Welcome to the Saravá! website blog. If you have gotten this far, you must be interested in Brazilian music – at least a little bit. I will be using this blog to write in more depth about the genre of music called “bossa nova.” When most Americans hear the term “bossa nova,” they typically think of elevator music, or the famous song “Girl from Ipanema”, or maybe the ubiquitous Americanized jazz rhythm so often heard in nightclubs across the United States. All good. But all just the tip of the iceberg – a very small (and often distorted) depiction of bossa nova. Bossa nova evolved from samba, with influences from American jazz and European popular and classical music. Samba in turn, evolved from West African music, influenced by music from Portugal. Inquisitive folks will be scratching their heads at this point, unless they are well-versed in Brazilian history! The salient (and very significant) historical event at play here is that Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese – all the other South American countries were colonized by the Spanish. The Portuguese captured and enslaved millions of West African natives, and brought them to their new colony, Brazil, to work on sugar plantations. (Wikipedia has a good summary of slavery in Brazil here.) The Spanish, on the other hand, did not enslave Africans to the same extent, preferring to use (and abuse) local native populations instead. African culture and music has therefore had an enormous influence on Brazilian culture and music. In future blog entries, I will be sharing more of the history of Brazilian music and bossa nova, and will be sure to reference various books, websites and musicians along the way.
I named my band Saravá! because it is such a lovely word. Originally, it was a Bantu or Yorubá (West African) word meaning “safe voyage” or “to save,” and later used in the context of Brazilian freed slaves making the long and arduous voyage back home – to Africa. Over the years, it has taken on a more spiritual meaning, and was made famous in Brazilian music circles in the 1960’s by Vinicius de Morais and Baden Powell with their “Samba da Benção” (samba of blessing) – check it out on Youtube here – and my version here. It is a blessing of sorts, as in “safe voyage; be well; be safe; bless you…” To me, it simply means “be safe, wherever your journey may take you.”
In February 2003, a Tucson-based drummer, Kyle Vietti, and I played at a Unitarian church fundraiser. That was my first gig. Below are the notes I wrote up for the audience. Enjoy, and please return to this site often for new blog posts.
Our music tonight includes a selection of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s music, as well as several others written by Brazilian composers. This evening we hope that you relax, leave your troubles behind, and enjoy the food and good company. Please do not feel constrained in your conversation by the live music. We think of ourselves as background music to complement your meal. We invite you to ask us questions about any of the selections. Furthermore, if you have now fallen in love with Brazilian music, John and I have a large collection at home that we would love to share with you!
Rosa Morena – “Brown Rose” is the direct translation. The word “rosa” is a common girl’s name. The word “morena” is used affectionately towards a Brazilian woman of color. This song was written by Dorival Caymmi, who was born in the state of Bahia, where, 400 years ago, slaves were brought directly from West Africa. The first capital of Brazil was Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia.
Menino do Rio – “boy from Rio”; that’s Rio de Janeiro. This piece was written by Caetano Veloso, who has performed and recorded for the last 35 years. I played his music on my electric guitar when I was 12 years old!
Samba de Uma Nota Só – One Note Samba, one that many of you will be familiar with. Also written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, better known as Tom Jobim. Tom Jobim introduced Bossa Nova to the U.S.A. in 1960. It became so popular, and it was so relaxing, that Muzac was born from it. Muzac is Bossa Nova with the heart and soul removed!
Wave – yet another written by Jobim. Also pretty popular here in the States. I actually heard it for the first time as an adult living here in the States!
Corcovado – And another written by Jobim. Corcovado is the famous statue of
Christ atop a mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro. As are most of Jobim’s
songs, this is a love song, with only a fleeting reference to Corcovado.
A Felicidade – And another…(Jobim). He co-wrote this with Luis Bonfá for
the 1959 movie”Black Orpheus.”
Vai Levando – This lively song was written by Chico Buarque and Caetano
Veloso. It speaks to the military dictatorship of the late 60’s and 70’s. The
title means taking it with your chin up. The lyrics talk about all the trivial
things that go wrong, and even absurdities that don’t make sense, yet rhyme
with each other; and how even though all these things are hard, we just keep
“taking it on the chin.” This was a common way to write political lyrics
without getting them banned by the government. Everyone knew that what Chico
and Caetano were writing about was taking the damn dictatorship with your
chin up! Both Chico and Caetano were exiled during the dictatorship. Chico
spent two years in Italy; Caetano spent two years in London.
Desafinado/Garôta de Ipanema – Two that were written by Jobim. These
ought to sound familiar! Desafinado means “out of tune.” In this song,
Jobim chides his girlfriend for hurting his feelings by telling him he sings out of
tune all of the time. And, of course, Girl From Ipanema… Ipanema is the
name of a beach as well as a neighborhood in Rio. I grew up near Ipanema
beach, and spent a lot of time as a teenager sunning and swimming on Ipanema
Sem Fantasia – Written by Chico Buarque. The title means “without
costume.” It was written and recorded by him as a lovely duet. A woman
sings to her man about how he can be a little boy with her, that it’s safe, he
doesn’t have to grow up, and he can hide in her arms. Then the man sings to
her like a little boy, about all the dragons he has slayed on her behalf, and all
the good deeds he has done to win her love.
– 2nd Set –
Bye Bye Brasil – Written by Chico Buarque and Roberto Menescal, for the
movie of the same title.
Januaria – Also written by Chico Buarque, when he was about 18 years old
(that would have been 1965). Chico is probably the most revered composer and
singer in Brazil.
Vivo Sonhando – another Jobim tune. “Dreaming All the Time.”
Samba da Minha Terra – This was written by Dorival Caymmi. “The
Samba of my country leaves us dizzy; when it is sung we all dance!” “Whoever
doesn’t like the Samba can’t be a good person – he is either bad in the head,
or sick in the foot!”
É Luxo Só – this song was written by Ari Barroso in the 1950’s. “What a
Luxury”! He’s talking about watching a lovely mulata (woman of mixed race)
Falsa Baiana – A “false” Baiana (a woman from the state of Bahia) is one
who can’t really move her hips the way a real one can, can’t excite the crowd
the way a real one can,… well, you get the picture. Written by Geraldo
Samba do Avião – One of my favorites, written by Tom Jobim. Called the
Airplane Samba, it’s about landing in the Rio de Janeiro airport. Brazilians
are an emotional bunch, and flying down to Rio from New York or L.A. is an
emotional experience! When we finally land, everyone is sobbing and singing
“Cidade Maravilhosa” (marvelous city) at the top of their lungs!
Só Danço Samba – I only dance the Samba! Written by Tom Jobim and
Vinicius de Morais. Morais is a famous poet, who collaborated with
musicians throughout his career. There is a big street named after him in Rio.