Paulinho da Viola – Foi um rio que passou a minha vida (1970)

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PAULINHO DA VIOLA – Foi um rio que passou em minha vida

• 1970 ( emi 852504 2 )
1. para não contraria você ( paulinho da viola )
2. o meu pecado ( zé keti )
3. estou marcado ( paulinho da viola )
4. lamentação ( mauro duarte )
5. mesmo sem alegria ( paulinho da viola )
6. foi um rio que passou em minha vida ( paulinho da viola )
7. tudo se transformou ( paulinho da viola )
8. nada de novo ( paulinho da viola )
9. jurar com lágrimas ( paulinho da viola )
10. papo furado ( paulinho da viola )
11. não quero vocé assim ( paulinho da viola )
faixas bônus ( cd )
12. sinal fechado ( paulinho da viola )
13. ruas que sonhei ( paulinho da viola )

This is a fabulous record, with everything you would expect and nothing less from the inimitable Paulinho da Viola. Great musicianship, flawless songwriting, Paulinho’s voice (like butter!). It starts with a song, it ends with another song, it has highlights, it has a cool album cover, it is recorded really well, it is mastered by the masterful mastering engineer Pete Mayhew at Abbey Road, ba ba ba ba yadda yadda yadda, you get the idea.

What I REALLY wanted to write about was one of the bonus tracks on here, ‘Sinal Fechado’, released as a single.

I thought about providing a straight translation of it, but it would be hard to do it justice in any language but its own. The lyrics are simple, really, with scant repetition, arranged as a dialogue between two people in alternating lines. The idea is beautifully simple – two former lovers who have not seen each other in ages, running into each other on the street at the same corner. One of them (let’s say, a man – it’s never specified) is about to cross the street, and they have only a moment to talk before the traffic light changes. He apologies for not having more time to converse, “Forgive me, but hurry is the soul of our times…” [literally, ‘business’] The other implores him not to worry about it, she too has to run. When will you give me a call? We need to catch up. Next week I promise, maybe, we’ll see each other. Who knows? It’s been a long time… Yes, it has been a long time.
“I had so many things to say, but I disappeared in the dust of the streets.”
“I too had much something to say, but the memory hid from me.”
Please, call me, I need to
Drink something, quickly.
Next week….
The signal…
I’ll look for you…
It’s going to change, it’s going to open…
Promise, don’t forget, don’t forget…
Goodbye

As it’s presented this way, this is a stirring vignette of romance and estrangement, love and distance. The lyrics play off the halting arpregiated and rather dissonant chords of Paulinho’s guitar that run through the song, punctuated only briefly by syncopated chords more familiar to samba and bossa nova. The string arrangements accent the tension, weaving a second melody that feels like a third voice in the dialog, the unspoken subtext. Extremely powerful, the song manages to feel both stark and warm at the same time. It terms of structure and execution, it’s quite different from Paulinho’s usual styles of writing, creating the suspicion that this is more than just another melancholic love song among many. The entire piece also works as a metonym for the feelings of Brazilians held under the heel of the military dictatorship (which grew considerably more oppressive in the same time Paulinho was writing this song, after the passing of Institutional Act No.5 that decimated political rights and civil liberties). Looked at from that perspective, everything becomes multivalent and laced with double-meaning. This was a technique used by many Brazilian songwriters – Chico Buarque most famously – to evade the censorship to which all popular music at the time was being subjected. A certain grim satisfaction was attained by fooling the authorities, a joke at their expense in a way – and if any questions or doubts were raised by the censorship board, the composer could simply respond, “It’s a love song, that’s all.” Throughout the seventies, songwriters adopted this as a deliberate technique – however I am not sure if that’s what Paulinho da Viola was doing here. In many ways it’s a tired and academic question, to look for the ‘hidden meaning’ of a work of art. Part of the magical quality of so many varieties of song is the refusal to spell things out, to assign hard and fast correspondences to word, tone, context, hard facts… I am not interested in robbing the composer or the listener of that magic. But I think it’s safe to say that many listeners in 1970 heard this song with ears informed by the political and social oppression that was becoming more and more part of daily life. The song was covered a few years later by Chico Buarque on the record “Meus Caros Amigos,” and later by Elis Regina on “Tranvsersal do Tempo” as part of a show that was rife with this shuttling back and forth between the emotions of interpersonal relations and political realities. They are not, after all, discrete phenomenon. People loved and lost and married and had children all the while that people were being “disappeared” in Brazil, in Chile, in Argentina… Just as the unjust war in Iraq has affected so many lives for six years and counting, or the inexcusable massacres in Gaza leave scars on our eyes. People move on and live their lives and find ways to nourish their spirit, attempting dignity no matter how ignoble the situation, putting energy into their families, their work, their art. “Hurry is the soul of our times,” indeed, but songs as perfect as ‘Sinal Fechado’ make you stop, and listen.

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