Samba Pra Madame

There is a song by Haroldo Barbosa and Janet de Almeida that caused me a strong impression, as I first heard it in the voice of João Gilberto. This song might have gone unnoticed to me, if it were not for his recording.

The lyrics present a very straight forward version of the narrative of cultural conflicts and coexistence of contrasting systems of value that permeates Brazilian culture. There is a rich discourse about the nature of this cultural tension that is exposed through the song.

Let’s look at it:

Pra Que Discutir Com Madame?

Madame diz que a raça não melhora
Que a vida piora por causa do samba
Madame diz o que samba tem pecado
Que o samba é coitado e devia acabar

Madame diz que o samba tem cachaça
Mistura de raça, mistura de cor
Madame diz que o samba democrata
É música barata sem nenhum valor

Vamos acabar com o samba
Madame não gosta que ninguém sambe
Vive dizendo que samba é vexame
Pra que discutir com madame?

No carnaval que vem também concorro
Meu bloco de morro vai cantar ópera
E na Avenida entre mil apertos
Vocês vão ver gente cantando concerto

Madame tem um parafuso a menos
Só fala veneno meu Deus que horror
O samba brasileiro democrata
Brasileiro na batata é que tem valor

My translation:
Why should I argue with Madam?

Madam says the reason the race does not improve,
That life just gets worse because of Samba
Madam says that Samba is full of sin
That poor Samba should disappear.

Madam says that samba has cachaça,
mixing races, mixing collors,
Madam says that democratic Samba
is just cheap music, it’s worthless.

Let’s put an end to the Samba,
Madam doesn’t like to see the Samba
She keeps on saying Samba is a shame
Why should I argue with Madam?

Carnival is near, and this year I’m in the context
My gang from the favela is coming down, singing opera.
and in the sweaty alleys, when it’s hot, loud and packed,
every single voice will sing a concert.

Madam is a little bit nuts
She spits out so much poison, my gods, what a shame
Brazilian democratic Samba
Roots of Brazil, we have pride and we know our worth.

I’ve been trying to understand Brazilian culture through the perception, reception and development of opera. It seems emblematic that the strongest musical stress lies in the word that the text uses to characterize the elitist cultural demands of “Madame“; it is precisely the word “ópera.” It is also interesting to hear how João Gilberto stresses the vowel “ó”, clean tone, perfect pitch, no vibrato. He is fully aware of the syncretic contrast of styles. Samba and opera represent the cultural divide that that delineates class division in the country. The two the opponents in historic duel.

The world indicated by the word opera is in straight opposition to the world of the local popular culture. The narrator also conveys a colorful image of a possible imaginary of confluence where these two rituals could be merged, even if in somehow surrealistic lines.

The conclusion is a cry of pride that does not scream, instead it almost smiles under the breath, a private victory of ideas. A cry of pride that is legitimized by the impeccable delivery of a creator and master of bossa nova style. João Gilberto conveys the irony of each phrase in perfectly syncopated syllables, over the tightly organized harmonic voice leading of his guitar part.

His very presence, often singing traditional samba repertoire in prestigious venues of classical music, such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, is a statement of the worth and value of the style.

However, sixty years after the entrance of bossa nova into the international market, there remains an interesting challenge for young Brazilian artists: how to tackle the anthropophagic program and produce works of  lasting quality? Should we seek the redemption of the commercial stage, the institutional heir of the popular market, appropriated by an industry of immediate consumption, or should we tackle the path that leads to the concert hall and the opera house?

An  important source for understanding the role of the domestic worker in the development of the Brazilian imaginary is the recent book by Sonia Roncador:
A doméstica imaginária: literatura , testemunhos e a invenção da empregada doméstica no Brasil (1889-1999) Editora universidade de Brasília, 2008

Pra Que Discutir Com Madame?

João Gilberto

  • Autor: Haroldo Barbosa , Janet De Almeida
  • Álbum: In Tokyo
  • Estilo: Bossa Nova
  • Gravadora: UNIVERSAL
  • Ano: 2004