dias no mesmo horário // He leaves every day at the same exact time
Fazendo ginástica pra trabalhar // Doing acrobatics to get to work
Ele pega o trem do subúrbio // He catches the suburban train line
Tão superlotado // So overcrowded
Que pra viajar tem que ir pendurado //That to take it he has to hang off of it
Arriscando a vida pra lá e pra cá // Risking his life all over the place
E as vezes // And sometimes
Quando ele chega um pouco atrasado // When he arrives just a little late
Por causa do trem que ficou enguiçado // On account of the train that broke down
O patrão não deixa ele mais pegar // His boss doesn’t let him take it anymore
Mas as vezes quando ele pega // But sometimes when he takes it
Ele perde o Domingo // He loses his Sunday
Porque o patrão que ele tem é mendigo // Because the boss he has is a miser
E nunca lhe deu uma colher de chá // And never gave him even a tea
(Azar do Valdemar) // (What tough luck for Chuck)
— “Cavaco emprestado” by Padeirinho (1974)
Você quebrou // You broke Meu cavaco de estimação // My pet cavaco E não pagou // And didn’t pay Por que razão? // Why was that? Agora mesmo quero indenização // I want indemnity right now Porque se não, se não, se não // Or else, or else, or else Se não não, sei não… // Or else I don’t even know what… Você pegou // You took Meu cavaquinho emprestado // My cavaquinho on loan Viajou pra todo lado //And traveled everywhere E nem sequer me convidou // And didn’t even invite me Ganhou dinheiro // You made money Tirou onda de artista // Played the star Quero pagamento a vista // I want my full cash payment Do meu cavaquinho // For my cavaquinho Que você quebrou // That you broke
— “Modificado” by Padeirinho (1962; first recording 1980s)
Vejo o samba tão modificado // I see samba so modified Que eu também fui obrigado // That I’m also obliged A fazer modificação // To make modifications Espero que vocês não me censurem // I hope you don’t censor me O que eu quero é que todos procurem // All I want is that you all try Ver se eu não tenho razão // And see if I’m not right – Já não se fala mais no sincopado // No one talks about syncopatedanymore Desde quando o desafinado // Since when was out-of-tune Aqui teve grande aceitação // So accepted here E até eu também gostei daquilo // And I even liked that too Modificando o estilo // Modifying the style Do meu samba tradição // Of my samba tradition Gosto de um samba ritmado pra sambar // I like a rhythmic samba to swing to Também gosto de um sincopado pra dançar // And I like a syncopated samba to dance Mas agora tudo é diferente // But now everything’s different Já não se fala mais naquele samba de ritmo quente // No one talks anymore about those sambas with hot rhythms —
“Como será o ano 2000” by Padeirinho (first recorded by João Nogueira, 1983)
Como será daqui para o ano 2000? // What will it be like by the year 2000? Como será o nosso querido Brasil? // What will our dear Brazil be like? Como será o morro sem os barracôes? // What will the hillside without the shacks be like? Como será o Rio sem as tradições? // And Rio without its traditions? Será que no ano 2000 as escolas de samba irão desfilar? // I wonder if the samba schools will parade in the year 2000? Será que haverá carnaval? Será? // I wonder if there’ll be Carnival? Could it be? Daqui para o ano 2000 só Deus sabe como será // By the year 2000, only god knows what it’ll be like E o povo do Brasil verá // and the Brazilian people will see Como será? // What will it be like?
“O Grande Presidente” (1956)
No ano de 1883 // In the year of 1883
No dia 19 de Abril // On the 19th day of April
Nascia Getúlio Dorneles Vargas // Getúlio Dorneles Vargas was coming into this world
Que mais tarde seria o governador do nosso Brasil // And would come to be governor of our Brazil
Ele foi eleito a deputado // He was elected deputy
Para defender as causas do nosso país // To defend our nation’s causes
E na revolução de 30 ele aqui chegava // And in the revolution of ’30 he was arriving here
Como substituto de Washigton Luiz // To take the place of Washington Luiz
E do ano de 1930 pra cá // And from year of 1930 to now
Foi ele o presidente mais popular // He was the most popular president
Sempre em contato com o povo // Always in touch with the people
Construindo um Brasil novo // Building a new Brazil
Trabalhando sem cessar // Working incessantly
Como prova em Volta Redonda a cidade do aço // And as proof, in Volta Redonda, the city of steel
Existe a grande siderúrgica nacional // We have the great national steel industry
Que tem o seu nome elevado no grande espaço // Which bears his name raised high in space
Na sua evolução industrial // In its industrial evolution
Candeias a cidade petroleira // Candeias, the “petroleum city”
Trabalha para o progresso fabril // Works for industrial progress
Orgulho da indústria brasileira // The pride of Brazilian industry
Na história do petróleo do Brasil // In the history of Brazilian oil
Ô Ô // Oh, Oh
Salve O estadista idealista e realizador BIS // Save the idealist statist and man of action
Getúlio Vargas // Getúlio Vargas
O grande presidente de valor // The great president of valor
— Commentary —
Só muitos anos depois entendi a grande importância do Padeirinho no contexto da cultura popular. Ele deixou registrado com música, ritmo e rimas, a linguagem das comunidades mais baixas da sociedade.
