João Gilberto – “João Valentão” (Dorival Caymmi) and “Chão de Estrelas” (Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas)

 

“João Valentão” by Dorival Caymmi (1945)

João Valentão é brigão// João Valentão is a tough
De dar bofetão// He throws blows
Não presta atenção e nem pensa na vida// He doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t even contemplate life
A todo João intimida// He intimidates every João
Faz coisas que até Deus duvida// He does things even God can’t believe
Mas tem seu momento na vida// But he has his moment in life…

É quando o sol vai quebrando lá pro fim do mundo pra noite chegar// It’s when the sun goes breaking over the end of the world, for night to arrive
É quando se ouve mais forte o ronco das ondas na beira do mar// It’s when the roar of the waves can be heard more loudly at the edge of the sea
É quando o cansaço da lida, da vida, obriga João se sentar// It’s when the weariness of the struggle, of life, forces João to sit down
É quando a morena se encolhe, se chega pro lado querendo agradar// It’s when the morena curls up, comes to his side, wishing to please
Se a noite é de lua a vontade é de contar mentiras, de se espreguiçar// If the night is moonlit, the urge is to tell fibs, to stretch out
Deitar na areia da praia que acaba onde a vista não pode alcançar// Lie down on the sand on the beach that ends beyond where the eye can see
E assim adormece esse homem que nunca precisa dormir pra sonhar// And that’s how this man falls asleep, who never needs to sleep to dream
Porque não há sonho mais lindo do que sua terra não há// Because there is no dream more beautiful than his land, there’s none

“Chão de Estrelas” by Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas (1937)

Minha vida era um palco iluminado// My life was a lighted stage
Eu vivia vestido de dourado// I was always dressed in gold
Palhaço das perdidas ilusões// Clown of lost illusions
Cheio dos guizos falsos de alegria// Full of the phony bells of joy
Andei cantando minha fantasia// I went around singing my fantasy
Entre as palmas febris dos corações// Among the feverish palms* of hearts

Meu barracão lá no morro do Salgueiro// My shack, on Salgueiro Hill
Tinha o cantar alegre de um viveiro// Had the cheerful song of an aviary
Foste a sonoridade que acabou// You were the sonority that ended
E hoje quando do sol a claridade //And today, when the sun’s rays
Forra meu barracão, sinto saudade// Stream into my shack, I feel saudade
Da mulher, pomba rola, que voou// For the woman, dove that flew away

Nossas roupas comuns dependuradas// Our modest clothes hanging
Na corda, qual bandeiras agitadas// Out on the line, like waving flags
Parecia um estranho festival// Appeared an exotic festival
Festa dos nossos trapos coloridos// A party of our colored rags
A mostrar que nos morros mal vestidos// Showing that on the poorly dressed hillsides
É sempre feriado nacional// It’s always a national holiday

A porta do barraco era sem trinco// The shack’s door had no latch
Mas a lua furando o nosso zinco// But the moon, boring through our tin
Salpicava de estrelas nosso chão// Peppered our floor with stars
E tu pisavas nos astros, distraída// And you stepped on the stars, absent-minded
Sem saber que a ventura dessa vida// Unaware that the fortune of this life
É a cabrocha, o luar, e o violão// Is the cabrocha, the moonlight and the guitar

— Commentary–

 

Última Hora, Missão 2858-59
João Gilberto’s debut at Copacabana Palace, 1959. Photo via Arquivo Publico do Estado de São Paulo. 
Jornal Aqui Sao Paulo;
João Gilberto. Photo via Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo.

It would be hard to find a foreign lover of Brazilian music whose life wasn’t fundamentally changed by João Gilberto, who died yesterday, July 6, at age 88.  I remember listening over and over to a playlist put together by the fantastic Zuim Podcast in 2011 for Gilberto’s 80th birthday. I was living in New York at the time and the songs — which still bring to mind memories of runs in Prospect Park and drab days at a midtown office — helped inspire this blog, which I started a few months later, and my move to Brazil. They included several from this 1958 recording from the casa de Chico Pereira, linked above. Especially beautiful to me was “João Valentão,” to this day, thanks to that recording, maybe my favorite Brazilian song — or at least one of the first that would come to mind if I had to answer that impossible question. It was one of the first songs I translated for the blog back in 2011. Here it is reprised with João Gilberto singing, along with “Chão de Estrelas” (which also has its own post from 2012), which follows “João Valentão” on the album. Over the next few weeks I hope to get time to translate more João Gilberto recordings on here; for now, here are two of my favorites.

