Chico Buarque’s political activism

Chico Buarque

During the military dictatorship in Brazil, which reached a high pitch of political and social repression between 1965 and 1980, the songs of Chico Buarque became vehicles for a strong, albeit veiled, political activism.

Endowed with a phenomenal lyric gift and an ability to penetrate the psyche of the most diverse human beings, Buarque was also skilled in the use of metaphor, the double entendre, the between-the-lines song text. As a consequence, he was able to say a great deal in his songs, without seemingly spelling out anything.

The military censors kept a close eye on him, leading him to complain that, out of every three songs that he wrote, two would be censored. It is all the more surprising, then, that the censors allowed the release of the song Apesar de você (In spite of you, 1970), a very obvious diatribe against the military regime and, more specifically, against the then president Emílio Garrastazu Médici.

Buarque was interrogated several times and asked to explain who was the “you” to which the song consistently refers. According to one of the versions of the interview, he said that the “you” was a very authoritative and bossy wife, and the song was the rant of her unhappy husband. Needless to say, the censors did not buy the explanation, but there was nothing specific in the text of the song that they could point to as a direct attack on the government.

The song is emblematic of Buarque’s remarkable resiliency while navigating the political minefield of the time. Many of his songs from that period testify to this same ability. His highly nuanced, subtle, poetically charged song texts can indeed be read in many different ways, and could easily be construed as the depiction of a domestic, rather than a political, drama. Throughout the duration of the military regime he offered Brazilian society a vehicle in which its entire voice could reverberate, shielded from military scrutiny by the poetic beauty of the texts.

The text of Apesar de você  is reproduced in Chico Buarque: Tantas palavras—Todas as letras (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2006).

Today is Chico Buarque’s 70th birthday! Below, Maria Bethânia performs Apesar de você; a free English rendition of the song’s text appears under the video.

Apesar de você (In spite of you)

Tomorrow will be another day…

Today, you’re the one who calls the shots.
Whatever you say, it’s been spoken
And there’s no arguing.
Today, my people walk around
Talking sideways and looking toward the ground.
You who invented this situation
By inventing all darkness,
You who invented sin
Forgot to invent forgiveness.

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day.

I ask you, where will you hide
From the great euphoria when it comes?
How will you forbid it
When the rooster insists on crowing?
New water will be flowing
And our people will be loving one another, nonstop.

When that moment arrives
I’m going to charge you

For all this suffering of mine,

And with interest to boot, I swear.
All this repressed love,
All these contained screams,
All this samba in the dark.

You who invented sadness,
Now do us the favor of “disinventing” it.
You’re going to pay double
For every tear that I’ve shed

In this anguish of mine.

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day
I can hardly wait to see
The garden in full bloom,
The one you didn’t want to see blooming.

You’re going to be tormented,
Seeing the day break
Without asking your permission
And I’m going to have my big laugh at you
Because that day is bound to come
Sooner than you think.

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day

You will be forced to see the morning reborn
And pouring out poetry.

How will you explain it to yourself
Seeing that the sky has suddenly cleared,
And there’s no more punishment?

How are you going to stifle the chorus of our voices
Singing right in front of you,
In spite of you?

In spite of you
Tomorrow is going to be another day
And you’re going to be out of luck.

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