Jorge Ben – A Tábua de Esmeralda (1974)

Jorge Ben
A Tábua de Esmeralda
Released 1974
Philips / Phonogram (6349 083)

This reissue – Salve, Jorge! Boxset (2009)

1 Os alquimistas estão chegando os alquimistas

2 O homem da gravata florida

3 Errare humanun est

4 Menina mulher da pele preta

5 Eu vou torcer

6 Magnólia

7 Minha teimosia, uma arma pra te conquistar

8 Zumbi

9 Brother

10 O namorado da viúva

11 Hermes Trismegisto e sua celeste Tábua de Esmeralda

12 Cinco minutos

I realized just the other day that I completely skipped over the marvelous ‘Força Bruta’ in my presentation of this new Jorge Ben box. Not sure how that happened, but I will remedy the situation soon (although the DGA reissue IS here, in fact it was one of the first posts ever on this blog).

This album obviously merits more spilled ink than I have given it here, but I am exhausted and this is a good album for rejuvenation, and it speaks well enough for itself. Many people think this is Jorge Ben’s best album ever. I am one of them, although I have decided of late that it is impossible to consider it as a separate entity from the two albums to follow. Taken as a hole, they are all equally mindblowing. ‘A Tábua’ is brilliant in every way. Not a bad track on it (although the song ‘Brother’ often gets skipped over by me…). From the first notes, this album casts a spell on you fit for a hermetic magician. It is one of Ben’s most experimental album and also one of his most accessible. All of the songs are classics but the one that I know for sure has stuck around in his live sets is the hit, Zumbi, named after the last leader of the famous quilombo Palmares. Caetano Veloso, being the royal douchebag that he is, managed to completely mangle and destroy this song on one of his many bullshit records over the last ten years. If you have been subjected to that version, I apologize. But if you have never heard Ben’s original then at least you have this to look forward to. I have an aquaintance who worked in Brazil, and when I met her she thought that Jorge Ben was some old guy who made shitty records. I think maybe she was confusing him with Caetano. Admittedly, Jorge doesn’t make too many new records of interesting material, but his live shows are a blast precisely because he doesn’t try to stay ‘relevant’ to the flavor of the moment but gives the people what they want — classic Jorge Ben tunes, all night long… This aquaintance who formerly poo-pooed Jorge Ben now goes around singing songs off this album, and I haven’t even received as much as a ‘thank you’ although I hold myself largely reponsible for her conversion. At least, I know that I told her that he was not some lame douche-y guy making bad music. THAT guy, I insisted, was Caetano Veloso.

I had always thought that ‘Zumbi’ was the only track to really become iconic off this record, although obviously the whole album is ‘classic’ in the way we tend to mean that when talking about popular music. However, I was corrected by a friend who pointed out that the opening cut, “Os alquimistas estão chegando os alquimistas” was something of a stoner anthem. Now, this guy is a bit younger than I am and he might be basing this entirely on a film he mentioned in the same conversation — a rather awful-sounding summertime coming-of-age film set in 1980 called ‘Pode Crer’, which I haven’t seen — where the song was used prominently in a goofy drug scene. Still, he might be correct. Because I also have another friend who says she woke up to this album every day for a year, and she is kind of a stoner who hangs out with a lot of rock stars and artists, so perhaps there is more to this anthemic song than bad Globo-produced films. (Wake ‘n Bake, maybe?)

This album is a serious work of art and I am not treating it seriously enough. I will attribute this to the unbelievable heat and the fact that I slept for 13 hours after not sleeping at all for a few days, which does peculiar things to my  coherence. But even if I could muster the lucidity to tell you what lucre this album is in terms of artistic vision, integrity, production, and beguiling lyrics, I would only be detracting from what your own ears can tell you. This album does not need mediation via music critics. If you have heard it already, you already know all that you need to know. If not, you must place yourself in the crucible of transformation.

I must mention that I was also rather obsessed with alchemy at one point in my life.   If you want to gaze at some trippy, old works of alchemical art, check out this great online resource — this guy has tons of stuff in his galleries, including work from Nicolas Flamel (where the cover of this album originates..)

(not the main page, just a sample of some cool stuff)

For some material specifically on Nicolas Flamel, check here

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  1. This is perhaps my favorite album by this artist, with "Africa Brasil" running a close second & strangely "O Bidu – Silencio no Brooklin " coming in at 3rd.

