Nordeste Pra Frente

Lyrics from “Nordeste pra frente” by Luiz Gonzaga and Luis Queiroga (1968)


Sr. repórter já que tá me entrevistando // Mr. Reporter, since you’re interviewing me
Vá anotando pra botar no seu jornal // Take this down to put in your paper
Que meu Nordeste tá mudado // That my Northeast is changed
Publique isso pra ficar documentado // Publish that, for the record

Qualquer mocinha hoje veste mini-saia // Any ol’ girl these days wears a mini-skirt
Já tem homem com cabelo crescidinho // And now there are men with shaggy hair
O lambe-lambe no sertão já usa flash // The street photographer in the sertão now uses flash
Carro de praça cobra pelo reloginho // And the cars for hire in the square charge by the “little clock” (taximeter)

Já tem conjunto com guitarra americana // Now there are bands with American guitars
Já tem hotel que serve Whisky escocês // Hotels that serve Scotch Whiskey
E tem matuto com gravata italiana // And there are red-necks with Italian ties
Ouvindo jogo no radinho japonês // Listening to the game on their little Japanese radio

Caruaru tem sua universidade // Caruaru has a big university
Campina Grande tem até televisão // Campina Grande even has television
Jaboatão fabrica jipe à vontade // Jaboatão makes loads of jeeps
Lá de Natal já tá subindo foguetão // And over in Natal they’re launching rockets

Lá em Sergipe o petróleo tá jorrando // Over in Sergipe the oil’s gushing
Em Alagoas se cavarem vai jorrar // In Alagoas if they dig it’ll gush too
Publique isso que eu estou lhe afirmando // Publish that, I’m telling you
O meu Nordeste dessa vez vai disparar // This time my Northeast is taking off

Haha… E ainda diziam que meu Nordeste não ia pra frente // Haha, and they said my Northeast was going nowhere
Falavam até que a Sudene não funcionava // Even said the SUDENE did no good
Mas Dr. João chegou lá // But Dr. João got there
Com fé em Deus e no meu Padim Ciço // With faith in God and my Padim Ciço (Padre Cicero)
E todo mundo passou a acreditar no serviço // And everyone started to believe in the service
Essa é que é a história! // That’s history right there for you!

— Commentary —

Luiz Gonzaga_O Sertao eh ele.jpg

December 13 is an important date in Brazilian history.  Given the current political climate, with the president’s son, a federal deputy from Rio de Janeiro, recently suggesting a renewed AI-5, the date may first bring to mind the dark anniversary of that Institutional Act no. 5, issued on December 13, 1968, which marked the beginning of Brazil’s long “years of lead” — the most repressive of the dictatorship.

But let’s focus on a brighter note: December 13 was also Luiz Gonzaga’s birthday. There’s a lot about Gonzaga already on the blog, so I’m going to keep this post brief. Gonzaga was born December 13, 1912, in Exu, a small town in the arid interior of Pernambuco. He moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1939 and by 1940 was competing on radio talent contests, and his northeastern baião style quickly became wildly popular among southeastern audiences.  As this previous post relates in greater detail, Gonzaga became, in turn, a cultural ambassador for the impoverished and drought-stricken northeast, which by the 1950s had become a top priority for leading economic thinkers in Brazil who sought to remedy the region’s plight as a necessary step toward modernizing Brazil.

As part of that initiative to address what was called the “problem of the northeast,” in 1959, in the wake of a severe drought the previous year, president Juscelino Kubitschek — best known for Brasilia and the slogan “50 years of development in 5” — established the development agency SUDENE (Superintendencia de Desenvolvimento do Nordeste) mentioned in the song. In establishing SUDENE, Kubitschek was following the guidance of his leading economic thinker, Celso Furtado, who became the agency’s first director. Furtado, like Gonzaga, was from the sertão, born in Pombal, Paraíba, in 1920. He was a central figure in defining the regional demarcation of the northeast and in placing the region’s well-being — with a focus on Keynesian-inspired development policies — at the center of mid-century national political and economic debates.

Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 2.32.09 PMFurtado and SUDENE’s policies were widely criticized as misguided and unrealistic, as the song suggests; and indeed, largely because of the unshakable power of landholding lobbies in the northeast, the agency and the larger Operação Nordeste it was part of never made the difference Furtado sought. Instead, with the military coup of March 31, 1964, Furtado was swiftly removed from office and had his political rights abrogated for ten years. He went into exile in Paris, and the new general-president, Humberto Castelo Branco, appointed “Dr. João” Gonçalves de Souza as director of SUDENE, as outlined in the July 7, 1964, New York Times article included here. Gonzaga’s optimism about Dr. João, the military’s appointee, reveal his unfortunate political persuasions at that time. (I’m not sure how much Gonzaga supported the dictatorship later down the line, especially after Dec. 13, 1968. At any rate, the title of this song, “Nordeste pra frente,” also evokes “Pra frente, Brasil,” a slogan of the dictatorship, popularized through the marchinha for the 1970 World Cup team.)

The song meanwhile offers a humorous take on the arrival of the 1960s zeitgeist to Brazil’s remote northeast: television; long-haired men and rock n’ roll; the expansion of university education; mini-skirts and scotch: symbols of the global 60s’ angsty modernity.  Ah, and oil and cars of course: the Willys Jeep factory in Jaboatão, Pernambuco, mentioned in the song, opened in 1966, and was the northeast’s first car factory.  The TV in Campina Grande refers to TV Borborema, launched in 1966, a year after the Brazilian Air Force opened South America’s first base for rocket launches near Natal, also referenced in the lyrics.

A couple other notes on the translation: Padre Ciçero was a beloved northeastern priest from Crato, Ceará; an annual pilgrimage to his burial place, in Juazeiro do Norte, Ceará, still takes place every year. Lambe lambe refers to traveling street photographers using old-timey cameras.

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.”

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.