#41 – Jorge Ben – Zumbi (1974)

from A Tábua de Esmeralda (Philips, 1974)

Original lyrics:

Angola Congo Benguela
Monjolo Cabinda Mina
Quiloa Rebolo
Aqui onde estão os homens
Há um grande leilão
Dizem que nele há
Um princesa à venda
Que veio junto com seus súditos
Acorrentados num carro de boi
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Angola Congo Benguela
Monjolo Cabinda Mina
Quiloa Rebolo
Aqui onde estão os homens
Dum lado cana de açúcar
Do outro lado o cafezal
Ao centro senhores sentados
Vendo a colheita do algodão tão branco
Sendo colhidos por mãos negras
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Quando Zumbi chegar
O que vai acontecer
Zumbi é senhor das guerras
É senhor das demandas
Quando Zumbi chega e Zumbi
É quem manda
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver
Eu quero ver

Translated lyrics:

Angola, Congo, Benguela
Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina
Quiloa, Rebolo
Here where the men stand
There’s a big auction
People say that here is
A princess for sale
Who came with her subjects
Chained to a bullock cart
I want to see
I want to see
I want to see
Angola, Congo, Benguela
Monjolo, Cabinda, Mina
Quiloa, Rebolo
Here where the men stand
One side there’s a sugar plantation
On the other there’s coffee
In the middle the slavemasters are sitted
Watching the white cotton
Being picked by black hands
I want to see
I want to see
I want to see
When Zumbi comes
What will happen then
Zumbi is a lord of war
He’s a lord of needs
When Zumbi arrives
Zumbi will take charge
I want to see
I want to see
I want to see

This is one of my all-time favorite songs and I just love how much “swing” Jorge Ben can put on the first two or three lines. I have a theory that the only guy who can play the guitar like Jorge Ben is Microphones/Mt. Eerie leader Phil Elverum. I don’t know why, but Elverum seems to play with the loose strings just like Jorge Ben always does. The swing is in the hand and on the melody, and not on the beat, if it may be more easy to understand my point. Later I’ll talk more about Jorge Ben and this album in particular, however.

While I was translating this song I was reminded of 12 Years a Slave. The song has such powerful imagery, like the African princess being sold with her subjects on the market or the white cotton being picked by black hands while the slave owners just sit and watch. It is easy to find out what is the subject of the song.

Zumbi, however, is not a zombie, but the name of the most famous fighter against white Portuguese domination in colonial Brazil. Zumbi was the last leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares, in the mid-seventeeth century. The quilombos were settlements created by fugitive slaves, usually in very remote locations. Zumbi became a symbol of the resistance against slavery when he led the negros to two victories and another fierce fight against Paulistas bandeirantes, at the end of which the quilombo fell to the Portuguese. The date when Palmares fell, November 20th, became a holiday on most Brazilian states.

There are still quilombos throughout Brazil, even on urban zones. Porto Alegre, where I live, has recognized the existence of 15 or 20 quilombos in its urban perimeter. The quilombos, however, were easily erased from local public memory.

“Zumbi” is a powerful song and it remains a long time in the head. Just to add to the overall theme, the names recited in the first verses are of African peoples or the origins that the African slaves were given when they arrived. So Angola, Mina and the others indicate from where the slave came. They were specially prized according to their culture and abilities in the colonial and imperial centuries in Brazil (remember that Brazil had an empire in the nineteenth century), just like in 12 Years a Slave most of the slaves were treated differently according to what they knew how to do or their relationship with others.

Caetano Veloso also recorded a version of this song on his Noites do Norte album, which you can listen below:

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