Carnival Songs: Cachaça não é água

OK, so that’s Christmas and New Year out of the way – let’s turn our thoughts to Carnival shall we? This year it starts in early February but some years it doesn’t start until March – I’ve heard several Cariocas say that it doesn’t feel like the year has really started until after carnival. Personally I’m rather pleased to have a break from the festivities – 8-12 weeks is the perfect amount of time to recharge the batteries and forget all those ridiculous resolutions you made while you were wallowing in post-Christmas guilt.

When I think of carnival in Rio, I picture thousands of happy revelers at a bloco, dressed in crazy costumes, singing along to one of the many Marchinhas de Carnaval (traditional carnival songs). During my first carnival I found this a little frustrating – everyone knew the words but me! By my second carnival I had started to pick up the tunes and even bluff my way through some of the choruses. This year I plan to be singing along like a professional!



This is Cachaça, not to be confused with water…


So I thought I’d help out fellow carnival newbies with some suggested reading/singing. In the run-up to the big week, I’ll post a selection of my favourites carnival tunes. Learn these songs and you’ll feel like you’ve been carnivaling for years!

Today we’ll start with a cautionary tale which highlights the differences between water and Brazil’s favourite spirit – the song is called “Cachaça”.


Água de carnaval

This is water (cachaça is cheap, but not that cheap!).


Before we get started with the lyrics, a little background to this song. Most sources list the composers as Heber Lobato, L. de Castro and Mirabeau. However, there seems to be more to it than that. This carnival favourite was actually written in the 1940s by Marinósio Trigueiros Filho. Marinósio was sitting in a bar in Salvador when he just found himself humming the song – he wrote the lyrics down on a napkin! He travelled extensively around Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, playing his music in bars and clubs. Later on, he recorded the song in Uruguay.



Marinósio, the original composer of “Cachaça”.


Then, in 1953, Marinósio was astonished to hear his song being played at the Rio Carnival! There were some alterations to the lyrics, but nevertheless, it was his song. He took his case to the Union of Brazilian Composers where he agreed to take a 40% share of the royalties (the rest being shared among the other 3 composers – presumably they had heard the original song and then adapted it, the story isn’t very clear at this point).

Marinósio died in 1990, never having repeated the success of “Cachaça”. Although the record company had agreed to pay royalties, they had never agreed to add Marinósio’s name to the list of composers. In 2007 his family successfully filed a lawsuit to redress this omission.

OK, so let’s get to the song itself! First the lyrics:



Você pensa que cachaça é água?
Cachaça não é água não.
Cachaça vem do alambique
E água vem do ribeirão.

Pode me faltar tudo na vida:
Arroz, feijão e pão.
Pode me faltar manteiga
E tudo mais não faz falta não.

Pode me faltar o amor
(isto até acho graça).
Só não quero que me falte
A danada da cachaça.


Tom’s Translation

You think that cachaça is water?
Cachaça isn’t water, no.
Cachaça comes from the still
And water comes from the stream.

You can take everything from my life:
Rice, beans and bread.
You can take away butter
And everything else – I won’t mind.

You can take away love
(I even think this would be funny).
I just don’t want to go without
That damned cachaça!


That was my translation – as usual, I wait with trepidation for your criticisms and corrections. In the meantime, let’s have a listen to the song being sung!


 This is the 1953 version that Marinósio would have heard with such surprise. Performed by Carmem Costa & Colé Santana. And here’s how it will sound if you hear it at carnival today.

22 replies
  1. Nanda
    Nanda says:

    “That was my translation – as usual, I wait with trepidation for your criticisms and corrections. In the meantime, let’s have a listen to the song being sung!”

    LOL. If this was an exame i would give you a 9.5. Are you happy? You should be. 😉

    You made a mistake i think almost everyone learning br portuguese would make.
    1- “Acho graça” means “I think it’s funny”.
    2- “Acho de graça” means “I think it’s free”. The word “de” makes all the difference!
    3- “Acho ele uma graça” means “I think he is cute/adorable”.

    Is it too frustrating? I hope not. I like reading and replying on english speaker’s blogs because it’s helping me a lot. I know i still make a lot of silly mistakes but i won’t let that stop me from trying to get better.

    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Thank you Nanda, you were very kind with your correction 🙂 I am very happy with a 9.5! In return I will award you a 10!

      The subtleties of a language can be extremely challenging sometimes, but you have just the right attitude! I should try to “take a leaf out of your book” really…

      p.s. I attempted to put a better translation – hopefully it’s an improvement!

      • Nanda
        Nanda says:

        The frase is in the present tense but “I even think this is funny” sounds weird (right?). I like the way you adapted it. 🙂

        • tomlemes
          tomlemes says:

          Thanks Nanda – yes, it sounded strange in the present tense. In fact I think it sounds a bit weird even the way I’ve adapted it, but it was the best I could come up with! 🙂

  2. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Missing Carnival like crazy after 6 years here, so I love reading your posts about it… and the other expat’s stories as well.

