#53 – Jorge Ben – Cinco minutos

from A Tábua de Esmeralda (Philips, 1974)

Original lyrics:

Nã, nã, nã, nã, nã, na
Pedi você
Prá esperar 5 minutos só
Você foi embora sem me atender
Não sabe o que perdeu
Pois você não viu, você não viu…
Como eu fiquei
Pedi você
Prá esperar 5 minutos só
Você foi embora, embora, embora
Sem me atender…
Pois você não viu…
Não sabe o que perdeu
Pois você não viu, não viu, não viu
Como eu fiquei
Dizem que foi chorando, sorrindo, cantando
Os meus amigos, meus amigos, até disseram
Que foi amando, amando
Pois você não sabe, você não sabe
E nunca, e nunca,
E nunca, e nunca,
E nunca, e nunca, e nunca
Vai saber porque
Pois você não sabe quanto vale 5 minutos, 5 minutos
Na vida
Pois você não sabe e nunca vai saber porque
Pois você não sabe quanto valem 5 minutos
Na vida

Translated lyrics:

No, no, no, no, no, no
I asked you to wait just five minutes
But you went away without seeing me
You don’t know what you’ve lost
Because you haven’t seen
How I became
asked you to wait just five minutes
But you went away without seeing me
You don’t know what you’ve lost
Because you haven’t seen
How I became
They say I was crying, laughing, singing
My friends, my friends said
That I was loving, loving
But you don’t know
And you never, never
And you never, never
And never, never ever
Will know because
You don’t know how much five minutes
Are worth in life
You don’t know and you’ll never known
How much five minutes are worth

So even alchemy has an end…With this song I finish the task of translating A Tábua de Esmeralda. I hope you have learned anything from the translations and the commentaries. I wish I was a scholar on Brazilian music or something like that, but even though I’m not an expert, I try to do my best here.

This song always seemed a little bit displaced on the album for me, but translating it I noticed it isn’t. Why don’t you wait just a couple of seconds, a minute, two, three, or even five? Why? You’ll never know how much time is worth if you’re always in a hurry.

One nice thing in this song is its use of the strings. According to the technical info to the album, the arrangements were composed by Oscar Milito, who was a piano player on Bossa Nova era and later a studio musician. He recorded with almost everyone during that era, but certainly he isn’t nearly as famous as the Tropicália arranger Rogério Duprat. Here you can hear a song by Marcos Valle to the Brazilian novela “Selva de Pedra” whose arrangements are by Milito.

Another arranger on the album was Hugo Bellard, who recorded with everybody relevant those days, according to Wikipedia. Besides recording with Ivan Lins, he also worked with “Pery Ribeiro, Leny Andrade, Marcos Valle, Banda Veneno de Erlon Chaves, Taiguara, além de tocar em discos de Raul Seixas (Raulzito), Marcos Valle, Marisa Gata Mansa, Doris Moteiro, Lucio Alves, Herminio Belo de Carvalho, João Nogueira, Tito Madi, Evinha, Roberto Ribeiro, Geraldo Vespar, Milton Nascimento, Agnaldo Timoteo, Silvio Cesar, O Terço” and others.

———

Only now I’ve seen this Tiny Mix Tapes piece about this album. It says a lot of the things I’ve said here, on a better English and much more concise than I did here. And it features some addition information, so I encourage you to take a couple of minutes to read it.

———

I’m thinking about translating Gal Costa’s first album, that one released in 1969. I’ll start this later week on a more slow pace, but I plan to end this in a week. Before I start translating that album, I’ll post something Christmas-related tomorrow. See ya.

#52 – Jorge Ben – Hermes Trismegisto e sua celeste tábua de esmeralda

from A Tábua de Esmeralda (Philips, 1974)

Original lyrics:

Hermes Trismegisto e sua celeste tábua de esmeralda

Hermes Trismegisto escreveu
com uma ponta de diamante em uma lâmina de esmeralda

O que está embaixo é como o que está no alto,
e o que está no alto é como o que está embaixo.

E por essas coisas fazem-se os milagres de uma coisa só.
E como todas essas coisas são e provêm de um
pela mediação do um,
assim todas as coisas são nascidas desta única coisa por adaptação.