 

*The first verse of “Chão de Estrelas” ends with “among the feverish palms of hearts.” In Portuguese, the literal translation for “clap” in English is “to beat palms.” Orestes Barbosa played with this phrase, referring to beating hearts as “palms of hearts.”

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A vida é uma só (pare de tomar a pílula)

Lyrics from “A vida é uma só (pare de tomar a pílula)” by Odaír José (1973)

 

___

Já nem sei há quanto tempo // I don’t even know how long it’s been
Nossa vida é uma vida só// Our life is only one
E nada mais// And nothing more

Nossos dias vão passando// Our days go passing by
E você sempre deixando// And you’re always leaving
Tudo pra depois// Everything for later

Todo dia a gente ama// Every day we love one another
Mais você não quer deixar nascer// But you don’t want to give birth
O fruto desse amor//To the fruit of that love

Não entende que é preciso// You don’t understand that we need
Ter alguém em nossa vida// Someone in our life
Seja como for// No matter what

Você diz que me adora// You say you adore me
Que tudo nessa vida sou eu// That I’m everything in this life
Então eu quero ver você// So I want to see you
Esperando um filho meu// Carrying my child
Entao eu quero ver você// So I want to see you
Esperando um filho meu// Carrying my child

(refrain)
Pare de tomar a pílula!// Stop taking the pill!
Pare de tomar a pílula
Pare de tomar a pílula
Porque ela não deixa o nosso filho nascer (3x)// Because it keeps our child from being born

— Commentary —

Image result for odaír josé música brega
Odaír José, c. 1973.

Most people associate protest music during Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-85) with MPB singers like Chico Buarque, Geraldo Vandré, and Elis Regina. But even songs like this one, from the brega (corny, cheesy, lowbrow…) genre — an over-the-top romantic style from the northeast — were vehicles of resistance. Composers of brega ballads critiqued racism, social inequality, and the social conservatism of the regime, and advocated for things such as the legalization of divorce (only passed through a constitutional amendment known as the “divorce law” in 1977). Their songs represented a major channel for political discourse among Brazil’s poorest populations.

This song serves as a perfect example. The military government treated the impoverished northeast as a problem: an overpopulated and undercivilized hinterland that bred radical peasants and hindered the country’s drive toward order and progress. To try to stamp out that problem without instituting meaningful social reforms, the regime pushed birth control pills and IUDs across the region. State-sponsored population-control programs attempted to win hearts and minds with the uninspired slogan “take the pill with lots of love” (tome a pílula com muito amor); this song responded with “stop taking the pill!”

The song was catchy, irreverent, and amusing, and was a runaway hit. After a while, the military regime’s censors caught on to the ruse and did not find it amusing: the song was banned and the discs were taken out of circulation.

Like Chico Buarque, who continued to perform banned songs such as “Cálice” and “Apesar de você,” José continued to sing this one at shows. But after a run-in with an angry general who told him, “if you’re not satisfied with the country, leave,” José opted to leave, and went into exile in England.

The late sixties and early seventies were the worst period of Brazil’s dictatorship, known as the “years of lead” (anos de chumbo). Things began to change in 1974, when General Ernesto Geisel took office as president. More moderate than the hardliners who had ruled since ’67,  Geisel began a gradual liberalization program known as “distensão,” which sought to slowly reintroduce some (uncertain) degree of political liberties. Under that aegis, the mid-seventies saw a loosening of censorship and repression, and Odaír José returned to Brazil. His song, meanwhile, experienced a resurgence of popularity in the mid-nineties, when it was the unlikely soundtrack for a C&A department-store commercial that aired throughout Brazil; legions of teenage boys began singing it again, with no clue as to its original context.