— Only many years later would I come to understand the tremendous importance of Padeirinho in the context of popular culture. He left records – through music, rhythms, and rhymes – of the language of the lowest classes of our society. —
– Nelson Sargento
Padeirinho was one of Mangueira’s most versatile sambistas of all time, excellent with improvisation and humorous critical observation of social ills. He was an expert in the slang of Rio’s favelas, and used the “language of the morro” to tell his syncopated stories about life in Rio’s lower social rungs in the mid-twentieth century.
His greatest idols were his elders in Mangueira: Geraldo Pereira, Cartola, and Nelson Cavaquinho, especially. And his sambas represent a mixture of the styles of these three legendary samba composers, including romantic songs, syncopated critical sambas (“Vida de operário,” for example) in the style of Geraldo Pereira, and sambas de enredo like “O Grande Presidente.”
He may be most remembered for his cheeky use of slang from the morros in songs, as the Nelson Sargento quotation above points out. Many sambistas at the time hesitated to lace local dialect into lyrics: they were trying to conform to a more clean-cut image to appeal to larger audiences and appease authorities. But Padeirinho made several successful sambas that relied on slang from his community, including “Mora no assunto” – his first samba to be recorded, by Jamelão, in the early ’50s – “Deixa de moda,” and “Nota de duque,” one of the most popular sambas on the morro in the late 1950s. Around then Padeirinho came to the conclusion that he should provide a translation so some more people could understand him, and he wrote one of his most popular sambas, “Linguagem do morro,” which provides a clever list of concepts that were called by different names on the morro.
Padeirinho was born Osvaldo Vitalino de Oliveira on March 5, 1927, in Laranjeiras, Rio de Janeiro; he earned the nickname “padeirinho” because his father was a padeiro – a baker. He moved with his father to the samba stronghold of Morro da Mangueira when he was ten, and began to compose around age thirteen.
Padeirinho never had the chance to go to school and felt ashamed of his illiteracy. Through samba — finding rhymes and constructing lyrics — he taught himself to read and write. He began singing his sambas in canteens around the community for whoever would listen. He also began drinking at a very young age in those canteens, and samba and alcoholism would remain two constants in his life.
Padeirinho used to say 1947 was “his year”: that year, an older brother-in-law brought him to sing for the composers at Mangueira, where he performed his samba “Mangueira desceu para cantar,” and he officially entered the composers’ wing of the school. He married his wife Cremilda that year – they stayed together until their deaths forty years later – and he landed a steady job as a stevedore at Rio’s port, alongside many sambistas includingAniceto do Império, one of the leaders of the stevedores’ union. Another sambista and founder of Império Serrano samba school, Eloy Antero Dias, set Padeirinho up with the job, and there were so many sambistas on the docks – imperianos in particular – that Dona Ivone Lara said Império Serrano should actually be called the Union of Stevedores.
Mangueira at the time was a hotbed of samba, and as Padeirinho continued composing, big name recording artists became his fans and recorded his songs, beginning with Jamelão in Rio and Germano Mathias in São Paulo. Other samba legends who released Padeirinho’s sambas include João Nogueira, Paulinho da Viola, Beth Carvalho, Candeia, Martinho da Vila, Moacyr Luz, Xangô da Mangueira, Clementina de Jesus and Elza Soares.
In 1987, forty years after “his year,” Padeirinho was supposed to record his first album. But his wife Mida died in late 1986. Padeirinho, weak and heartbroken, died two months later, in January 1987.
Padeirinho reportedly composed “Favela” as he observed, from his home atop Morro da Mangueira, the favela dos Esqueletos rising up before him. (The favela was torn down to make space for the UERJ campus later on.)
“Modificado” is a response to bossa nova. In 1959, Padeirinho went twice to São Paulo and returned home frustrated, saying he had been hoping to hear Germano Mathias’s recording of his song “Zé da pinga” on the radio, but instead only heard Celly Campelo’s “Estúpido Cupido,” some other pop songs, and bossa nova, which everyone was talking about, albeit with mixed reactions. Padeirinho’s fellow sambistas around Mangueira hated the new style: samba with totally different sounds, rhythmic inflections and accents. But despite his frustration, Padeirinho didn’t mind it, and defended it as “samba all the same.” In response to all the fuss, he wrote his humored syncopated critique of this new, modified samba: “Modificado,” which makes reference to the bossa nova song “Desafinado“(out of tune).