O sol é seu pai, a lua é a mãe.
O vento o trouxe em seu ventre.
A terra é seu nutriz e receptáculo.

O Pai de tudo, o Thelemeu do mundo universal está aqui.
O Pai de tudo, o Thelemeu do mundo universal está aqui.

Sua força ou potência está inteira,
se ela é convertida em terra.

Tu separarás a terra do fogo e o sutil do espesso,
docemente, com grande desvelo.
Pois Ele ascende da terra e descende do céu
e recebe a força das coisas superiores
e das coisas inferiores.

Tu terás por esse meio a glória do mundo,
e toda obscuridade fugirá de ti.
e toda obscuridade fugirá de ti.

É a força de toda força,
pois ela vencerá qualquer coisa sutil
e penetrará qualquer coisa sólida.
Assim, o mundo foi criado.
Disso sairão admiráveis adaptações,
das quais aqui o meio é dado.

Por isso fui chamado Hermes Trismegistro,
Por isso fui chamado Hermes Trismegistro,

tendo as três partes da filosofia universal.
tendo as três partes da filosofia universal.

O que disse da Obra Solar está completo.
O que disse da Obra Solar está completo.

Hermes Trismegisto escreveu com uma ponta de diamante em uma lâmina de esmeralda (2x).
This is the high-point on the album, the song from where the album takes its title and, yet, I won’t translate it here. Why? Because there is already a translation of this song. How? Let me explain.

I have already tried to outline of the Hermetic philosophy here and I think I’ve mentioned that it was deeply related to alchemy. Alchemy’s chief text is this piece here, known in its Latin name as the Tabula Smaragdina, or Emerald Tablet. The Emerald Tablet explains how alchemy is done.

Starting with the principle that there is a correspondence between everything in the universe, celestial and below, alchemy holds that one thing can be changed into another. Alchemy proceeds by separating the diverse elements and then adapting those different elements into different configurations. Usually this was done with some chemical apparatuses, using fire, air, or other of the primordial elements. By making this, the alchemist gathers a holding on the constitution of things, becoming a kind of a master of Nature.

There is one point of contention here — which can be seen in the translation — which is the so-called thelema, rendered by Jorge Ben as thelemeu. The thelema would be the principle that makes the transition from one element into another possible. It would be a dynamic fluid that holds all things together. The contention is if the thelema was another element besides air, fire, etc. or a completely different thing. That doesn’t seem to bother Jorge Ben too much.

Anyway, the Emerald Tablet was originally an Arabic text and then was translated into Latin and other languages. In English, it received a translation by Isaac Newton (yes, that Isaac Newton) and there is another translation in the 17th century. I’ll post both here, which are as follow:

– Isaac Newton’s translation

  1. Tis true without lying, certain & most true.
  2. That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing
  3. And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
  4. The Sun is its father, the moon its mother, the wind hath carried it in its belly, the earth is its nurse.
  5. The father of all perfection in the whole world is here.
  6. Its force or power is entire if it be converted into earth.
  7. Separate thou the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross sweetly with great industry.
  8. It ascends from the earth to the heaven & again it descends to the earth & receives the force of things superior & inferior.
  9. By this means you shall have the glory of the whole world
  10. & thereby all obscurity shall fly from you.
  11. Its force is above all force. For it vanquishes every subtle thing & penetrates every solid thing.
  12. So was the world created.
  13. From this are & do come admirable adaptations whereof the means (or process) is here in this. Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world
  14. That which I have said of the operation of the Sun is accomplished & ended.

– The 17th century translation published on the Theatrum Alchemicum (1613)

  1. This is true and remote from all cover of falsehood
  2. Whatever is below is similar to that which is above. Through this the marvels of the work of one thing are procured and perfected.
  3. Also, as all things are made from one, by the [consideration] of one, so all things were made from this one, by conjunction.
  4. The father of it is the sun, the mother the moon. The wind bore it in the womb. Its nurse is the earth, the mother of all perfection.
  5. Its power is perfected. If it is turned into earth,
  6. Separate the earth from the fire, the subtle and thin from the crude and [coarse], prudently, with modesty and wisdom.
  7. This ascends from the earth into the sky and again descends from the sky to the earth, and receives the power and efficacy of things above and of things below.
  8. By this means you will acquire the glory of the whole world,
  9. And so you will drive away all shadows and blindness.
  10. For this by its fortitude snatches the palm from all other fortitude and power. For it is able to penetrate and subdue everything subtle and everything crude and hard.
  11. By this means the world was founded
  12. And hence the marvelous conjunctions of it and admirable effects, since this is the way by which these marvels may be brought about.
  13. And because of this they have called me Hermes Tristmegistus since I have the three parts of the wisdom and philosophy of the whole universe.
  14. My speech is finished which I have spoken concerning the solar work

