Lonely Wanderer

There is this strange recollection on the back of my head of realizing that other people would perceive the world from a different point of view than mine. I was really young and this is one of the first memories that I can remember. It was extremely humbling to notice the limitations of my senses and to acknowledge the existence of a whole world that would happen completely independent from myself.

Since then, I invariably find myself going back, from time to time, to that realization. And, as it was only natural to happen, I started to integrate more data and observations and to refine the conclusions. I started to understand that everything that I can know must first be absorbed through my senses. This is an annoying conclusion: everything that we know about the world is dependent and created by our brains. In reality, it’s impossible to prove that the world is real.

I was haunted by those solipsistic thoughts, I felt caged by them. Nevertheless, I carried on with my life. I used to do all kinds of activities like all the other kids since the alternative thought, realism, just works. And, one thing that I liked to do as a kid, was to watch a documentary series about the Planet Earth on the television. The thing that struck me the most about this series is the opening song: Terra (Earth) written by Caetano Veloso:

“When I found myself detained in a jail cell, I saw for the first time these photos, where you appear whole, yet  there you weren’t naked, but covered by clouds…

Earth, Earth, no matter how far, wandering sailor, who would ever forget you…

Nobody supposes the brunette inside the blue star of the cinema vertigo; I send a hug to you, little one, as if I was the nostalgic poet and you would go to Paraiba…

I’m in love for an Earth girl, earth element sign; from the sea its said “land in sight”; Earth, firmness for the feet; Earth, caress for the hand; other stars are your guide…

I’m a fire lion, without you I would consume myself; myself, really, eternally; and it would be worthless for me to happen to be people; and people own another happiness, different from that of the stars…

From where neither time nor space, from which the mother force gives courage for the people to give you affection for the whole journey that you perform on the nothingness, the name of your flesh…

On the balcony of the houses of old Salvador, there are memories of maidens from the time of the emperor; Everything, everything in Bahia makes us wish well; The Bahia has a way…”

This song changed me. First of all, even though I’m not a synesthetic person, when I close my eyes I can see the cadence of this song. And, more importantly, I felt a strong relation with the first sentences of the song: like the person of the lyrics, I felt caged but, at the same time, in awe from the discovering of the world. And another realization had to follow: The same way that there is a universe inside my head, there are universes inside the heads of each and everyone else; each one of those universes are completely unique.

To realize the existence of these myriad of universes was an amazing and humbling feeling. I became extremely curious to get to know those universes and music seemed to me as the perfect tool to do it. For me, the lyrics and the melody of a song is a window to the soul of the composer. It’s a way for me to peek inside their universe and to feel empathy for them. Even though there is no way for me to know for sure about the existence of the exterior world, music made me hopelessly empathic towards others and for the universe as a whole.

Rodolfo Katz

Lyrics, Sound and ACTION!

Human beings are, in many ways, musical beings and in our world there are many venues in which one can be exposed to music. I dare say that in almost all aspects of our life we can find music. One such place are the movies. And, while I was growing up, I was always impressed with how there is always a soundtrack matching the action on the screen.

There are many songs that I first heard on movies and only afterwards I went on to hearing the original versions or discovering more about the songwriter. There are songs that gained a new context or a new interpretation that changed the way I hear to them. Because of all this, it’s only natural that some posts of my blog would be focused on movies and their respective soundtracks and, for the first such post, I chose the movie Lisbela e o Prisioneiro (Lisbela and the Prisoner).

Lisbela e o Prisioneiro is a movie directed by Guel Arraes based on a book with the same name, written by Osman Lins, that tells the story of Leléu, a scoundrel that falls in love with Lisbela, the daughter of a local lieutenant of the armed forces regiment and bride to be of Douglas, the heir of a rich family. It’s a lighthearted romantic comedy and the story takes place in Pernambuco’s hinterland.

The main theme of the soundtrack, “Você Não Me Ensinou a Te Esquecer” (You didn’t teach me how to forget you), became an instant hit on the voice of Caetano Veloso, but the original composition is from Fernando Mendes and was recorded for the first time in the 70s. I was mesmerized by the chords and by the lyrics, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I fell in love instantaneously with this song. By closing the eyes and allowing to be carried by the rhythm, one can just feel the heartbroken melody of an impossible love that this song tells us:

“It has been so long since I’ve seen you, how I long to look in your eyes, to win your hugs; It’s true I don’t lie; And in this despair that I find myself, I reached a point exchanging myself in you just to see if I find you; You could really forgive me and just once more accept me, I vow now I’ll make anything in order not to lose you;

Now, what should I do with my life without you? You didn’t teach me how to forget you, you only taught me to want you, and in wanting you I go on trying to find you, I go on losing myself, searching for your arms in other arms… lost in the emptiness of other steps; of the abyss in which you withdrew yourself and threw me and left me here alone…”

But Fernando Mendes and his song weren’t the only surprise that I had while listening to the soundtrack of this movie, I also had the opportunity to listen for the first time “Para o Diabo o Conselho de Vocês” (To Hell Your Advices) from Paulo Sergio on the voice of the singer Clarice Falcão. This one is a more upbeat song and I really like the idea of just going out and fighting for what we want:

“I already don’t care about what they will say, It doesn’t matters to me and I’ll not pay attention, I just want to have my love here with me, I forget all he’s done to me, to hell your advices;

What exists is more than love; love inside me, I know it’s sad but I will die like this, my ‘saudade’ is too big, I forget everything he does to me, to hell your advices;

I sing and I go walking around the world, they will condemn me, but what I want is go at once to my love’s side, to hell your advices!”

