Brazilian Popular Music and its Relation to Literature
Like Poe, the crazy American poet
I ask the bird: what can we do
And never, raven, never raven
Black assum answer me… (Belchior, Brazilian singer)
“I HAVEN’T seen you at the Pepe Moreno concert. What happened?” One of my students at the University of Guyana asked me on the Monday after a weekend concert in Georgetown by the Brazilian singer, Pepe Moreno.
That student assumed that as a Brazilian, I should appreciate Pepe Moreno`s music, and shouldn’t have missed that show. My student was very much surprised when I told him I did not know Pepe Moreno, I had never heard this name before. He thought I was joking, because Pepe Moreno is a Brazilian, and a popular singer. In fact, the most popular Brazilian singer in Guyana.
I do not intend either to discuss or evaluate here the music produced by Pepe Moreno. In fact, I am not able to do it because the little I know about this singer, I learned from Guyanese. However, my student’s question was a very good tip for me to start introducing some of Brazilian music to my students. I saw in the question also an opportunity to show how we can connect Brazilian music with literature.
Music may be used in a very powerful way also to introduce the culture and history of a country. We can say that Brazilian music embodies many socio-political views of people, whether it’s the artists or listeners view. For sure, listeners also construct their own meaning or message in a song.
During the military regime in Brazil (1964-1985), for example, many songs used metaphors and many other literary devices in order to tell the truth — “but tell it slant” — against dictatorship. The listeners who lived in that context of oppression understood the message.
The field of Brazilian popular music can be traced back to the 1930s, when radio era spread songs across the country. Much of the hip-hop, reggae, rock and even country music (sertaneja) heard in Brazil speaks powerfully about the government and social standards, political situation and so on.
On many occasions, Brazilian music also plays the role of intermediating popular songs with literature, common widespread knowledge with more sophisticated comprehension and erudition in literature and arts.
We have many good examples of singers and songwriters who make this bridge between literature and music. They are singers with university education who are able to make some literary texts known to the public in general. Examples could start with Vinicius de Moraes, a songwriter and a very famous Brazilian poet and playwright. But we can go further and mention those contemporary ones, and even more popular, more known to the general population, such as Chico Buarque, Milton Nascimento, Caetano Velloso, Tom Zé and Belchior among many others who reveal in their songs inter-textual relations with literature in general.
Chico Buarque makes allusions to many Brazilian literary texts; for example, to poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. The lyrics by Caetano Veloso are extremely inter-textual, with many allusions and references to writers from the Baroc (for example Gregorio de Matos), Romanticism and modernism.
However, for the purpose of this short article, I would like to concentrate on the singer, songwriter and poet Belchior. As we see in the epigraph to this article, the songs by Belchior bring quotations, allusions and references to literature, classic music and philosophy.
The epigraph is evidently a reference to Edgar Allan Poe´s poem, ‘The Raven’.
In his song, ‘Divina Comedia Humana (Divine Human Comedy)’, for instance, Belchior makes allusion to Dante, and then to the famous (and canonic) Brazilian poet, Olavo Bilac: “Ora direis ouvir estrelas, certo perdeste o senso, eu vos direi no entanto…” And further, he ends parodying the classic verses changing, the focus to another direction.
In his song, ‘Amor de Perdição’ (composed together with Francisco Casaverde), the very title is already an allusion to the classic Portuguese novel, Love of Perdition, by Camilo Castelo Branco.
In the same song, we see a quotation from the philosopher, Saint Augustine, ‘Love and then do whatever you want’. He also quotes the great Brazilian novelist, essayist, Euclides da Cunha, “the backlander is, before everything, a strong man” (Euclides da Cunha in ‘The Backlands’ says that “the sertanejo, backlander is, before everything, a strong man.”)
In fact, the singer, Belchior, reminds us of philosophers, novelists, classic poets. By quoting and making allusion, he introduces philosophers, poets and novelist for those common listeners who still have not the opportunity to read these authors.
The singer, therefore, stimulates the audience to go after and research the meaning of his lyrics. By listening to some verses by Poe, as he does in his song ‘Tudo outra vez’(that is, ‘Everything again’), the listener may become aware of the American poet. In his song ‘Clamor no deserto (A claim from the Desert)’, he affirms that there is little time for us to reach 1984. This is a clear allusion to the novel by George Orwell, 1984.
Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the great Brazilian poet, is also present in his song, ‘Como Nossos Pais (Like our parents)’, when the singer says that “on the wall of my memory, this remembrance hurts more… (´Na parede da memória, esta lembrança é o quadro que dói mais´), an allusion to ‘Confession of an Itabirano’, where the poet says that ´Itabira is only a photograph on the wall, but this hurts…´
Belchior´s songs also reveals references to famous rock singers, such as John Lennon, as when he says the “happiness is a warm gun” in the song ‘Saia do meu caminho’.
One could cite much more examples, but what I really want to point out here is that this bridge between music and literature is very important, and can be of use to our first year students of literature. Therefore, Brazilian songs in the classroom sometimes may be a good way of introducing students to literary texts. As the songs are more popular than literary text, the approach may help the students to realize how literature is not something from the ‘other world’. If the teacher mediates t
he codes of literature and popular songs, he or she will help the students to become more skilled readers being able to decipher new codes and languages.
To conclude, I would like to return to Pepe Moreno and his popularity in Guyana. He may be better perhaps than he seems to me. For example, in one of his songs, he says: ‘Você de branco quero ser o seu dono (You in white, I want to possess you)’. This may suggest something more, some ideological ideas clearer to Guyanese than to Brazilians. So, I recognize there are reasons, good reasons, for his success. However, my students know now that Brazilian music goes much beyond Pepe Moreno.
The Guyana Annual 2010 issue is now available at Guyenterprise Ltd. on Lance Gibbs and Irving Streets, Queenstown
One-day creative writing workshop for school children. This workshop is free but places are limited. Please contact me for more information.
(To respond to this author, either call him on (592) 226-0065 or send him an email: email@example.com)