There is also the Latin translation which is the basis for all of the translations above:

  1. Verum, sine mendacio, certum et verissimum:
  2. Quod est inferius est sicut quod est superius, et quod est superius est sicut quod est inferius, ad perpetranda miracula rei unius.
  3. Et sicut res omnes fuerunt ab uno, meditatione unius, sic omnes res natae ab hac una re, adaptatione.
  4. Pater eius est Sol. Mater eius est Luna, portavit illud Ventus in ventre suo, nutrix eius terra est.
  5. Pater omnis telesmi[12] totius mundi est hic.
  6. Virtus eius integra est si versa fuerit in terram.
  7. Separabis terram ab igne, subtile ab spisso, suaviter, magno cum ingenio.
  8. Ascendit a terra in coelum, iterumque descendit in terram, et recipit vim superiorum et inferiorum.
  9. Sic habebis Gloriam totius mundi.
  10. Ideo fugiet a te omnis obscuritas.
  11. Haec est totius fortitudinis fortitudo fortis, quia vincet omnem rem subtilem, omnemque solidam penetrabit.
  12. Sic mundus creatus est.
  13. Hinc erunt adaptationes mirabiles, quarum modus est hic. Itaque vocatus sum Hermes Trismegistus, habens tres partes philosophiae totius mundi.
  14. Completum est quod dixi de operatione Solis.

As you can see, Jorge Ben’s song is an exact translation of the Emerald Tablet. I don’t know if he just composed the music to an already existing Portuguese translation or if he translated it himself from some modern language. It is interesting, nonetheless, to see Jorge Ben and Isaac Newton on the same page!

Jorge Ben’s song has a little introduction in which he just states that “Hermes Trismegistus wrote on an emerald tablet using a diamond stylus”.

And below you can see an artistic rendition of the Emerald Tablet from a book by Heinrich Khunrath in the 17th century.

800px-Emerald_tabletPS: you may have noticed that I’ve skipped two songs on A Tábua de Esmeralda, “Zumbi” and “Brother”. I did that because the former was already translated here, and the latter was composed in English.

 

#51 – Jorge Ben – O namorado da viúva

from A Tábua de Esmeralda (Philips, 1974)

Original lyrics:

Namomorarado da viúva
Namomorarado da viúva

O namorado da viúva
Passou por aqui

Apressado, pensativo, desconfiado
Olhando prá todos os lados
Pois ele soube
Que na cidade
As apostas subiram dizendo que ele
Não vai dar conta do recado

Que viúva é essa?
Que todos querem mas têm medo
Têm receio de ser dono dela
Dizem que ela tem um dote
Físico e financeiro invejável (eu quero ver!)

O namorado da viúva
Passou por aqui

Namomorarado da viúva
Namomorarado da viúva

Translated lyrics:

The widow’s lover
The widow’s lover

The widow’s lover
Passed by

In a hurry, pensive, suspicious
Looking both sides
Because he knew that in the city
The stakes are high telling
That he won’t make it

Who’s that widow
That everybody wants but everyone is afraid
They fear being her owner
They say she has an enviable
Physical and financial dowry

The widow’s lover
Passed by

The widow’s lover
The widow’s lover

I thought this song was just a strange love song, but actually it is much stranger than that. According to that interview I’ve mentioned on “O homem da gravata florida” post, this song is about another alchemist figure: Nicolas Flamel.

Nicolas Flamel was a 13/14th-century French scrivener and manuscript-seller who, according to Wikipedia (once again!), was thought after his death to have been an alchemist. One of his achievements, according to legend, was that he discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and immortality. Unfortunately, there seem to be no evidence that Flamel is in this world anymore.

Nicolas_Flamel_Histoire_critiqueThe widow in the song was his wife Pernelle, who was a rich widow who had survived already two marriages when she married Flamel. After burying two husbands, I would also be afraid to marry her.