For me, to dream in Portuguese is not only to listen to the songs from my home country, it’s also to watch its movies, to breathe its culture. And Lisbela e o Prisioneiro is able to do all this to me. I used to visit the cities in which it takes place while I was a child; the scheme performed by Leléu with Monga “the monkey-woman” is a famous attraction of a local fair in Recife. When I watch this movie I can’t help but be transported there.

Rodolfo Katz


Shattering Ilusions

While I was growing up, I used to hear that, since it’s a huge country, vastly wealthy in natural resources and amazingly diverse culturally, there was no option but for Brazil to be the country of the future. And I was very hopeful to see this happen. Nevertheless, after thirty four years, not much has changed, and it’s kind of frustrating. The gap between poor and rich is still there; the health and education systems are, more often than not, neglected by the elected officials.

But, for me, one of the biggest problems and a staple of my hometown of Recife is urban violence. This particular problem is, actually, the consequence of a series of much deeper social injustices; it’s a symptom that reveals a neglected reality. However, it only becomes really important when it directly affects the higher sects of Brazilian society. And even then, there are no attempts to indeed solve the problem, the approach is that of division in separating the poor from the rich, creating fences between them.

This policy is enacted with the erection of high walls that enclosure the houses, the reinforcement of the windows with bars and bullet proof glass, with the hiring of private security services; with the transformation of a home into a fortress. In the end, we lock ourselves inside an ivory tower and we withdraw ourselves from the situation and start to live an illusory life. The rock band “Engenheiros do Hawaii” understood this process and recorded the song Muros e Grades (Walls and bars):

“In the big cities of a simple day-to-day, The fear leads to everything, even more to fantasy, then we erect walls that reassure us that we will die full of an empty life;

A super day, a super night, a superficial life, amongst the shadows, amongst the leftovers of our scarcity; A super day, a super night, a superficial life, amongst the snakes, amongst the debris of our solidity;

In the big cities of such an unreal country, the walls and bars protects us from our own evil, we lead a life that doesn’t leads us anywhere; we take too much time to discover that that is not the way, no offense, but no, no, it can’t be… of course it isn’t! Maybe?

Street children, delusions of ruins, naked violence, clandestine truths, delusions of ruins, crimes and delights, travesty of violence, working the streets on toy weapons, fear of playing in luminous ads, shaving blade;

To live like that is an absurd (like any other); Like trying suicide (or loving a women); To live like that is an absurd (like any other); Like fighting for power (to fight as its possible)”

This same reality was captured by the group “O Rappa” in the song “Minha Alma” (My Soul). It was 1999, I had just entered the university when this song was released and I was shocked by its video. I still remember discussing it with a friend from the university; I told him that I was disgusted by how the police was pictured as a fascist  organization. He replied to me: First of all, many take of the video to show the viewpoint of the little kid, Gigante (Giant); being a kid, of course he sees mainly the boots of the policemen; secondly, the police acts authoritatively against the underserved populations.

The video is extremely visceral and it took me many years to fully appreciate it. The truth is that I was guilty of living in such passive way. I was guilty of excluding myself from the problem, even though I was a truly empathic person. With time, my perception of the unjust reality of life left the theoretical realm of my brains and started to sink into my emotional side. Today, I’m much more inclined to agree with my friend and can fully appreciate the deepness of the critic in the video:

“My soul is armed and aimed into the face of tranquility, peace without voice isn’t peace, is fear; Sometimes I talk to the life, sometimes its it that talks to me: ‘what is the peace that I don’t want to keep in order to be happy?’

The bars of the condo are intended to bring protection, but they also bring the question if it’s you who is living in a prison; Hug me and kiss me, make a baby with me, but don’t allow me to stay sitting in this armchair on the Sunday; Searching for new drugs for rent, in this coerced video; it’s for the peace that I don’t want to keep acknowledging”

As sad as it sounds, Brazil isn’t the only place in the world that I saw such a deformed logic to be enforced. In Brazil, it takes a social aspect, in other places, it appears more as a political problem or a cultural or religious conflict. In all those cases, the core of the problem is a sense of righteousness from one or both sides of the question. The feeling that you are right and the dismissal of the needs of the other; more often than not, the needs of the other are completely unknown to us and understanding them and addressing them would imply in a change of the status quo. There is this worldwide spread fallacy that the maintenance of the status quo is preferable then solving the problems because, in order to solve the problem, there is an unavoidable need to enter in a new, different unknown situation. And one of the most frightening things for the human mind is the unknown.

Rodolfo Katz

Trinity, Triangle, Tripod, Tri, Tribe, Tribalism

More often than not, there is this idea that, the more complicated something is, the better it is. I couldn’t disagree more with this, I say that this way of thinking is a fallacy. Quality, for me, is in no way chained to quantity! I really do believe that less can be more. And if we start speaking about music, where do we see this fallacy? One could easily think that an elevated number of chords and notes should  lead to a high quality song. It’s also seen in the desire of extremely expensive productions of albums and shows. But neither an elevated number of notes or a huge amount of money can really improve a sub par material. And, in 2002, three musicians would prove to the world that less is indeed more. They were Arnaldo Antunes, Marisa Monte and Carlinhos Brown.