    Waiting patiently for the following posts on marchinhas.

    I love the fact that they have withstand generations, cultures and now language. That’s the legacy of the marchinhas. Hopefully, my kids (and yours) will know them by heart as well and recognise them from a distance.

    From translator to translator – it looks great!


    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Lots more Carnival posts to come Amanda! 😀

      I think the marchinhas are safe – it’s one of the things that really impresses me here. Of course there is Baile Funk and other modern music styles, but many young people here are not only respectful of, but really in to the older, traditional songs.

      • tomlemes
        tomlemes says:

        Wow! Excellent clip Nanda! It’s very interesting to see what has changed (and what has stayed the same!). The little baby at 3:00 é muito fofo! 😀

      • The Gritty Poet
        The Gritty Poet says:

        Back then Rio was still the capital, they say the city went downhill bigtime after losing that status and the money which came along with it. Hopefully future oil revenue will serve the city well. Anyway the contrast between the old capital and the new one is astounding as I have always found Brasìlia to be a tribute to boredom, and asceptic architecture – for the most part since The Itamaraty Palace is quite lovely (notice how the pilars and arches seem to have been sculpted by a river that runs thru stone and leaves a pattern ). Isn’t it pretty?
        Sorry for getting off topic.

        • BrazilianSoul
          BrazilianSoul says:

          Gritty is absolute correct… Rio used to be very clean, safe and organized back then. Even the slums were rare and peaceful. Many people attribute the downfall and decadence of Rio to a guy named Leonel Brizola (a Brazilian version of Hugo Chávez) who used to be Rio’s Governor. Brizola used to say that the police should NEVER (NEVER) enter the slums or arrest poor people. After decades of negligence, Rio has finally become a dangerous city with well armed gangs rulling large chunks of the city. When the police started entering the slums again it was kind of late. We needed the NAVY AND ARMY to enter in Complexo do Alemão one year ago. That was Brizola’s legacy of incompetence and irresponsability that will still echo for years to come.

          • The Gritty Poet
            The Gritty Poet says:

            I am not mistaken Mr. Brizola also once stated that Favela implementation and growth equaled urban land reform, and that he favored it. So instead of elaborating a rational plan for urban expansion he turned a blind eye to squaters and today many families in these locations don’t legally ownt the properties they have been occupying for decades. This keeps them from using the value of their homes as colateral for bank loans and also excludes them from receiving loans at lower interest rates offered by public banks for home improvement or construction. It is also interesting to observe that once one unlawful act is tolerated (stealing land – regardless of how much one needs it) then other criminal behavior ensues (stealing electricity and so forth). I think Mr. Brizola was one of the first politicians to perform this experiment in a real life scenario. In the end everybody lost, including the squaters since had they been provided a legal pathway for obtaining land, plus been subjected to the rule of law like any other infractor if they took something which did not belong to them (doing the opposite is not benefitting the poor; it is being condescending to the poor) then the city could have grown in a functional matter, and the dwellers would have obtained legal recognition of ownership.
            Alas, populism is so sad.

          • BrazilianSoul
            BrazilianSoul says:

            It’s interesting that someone from abroad can understand what have happened so well. It’s sad that some Brazilians would not agree with you. They would still say that Brizola “helped the poor a lot”.

            “Alas, populism is so sad.”

            It is. And notice that it’s always the poor who suffer the most. If you research about the Venezuelan elite and Chávez you will see that most rich Venezuelans have already fled the country and are still very happy and rich, but in Miami, yet the poor have to endure a very high inflation, unemployment and scarcity and they can’t even dream about leaving the country because they can barely pay their own bills.

  3. Carolina
    Carolina says:

    Thoughts on Brazilian music:

    I lived in Brazil in the late 60s for 2 years. I can remember all of the lyrics of this song, but few others. I never even tried cachaça, so I’m not sure why I remember this drinking song —perhaps because I thought it was funny. I spent one Carnaval in Aracajú and one in Salvador while I lived there. I’ve heard Carnaval described as “Brazil’s pressure valve” —giving citizens an annual chance to let loose and forget their woes.

    The other song I remember is from the children’s game Os Escravos de Jó (Slaves of Job) because when I was learning Portuguese in California, students often went to a tavern in the evenings —instead of passing matchboxes around the table, we passed beer mugs while we sang and played the game. We slammed many down on the table so hard, the handles broke off and we were finally asked not to play unless we were willing to pay for broken mugs. While I was in Brazil, singer Wilson Simonal used that song on one of his albums, starting out with “When I was a little boy, we sat on the ground with matchbox in hand… and sang this song.” (You can hear Simonal sing it here:!/search/song?q=Wilson+Simonal+Os+Escravos+De+Jo or find the lyrics here: I may have been enamored with Simonal because I loved his music and thought him funny, but he also mildly resembled my Brazilian namorado. I even went to one of his concerts in Rio, A few years later, he seemed to totally disappear. Finally someone told me people stopped buying his records when he was suspected of helping the military police by informing on others. Apparently he died in 2000. In 2002, his family requested an investigation into the allegations. There seemed to be no definitive proof that he was an informer. I still have several of his albums. (The Wikipedia entry for Simonal seems to have been written in Portuguese and badly translated —very difficult to read.)

