Chico Buarque de Holanda: Carioca
Arrangements by Luiz Cláudio Ramos
Recorded 2006. Biscoito Fino
After a seven-year gap, Chico Buarque has produced another original CD. Once again, we can be sure of poetic lyrics, unusual melodies, and a challenge to our understanding of Brazil and its life and its behaviours. Chico has been capturing and expressing through his songs the intimate sentiments of at least three generations of Brazilian life – but recently has produced more literature than music. So it is welcome to see again our reality in his mirror, in a production which reflects too the diversity of Música Popular Brasileira (MPB), with its different rhythms and instruments.
Francisco Buarque de Holanda was born in Rio in 1944, the fourth of seven children of Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, renowned historian, sociologist, and writer. He was largely brought up in São Paulo (except for a spell in Italy) in a highly cultural family life. Interested in songs, football, literature, religion and social assistance, he too was fascinated by João Gilberto’s Chega de Saudade, though too young to participate in the movement at that time. He began the university course in Architecture at USP, but in 1964 gave his first show, and wrote his first songs. In 1966 the song “A Banda” was awarded joint First Prize at the II Festival of MPB, and became a hit. This is a wonderfully good-humoured march tune, which tells of how people react as the Marching Band goes by. In that year, he moved back to Rio, and also married Marieta Severo, still one of Brazil’s leading actresses. By 1967, Chico Buarque was described as the “only national unanimity”, such was his popular appeal. He wrote words and music for songs, wrote a play, did shows, collaborated with other leading figures of Bossa Nova – but the social conscience in his words began to attract the attention of the Military Regime, and in 1969 he went into voluntary exile in Italy.
The spirit of the times
Returning to Brazil in 1970, his fourth LP showed he was leaving behind the nostalgic lyricism of earlier days. His compact with “Apesar de você” became the hymn of resistance to the military dictatorship….. after selling 100,000 copies it was censured! While apparently innocent, his listeners were in no doubt what was behind the upbeat samba: In spite of you / Tomorrow will be another day… Today it’s you who calls the shots / what you say, goes / no discussion, no……you who invented this State / managed to invent / all this darkness / you who invented what is sinning / forgot to invent pardon…. a classic. Through the years of military repression in Brazil Chico produced a series of classics, for example – his LP Construção – the film “Quando o Carnaval chegar” – the song Cálice (with Gilberto Gil). Sometimes the theme was social criticism – the indifference to the lot of others – as in Meu Guri, Construção, Sinal Fechado. Chico was so pursued by the Censor that by 1975 he retired from the public scene to avoid becoming a symbol for the political struggle, and didn’t give live shows for another 9 years. In the late 70s he turned also to children’s music – Os Saltimbancos – and published books as well as LPs, and musical plays for the theatre (Opera de Malandro). By 1983 he was participating fully in the movement for direct elections for the Presidency – “Diretas Já” – and in 1985 the samba “Vai Passar” become the hymn of the end of the regime and the return of liberty of expression. In the late 80s he was still producing records, but also published a Songbook, and in 1990 his first romantic novel.
The feminine world
From the time of his first success, Chico Buarque has been a hit with the ladies – and not only because he cuts a fine figure and has the most incredible blue-green eyes. The words of his songs show a remarkable sensitivity to the feminine experience of life. For example…. Carolina, your sad eyes / keep so much love / a love which isn’t there any more….. Out there, love, a rose died, the party finished, our boat set sail / I showed it to her, time passed by the window and only Carolina didn’t see….Another classic is Mulheres de Atenas, about submission and sacrifice – while Valsinha is a charming story of how “he” comes home and surprisingly asks her out, and they go to the square and dance so much that all the neighbourhood wakes, and the whole city lights up!
There are 12 songs on the CD Carioca – roughly speaking the first four are about the downside, while the others are about relationships. All have dense poetic lyrics, unusual free-form melodies, and interesting rhythms in a great variety of styles. The arrangements are excellent, using the cream of Rio’s musicians – from MPB, classical music and jazz. Subúrbio is lightly set, for voice and guitar: (In the suburbs) …There there’s no wind ….it’s not on the map / on the wrong side of the mountain / it’s a labyrinth…..Speak Penha /Speak, Irajá / Speak Olaria…..There there’s Jesus / and he’s got his back turned…..
while Outros Sonhos, with an attractive melody and unusual chord changes is about impossibilities. Ode aos Ratos is deliberately anguished…..Rat of the street / Unquiet creature / Tribe in frenetic / proliferation……. Looter / of the metropolis / persistently gnawing / at all hope / raping illusion / My fellow-creature / child of God, my brother….. which then repeats above a rap (full of r’s).
Dura na Queda has a strong samba rhythm, and in the second half a fine jazz-orchestra backing.
Then we move to quieter waters – Porque era ela, porque era eu, is intimate, longing, while As Atrizes is romantic, and Ela faz Cinema returns to traditional bossa-nova style. Renata Maria puts into scintillating poetry that moment which every beach-lover knows, when the girl who has attracted your eyes turns to leave the surf….. She was she in the centre of the frame that morning / Everything vanished that wasn’t her / Christ, mountains, forests, acacias, ipês…….
The song Leve is probably the most accessible track, with its attractive melody (and a nice counter-melody in the accompaniment). It’s about separation….. My heart feels that / it’s lost a piece, but don’t / take me seriously / this summer has passed / others will pass / I will pass…..
Sempre is a seriously lovely poem about remembrance (with strings backing the guitar and voice)….Always / I watched you always ….. Even dreaming I was awake / To be able to remember you always…… and the CD closes with Imagina (by Chico with Tom Jobim) which is free-form, impressionist, like a musical doodle.
I would not say this is an immediately attractive CD – not one to put on for a sweet-sounding background. Sometimes Chico’s voice sounds strained, and occasionally he searches for the pitch in the complicated melodies. But musically and poetically it is first-class, and grows on you as you understand it better. As a bonus, you can hear it all on chicobuarque.uol.com.br (and follow the words in Portuguese). Once again, Chico Buarque has captured the spirit of our times, and of his time, and so……