In 2002, the musical scene in Brazil was shaken by a new album called “Tribalistas”. This album was the result of an spontaneous cooperation of three friends, each one a successful musician on his/her own right. In no particular order we have: Arnaldo Antunes, a prolific songwriter that was the author of many successful songs of the famous hard rock band Titãs; Marisa Monte, a gifted singer that became famous for fusing old school MPB and Samba with the rock from the 90s; lastly but not least, Carlinhos Brown, a talented percussionist that, alongside working with important musicians like Caetano Veloso and João Gilberto, has a prolific solo career.

Those three musicians had many previous collaborations and they just felt that recording an album together would be fun. The name of the album is a reconstruction of the word tribalism: with the prefix tri, the word tribo (tribe in English) and the suffix “ista” which in Portuguese gives the idea of belonging. Something like three working together as part of a tribe. The songs are generally upbeat with unpretentious lyrics and catchy tunes. There is an extensive use of unorthodox objects in the album, including a pepper grinder. The general feeling of the album is that of three people having fun in making music. One music that illustrates this is “Passe em Casa” (Pass by Home), this song makes a clever word game with the different usages of the Portuguese verb “Passar” (To Pass in English):

“There goes the birds and the planes, and in the ground the trucks, the time goes by and the seasons, flies the swallows and the summers; Pass by my house, I’m waiting! I’m waiting! Pass by my house, I’m waiting! I’m waiting!; I’m waiting for guests, so impatient and afflicted, if you don’t pass by the hill I almost die! I almost die! I’m imploring for help, or I almost die! or I almost die! It’s a boring life if you don’t pass by the hill; I’m already asking for some time to pass by, pass over there, feel sick under your sheets, pass now, pass eventually, a moment for us to be alone…”

Another song that is really emblematic of this carefree spirit is Já Sei Namorar (I Already Know How to Date, in English). This was the first song of the album to be released as a single and it was hugely successful. I remember hearing many people troubled by the lyrics of this song as if it was purely a free love endorsement, but I think that they miss a point: for me, the song is a critique of the overtly complicated labels that the society imposes on the amorous relationships and of the underlining understanding of ownership. This model represents the antithesis of what the Tribalistas are. They are spontaneous, carefree and happy, as is the love that they seek:

“I already know how to date, I already know how to French kiss, now I just have to dream, I already know where to go, I already know where to stay, now I just have to leave;

I don’t have patience for television, I’m not audience for your loneliness, I’m not from anyone, I’m from everybody, and everybody wants me well, I’m from everybody, and everybody is also mine;

I already know how to date, I already know how to kick the ball, now I just have to win, I have no judge, if you want the life in danger, I just want to be happy;

I want you like nobody, I want you like god wishes, I want you like I want you, I want you like one wants.”

The album was an instantaneous success in Brazil and also internationally, it would reach sales on the millions. But there was no tour of the Tribalistas. The truth is that the trio never had high expectations from the project. They were happy just in making it. And in not over thinking it, they were able to make something fresh, something fun, something passionate. Since they are friends, there is always the possibility that they will make a new album or decide to go out on the road. But for me, even if those things never materialize, I’ll have songs that really touched me with their simplicity and their passion. And with this in mind, I leave you with the exquisite love song Velha Infancia (in English Old Childhood):

“You are like this, a dream for me, and when I don’t see you, I think about you from sunrise up until I go to bed; I like you, and I like to stay with you, my smile is so happy with you, my best friend is my love; And we sing, and we dance, and we don’t get tired of being children, we play on our old childhood; Your eyes, my flash, they guide me in the darkness, your feet open the way, and I follow and never feel alone; You are like this, a dream for me, and I want to feel you with kisses I think of you from sunrise up until I go to bed…”


Rodolfo Katz


Mangue Boys

I was born in 1980 in Recife, capital city of the Pernambuco state in the northeast of Brazil. The city was built over the estuary of six rivers and is characterized by bridges cutting the landscape, and mangroves everywhere. In the colonial times it was a fishing village and during the Dutch invasion of northeast Brazil, it became an important port. Parallel to this role as an important center of trade, Recife was also an important cultural center. Many revolts against Portugal began in Recife. But the 20th century would see a change to this. With the economical shift from sugar plantations to the industrialization of the southeast, Recife started to decline economically and also culturally.

During the 80s, the feeling in the city was that of a depressed society. More than half the population of Recife where living in slams, the Favelas. Many of those Favelas were built on the mangroves (Mangue in Portuguese) and the people were living on the mud like the crabs that proliferate all around the estuaries of the rivers. Unemployment was the highest of the country. Recife was even considered, in a certain survey, the forth worst city in the world to live in. All of this was also affecting the cultural production of the city. Recife, that once was such a cultural powerhouse in the past, was abnormally silent during those years…

This was the background of a cultural revolution that would shake the city and affect the whole country. In 1991, Fred 04 wrote the Mangue Manifesto – Crabs with Brains: “Emergency! Get the paramedics or Recife dies from a heart attack. The quickest way to kill and empty the soul of a city is to kill and fill its estuaries. How to avoid drowning in the chronic depression that paralyzes its citizens? It’s simple. Just inject some energy into the mud and stimulate what is left of fertility in the veins of Recife. Dream up an energy circuit capable of connecting the positive vibration of the mangroves with the World Wide Web. The symbol: a parabolic antenna rammed into the mud.” This was the beginning of the Mangue Bit movement. And those who would take part on the movement would be called Mangueboys and Manguegirls.