    I was also lucky enough to attend a concert featuring Elis Regina (in July 1968, I think, when she would have been only 23.) It was in a very small auditorium with perhaps 200 seats, so it seemed very intimate compared to stadium concerts of today. Simonal’s concert was either in the same or a similar place.

    My favorite singer of that time was João Gilberto —probably because I could understand all of his lyrics. (I can’t understand many lyrics in English, but even 40+ years after leaving Brazil, I still understand Gilberto.) Not surprisingly, I also liked Chico Buarque. One of his hit songs of that time was “Carolina” which is my name in Portuguese. And I love Baden Powell’s guitar music. My husband was not in Brazil with me (didn’t even know him then) so doesn’t appreciate much of the Brazilian music I love, but he is a fan of classical guitar music and certainly appreciates Powell.

    I didn’t have much appreciation for the heart-throb of the day, Roberto Carlos. But I recently heard an album of his songs sung in Spanish by Maria Bethania which I liked. I think it was just the 1960s pop style that I disliked.

    I finally had the chance to return to Brazil in 2011. I visited friends and former students in Sergipe (they treated me like royalty.) I visited Salvador which I had visited many times when I lived in Brazil. And then went 2 places I always regretted missing: Amazonas and Iguaçu. Finally, I spent a few days with a friend in Rio. I thought my trip would “matar saudades” but it didn’t. Since I’ve been home, all I think about is going back. I would love living there for at least part of each year.

    Sorry to have gone on so for long, but I am passionate about Brazil, so once I get started, it is difficult to stop.

    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Ah! What a nice comment Carolina! 🙂 I wonder what it must have been like to return after so many years? Were you surprised by how much things had changed? Or did you feel the Brazil of today is essentially the same as the country you knew in the 60s?

      One of my favourite videos on youtube is of Wilson Simonal singing “Meu Limão meu limoeiro”:

      – what a showman! 🙂

  4. Carolina
    Carolina says:

    To answer your questions in my usual wordy way:

    I had kept my eye on developments in Brazil over the years. In many ways Brazil seems to be ascending while the U.S. is declining, so most of the surprises were somewhat expected or surprising in a good way.

    Some things were basically the same. The Brazilian people have always been warm and welcoming —and they are still that way —Brazil’s best natural resource.

    Aracajú was my first stop in 2011 (except for the airport in Rio.) I can’t find population stats for the late 60s, but I would guess maybe 50,000. The city has grown tremendously in the past 40 years —population close to 600,000. Because most of it was built in the last 4 decades, it is safe, clean and modern, with well-kept parks and beaches —-a delightful surprise.

    What seems to have changed the most was the lifestyles of my former students. Many of them live in Aracajú. When I left, I had little hope they would be able to use their high school educations. There were few opportunities in the town. A few could become teachers or work in family businesses. There was a branch of the Banco do Brasil, but the employees were men (yes, all men) from Aracajú with colégio or university degrees just waiting for the chance to get out of the middle of the sertão. There were only a few local men employed there —in positions such as custodians and gophers.

    The town had no colégio. So poor families would have to pay tuition, plus room and board in other cities for their children to continue learning. But —to my surprise and delight, nearly every one of them managed to do just that. They are now doctors, lawyers, professors, teachers, nurses, social workers, engineers, meteorologists, business owners. One was the 1st woman to work for the Bank of Brazil. When she retired, he earned her law degree and returned to Glória to practice law.

    In Aracajú, I stayed with a former student and her family in a lovely home I would be delighted to afford/own, complete with in-ground pool and a few blocks from the beach. What a contrast with where she grew up.

    In the 60s, she and her family lived in a mud-brick home with a dirt floor along with a few chickens and ducks. Their father was too ill to work. Their mother was a teacher. I’m not sure how much money she made, but perhaps the equivalent of $30-40US/month to take care of 6 family members. (Before I left, she was appointed school director by the state dept. of education to replace the nearly-illiterate sister-in-law of the mayor.) To put my estimate of her salary in perspective, when I went home, I earned about $525/month in my first teaching job. However, she probably earned a little more than the average household income in that town, but I was earning $60/month living allowance as a Peace Corps Volunteer, just to take care of myself. I also earned about 25 cents (U.S.) per class that I taught but I wasn’t allowed to keep the money. So I saved most of it and before I left another teacher helped me choose books to start the ginásio’s first library. Occasionally I would teach classes for other teachers, if they had business to take care of in Aracajú. I would give them what I was paid to take over their classes.