  2. Ohhh muy agradecido Flabber!! Esta es otra joya mas para disfrutar como nunca antes q' belleza de sonido todo el boxset q' llevas hasta ahora!!
    Aunque Zumbi es el standarte de este disco yo me inclino por "Magnolia" y aunque no me deja de hechizar la cadencia musical de " O namorado da viúva", le sigue en preferencia "Hermes" sin superar la secuela maravillosa y exquisita q' mas me gusta y viene en el disco Africa-Brasil, pero no puedo acusar a ninguna de relleno por q' es una obra perfecta y redonda!

    Gracias muchas gracias!! Flabber y mas Flabber!!

  3. best jorge album, no doubt.
    why the hate for caetano, though? i haven't heard his new stuff, but i quite like his first few albums.
    thanks for the post. 🙂

  4. Another big thanks for the upgraded Jorge. One of the best LPs by anyone ever. I've actually caned Errare Humanem Est at any opportunity – clubs, lounges, radio – for years. Still gives me chills.

    Nice one on the link to McLean's site – haven't been there for years but what a great resource for the real stuff.

    Crucibles may be a bitch but don't sweat the Solve and keep up the Coagula my friend.

  5. thanks for the wonderful posts of Jorge Ben, and for the invitation to your beautiful blog. I'm having a great time here

  6. O Bidu – Silencio no Brooklin [1967 Atoll] is a strange little, lovable set from Mr. Ben.

  7. I am actually now leaning towards Solta o Pavão as the better album. It's really amazing. My vinyl copy has a skip or two and (crazy person that I am) I never listened to it as much as I should have because of that… Damn is it good.

    password, for all of these:

  8. "O Bidu" is a masterpiece, imo. a very important album, too, big influence on tropicalia. but i've always had a soft spot for "Negro É Lindo", myself. very beautiful and nuanced album.

  9. This is a quick note to thank you for all of these Salve Jorge releases. I really appreciate it! I always look forward to new posts on your blog!

  10. Just to keep things in perspective, listen to Arnaud Rodrigues work with Azumbuja & CIA, Baiano E Os Novos Caetanos & his "Som Do Paulinho " from the same era to compare the fresh new fusion.

  11. Well, I largely share your views on Caetano, Flabbergasted, I have to say, whatever he has done wrong, all is forgiven because he gave us "Transa". Oh wait. Jards Macale gave us Transa… Caetano just sang and put his name on the cover. Sorry. Thank you Jards!

  12. BTW … I NEVER skip "Brother".

  13. I can't believe I was living without this for so long. I love "O Bidu" and "Negro e Lindo," I've been listening to this 3-4 times a day since I opened the zip file and I feel that this album may not leave my rotation for months. Thanks!!!

  14. Isidore of Madison:

    Jorge Ben is tremendous. His lyrics for “Errare Humanum est” (A Tábua de Esmeralda 1974 [2?]) seem often cryptic, though possibly they were inspired by the work of Erik von Daniken who proposed an "ancient astronauts" account of human development in his (1968) book Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. Considering just how beautiful Errare Humanum is in its composition, we might like to imagine an equally beautiful origin for the song. Yet, this just may not be so. The song is a strange hybrid: there's the fascination with space travel and the possibility of extraterrestrial life, but this is weirdly combined with a (christian?) insistence on the fact that we humans are bound to err. Make of that what you will but the enduring fame ( of Daniken’s internationally bestselling book about the influence of aliens on human development provides a strong account for Ben’s otherwise bizarre references, notably a countdown near the end of the song and “Chariots/[…] Neither gods/ Nor astronauts.”
    Ben was a die-hard catholic who spent part of his life studying in a seminary. His lyrics therefore seem to mingle Catholic ideas with other assorted esoterica, including medieval alchemy, and astronomy. The Catholic influence makes sense. The phrase “errare humanum est” marks a break from Portuguese into Latin. I, however, find a less catholic origin for the phrase which has been attributed on wiki to Seneca, the whole being: “Errare humanum est. Perseverare diabolicum.” Interested listeners might get the sense that Ben, as religious as he was, might have reason to lament the (at that time, and ongoing) popularity of new and fairly silly secularizing theories of humanity’s origins–even one as farfetched as Daniken’s that swaps a divine watchmaker for an extraterrestrial one. Apparently Carl Sagan criticized Daniken’s theory as much too incredible a conclusion given Daniken’s much less credible evidence, evidence, evidence. Ben’s harmonic choices are indeed excellent and however you chose to read his lyrics, it will ultimately have little to do with the five-minute sonic orgasm that is the music itself. Thank you for making Ben’s music available to us!