Main source for this post: Eu Não Sou Cachorro, Não,  by Paulo César Araújo.

“Saudosa Maloca” & “Torresmo à Milanesa”

Lyrics from “Saudosa Maloca” by Adoniran Barbosa (1951), interpreted by Adoniran Barbosa & Conjunto do Nelson Miranda

___

[intro:
Saudosa maloca // Dear old hut
Maloca querida // Beloved hut
Onde nóis passemos // Where we spent
Dias feliz de nossa vida // Happy days of our life
(2x)]

Se o sinhô não tá lembrado / If you are not recalling, sir
Dá licença de contá // Please do let me tell
Qui aqui onde agora está esse edifício artu // That here where this tall building stands
Era uma casa veia um palacete assobradadu // There was an old house, a two-storey’d palace
Foi aqui seu moço// It was here, my boy
Que eu, Mato Grosso e o Joca // That I, Mato Grosso and Joca
Construímos nossa maloca // Made our quarters
Mas um dia nem quero lembrar // But one day, I don’t even want to think of it
Chegô os homeis com as ferramenta // The men with the tools came
o dono mandô derrubá // The owner ordered it torn down
Peguemo’ tuda nossas coisas // We took all our things
E fumos pro meio da rua // And went out to the middle of the road
Ispiá [espiar] a demolição // To watch the demolition
Que tristeza que eu sentia // What sorrow I felt
Cada tauba [tábua] que caia // Every board that fell
Doía no coração // Hurt in my heart
Mato Grosso quis gritar // Mato Grosso wanted to scream
Mas em cima eu falei // But over him I said
O hômiis tá ‘cá razão // The men they got reason
Nós arranja outro lugar // We’ll find another place
se conformemos quando o Joca falou // We only accepted it when Joca said
“Deus dá o frio conforme o cobertor”// “God deals out cold based on the size of the blanket”
E hoje nóis pega páia nas grama do jardim // And today we collect straw in yards of the garden
E pra esquecê nóis cantemos assim // And to forget, we sing like this
Saudosa maloca, maloca querida // Good old hut, dear hut
Onde nóis passemos dias feliz da nossa vida // Where we spent happy days of our life (3x)

____

Lyrics from “Torresmo à Milanesa” by Adoniran Barbosa and Carlinhos Vergueiro (1979)

___

O enxadão da obra bateu onze hora // The hoe of the construction site just struck 11 o’clock
Vam s’embora, joão! // Les’go, João
Vam s’embora, joão! // Les’go, João
(2x)

Que é que você troxe na marmita, Dito? // What’d you bring in your lunch box, Dito?
Troxe ovo frito, troxe ovo frito // I brought fried egg, I brought fried egg
E você beleza, o que é que você troxe? // And you, beauty, What’d you bring?
Arroz com feijão e um torresmo à milanesa // Rice with beans and a pork rind à milanesa
Da minha Tereza! // From my Tereza!

Vamos armoçar // Let’s have lunch
Sentados na calçada // Sitting on the sidewalk
Conversar sobre isso e aquilo // Talk about this and that
Coisas que nóis não entende nada // Things we don’t know nothing about
Depois, puxá uma páia // And afterwards hit the hay
Andar um pouco // Take a little stroll
Pra fazer o quilo // To aid digestion

É dureza João! // Ain’t it tough, João! (4x)

O mestre falou // The master said
Que hoje não tem vale não // That today there’s no lunch pass
Ele se esqueceu // He forgot
Que lá em casa não sou só eu // That it’s not just me at home!

— Commentary —

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 1.40.17 PM
Adoniran Barbosa with the vocal group Demônios da Garoa, who were the first to record and popularize many of his songs.

I translated “Saudosa Maloca” to show some of my students so decided to take advantage and make a post out of it!

