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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Raízes

Lyrics from “Raízes” by Renato Teixeira (~1992)

Galo cantou // Cock crowed
Madrugada na campina // Dawn on the plain
Manhã menina // Tender morning
Tá na flor do meu jardim // Is on the flower in my garden
Hoje é domingo // Today is Sunday
Me desculpe eu tô sem pressa // Forgive me I’m in no hurry
Nem preciso de conversa // I have no need for conversation
Não há nada prá cumprir // No obligations to fulfill
Passar o dia // Passing the day
Ouvindo o som de umas viola // Listening to the sound of some violas
Eu quero que o mundo agora // I want the world now
Se mostre pros bem-te-vi // To show itself to the bem-te-vi (Great Kiskadee)
Mando daqui das bandas do rural lembranças // I send out from here, from the rural parts, remembrances
Vibrações da nova hora // Vibrations of the new hour
Prá você que não tá aqui // For you, who’s not here
Amanhecer // The break of day
é uma lição do universo // Is a lesson of the universe
Que nos ensina // That teaches us
Que é preciso renascer // That it’s necessary to be reborn
O novo amanhece // The new dawns
O novo amanhece // The new dawns
Já tem rolinha // There are already doves
Lá no terreiro varrido // Out on the brushed-earth yard
E o orvalho brilha // And the dew shines
Como pérolas ao sol // Like pearls in the sun
Tem uma sombra// There’s a shadow
Que caminha pras montanhas // That creeps toward the mountains
Se enfiando feito alma // Slipping like a soul
Por dentro do matagal // Into the bush
E quanto mais // And the more
A luz vai invadindo a terra // The sun spreads over the earth
O que a noite não revela // What the night doesn’t reveal
O dia mostra prá mim // The day shows to me
A rádio agora // The radio now
Tá tocando Rancho Fundo// Is playing Rancho Fundo
Somos só eu e mundo // It’s just me and the world
E tudo começa aqui // And everything begins here
Amanhecer // Daybreak
é uma lição do universo // Is a lesson of the universe
Que nos ensina // That teaches us
Que é preciso renascer // That it’s necessary to be reborn
O novo amanhece // The new dawns
O novo amanhece // The new dawns
— Commentary —
Pena_Branca_Xavantinho
Pena Branca (right) and Xavantinho.
For the second post on songs about Sundays, here’s one of my favorite songs from a beautiful album of caipira, or folk-country, music, Renato Teixeira & Pena Branca e Xavantinho: Ao Vivo em Tatuí (1992). The song was composed by Renato Teixeira, one of Brazil’s most prolific singer-songwriters in the caipira genre. That genre is associated with the countryside of the central and southeastern states of São Paulo, Paraná, Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul. But tellingly, Teixeira was born in the city — in Santos, São Paulo. Songs like “Raízes,” or “Roots,” are typical of the caipira revival of the 1980s and ’90s, of which Teixeira was a driving force (for more on that, see this previous post): As more and more rural migrants made their way to greater São Paulo or adjacent cities such as Santos — Brazil became a majority urban country around 1970, and was nearly 70 percent urban by 1980; and greater São Paulo exploded from 2.6 million in 1950, to 8.1 million in 1970, to 15.4 million in 1991 — these popular songs expressed deep longing and cultural affinity for a simpler bygone country life that many may never have experienced firsthand.

The caipira style was typically performed by pairs of brothers, perfectly exemplified by Pena Branca (1939-2010) e Xavantinho (1942-1999), who, like many such duos, began singing together as children on local radio programs in their hometown of Uberlândia, Minas Gerais. In 1968, they moved to São Paulo to pursue a career in music together. There, they were helped by popular performers such as Teixeira and Milton Nascimento, whose “Cio da Terra,” composed with Chico Buarque, they popularized with a 1980 recording. (Here they are performing that song with Milton in 1987: https://youtu.be/3BDTbOnC8-I)

The brothers resisted crossing over into the more commercial sertanejo, or (modern) country, genre, and continued performing together in the traditional caipira style until Xavantinho’s early death in 1999, at age 56, from complications from a motorcycle accident five years earlier. The violas they played, and that are referenced in the lyrics, are the ten-string guitar typical of this style.

“Rancho Fundo” in the song refers to the classic Brazilian song “No Rancho Fundo” (1931), by Ary Barroso and Lamartine Babo, which has a similarly nostalgic and romanticized caipira theme. In 1989, the popular duo Chitãozinho e Xororó released a typically caipira version of the song, cementing its place in the caipira canon. The bem-te-vi  bird referenced in the song is one of the most common in Brazil, and one of the first to begin singing at daybreak, which probably explains its popularity in Brazilian folk song.

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.