  15. I love Jorge Ben's music; he is a genius… however, I don't understand the Caetano hatred. He is easily in Ben's league, although he never produced albums that sound like A Tabua De Esmerelda or Africa Brasil. Caetano has longevity going for him, as well as a rich, varied catalogue of amazing albums and songs, and he also has the social commentary aspect if you're into that sort of thing. It's like dissing Paul McCartney because you love Stevie Wonder's 1970s albums.

  16. And to the person crediting Transa to Macalé – Caetano wrote the songs on that album himself. He didn't just 'put his name on the cover.' Macalé produced and arranged it. Since you like Transa so much, perhaps you will be able to open your ears and hear other albums in Caetano's catalogue that you will enjoy. Then again, perhaps not…

  17. Oh man…this record is genius. Thanks…great review of Ben. This and the Ben Lp together are as good as he gets IMO, though his run from '67 (O Bidu…) through '76 (Africa Brasil)is downright astounding in consistant quality. Top notch….thanks again bro!

  18. Great blog, just bookmarked it as a source of magic. Can you send me the password for this – Thanks

  19. @ Asa – I am the one who made the Transa comment. On a record like Transa, where so much of the genius and brilliance is in the arrangements themselves, one should make an effort to distinguish the songwriting from the arranging and give the arranger the credit due. Macale is entitled to a huge amount of credit for Transa, as a finished product. Don't short change the arranger on a record like Transa. (BTW, if the songwriter is the one who gets all the credit, do we really give Monsueto Menezes credit for the brilliant version of Mora na Filosofia on Transa?)

    As for your comment about giving Caetano a second chance – trust me, I count in decades, not years, the time I have spent giving Caetano all the chances he deserves and more. Part of the judgment against Caetano is based on his own behavior over the decades, based on his comments about others over the decades, and based on my own development and judgment of his works both in my capacity as musician and fan of music. Caetano deserves many of the disparaging remarks made about him. Consider just a little bit of bad karma to which he is entitled for some of his own words and actions in the past. Cheers!

  20. Conocí este disco a través de una canción de rap francés de los años 90, "Je suis peut-etre" de Akhenaton, que sampleaba el comienzo de "O Homem da gravata florida". Años después de oír esta canción desarrollé un gusto por la música brasileña y Jorge Ben en particular, así que me sorprendió de repente oír ese sample de guitarra.
    Para mi gusto, y sin conocimiento previo del disco, siempre pensé que "O Homem", "Os alquimistas", "menina mulher" y "errare humanum" eran las mejores canciones. En youtube hay un videoclip de "Os alquimistas", así que parece que ésta el single principal del disco.

    I got to know this album because one of the most important rappers in France, Akhenaton, sample the beginning of "O Homem da gravata" for his song "Je suis Peut-etre" on 1995 album "Meteque et mat". Years later I became very interested in brazilian musica so I was surprised when I heard the guitar in the album. Without previous knowledge of the album, I always thought the best songs are "O Homem", "Os alqumistas", "Meninma mulher" and "Errare".
    A clip for "OS alquimistas" on youtube seems to confirm this song was the single for the album.

  21. Thanks so much for the story of how you discovered Jorge Ben! I adore stories like this and wish more people would tell them.

    Also thank you for the tip about an actual videoclipe from this record — I will look for it tonight when my internet connection is faster!

  22. Well Im the one thanking you for the wickedest music blog Ive visited in a long time.

    Well actually it was rather simultaneous cos I discovered Ben at the same time via this french rapper and another song sampled by from Black eyed Peas 1st album in 1998. The song is "Comanche" (which is not on Tabua) and they used it for a track called "Frontline". In the same album they use another Ben's song featured in Tabua, "Cinco Minutos", in the last track "Positivity". Also BEPs did a rap version of "Mas que nada" with sergio mendes few years ago. And Seu Jorge & Almaz included a cover of "Errare humanum est" in their album this year, so we are talking about an incredibly influential album in music in general.
    Besides this, the riffs in "O homem", "Menina mulher", "Os alquimistas" etc forced me to buy a guitar and learn how to get these sound out of it so this is one of the most important albums of all time for me haha. Bless

  23. Link for the Alquimistas clip:


  24. I have a few thoughts on you comments about Jorge and Caetano. I don't see how you can compare two completely different artists and determine that one is great while the other sucks. Jorge is Brasi. His music represents the way we think, the way we love, the way we dance. Caetano is an intelectual, a perfectionist to a fault. It is true that he is somewhat of a ass and puts on airs of royalty, but his contribution to the beauty and strength of the MPB is immeasurable and should be respected. Don't get me wrong. I will take Jorge over Caetano any day, but it is only a matter of taste and not of quality.
    At any rate, thank you for promoting MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira). If it hadn't been for your page, I would not have known about Solta o Pavao, the sequel to A Tabua de Esmeralda. I just downloaded in ITunes and love it.