“O Grande Presidente” is one of the finest examples of the kind of bombastic samba-enredo that dominated Carnival in the 1950s and 1960s, full of statements about opulence, magnificence and glory. Mangueira came in third place that year, behind Império Serrano (Caçador de Esmeraldas, by Silas de Oliveira & Mano Décio) and Portela. This specific kind of samba is called a “samba-lençol” (sheet samba) since it covers the story of the person being paid tribute to from top to bottom, start to finish. The samba pays tribute to Getúlio Vargas, Brazil’s controversial populist leader who governed Brazil from 1930-1945 as a dictator and 1951-1954 as a democratically elected president. Vargas came to power in the revolution of 1930 mentioned in the song, and made a big push to industrialize Brazil, as the samba says. In August 1954, growing unrest signalled an impending military overthrow of Vargas. Before that could happen, he shot and killed himself in Catete Palace. Because of his populist principles, Vargas was known as the “father of the poor,” and Padeirinho’s samba in tribute to him, composed shortly after Vargas’s death, is widely considered one of the most beautiful samba-enredos of all time.
Main source for this post: Padeirinho da Mangueira: Retrato sincopado de um artista by Franco Paulino
Meu coração tem butiquins imundos // My heart has squalid taverns
Antros de ronda, vinte-e-um, purrinha // Dives of ronda, blackjack, purrinha [pub games]
Onde trêmulas mãos de vagabundo // Where the trembling hands of vagabonds
Batucam samba-enredo na caixinha // Beat samba-enredos on matchboxes
Perdigoto, cascata, tosse, escarro // Splutter, swagger, cough, phlegm [also can mean a low-down person]
Um choro soluçante que não pára // A sobbing cry that doesn’t stop
Piada suja, bofetão na cara // Dirty joke, a blow to the face
E essa vontade de soltar um barro… // And that urge to take a dump
Como os pobres otários da Central // Like the poor suckers at Central Station
Já vomitei sem lenço e sonrisal // I’ve vomited without a handkerchief and antacid
o P.F. de rabada com agrião… // The P.F. (prato feito) of oxtail with watercress…
Mais amarelo do que arroz-de-forno // Paler than baked rice
Voltei pro lar, e em plena dor-de-corno // I went home, and in the heat of jealous passion
Quebrei o vídeo da televisão // I broke the television screen
— Interpretation —
“Bandalhismo” showcases poet-lyricist Aldir Blanc‘s refined literary side – and how it meshes with vulgarity and humor in his lyrics – and his exquisite portrayals of Rio de Janeiro’s carousing lower classes. The song is a revision of Augusto dos Anjos’ 1902 poem “Vandalismo” (Vandalism, translated below). The symbolist poem begins with “My heart has immense cathedrals” — which Blanc turned into “squalid taverns” — and ends with “I broke the image of my own dreams,” which Blanc twisted into “I broke the television screen.” Blanc deftly adapted Anjos’ sonnet – set in a bygone aristocratic Brazil – into a present-day, hair-raising depiction of a bum’s life at a bar, ending with a comment on the vulgar centrality of the television.
Bandalhismo comes from the word bandalho, which means screw-up or good-for-nothing; bandalhismo essentially refers to the goings-about of a bum. The soft samba is the title track of João Bosco’s 1980 album, and includes a guest appearance by Paulinho da Viola.
A prato feito – referred to in the song by its abbreviation, P.F. – is a generally cheap plate served at lower end restaurants and bars, with rice, beans, meat, salad and fries (with variations of course).
“Vandalismo” by Augusto dos Anjos (1902)
Meu coração tem catedrais imensas // My heart has immense cathedrals
Templos de priscas e longínquas datas // Temples of Priscas and far-off dates
Onde um nume de amor, em serenatas // Where a numen of love, in serenades
Canta a aleluia virginal das crenças // Sings the virginal aleluya of beliefs
Na ogiva fúlgida e nas colunatas // In the shining ogive and in the collonade
Vertem lustrais irradiações intensas // Rush intense purificatory radiations
Cintilações de lâmpadas suspensas // The sparkling of hanging lamps
E as ametistas e os florões e as pratas // And the amethysts and finials and silvers
Como os velhos Templários medievais // Like the ancient medieval Templars
Entrei um dia nessas catedrais // I entered one of these cathedrals
E nesses templos claros e risonhos … // And in these temples bright and cheerful…
E erguendo os gládios e brandindo as hastas // And raising the swords and branding the spears
No desespero dos iconoclastas // In the desperation of the iconoclasts
Quebrei a imagem dos meus próprios sonhos! // I broke the image of my own dreams
Main source for this post: Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song MPB 1965 – 1985, by Charles A. Perrone