One of the most important leaders of the Mangue Bit movement was Chico Science. Together with the group Nação Zumbi (Zumbi Nation), they started to make a new kind of music the was a fusion of regional rhythms with all kind of contemporary sounds of the time. And also the lyrics were a hallmark of the movement with a very acidic critique of the situation lived in the city. The movement woke the city. I was twelve and I woke up a Mangueboy. I bought their album and started to sing their songs. But more importantly, I started to read their lyrics and to look around, it was like putting glasses for the first time; I began to have my own interpretation of the whole situation. I can say that the music A Cidade (The City) was particularly important for me:

“The sun rises and shines on the evolved rocks, that grew with the effort of suicidal bricklayers; Cops on horses keep watching on the people, it doesn’t matter if they are bad or if they are good; And the City is the center of ambitions for beggars, rich men, and anyone else; Taxis, cars, motorcycles and subways; Workers, bosses, police and street vendors; The City never stops, the City just keeps growing, The top rises the bottom sinks.

The city finds itself prostituted by those that used it as a way out; Deceiver of people and other places, the City and its fame goes beyond the seas; In the middle of the international slyness, the City is not in such a bad shape; The situation is always more or less, there are always some with more and others with less; The City never stops, the City just keeps growing, The top rises the bottom sinks.

I’m going to make an ‘embolada’, a ‘samba’, a ‘maracatu’; Everything well poisoned, good for me, good for you; So we can leave the mud and wake up with the vultures; On a sunny day Recife woke up; With the same stink of the day before;”

The major inspiration for the percussion of the group is the drums of the Maracatu, a folkloric sound from the hinterlands of Pernambuco. Maracatu was created by the slaves brought from Africa and is the allegorical reenactment of a mythical visit of the Congolese court with the Congolese king, queen and knights. One important figure of the Maracatu is the Caboclo de Lança (African lancer) with bells on the back, a pike on the hands and a white carnation on the mouth. The sound of the traditional Maracatu is basically percussion and Chico Science e Nação Zumbi mixed it with hard rock guitars in a unique combination. You can feel this unique blend in Salustiano Song:

In the beginning, there was not a uniform aesthetics for the movement. As a consequence of this plurality, each musician, each group of the movement, had a different sound for their work. In Lenine’s words: “Mangue bit is not a movement by concept; is a movimentation.” In reality, the movement thrives on diversity, just like the fertile mangroves of the world in which thousands of species reproduce on their brine waters. The plurality of the movement is represented by the image of the antenna rammed in the mud from Fred 04 manifesto. The Mangueboys and Manguegirls are connected to the world, mixing the regional and the universal and making the mangue bit.

What is needed in order to become a Mangueboy or Manguegirls? There is no dress code, if you want to be one, then you are. You just need to be aware of your roots and interconnected with the world. This connection was possible by the World Wide Web that was beginning to thrive on the 90s. The usage of computers was so important for the movement that it appears in its name: “bit”. Before that, computers where somehow “cold”, a simple tool… Suddenly, it was much more! A way of life, maybe. I lost many nights thinking about the provocative lyrics of the song Computadores Fazem Arte (Computers Make Art) by Fred 04 and the band Mundo Livre S/A (Free World S/A):

“Computers make art, Artists make money; Computers advance, Artists take a tramp; Scientists create the new, Artists take the fame!”

In February 1997, Chico Science died in a violent car crash. Even though it was a hard blow for the movement, Nação Zumbi, Fred 04 and many other artists are still making music and many others appeared to spice even more the musical scene in Recife. The Mangue Bit continue to thrive. And so do I. I still listen to the songs and I still pay attention for the new and I still see myself as a mangueboy.

Rodolfo Katz

Bossa Nova: Nostalgia or a Pledge for a Brighter Tomorrow?

There is a Woody Allen movie quote that goes like this: “Nostalgia is denial; denial of the painful present. The name of this fallacy is ‘golden age thinking’. The ironic notion that a different time period is better than the one one is living in. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people that find difficult to coupe with the present.” And if there is such a time in Brazilian history, it has to be, on the eyes of the Brazilian upper middle class, the 50s.

During the 50s, Brazil saw a renewed industrialization and urbanization process. The middle classes perceived an improvement on their economical conditions and it was the vow of the President Juscelino Kubitschek that the country would grow 50 years in 5. Brazil, a country obsessed with football won the world cup for the first time in 1958. A new federal capital began to be built in the center of the country: Brasilia. And, in the music, a new style rose to become one of the most emblematic Brazilian rhythms with worldwide recognition: Bossa Nova. This new style, that literally means New Trend in English, was a refinement of the melody of the Samba. It came into being by the work of three major musicians: João Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes. They are, respectively, the greatest performer, composer and lyricist of Bossa Nova.