  25. Unfortunately, buying music from the iTunes store automatically invalidates any observations or commentaries you might have about Caetano. In fact, an iTunes customer who also supports Caetano only makes my point about his douchery.

    It still amazes me how easy it is to bait Caetano devotees. Not only do Caetano's apologists read-into, and over-react to, what's written here, but they also misrepresent what I've actually said. Really, it's remarkably, remarkably easy to bait them. I almost feel sorry about it now, so I will relent a little and say the last decent album he recorded – that doesn't make me nauseous, bored, and/or irritated – is Cinêma Trascendental. For the record, I've never said "one is great while the other sucks". Only that Caetano hasn't recorded anything that genuinely compels me as a listener in about twenty years. Which is equally true of Jorge Ben. But one key difference between these two apples and oranges is that Caetano continually makes an artistic / intellectual / and political ass of himself through 'trying too hard' — in everything from his autobiography, his tepid and pseudo-innovative music since the 1980s, and his interviews to the press. And he also has a small army of unconditional lovers, particularly in North America and Europe, who get really defensive when anyone makes allusions to his mediocrity. In other conversations I've heard people give the old 'don't conflate the public persona / the artist with his art' tired argument, which is particularly tired when the subject is Caetano insists on inserting himself into that conflation at every available opportunity. When journalists (foreign or domestic) want an MPB or ex-Tropicalista's take on contemporary sociopolitical questions, for example, nobody even thinks of asking Jorge Ben (which may be just as well); they might ask Tom Zé, who will refuse to play the game by giving perplexing or oblique responses; but they will definitely track town Sr. Caetano who will obligingly grant them polemical sound-bytes all night long. And then give his False-Modesty Song And Dance when people call him out on his pandering.

    I also delight in people using empty phrases along the lines of 'stop being such a h8r'.. I don't hate the guy; I have never been closer than fifty feet or so from him, so why should I? And even his records from the last ten years have at least one or two songs I can get behind; but I would rather make myself a compilation of 'The Best of Caetano Veloso 1980 to the Present' (a single-disc set, btw) than be forced to sit through an entire torturous hour of one of his recent albums.

    I have to quote and reappropriate one of the other posters in this endless thread, sadly left anonymous, when he said:
    "As for your comment about giving Caetano a second chance – trust me, I count in decades, not years, the time I have spent giving Caetano all the chances he deserves and more. Part of the judgment against Caetano is based on his own behavior over the decades, based on his comments about others over the decades, and based on my own development and judgment of his works both in my capacity as musician and fan of music. Caetano deserves many of the disparaging remarks made about him. Consider just a little bit of bad karma to which he is entitled for some of his own words and actions in the past. Cheers! "

  26. Just scored a mint og copy of this. French pressing.
    Soooooooooooooooo good. One of those albums that makes you wonder how you lived this long without it.

  27. I'll leave the discussion who's the better and greater artist to the specialists and just will delve in the sounds of this important album with its very interesting cover art. Thank you!

  28. Very late to the party here,but thanks to mutual friend owl here I am – what a GREAT record. Thank you!

  29. I just thanked you for this album, but put it under a Curtis Mayfield post by mistake. Anyway, I'm really enjoying this and the other Jorge Ben LPs you have introduced me to. If that's your motivation for blogging — to introduce strangers to great music they might never have heard otherwise — mission accomplished!

  30. The Pearl from Jorge, Only being a Brazilian to tell with no doubt. This is his best work Ever.
    There is no any album that can beat this one. I give 10 to evry song played in this album.
    What a punch of swing, samba and Harmony. The alchemists are coming……. Salve Jorge

  31. Only being a brazilian to tell that this is his best work ever with no any doubt. I give 10 to every song in this album.
    A brilliant mix of samba, swing and harmony… It's also got the sixth position of the 100 best brazilian albuns of all the time. The alchemists are coming…. Salve Jorge

  32. The Pearl from Jorge, Only being a Brazilian to tell with no doubt. This is his best work Ever.
    There is no any album that can beat this one. I give 10 to evry song played in this album.
    What a punch of swing, samba and Harmony. The alchemists are coming……. Salve Jorge

  33. Hello
    I am a french Jorge Ben fanatic
    Unfortunately, there is no more link to download this gem. Can you help ?
    Muito obrigado ! Hervé

  34. Sem Link

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