Adoniran Barbosa’s “Trem das Onze” (translated in an old post here) is his song that has achieved the greatest success outside of São Paulo — specifically in the territorial samba circles of Rio — but “Saudosa Maloca” is probably his most iconic and beloved samba among his fellow paulistasThe version included above was the first recording, but the song only became a hit with this 1955 recording by the vocal group Demônios da Garoa:

That group’s role in popularizing Adoniran’s sambas has generated some controversy in recent years, as members of the present-day iteration of the group have claimed that Demônios was responsible for inventing the “‘narfabeto” (illiterate Italian-inflected) style of singing that Adoniran became famous for. The 1951 recording reveals there is little truth to that claim.

Both of these songs address the rapid expansion of urban Brazil — specifically São Paulo — in the early to mid-twentieth century, and the hard lives of those who built the city but had trouble finding a place in it.

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Italian immigrants at a shelter in São Paulo c. 1890. Most immigrants passed through these special shelters before continuing on to coffee plantations. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

As this earlier post explains, Barbosa was born João Rubinato in 1912 to Italian immigrant parents in the interior of São Paulo state. As millions of Italian immigrants arrived in the United States between 1870 – 1930,  about 4 million more went to South America. Most went to Argentina, but approximately a hundred thousand (exact numbers are hard to come by) disembarked in Brazil. Most of these families, including Barbosa’s, first settled in rural areas to work on and around Brazil’s booming coffee plantations. But as the themes of Barbosa’s songs highlight, most soon ended up seeking better economic possibilities in growing cities.

Sao-Paulo-imigrantes-italianos-1920-mooca_museu-imigracao-bx.jpg
Italian immigrants selling fruit in the Mooca neighborhood of São Paulo, 1920. Image via Museu da imigração.

As mentioned, Barbosa was famous for composing and singing in the Italian-inflected rural style of speech he grew up with, which is still common all around São Paulo, especially in the rural interior of the state.  I’ve put those words/phrases in bold in the original Portuguese lyrics; it’s things like pronouncing an “r” in place of an “l” (e.g. “armoçar” instead of “almoçar,” to have lunch) and mis-conjugating verbs (e.g., “fumos” instead of “fomos,” we went; “se conformemos” instead of “nos conformamos,” and “nois pega” instead of “nós pegamos.”)  I hope that gives a picture. In a few places I’ve tried to translate into parallel English to add a little of that flavor.

“Maloca” is a pretty hard word to translate. The word originally referred to an indigenous communal dwelling, and can connote an improvised dwelling and the concept of “home.” In this song, I believe it refers to something like squatters’ quarters, set up in the old house that gets torn down.  I haven’t been able to come up with any word in English that would carry all of the same connotations without giving an idea of much greater luxury than “maloca,” so I’ve just left it translated as hut, and “quarters” in one place.

“Saudoso/a” is of course also a challenge: it comes from the notoriously untranslatable word “saudade.” Saudoso is one of my favorite derivatives of saudade. It is often used in the way we use “late” (as in dead) in English, but is much more elegant and appropriately sentimental. (For occasions when no sentiment is called for, the word “falecido/a” might be substituted.)

The phrase “fazer o quilo” is, according to the Internet, a popular corruption of “fazer o quimo,” which refers to chymotrypsin, a chemical responsible for digestion.

In the mid-twentieth century there was a tremendous amount of construction in the centrally located neighborhoods of São Paulo known as Jardins (Gardens): Jardim Paulista, Jardim Europa, Jardim America, etc. Those neighborhoods quickly became some of the city’s wealthiest. In the line “we collect straw in the yards of the garden” (i.e. work clearing yards), “garden” probably refers to that construction boom.

Barbosa and his friend Carlinhos Vergueiro composed “Torresmo à Milanesa” in a bar in 1979. The song apparently began as “Bife à Milanesa,” but Barbosa suggested last minute that they change it to “torresmo à milanesa” to make it more comical, since pork rinds à milanesa doesn’t exist. He then suggested they also change it to “um torresmo à milanesa” — a single pork rind — because that’s “sadder.”

A final note on that song: an enxadão is a hoe. Here it might be referring to some other similar tool from a construction site, but I’m assuming the lyrics mean that a boss struck the time using a hoe (or similar instrument) so that the sound would reverberate across the construction site.