Bossa Nova can be seen as the refinement of the melody of the Samba through the incorporation of classical and Jazz elements. In this aspect, it has a more intellectual approach to music. Tom Jobim was known for having a vast musical knowledge and would study, furiously, many classical composers from all over the world, like Brahms, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Debussy, incorporating those lessons into his compositions. As Carlos Lyra says, Bossa Nova has a distinct bourgeois charm and was created by the middle class for the middle class. The first Bossa Nova recording is the performance of Chega de Saudade by João Gilberto. This song was an instantaneous success and would set the mood of the movement. But for me, the most emblematic song that João Gilberto would perform is Desafinado (Out of Tune) because it tells exactly how I fell when I try to sing a song:

“If you say that I’m out of tune, love, just know that it causes in me an immense pain; Only the privileged have hearing like yours; I only have what God’s given me; But if you insist in classifying my behavior as anti-musical, even lying I have to argue that this is Bossa Nova, this is all very natural; What you don’t know and don’t even envision is that the ones out of tune also have a heart. I photographed you with my Rolleiflex and it revealed your enormous ingratitude; But you can’t talk like this about my love; It is the biggest that you can find; You with your music forgot the most important: which is that in the chest of the ones out of tune, deep in the chest beats silently, that in the chest of the ones out of tune also beats a heart”

The Bossa Nova members would meet in private gatherings and would jam on those meetings. In one such a party, a young and  very shy singer born in the city of Vitoria, capital city of Espirito Santo state, with a different kind of voice and way of singing that conquered the heart of the movement and become its muse: Nara Leão. Her voice is very emblematic and soothing. It really matched the spirit of the movement with the lyrics that told stories closer to the hearts of the middle class of the Copacabana neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. She has a vast discography and recorded with many Bossa musicians including Carlos Lyra, Ronaldo Bôscoli, João Gilberto, Vinícius de Moraes and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Among her prolific work we have a cute little composition O Barquinho (The little boat), by Roberto Menescal:

“Day of sparkling sun and the little boat is sailing on the smooth blue sea; Its summer and love is in the air in the boat on the sea which glides without stopping; No intention in our song goes leaving this sea, and the sun kisses the boat, such blue days. Comes back from the sea, faints under the sun; And the little boat gliding and the will to sing such blue skies, southern islands and the little boat, heart, gliding in the song; All this is peace; All this brings a summer calm and then the little boat goes and the afternoon arrives.”

Officially, the movement would end in 1963 with the beginning of what would be called MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira – Popular Brazilain Music). In reality, Bossa Nova never really ended. It became vastly popular around the world and, up to this day is a staple of Brazilian music. More than this, the memories of those days are still alive: In may 1986 Globo TV Station exhibited a miniseries about the romance of a young couple during the nostalgic 50s. The name of the miniseries is Anos Dourados (Golden Ages). The main theme of the miniseries, made specifically for the show, is also called Anos Dourados and is a composition by Antônio Carlos Jobim with lyrics by Chico Buarque. This 1986 composition exhales Bossa Nova through its chords. The same can be said about lyrics, which Chico was only able to complete almost six months after the end of the show:

It was through this series that I was formally introduced to the musical movement of Bossa Nova. And I can fell with all the fibers of my body the nostalgia for the long lost 50s. But Nostalgia is a dangerous feeling, it is the refuge of those who lost their faith in the future. More importantly, it goes against all that Bossa Nova represents, thus I refuse to succumb to Nostalgia. Bossa is, for me, this always fresh and new beat. The break up with the past and the pledge for a brighter tomorrow.

Rodolfo Katz

Inherent Emotions

To translate isn’t an easy task. In fact it’s hard work and, can even be an art by itself. There is an Italian saying about translation: “Traduttore, Traditore”. This means Translator, Traitor. The reasoning behind it is that in order to make a translation of a text, a translator have to betray the original material. This happens because every language has its own evolution, and this evolution is directly related to the history of the people using those languages. As a consequence, different languages have different expressions and different concepts. More often than not, those concepts are characteristic of a certain language and just don’t have a direct equivalent in other languages. In Portuguese we have the case of the word “Saudade”.

Saudade has no direct translation in English and I admit that I can’t really explain it. It’s one of those things that I just know and feel. But as the Wikipedia says: “Saudades describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return. A stronger form of Saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing”. One can even feel Saudades for something that one is afraid of losing in the future. Probably, the origins of the word Saudade go back to the time of the reconquista of the Iberian peninsula and from the following period of the great Portuguese discoveries. As it had to be, the word went together with the Portuguese sailors to the Americas and is entrenched in the Brazilian culture.

Since music is the realm of emotions, it’s only natural that many songs and compositions were inspired by the feeling of Saudade. Not only inspired them: the word with its evocative poetic sound appears in many compositions. One such music is “Chega de Saudade” (No more Saudade) from Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. This song is considered the first song of the Bossa Nova movement to be recorded. In this song, we can see the saudade felt by a person that is missing his lover and goes like this:

“Go, my sadness, and tell her that without her it can’t be. Tell her, in a prayer, to come back. Because I can’t suffer anymore. Enough Saudade, the reality is that without her there’s no peace, there’s no beauty. It’s only sadness and melancholy that won’t leave me, won’t leave me, won’t leave…

But if she comes back, if she comes back, what a beautiful thing, what a crazy thing! For there are less fishes swimming in the sea than the kisses which I’ll give to her mouth. Inside my arms, the hugs shall be millions of hugs tight like this, united like this, silent like this. Infinite hugs and kisses and caresses. To end this ‘living-without-me’ business. Don’t want this ‘far-away’ business Let’s end this ‘living-away-from-me’ business”

But one can also fell Saudade of a time that already passed and, consequently, isn’t coming back. Like ones childhood. This kind of Saudade can be seen in the composition Noites Brasileiras (Brazilian Nights) from Luiz Gonzaga. In this song, Luiz Gonzaga goes back to his childhood and remembers a night of Saint John: Oh how much Saudades that I feel from the nights of Saint John. Of the Brazilian nights under the moonlight of the Sertão. Boys playing in circles, old man releasing balloons. Young man around the bonfire playing with their hearts. Ah Saint John of my dreams, ah wistful Sertão.