One thing I didn’t know was that the cover to A Tábua de Esmeralda comes from a hieroglyphical book attributed to Nicolas Flamel. Actually, when I saw his name on that interview I noticed that on the cover there is the inscription “Figures de N. Flamel”. Actually, it comes from a drawing took from some figures — so it seems to be — from the Cemitère des Innocents in Paris, which existed from the Middle Ages until the 18th century. I read once that during the 14th and 15th centuries, Paris had a shortage of land to bury people because of the plague, so they started exhuming the bodies and placing the bones on the catacombs, which became full. The so-called hieroglyphs from this cemetery,  recorded by Nicolas Flamel or later, can be seem as an interesting source for knowing this lost cemetery.

The original drawing for the Tábua de Esmeralda album is as follows.

arcade

#47 – Jorge Ben – Errare humanum est

from A Tábua de Esmeralda (Philips, 1974)

Original lyrics:

Lá lá lá
Tem uns dias
Que eu acordo
Pensando e querendo saber
De onde vem
O nosso impulso
De sondar o espaço
A começar pelas sombras sobre as estrelas-las-las-las
E depensar que eram os deuses astronautas
E que se pode voar sozinho até as estrelas-las-las
Ou antes dos tempos conhecidos
Conhecidos
Vieram os deuses de outras galáxias-xias-xias
Ou de um planeta de possibilidades impossíveis
E de pensar que não somos os primeiros seres terrestres
Pois nós herdamos uma herança cósmica
Errare humanum est
Errare humanum est
Nem deuses
Nem astronautas
Ô ô ô ô
Eram os deuses astronautas
Lá lá lá lá
Nem deuses
Nem astronautas
Ô ô ô ô
Eram os deuses astronautas
Lá lá lá lá
Eram os deuses astronautas
Ná ná ná ná ná
Dez
Ná ná ná ná ná
Nove
Ná ná ná ná ná
Oito
Ná ná ná ná ná
Sete
Ná ná ná ná ná
Seis
Ná ná ná ná ná
Cinco
Ná ná ná ná ná
Três
Ná ná ná ná ná
Dois
Ná ná ná ná ná
Um
Ná ná ná ná ná
Zero

Translated lyrics:

There are some days that I wake up
Trying to think and desiring to know
From where comes the impulse
To probe the outer space
Beginning with the shadows over the stars
And to think that the Gods were astronauts
And that you can fly by yourself to the stars
Or even think about before times known
Did the gods came from another galaxy
Or from a planet of impossible possibilities?
And to think that we’re not the first terrestrial beings
Because we inherited a cosmic heritage
Errare humanum est
Errare humanum est
Neither gods nor astronauts
Ô ô ô ô
Were the gods astronauts?
Lá lá lá lá
Neither gods nor astronauts
Ô ô ô ô
Were the gods astronauts?
Lá lá lá lá
Were the gods astronauts?
Ná ná ná ná
Ten
Ná ná ná ná
Nine
Ná ná ná ná
Eight
Ná ná ná ná
Seven
Ná ná ná ná
Six
Ná ná ná ná
Five
Ná ná ná ná
Four
Ná ná ná ná
Three
Ná ná ná ná
Two
Ná ná ná ná
One
Ná ná ná ná
Zero

The third track on Tábua de Esmeralda is one of the most concept-heavy songs on the album. It introduces many of the elements of Jorge Ben’s philosophy and curiosity around this time. It is also a document of the penetration of the works of Erich von Däniken in Brazil in the 70s.

As many of you may know, Erich von Däniken was one of the main publicists of the idea that ancient religion and, therefore, ancient gods were not a fabrication of the human mind, but actually aliens which helped introduce civilization to man. As you may also know from a lot of History Channel programming, such an idea is obviously true.

giorgio_tsoukalos_aliens

Erich von Däniken popularity skyrocketed in 1968, when he published Chariots of the Gods?, in which he explained his theories. I’ve read the book when I was a teenager and was deeply impressed by the sheer volume of evidences he finds. Some of them are really convincing, like that Mayan stone table that could represent an astronaut on a starship.