    All of the children in that family are happy and successful now. Our hostess in Aracajú is now a university professor. Her brother owns a very successful company that makes TV and radio commercials and promotional videos. Two sisters and many nieces/nephews work for him. What I think is absolutely lovely is that, in his brand new state-of-the-art studio, he has an outside storage areathat resembles the mud-brick home of his youth —sort of a homage to where he came from. Another storage area looks like the better homes of that time. It has something like “Vila _______” (his mother’s name) across the top —in respect to her and probably for the sacrifices she made to have all of her children educated. In the courtyard he has tomatoes, corn, and other veggies growing —that his staff can eat for lunch, cooking it in a well-equipped kitchen.

    The small town I lived in has also grown and progressed. I had lost touch with all my friends and former students, so as soon as I had internet access, I occasionally searched for Glória —knowing that the internet would arrive there eventually. When I finally found a web site centered in that town (c. 2000), I clicked on the link to virtual postcards. The first one that popped up was the image of the town’s cell tower. So I knew Glória had finally arrive in the 21st century. But even though I found that web site, I was unable to contact anyone I knew until 2009 —but as soon as I found one person, I was soon inundated with emails from dozens of my students.

    In the 60’s, there was one bank and a few family-owned shops and bars, two boarding houses, a small church. The high school had only been in existence for 3 years, so many of my students were adults who hadn’t had the opportunity before. Most people got around on horses, mules, or ox carts with maybe a dozen cars and a few trucks in the town of about 3000 people. The only 2-story building in town was the movie theater with a balcony that caved in one night soon after the theater closed. There were no telephones or TVs. People listened to radios hooked up to car batteries. In 2011, the population was about 32.000. Here is a list of things Glória has now that it didn’t have then: full-time electricity, running water, sewage system, TV reception, hospital, colégio, several industries, many banks, lots of shops and businesses, zillions of vehicles (motorcycles and more motorcycles) a cathedral, many modern two-story homes, a 5-story hotel, and, of course, that cell tower.

    On the other hand, Salvador had been my favorite city when I lived in Brazil, but I found it crowded, dirty, full of graffiti and litter, with homeless people and stray dogs roaming everywhere and traffic jams all the time. Its great old buildings and churches are crumbling into ruin. After seeing how clean and modern Aracajú had become, Salvador was a disappointment..

    I thought Rio seemed much the same –except far more expensive. (The rest of Brazil’s prices were about comparable to those in the U.S. in 2011 —but Rio was very expensive.) I know there were differences, but Rio “felt” the same to me.

    I also visited Manaus and Iguaçu in 2011. I had never been to either so didn’t know what to expect. Manaus was similar to Salvador —dirty, crowded, lots of graffiti with the addition of 108ºF (42ºC) temperatures. Foz do Igauçu was a small, clean, pleasant city with almost no traffic. I imagine that except for the falls and bird park, there isn’t a great deal to do, but after the hustle-bustle of Salvador and Manaus, it was delightful —and an agreeable 70º F (21ºC).

    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Apologies for not replying sooner Carolina – what a wonderful insight into both Brazil in the 1960s and also your own experience of returning after so many years. Thanks so much for sharing this with the rest of us. I know many Brazilians have since read this and were spellbound to hear your account 🙂

  5. Santiago
    Santiago says:

    Eu sao Goes. Mui obrigado pra partilhar. I’m a Goan and was very pleased to come across your blog. I grew up singing these wonderful songs – the Lusophone world is a small place and we’ve all been exposed to everyone else’s music.

    I was thrilled to discover your blog! Please continue to share your experiences and your learning em Portuguesa!

    Abracos e Beijos xoxoxo


    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Oi, Santiago! I’m very pleased to hear that you’ve been enjoying the blog. I’m also surprised and interested to hear that people in Goa grew up listening to these Brazilian songs. That’s very cool! 🙂 Thanks for your comment,


  6. kokopelli
    kokopelli says:

    I grew up in the border between Peru, Colombia And Brazil, in the sixties where the best parties for any reason were in El Marco Amazonia, Brazil (now swallowed by Tabatinga) And the reason I found this site was to make sure that the words for the cachaca song were correct. After all this years I just remembered and started singing it! (to myself)

    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi kokopelli – wow, that part of Brazil has a very special place in my heart as it was the first place I set foot on Brazilian soil (well, I’m speaking about Tabatinga – maybe El Marco Amazonia isn’t quite where I was…). I’ve been pretty bad about writing new content over the last 12 months as life has been so busy, but I’m delighted that people like you do still occasionally stumble upon my site. Thanks so much for commenting 🙂


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