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!
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”.
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.
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.
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.