1-12_pacal

Von Däniken’s book was translated in Brazil as Eram os deuses astronautas?, which is rendered in the lyrics when Jorge Ben says “Were the gods astronauts?”.

I love such ancient aliens conspiracy theories. But as a historian myself I’m troubled by their lack of imagination (yes), because it presupposes that human history is a straight line that goes from one place to another in a linear narrative of progress. What is implicitly stated in those theories is that ancient civilizations could not have technological features that we have now, because they were primitive. But ancient people were not necessarily primitive, they only had different cultures than us in the same brains we have. Conspiracy theories, even though they always propose some alternatives to what has really happened, usually lack the imagination to think of really different alternatives to what is already here.

The other reference included in the lyrics is to Seneca’s dictum that to err is human. The full sentence goes like this: “Errare humanum est, sed in errore perseverare diabolicum”, which can be translated as “To err is human, but to persist in error is diabolical”.

I think that what Jorge Ben is intending to do, relating the ancient astronaut hypothesis and what Seneca says, is to imply how the ancient gods were fundamental to the constitution of modern human beings, something von Däniken states has happened at a biological level. In Jorge Ben’s lyrics, however, I think it happens something like what happens in the movie Prometheus. The ancient aliens are our fathers, and our faults — and our virtues — depend on their intentions, even if they are far removed from us right now.

To conclude such way out reflections, I really like the way Jorge Ben uses echo and reverb on this song. They mesh with the samba structure of the song in a beautiful way.

#46 – Jorge Ben – O homem da gravata florida

from A Tábua de Esmeralda (Philips, 1974)

Original lyrics:

Lá vem o homem da gravata florida
Meu deus do céu… que gravata mais linda
Que gravata sensacional
Olha os detalhes da gravata…
Que combinação de côres
Que perfeição tropical
Olha que rosa lindo
Azul turquesa se desfolhando
Sob os singelos cravos

E as margaridas, margaridas
De amores com jasmim
Isso não é só uma gravata
Essa gravata é o relatório
De harmonia de coisas belas
É um jardim suspenso
Dependurado no pescoço
De um homem simpático e feliz
Feliz, feliz porque… com aquela gravata

Qualquer homem feio, qualquer homem feio
Vira príncipe, simpático, simpático, simpático
Porque… com aquela gravata
Êle é esperado e bem chegado
É adorado em qualquer lugar
Por onde ele passa nascem flores e amores
Com uma gravata florida singela
Como essa, linda de viver
Até eu, até eu, até eu, até eu, até eu…

Translated lyrics:

There comes the man with the floral tie
Oh my God what a beautiful tie
What marvelous tie
Look at its details
How the colors combine
What tropical perfection
Look at this beautiful pink
This turquoise blue leaving its leaves
Under the simple cloves

And the daisies, the daisies
In love with the jasmin
That’s not only a tie
This is a report on the harmony
Of beautiful things
It’s a hanging garden
Suspended on the neck
Of a joyful and good-natured guy
Happy, and happy because…

With that tie any ugly man, any ugly man
Becomes a prince, is charming, friendly, and pleasant
Because…with that tie
He is awaited for and welcome
And worshipped anywhere
And wherever he goes flowers and lovers bloom
With a simple floral tie like this
Like this, deadly beautiful
Even myself, even myself, even myself

This is one of the craziest lyrics I know. I mean, how come one could have such an epiphany just looking at the floral tie someone was wearing? Those guys were crazy on acid by that time for sure.

I think there isn’t much to talk about the lyrics. They are kinda simple, as they describe the colors, the types of flower, and the general effect the referred tie has on the narrator. Whenever I think about the song one image that comes to mind is some of Romero Britto’s shameful works, but it is kind of sacrilegious to compare Romero Britto and Jorge Ben.

According to one brief interview I read, the man with the floral tie actually is the German physician, botanist, and alchemist Paracelsus. According to Wikipedia, Paracelsus rejected the ancient theory of the four humors (melancholy, cholera, phlegm, and sanguineous) in favor of a tripartite explanation of the world and the diseases affecting the body which comprised an combustible element (sulphur), a changing element (mercury) and a solid element (salt). The different combination of these three elements explained differences in behavior, alterations in humor etc.