Luiz Gonzaga wasn’t only separated from his childhood by time, but also geographically. This kind of Saudade is reminiscent of the Saudade felt by the Portuguese sailors so far away from their homes and it continues to be felt by all those that for any reason have to leave their birthplaces. In 2007 I left my hometown of Recife, but before me, many others done the same. One such person is Antonio Maria that, among his writings, composed a series of three evocations for the city that both of us were born. On those three songs, Antonio Maria sings his feeling of Saudades of the Recife and he makes references to places, streets, sounds, notorious citizens of Recife… Maria Bethania, a famous interpreter from Bahia recorded the first evocation of the Recife. On her emotional voice, we hear about Vassoras (a carnival club), maracatus and frevo (two folkloric dances) and some friends:

“Oh Saudade! Such a big Saudade! Saudade that I fell from the ‘Shovels Club’, of the ‘Vassoras’, Frevo dancers dancing of the packed streets. Drum beats are stupid Maracatus arriving exhausted to the city with their banners on the air. What is the use to me if Recife is far away and the Saudades are so big that I embarrassed myself. It seems that I see Valfrido Cebola dancing, Haroldo Fatias, Colaço. Recife is near me!”

Saudade was considered by a list from the British company Today Translations as the seventh most difficult word to translate. And I’m tempted to agree with them, then I remember: “Traduttore, Traditore”! In order to make a good translation, one have to dive into the culture of both the original and the target language and the original will be betrayed in the process… But my poetic side tells me that, sometimes, it’s just better not to translate certain words due to their inherent emotions. And Saudade is such a word.

Rodolfo Katz

Our National Passion

When I tell someone that I’m from Brazil, more often than not, they don’t believe me. First of all, they look at my skin and say: You are way too white! Another thing that bugs people is the fact that I’m not that into football. How can a person from Brazil not be a football fan? After all, Brazil is the country of football, isn’t it?

In my defense, whenever the Brazilian team is in the field, I support them and, if I have the time, I’ll try to watch the match. I do like the game in itself, I just don’t support a club. And I do agree that football is indeed a part of the Brazilian culture. One can see children playing football on the streets with balls made from old socks; also on the sand of the beaches, under the sun; on many movies the sport appears, sometimes as a main character, others as a background element; and the dream of many young children is to be football players. But to support a club is almost mandatory and a question of honor and of course that in such place, this passion would make its way to the music.

Many song writers in Brazil are unconditional fans and supporters of football and clubs. One such song writer is Chico Buarque. Not only is he a supporter of the club Fluminense, many of his songs mention his passion for the sport. More than this, he used to have a “button football” team that was promoted to a real amateur club: Politheama. Together with his club, Chico’s been playing football for more than 25 years now. They even played with other amateur clubs from other countries like Portugal and Hungary. For Chico, football is an art that he loves. He even wanted to be a professional football player. Such is the love for this sport that he composed the anthem for the Politheama and wrote a samba about football. I’ll present you with Politheama’s anthem sang by Chico himself:

In 1972, song writer Jorge Ben Jor attended a friendly game between his beloved Flamengo and Benfica in the Maracanã stadium. On the second half of the match, because of the crowd’s demand, the popular player with the nickname Fio Maravilha (Wonder Son), was brought as a substitute and by the 33 minute he dribbled two defenders and the goalkeeper and kicked the ball to the goal. The fans exploded on the stand shouting: “Fio Maravilha! We love you! Fio Maravilha make another one for us to see!” Jorge Ben was completely drawn by the beauty of this goal and wrote a song that tells, step by step, all the story. In Ben Jor’s words, it was an angels goal. The song was a success, was sang by Flamengo’s fans on the stadium and would win the 1972 International Song Festival. But, because of a legal dispute with the player, Jorge had to change the name of the music from Fio (a corruption of the Portuguese word for son) to Filho (the correct spelling of the word). Only in 2007, Fio Maravilha would authorize Jorge Ben to use Fio on the song.

Another exquisite homage to football was made in 1996 by Samuel Rosa (leader of the rock group Skank) and Nando Reis (a famous song writer and ex-member of the rock group Titãs). The song is called “É uma Partida de Futebol” (It’s a football match). The song is a love declaration to the sport and goes like this:

“A ball on the beam doesn’t change the score, a ball on the goal area with no one to finish with the head, a ball on the net to score the goal, who never dreamed to be a football player?; The flag in the stadium is a banner, the pennant hang on the bedroom wall, the shield on the shirt of the uniform, what a beautiful thing is a football match!; I can die for my team, if it loses, what a pain! What an immense crime! I can die if it (the team) loses, but if it wins, it doesn’t matter, there is no throat that will stop screaming! The football shoe dons the naked feet, the royal rug is green, and looking at the ball I see the sun, it’s rolling now! It’s a football match!”

The music then continues telling about the positions of the players and how they interact. But one important thing that raised this song to a higher level was the video clip. The clip had the participation of two football fans associations, that support the rival teams Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro Esporte Clube. Also on the video clip has takes from many classic confrontations from those two clubs. More than words, one should see the clip and feel it. Indeed I’m not a fanatic supporter of any team, but when talking about football in general I dare you stay indifferent by the end of a well played match. Maybe that’s just my Brazilian side that makes me shiver with those things…

 Rodolfo Katz


The voice of the Hinterland

I was born and raised in Recife, Pernambuco. It’s a tropical city cut by rivers, where the temperature almost never drops below 20º Celsius and we have rain all year long. But when you leave Recife and start going west to the interior of the state, the climate and the environment starts to change. The lush vegetation of the seaside progressively changes and starts to dry out. You are entering Brazilian northeast hinterlands an arid region named the Sertão.

Caatinga, Sobradinho, Bahia, Brasil

Photo by Luciano Pataro


Prone to severe droughts, this impoverished and neglected region faces severe developmental problems. It’s mostly an agrarian region which lacks basic infrastructure and, because of many hardships, the exodus from this region is a common phenomena. In the search of greener pastures, the “Sertanejo” (name given to those born on the region) leaves his land and becomes a migrant or in Portuguese: a “Retirante”. Despite the hardships, or better because of them, a unique, colorful and rich culture was born on the Sertão.


Photo by Paulo Xango


And one such Retirante was not only responsible of introducing this culture in the urban areas of the country and the rich south-east, but he also refined the sounds of the region developing and maturing it to unprecedented levels, becoming the pioneer of new styles and accordion techniques and, by the end of his life he was able to show his music in Paris twice in front thousands of people.

This man is Luiz Gonzaga do Nascimento.

Luiz Gonzaga was born in Exu, a small village in Pernambuco’s Sertão in 13th December 1912. During his childhood, he showed signs of musical aptitude and was always drawn to the sound of the accordion playing together with his father. After serving the army, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, by that time the capital of Brazil. At first, he started to play boleros, tangos and waltzes on the accordion in order to make some money. One day, a group of students from Ceará (a state neighboring Pernambuco) challenged him into playing the sounds of his birth place, styles like Forró and Xaxado. He accepted the challenge and started not only to play the styles of the Sertão, but also to dress on typical Sertanejo’s outfit.


This was a turning point in his life, by playing the sounds of Sertão he signed a contract with RCA and became their number one artist in sales. Together with the fame, Luiz Gonzaga became very successful financially, but he never forgot his origins and stayed a humble person. Whenever he would meet a promising accordion player, he would try and help. It’s said that Luiz Gonzaga gave away more than three hundred accordions throughout his life. He would also lobby politicians in order to invest in his home town.

Throughout his career, Luiz Gonzaga had many partners, mainly songwriters from the northeast of the country that understood the reality of the Sertão and helped him to put words in his compositions. Together with Humberto Teixeira, he released Baião, a song manifesto that introduced the style to the whole country. The song goes like this: “I’ll show you how to dance the Baião, and if you want to learn, please pay attention; dark lady come hear near my heart, now just follow me that I’ll dance the Baião; I already danced Balancê, Xamego, Samba and Xerém, but the Baião have something that the others dances don’t have; Who wants (to learn) just have to say because I’ll go dancing and singing the Baião; I already sang on Pará, I played accordion in Belém, sang there in Ceará and I know what suits me That’s why I’ll affirm with conviction that I’m crazy about the Baião!” Eventually, Luiz Gonzaga would be considered the Baião’s King.

Although I was born in Recife, I had many opportunities to travel through the Sertão and Gonzaga’s song are part of some of my fondest memories. One such memory is about the festivities of the month of June that celebrates the crops, mainly corn, and also the birth of Saint John. Luiz Gonzaga have many songs about the bonfires that are light on those festivities and I always knew the lyrics of “Olha pro Céu” (Look to the sky): “Look to the sky, my love, look how beautiful it is, look to that multicolor balloon how in the sky it ascends; It was in a night like this that you gave me your heart, the sky was like this partying because was night of Saint John; There was balloons in the sky, Xote and Baião in the saloon, and in the yard your stare the burnt my hearth!”

One thing that makes his song so powerful and universal is that he was able to capture the soul of the Sertanejo in his compositions. The stubbornness of the Sertanejo that insists to be happy despite the hardships of the drought. Their sadness when forced to live their Sertão and their hope to come back. All those themes are presented in a very emotional way by his music. Among his vast work, one such emotional songs is named after a bird – Assum Preto (Chopi Blackbird). It tells the story of one such bird that is catch because of his singing and have his yes pierced in order to sing better. The poetic persona fails to understand why one would do such an evil act, that despite living free, he would prefer to live in a bird cage, if that meant he could see the sky. Finally, the poetic persona relates to the pain of the bird since his love, that was the light of his eyes, was stolen from him.

Maybe his biggest success is Asa Branca (White Wing), named after the picazuro pigeon and composed together with Humberto Teixeira, it tells the story of one Retirante that, faced with the arid desolation brought by the drought loses his crops, his cattle and horses and sees himself forced to leave the Sertão and his love. The song ends with the Retirante vowing to go back as soon as the green from the eyes of his love spreads out to the crops.

 Rodolfo Katz

Part three – Chico and the Dictatorship – A Love Story

Part three – Chico and the Dictatorship – A Love Story

During the military regime in Brazil, in spite of censorship and repression, Brazilian music experienced a sort of “Golden Age”. Some speculate that censorship and denial of free speech is responsible for this golden age because, in order to have their material released to the public, song writers and poets were forced to express themselves in a more abstract way and thus bypass the censorship. One such songwriter that engaged in this game against the censors was Chico Buarque and he became a paladin in the defense of free speech and democracy.

In the beginning on 1969 Chico Buarque left Brazil for a self-imposed exile in Italy. After one year, frustrated for not being artistically productive, he decided to go back to Brazil. Following an advice from Vinícius de Moraes, he arrived in the country making a lot of noise during a time when the AI5 was still active. Chico arrived in Brazil releasing an album, with a schedule TV show and also a tour.

Just after his arrival, the first song that Chico releases is “Apesar de Você” (In spite of you) and, for his surprise, the song passed the censorship check almost untouched. The song was an instant hit, sold more the one hundred thousand copies and was played on the radio all over the country. The song overall structure is about how the present situation is painful but there is always going to be a brighter tomorrow, and this tomorrow is bound to arrive faster than one thinks. This can be seen in this excerpt: “In spite of you, tomorrow will be another day! I’ll ask you, where will you hide from this enormous euphoria? How will you forbid when the rooster insists on crowing? There will be fresh water pouring and our people loving each other nonstop”.

It was obvious for everybody that the “you” from the song was the administration of General Medici but only in 1971 the military regime understood the double meaning of the lyrics and then it was censored. Questioned about the “you” of the song, Chico insisted that it was a couple’s dispute where a man was singing to an abusive and authoritarian woman. It’s said that the censor the first analyzed the song was severely punished by the dictatorship and, because of this, the censors started to loath Chico Buarque.

In April 25th 1975, while Brazil was still in a bleak situation, Chico watched the blooming of the Carnation Revolution just on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in Portugal, which put end to a fascist government that was active for more than 40 years. The Carnation Revolution represented a promise of democracy. Inspired by this movement, Chico wrote a song called song “Tanto Mar” (So much sea), a celebratory song with a distinct Portuguese sound and the usage of a characteristic Lusitanian constructions of the phrases, for example the use of the interjection “Pá” by the end of certain sentences. It’s also interesting to note that the name (So much sea) and the verse “I also know how much it’s needed, pá, to sail, to sail” is a direct reference to Portugal’s colonial past.

This song was considered subversive by the censorship and prohibited in Brazil. Only in 1978 it was possible for Chico to release it for the Brazilian audience. But by then, the Carnation Revolution had already suffered a counter revolution and followed a different path, thus Chico changed the lyrics in the 1978 version. Here is a rough translation of the two versions for comparison:

1975 version 1978 version
I know you are partying, pá The party was beautiful, pá
I’m happy, I was happy
and while I’m absent, and I still stubbornly keep
keep a carnation for me. an old carnation for myself.
I would like to be at the party, pá They already dried out your party, pá
With your people But certainly
And personally reap They forgotten a seed
A flower from your garden. In some place of the garden.
I know the there are miles separating us I know the there are miles separating us
So much sea, so much sea So much sea, so much sea
I also know how much its needed, pá I also know how much its needed, pá
To sail, to sail. To sail, to sail.
There is spring, pá Sing the spring, pá
Here I’m sick Here I’m wanting
Send urgently Send again
Some smell of rosemary Some smell of rosemary

Chico Buarque became such a torn for the dictatorship that the censors started to veto anything that was signed by him. Realizing this, Chico concocted an ingenuous scheme to bypass the censors: He started to send his compositions under the name of Julinho de Adelaide. As soon as the censors discovered the strategy they started to demand a copy of identity card of the composer, but before this change, Chico was able to release in 1973 the humorous music “Jorge Maravilha” (Jorge Wonderful).

This is an upbeat song that basically tells the story of a guy who is despised by the father of a girl and this guy says to the father:

“There is nothing for my heart like a time after a setback. And it’s not worthy to keep on crying, mumbling,…until when? No, no, no! As Jorge Maravilha would say, impregnated with reason, it’s worthier to have a daughter on the hand then two fathers on the loose! You don’t like me, but your daughter does! She likes the Tango, the coyness, the mengo (flamengo), Sunday and tickles. She catches me, blinks to me, pinches me, tastes, scratches and screws me! You don’t like me, but your daughter do!”

And people would turn to Chico and say: “Ah! The daughter is the daughter of the general and then president Ernesto Geisel”, but Chico himself denies this explanation and says that the song is about the situation of the country during the military regime.

In 1978 the AI5 was lifted and many songs and plays censored in the previous years where finally able to be released to the public. By then, dictatorship started to become decadent and a re-democratization process took place, culminating in 1985 with the indirect election of the first civil president after 21 years of military regime. Today, although Chico himself affirms that the regime was very unjust and violent, he claims to not hold personal grudges.

Rodolfo Katz