#40 – Clara Nunes – Canto das três raças (1976)

from Canto das três raças (EMI-Odeon, 1976)

Original lyrics:

Ninguém ouviu
Um soluçar de dor
No canto do Brasil

Um lamento triste
Sempre ecoou
Desde que o índio guerreiro
Foi pro cativeiro
E de lá cantou

Negro entoou
Um canto de revolta pelos ares
No Quilombo dos Palmares
Onde se refugiou

Fora a luta dos Inconfidentes
Pela quebra das correntes
Nada adiantou

E de guerra em paz
De paz em guerra
Todo o povo dessa terra
Quando pode cantar
Canta de dor

ô, ô, ô, ô, ô, ô
ô, ô, ô, ô, ô, ô

ô, ô, ô, ô, ô, ô
ô, ô, ô, ô, ô, ô

E ecoa noite e dia
É ensurdecedor
Ai, mas que agonia
O canto do trabalhador

Esse canto que devia
Ser um canto de alegria
Soa apenas
Como um soluçar de dor

Translated ones:

Nobody heard
A painful sob
On Brazil’s chanting

A sad cry has always echoed
Since the warrior Indian got
Imprisoned and from there he has sung

The black man chanted
A rebellion’s cry through the air
At Palmares to where he fled

Neither the Inconfidentes struggle
For breaking up the chains
Has achieved nothing

And through war and peace
And peace and war
All the people in this land
When they’re able to sing
Sing a painful song

And this frightening song
Goes on and on day and night
Oh but such a grief
Is the worker’s chant

This song should be
A joyful one
But it sounds just like
A painful sob

Over the weekend during a Barcelona match against Villareal for the Spanish national soccer league, a banana was thrown at the field, near Brazilian right wing player Daniel Alves. Such occurrences are quite common in Spain, but Daniel Alves had a surprising reaction when he took the banana from the field and ate it, right before every single person in the stadium (you can see it on the video below).

One can argue for or against Alves’ reaction, but everyone must concede that this was an uncommon thing to do. Later, after the game, he told that maybe it had come the time to “laugh at those idiot racists”. A heartfelt declaration.

What no one expected was that the act would become indeed a hot topic for the week, even if Daniel Alves was quickly forgot. Later on that same day, Brazilian striker Neymar posted a photo with his son of both eating a banana and sporting the hashtage #somostodosmacacos. Or, translated, “we are all monkeys”.


The next day, however, as every Brazilian celebrity — but only those that are white — posted a photograph with the same hashtag, Brazilian TV-show host Luciano Huck launched a public campaign about it, selling t-shirts with the sentence “#somostodosmacacos” stamped on it.


It turned out that what seemed like a spontaneous reaction of solidarity with a fellow player by Neymar, who has already suffered racist attacks on some matches in the Spanish league, was in fact a marketing stunt aimed at generating buzz around the symbol of the banana and a shallow discourse about racism just to sell Neymar’s image and Luciano Huck’s t-shirts.

Daniel Alves, quickly forgotten, had just made what seemed more like the adequate answer to it, eating the banana, but in fact he had just started an open argument about racism and the sometimes too easy ways that the topic gets treated on the press or is appropriated by celebrities trying to sell themselves are humanitarian. Now the discussion is fading already, but in the same week that NBA has banned from basketball a franchise owner who said he was against black people at the arenas supporting his own team, racism became indeed the talk of the day.


But what this all has to do with Clara Nunes’ “Canto das três raças?”. Well, everything.

Clara Nunes was a Minas Gerais-born samba singer who rose to fame around the mid-60’s. She had a difficult life and began singing professionally after winning some radio contests, which she entered as a way to escape her work as a weaver. She quickly became very famous and requisited, as she had a very good range and knew a lot about singing techniques, which she learned in church choirs when she was a child. To get a measure of her success, this album here sold over a million copies, as did another three or four of her albums. And don’t forget that this means only the Brazilian market. Unfortunately, she died as a result of an accident while doing a simple surgery on her legs when she was only 39 years old.

“Canto das três raças” was released on the same-title album, dated from 1976. I don’t know who is the composer of the song. Anyway, it lends itself to very interesting things about Brazil.

Brazil usually braggs about being a kind of “racial democracy”, where blacks and whites live together peacefully. As the banana incident above shows, this is not so, as there is very veiled — and more often than not, nowadays, frankly open – racist discourse and practices. One of the pillars of the “racial democracy” thing is the notion that Brazil is the result of the influx of three different races, the indigenous peoples, the black people and the white people.

Needless to say, this theory provides a framework in which each of this “races” have their designated places. So the Indians get the sentiment, the blacks are marked for their work and labour-force and the whites are designated the leadership and the brain behind it all. This kind of thinking was made most famous by the work of Brazilian anthropologist and essayist Gilberto Freye, who in his seminal work “Casa Grande & Senzala” (1935) created a kind of mythical vision in which the casa grande was the site of a peaceful encounter between the black slaves and the white sons of the slave owners, who inherited both the white European culture and the black African costumes, thus creating a new mix from it.

What the song does is to twist it and present the resulting “chant” they all provided as a death song, a painful cry from those below.

And it is indeed amazing how much of that discourse remains on Brazilian imaginary. On the beginning of the year happened on Brazil the “rolezinhos”, in which suburban — mostly black — kids went to shopping malls just to hang out, thus creating panic among the white buyers and the shop owners. Their crime? Just hanging out where they weren’t expected.

But about this I’ll talk real soon.

Just to end this post, bellow you’ll find a link to the whole 1976-Clara Nunes’ album from where this song comes.