In some way, maybe, the floral pattern of the tie reflects this general Parecelsus philosophy. One should note, however, that even though he rejected the earlier theory of four humors and was considered later an exponent of scientific thinking, because of all the experimental approach he had to biology and medicine, Parecelsus maintains the overall scheme of a correspondence between what is located higher and what is below. After all, the three elements are both in the world and within the human body.

This is the general thought scheme from alchemy, as we shall see later, and it was also a feature of ancient medicine and astrology. It is a principle that continued during the Middle Ages, as one can see in the famous Zodiacal Man from Les Très riches heures du Duc de Berry, an early 15th-century illuminated manuscript. One of the masterpieces of its era. In the picture, the Zodiacal signs are located both in the Sky and in the human body, corresponding to specific places and, even further, specific organs.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Cosmological correspondences aside, you can see a picture of the floral-tied man Jorge Ben himself below and here’s a link to that interview from where I got some of the information and the picture.

jorge-ben-trip

#45 – Jorge Ben – Os alquimistas estão chegando

from A Tábua de Esmeralda (Philips, 1974)

Original lyrics:

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!…

Os Alquimistas
Estão chegando
Estão chegando
Os Alquimistas…(2x)

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Êh! Êh! Êh! Êh!…

Eles são discretos
E silenciosos
Moram bem longe dos homens
Escolhem com carinho
A hora e o tempo
Do seu precioso trabalho…

São pacientes, assíduos
E perseverantes
Executam
Segundo as regras herméticas
Desde a trituração, a fixação
A destilação e a coagulação…

Trazem consigo, cadinhos
Vasos de vidro
Potes de louça
Todos bem e iluminados
Evitam qualquer relação
Com pessoas
De temperamento sórdido
De temperamento sórdido
De temperamento sórdido
De temperamento sórdido…

Êh! Êh! Êh! Êh!
Êh! Êh! Êh! Êh!…

Os Alquimistas
Estão chegando
Estão chegando
Os Alquimistas…(2x)

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!…

Translated lyrics:

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!…

The alchemists
Are coming
Are coming
The alchemists

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!…
Eh! Eh! Eh! Eh!

They’re discreet
And silent
They live far away from men
They choose carefully
Time and place
For their precious work

They’re pacient, effortful
And they struggle
They do everything
According to the Hermetic rules
From grinding to fixating
From destillation to coagulation

They bring crucibles with them
Glasses and earthenware
Everything well lit
And they avoid any person
Of dubious character (4x)

Eh! Eh! Eh! Eh!
Eh! Eh! Eh! Eh!

The alchemists
Are coming
Are coming
The alchemists

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!
Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!

This is the opening track from A Tábua de Esmeralda and it introduces already the theme of alchemy. The lyrics are simple ones. The alchemists are coming lá lá lá and just that.

One thing I think I haven’t spoke about it here is the Brazilian Portuguese diacritics. Usually when people see something like é in a Brazilian title they talk it like it was French, but in Brazilian Portuguese those sounds are inverted. É is an open sound usually on a higher range (like treble), and the ê is a closed sound, just like French é. What in French is é becomes ê, and what in French is ê becomes é.

What I have to say about Jorge Ben is that he is one of the true innovators in Brazilian music. He started doing samba, but samba of his kind, as you can hear on his album Samba Esquema Novo.

In his earlier works he was heavily influenced by Bossa Nova, specially João Gilberto, but he also always had lots of attention to black music. In the early 70s, as he went electrified, this black music influence increased, and his albums A Tábua de Esmeralda and África Brasil (1976) are both almost whole electrified. He combined those diverse sounds into what would be called samba-rock, a genre that spanned a lot of imitators, but no one sounds like Jorge Ben.

In 1978 he went to (another) major Som Livre, changed his band to Banda do Zé Pretinho and recorded an album with that title, which to me is his last great album. As happened to a lot of Brazilian musicians that were successful around this time, in the 80s he lost momentum and his oeuvre wasn’t as original as before. In the last couple of years he has had a sort of resurgence after recording an Brazilian MTV acoustic concert in 2002 and having some of his album put on the list of the best Brazilian albums of all time compiled by Rolling Stone Brazil.

By the way, Tábua de Esmeralda was ranked 6th best album ever by that same list.

PS: In the late 70s Jorge Ben also changed his name to Jorge Ben Jor…for reasons unknown to me…

#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: