Sem Ilusão

Lyrics from “Sem Ilusão” by Elton Medeiros and Antonio Valente (1977)

No carnaval não vou querer me fantasiar// This Carnival, I don’t want to put on a costume
Não vou querer me vestir de rei// I don’t want to dress up as a king
Não quero mais colorir a dor// I no longer wish to gloss over the pain
E se alguém quiser me aplaudir// And if anyone wants to applaud me
Vai ter que ser assim como eu sou// It’s gonna have to be for me, as I am
Não quer dizer que não vou nem brincar// I don’t mean to say that I’m not going to revel
Só não quero é enganar o meu coração// I just don’t want to fool my heart
No Carnaval, não vou mais sair fingindo//During Carnival, I’ll no longer go out pretending
Que passo a minha vida inteira a cantar// That I spend my whole life singing
Eu vou me divertir, na certa eu vou sambar// I’ll have fun, sure, I’ll samba, no doubt
Mas dessa vez a ilusão não vai me pegar// But this time, illusion won’t get the best of me
No Carnaval eu sempre sai sorrindo// During Carnival, I’ve always gone out smiling
Me divertindo só pra desabafar// Having fun just to lighten my heart
Três dias pra sorrir, um ano pra chorar// Three days to smile, a year to cry
Mas dessa vez a ilusão não vai me pegar// But this time, illusion won’t get the best of me

— Interpretation —

1966: Paulinho da Viola and Elton Medeiros practice with Clementina de Jesus for their show in Dakar, Senegal, at the first World Festival of Black Arts. Paulinho recalls he and Elton only played atabaque - no guitar or cavaquinho - and that the show was a huge success.
1966: Paulinho da Viola and Elton Medeiros practice with Clementina de Jesus for their show in Dakar, Senegal, at the first World Festival of Black Arts. Paulinho recalls he and Elton only played atabaque – no guitar or cavaquinho – and that the show was a huge success.
Elton Medeiros on the matchbox and Paulinho da Viola on the guitar, cover of their 1968 album Samba na Madrugada
Elton Medeiros on the matchbox and Paulinho da Viola on the guitar, cover of their 1968 album Samba na Madrugada

Elton Medeiros (born 22 July 1930, Glória, Rio de Janeiro) has never been keen on playing the role people expect of him. He’s been known since the 1960s as a master of rhythm on the matchbox, for instance, but never liked posing with the diminutive instrument, saying those kinds of pictures and the like contributed to the “folklorization” of samba: “A lot of people think that to make samba you have to be a bar fly. I know how to beat a rhythm on a matchbox, but I don’t play up that role just to live up to what people expect of a sambista.” This song takes a similarly rebellious tone: Why do I have to pretend I have no cares in the world, and fool even myself, just because it’s Carnival? And it came at a time when a lot of sambistas were particularly down on Carnival, as Elton hints at in the introduction to the song on the 1977 album Os Quatro Grandes do Samba.

On the album,  Guilherme de Brito asks Elton Medeiros  why he, who had founded three samba schools, wasn’t parading with any. Medeiros responds, “It’s true, Guilherme, lately I’ve really lamented what’s been happening with Carnival.”

The three samba schools he founded were: GRES Tupi de Brás de Pina [late 1940s], GRES Unidos de Lucas [1967] and GRANES Quilombo [1976], which was founded essentially out of protest of the direction samba schools had taken. In 1977, Elton indeed marched — or maybe danced is more appropriate — in Quilombo’s first Carnival parade.

The sentiment expressed in this song reflects the widespread feeling of dejection that had taken hold among most “old-guard” samba composers by the mid to late 1970s: Most sambistas in Rio thought leadership at samba schools had become too autocratic and profit-driven, contributing to the commoditization of samba by seeking only sambas that would sell well. And any profits stayed in the pockets of outsiders who had taken power at the schools, or was used to pay for expensive artists to produce ever more extravagant Carnival floats and costumes.

Paulinho da Viola in the first Quilombo Carnival parade.  I wasn't able to find images of Elton Medeiros in the parade.
Paulinho da Viola in the first Quilombo Carnival parade. I wasn’t able to find images of Elton Medeiros in the parade.

In protest — particularly of the situation at Portela — in 1975-1976, together with Candeia and Wilson Moreira (both Portela), and Nei Lopes (Salgueiro) — Elton Madeiros founded Grêmio Recreativo de Arte Negra e Samba Quilombo.  Candeia had come up with the idea for the new samba school after growing totally fed up with Portela, as this post explains.

Elton Medeiros was never a member of Rio’s biggest schools like Portela  and Mangueira; in the 1970s he was a composer with GRES Unidos de Lucas. But Elton felt close to Portela because the school had chosen him and his line of composers at Unidos de Lucas to be their “patrons.” Medeiros also worked closely with several of Portela’s most revered composers, including Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and Candeia, along with Mangueirenses like Cartola — with whom he composed one of the best-loved samba classics of all time (and one of the first entries on this blog), “O Sol Nascerá (A Sorrir),” Nelson Cavaquinho, and Nelson Sargento.

Conjunto Voz do Morro was one of the groups formed at Zicartola, in an effort to give more publicity to the greatest talents in samba do morro.
Conjunto Voz do Morro was one of the groups formed at Zicartola, in an effort to give more publicity to the greatest talents in samba do morro. L-R: Paulinho da Viola; Anescarzinho do Salgueiro; (???); Zé Cruz do Chapéu de Palha; Elton Medeiros; Zé Keti; Jair do Cavaquinho.

Medeiros was born in the Glória neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, where he lived until the family moved to Brás de Pina when he was seven. Just a year later he reportedly began composing sambas with neighborhood friends, and as a teenager he learned to play trombone and saxophone at school.  When he was about 20 he met Zé Kéti,  and in the early 1960s he became a regular at Zicartola — the restaurant Cartola ran with his wife Zica from 1963 – 1965 —  where he sang and “swapped ideas” (from the Portuguese trocar ideia) with Rio’s samba and cultural elite.

In 1965, Élton Medeiros began singing with the groups Voz do Morro and Rosa de Ouro, with Zé Kéti (Voz do Morro), Paulinho da Viola, Nelson Sargento, Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Zé Cruz (Voz do Morro) and Oscar Bigode (Voz do Morro). Both shows aimed to introduce the most promising "sambistas de morro" to a wider audience and give them the opportunity to record their songs.
In 1965, Élton Medeiros began singing with the groups Voz do Morro and Rosa de Ouro

Two groups that propelled the  Zicartola set to samba stardom were born from the encontros at the restaurant:  In 1965, Elton joined Herminio Bello de Carvalho’s musical show Rosa de Ouro. Soon after, upon request from the record label MusiDisc, Zé Kéti formed the group Conjunto A Voz do Morro with performers from Rosa de Ouro:  Jair Costa (Jair do Cavaquinho), Paulinho da Viola, Elton Medeiros, Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Oscar Bigode, Zé Cruz – who played percussion on a straw hat, Nelson Sargento (for the second album), and of course, Zé Kéti. Rosa de Ouro recorded two albums (“Rosa de Ouro” and “Rosa de Ouro II“), and Voz do Morro recorded three, “Roda de Samba,” “Roda de Samba II,” and “Os Sambistas.”

Zicartola, with Nelson Cavaquinho on the guitar and Zé Kéti standing.
Zicartola, with Nelson Cavaquinho on the guitar and Zé Kéti standing.

In 1968, Elton and Paulinho da Viola recorded the beautiful album “Samba na Madrugada,” with sambas composed with Cartola, Mauro Duarte, Zé Keti, Hermínio Bello de Carvalho, and Paulinho and Elton together.  1973, Elton recorded his first self-titled solo album, with his classics “Pressentimento” (with Herminio Bello de Carvalho), “Mascarada” (with Zé Kéti), and “O Sol Nascerá (A Sorrir).” Four years later, with Candeia, Nelson Cavaquinho, and Guilherme de Brito, he recorded the historic album that included “Sem Ilusão.”

(The date is wrong on the YouTube video):

Here is footage of a Rosa de Ouro reunion in 1980, with each sambista contributing to a pot-pourri with a samba he composed:

Elton Medeiros with friend and partner Paulinho da Viola. Medeiros was a master of the matchbox but said he didn't like posing with the "instrument" because he thought those kinds of pictures contributed to the folklorization of samba.
Elton Medeiros with friend and partner Paulinho da Viola. Medeiros was a master of the matchbox but said he didn’t like posing with the “instrument” because he thought those kinds of pictures contributed to the folklorization of samba.

 

 

 

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“A voz do morro” and “Acender as velas”

Lyrics from “A voz do morro” by Zé Kéti (1955)

I’m samba, the voice from the morro, that’s me indeed, yes sir
I want to show the world that I have worth
I’m the king of the terreiro, I’m samba
I’m native from here, from Rio de Janeiro
I’m the one who brings joy to millions of Brazilian hearts
Salve samba, we want samba
Who’s asking for it is the voice of the people of a country
Salve samba, we want samba, that melody of a happy Brazil

Lyrics from “Acender as velas” by Zé Kéti (1965)

Lighting candles has become our profession
When there’s no samba, there’s disillusion
It’s another heart that stops beating, an angel goes to heaven
God forgive me, but I’m going to say it, the doctor arrived too late
Because up on the morro, there’s no automobile to go up
No telephone to call, and no beauty to be seen
And we die without wanting to die

— Interpretation —

L-R: Billy Blanco, Odete, Dorival Caymmi (seated), Zé Kéti, Tom Jobim, and Cartola. Zé Kéti was largely responsible for bringing together the worlds of bossa nova and samba do morro in Rio in the early 1960s
L-R: Billy Blanco, Odete, Dorival Caymmi (seated), Zé Kéti, Tom Jobim, and Cartola at Zicartola. Zé Kéti was largely responsible for bringing together the worlds of bossa nova and samba from the morros of Rio de Janeiro in the early 1960s.
Two of the boys from the favela followed in the film Rio, 40 Graus.
Scene in the favela in Rio, 40 Graus.

“A voz do morro” was the samba that brought fame to Zé Kéti in 1955, when it rolled as the theme song on Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s film Rio, 40 Graus. (Along with contributing to the soundtrack, Kéti worked as second camera assistant for the film and played a small part as the character Neguinho.)  On its own, “A voz do morro” seems like an everyday samba-exaltação, celebrating the nation and the genre; the lyrics alone don’t betray protest or even melancholy. But set against the backdrop of Santos’s film, which follows the lives of five boys from the favela selling peanuts in rich areas of Rio de Janeiro on a scorching summer day, the song is deeply poignant and political. The movie contrasts the lives of these boys with the lives of their rich white neighbors in Copacabana and with the luxuriant natural beauty of the city itself. When it was released, it laid bare in a queasy fashion the class conflict and exploitation of Afro-Brazilian favelados that ran deep in Rio de Janeiro, but that the government, media, and city by and large turned a blind eye to. The movie was styled in the postwar Italian neorealist model of political dramas that mimic  documentaries, and marked the start of the Cinema Novo period in Brazil.

Ten years later, Kéti’s low-spirited samba “Acender as velas” brought the same themes to light, but this time more acutely. Kéti wrote the song for Ronaldo Bôscoli, who was doing a vignette on his TV show about the hopeless situation of a sick boy in a favela. The  samba was released in the wake of the 1964 coup that installed a military dictatorship in Brazil. The military government quickly embarked on a series of harsh and misguided policies for dealing with Rio’s favelas, and Kéti’s sambas responded to this treatment.

Spellings for "Kéti" varied, as this ID demonstrates.
Kéti spelled his name in a number of different ways; this ID shows one of them.

Zé Kéti — whose full name was José Flores de Jesús — was born in  Inhaúma, Rio de Janeiro, on September 16, 1921. His nickname Kéti is an adaptation of “quietinho” – or well-behaved. He explained his name saying “quietinho” became “quieti,”  which he changed to Kéti because “K was in fashion at the time — Khrushchev, Kennedy, Kubitschek.”

Kéti grew up at his grandfather’s house in Bangu until 1928, when he and his mother moved to Dona Clara, a section of the north-zone neighborhood Madureira, the samba bastion that’s home to the samba schools Portela and Império Serrano. In this 1973 documentary, Kéti recounts that his grandfather was a piano and flute player who was friends with Pixinguinha and Cândido das Neves. Kéti’s father was also a composer, guitar and cavaquinho player, and Kéti attributes his fascination with music from a young age to their influence.  Kéti’s father died when Kéti was still a young boy, apparently poisoned by an ex-lover. (The samba “Meu pai morreu” is about this story; Keti said his father went crazy and died on Rio’s Praia Vermelha.) Kéti’s mother,  a fabric factory worker and domestic servant, brought him along on her nights out at samba bars, and Kéti said he would always sit near the music – entranced – rather than playing with the other kids. Eventually his mother granted his pleas for a flute, and he started making music.

Zé Kéti followed in Ciro Monteiro's footsteps playing percussion on a matchbox. He said to play, the matchbox couldn't be too full nor too empty.
Zé Kéti followed in Ciro Monteiro’s footsteps playing percussion on a matchbox. He said to play, the matchbox couldn’t be too full nor too empty.

As a young man Kéti began frequenting the Portela samba school and composing. When he was 24, the group Vocalistas Tropicais released his composition “Tio Sam no samba,” marking his first samba to be recorded. Shortly after, Ciro Monteiro – Kéti’s inspiration in the art of playing percussion on a matchbox – recorded Kéti’s samba “Vivo bem.” But again, fame only came years later, in the mid-1950s: Nelson Pereira dos Santos was looking for a sambista for the soundtrack for Rio, 40 Graus, and actor Artur Vargas Junior brought Zé Kéti in to sing for him. Santos was enchanted – so much so that, as relates in this program, his next film with a similar theme, Rio, Zona Nortewas a tribute to Zé Kéti, who was represented by Grande Otelo‘s character.

Standing, L-R: Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho da Viola and Zé Kéti at Zicartola.
Standing, L-R: Anescarzinho do Salgueiro, Jair do Cavaquinho, Paulinho da Viola and Zé Kéti at Zicartola.

In 1963, Cartola and his wife Zica opened their legendary restaurant Zicartola and appointed Zé Kéti as artistic director of the house. Kéti was largely responsible for launching the careers of samba greats including Paulinho da Viola, who went into Zicartola in 1964 as the unknown Paulo Cesar and quickly rose to fame under his new artistic name. In the same 1973 documentary, Kéti says Paulinho’s nickname was, “modesty aside, given by his friend Zé Kéti,” inspired by Império Serrano’s Mano Décio da Viola. Kéti’s friend, journalist Sérgio Cabral, hastily used the nickname in his newspaper column and it thus became official.

During his time at Zicartola, Zé Kéti became friends with Carlos Lyra, and the two made a deal: Kéti would take Lyra to samba schools in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro if Lyra introduced Kéti in the bossa-nova-dominated Zona Sul. That’s how Zé Kéti ended up playing a pivotal role in popularizing samba from Rio’s morros among the city’s elite, and throughout the country and the world.

João do Vale, Zé Kéti, and Nara Leão on stage with the show Opinião.
João do Vale, Zé Kéti, and Nara Leão on stage with the show Opinião.

In 1964, Carlos Lyra introduced Kéti to Nara Leão, the “muse of bossa nova” who was increasingly fed up with that genre. In light of the country’s political plight, Nara deemed bossa nova nauseatingly apolitical: “[Bossa nova] always has the same theme: love-flower-sea-love-flower-sea, and it goes on ad infinitum.” In a controversial interview with the magazine Fatos e Fotos, she continued, “I want pure samba, which has much more to say for itself, which is the people’s way of expressing themselves, and not something written by a small group for another small group.”  Kéti showed Nara his samba “Diz que fui por aí,” which she recorded on her first LP, Nara, that same year. In late 1964 Nara released a second album, Opinião da Narawith “Acender as velas” and Kéti’s equally political samba “Opinião.” The latter protested the military government’s policy of removing favelas around Rio’s Zona Sul and relocating residents to distant developments with names like Vila Kennedy, in honor of the government that was financing the ill-advised initiative. The refrain for that song says, “They can take me prisoner/They can beat me/They can even make me go without food/But I won’t change my opinion/I won’t leave the morro.”

Also in late 1964, the Teatro Arena opened up in Copacabana and Zé Kéti was invited to act alongside Nara Leão and João do Vale in a musical play named after his samba “Opinião.” The show addressed social strife in Rio through the three characters: João do Vale played a northeastern migrant, Kéti played the part of the malandro carioca, and Nara played the rich student from the Zona Sul. They toured the country with the tremendously popular play; the theater ended up taking on the name Opinião, and when Nara Leão took time off to rest her voice, she recommended Maria Bethânia as her replacement, and another star was revealed.

R-L: Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and the Velha Guarda da Portela.
R-L: Zé Kéti, Paulinho da Viola, and the Velha Guarda da Portela.

Among Kéti’s other major hits is the Carnival march “Mascara Negra” (1967, with Hildebrando Pereira Matos), which won first place in the 1967 Carnival contest and remains one of Brazil’s most beloved Carnival themes. Kéti was soft spoken, humble, and good humored, a devoted member of the Portela samba school and fan of the Vasco da Gama football club. He died on November 14, 1999, a year after receiving the prestigious Shell Prize for MPB, and a few months after the death of his close friend Carlos Cachaça, which had left him deeply distraught. He was buried in Inhaúma, with the blue-and-white Portela flag, as “Voz do morro” played in the background.

A few notes on the translations: morro means hill or hillside, but here and in general refers to the community on the hillside – the favela; terreiro was the space where Afro-Brazilian religions were practiced and where samba was created and performed; and the line “we die without wanting to die” could also be translated as “the people die without wanting to die,” since the Portuguese line says a gente, which can mean both “we” or “the people.” Since a gente is almost exclusively used in Rio to mean “we,” that’s how I translated it in the song.

Lyrics in Portuguese: “A voz do morro”

Eu sou o samba
A voz do morro sou eu mesmo sim senhor
Quero mostrar ao mundo que tenho valor
Eu sou o rei do terreiro
Eu sou o samba
Sou natural daqui do Rio de Janeiro
Sou eu quem levo a alegria
Para milhões de corações brasileiros
Salve o samba, queremos samba
Quem está pedindo é a voz do povo de um país
Salve o samba, queremos samba
Essa melodia de um Brasil feliz

Lyrics in Portuguese: “Acender as velas”

Acender as velas
Já é profissão
Quando não tem samba
Tem desilusão
É mais um coração
Que deixa de bater
Um anjo vai pro céu
Deus me perdoe
Mas vou dizer
O doutor chegou tarde demais
Porque no morro
Não tem automóvel pra subir
Não tem telefone pra chamar
E não tem beleza pra se ver
E a gente morre sem querer morrer

 Main sources for this post: Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil by Bryan McCann; Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World by Ruy Castro; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 1 &2, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello.