Elis Regina and the Zimbo Trio performing “Zambi” in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1965. That’s Amilton Godoy on piano, Luís Chaves on bass and Rubinho Barsotti absolutely wailing on the drums.

The tune is by Edu Lobo with lyrics by the brilliant Vinicius de Moraes, and is about the legendary rebel slave, Zumba Ganga, who ruled a large swathe of inland Brazil during colonial times. This version was recorded in 1965. The military had overthrown the elected government the year before. When Elis sings Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! (Liberdade, Liberdade, Liberdade), the audience explodes in applause, then hushes quickly again. You can almost feel the eyes of the police, watching. At the close of the song the audience, swept along on the drums, erupts again and, with headphones, you can hear cries of viva a democracia! By 1969, though, you wouldn’t dare perform this song in public, and I have to wonder how many in this audience saw the inside of one of Brazil’s military prisons.

Elis Regina and The Zimbo Trio

Elis Regina and The Zimbo Trio, 1965

Vinicius de Moraes

Vinicius de Moraes was a lyricist unlike anything in English, his stuff was so extraordinarily literate it read like real poetry, great poetry, with such imagery and feel. Check out this one, a remarkably good translation of Arrastao from the Portuguese, set to an Edu Lobo tune. The version here is Elis Regina’s classic take with the Zimba Trio, recorded live in Sao Paulo in 1965. It is intense and huge sounding yet it is just Elis with an acoustic trio, piano, bass and drums. There was absolutely nothing in American music like this at the time, not in jazz or rock, or in words even. Here below is the lyric, in English, awash in syncretic meaning, the ancient Mediterranean Roman Catholicism and Yoruban candomble intertwined, orishas and saints one and the same in the way the Holy Trinity is one in the same, consubstantial. Hypostatis the scholars described in it late Roman days, in Greek, a concept rejected by the Arians with great slaughter, but is now so embedded in Catholicism that the holies and spirits and gods of other religions become one with Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit, and with the Madonna and the saints and martyrs, and of course Satan and his minions. Thus our narrator here guilelessly prays to Yemanja the goddess of the sea with syncopated piano and rolling drum meter; then to her Catholic side, Saint Barbara, in a melody like the inside of a cathedral, soaring, the notes hanging in the still air. The people go out into the sea in boats and let float candles on tiny rafts and the bay is filled with points of light and the silhouettes of fishermen, and the night air rings with drums and chants and the low mumble of prayers. Yemanja answers, Santa Barbara answers, and the nets are filled with fish and hearts with love. Somehow, Vincinius tells all this in a simple fisherman’s prayer on a night spent trawling, in Portuguese arrastao.

Eh! There are dinghies in the sea
Hey! hey! hey!
They’re trawling today
Eh! Everyone fishing
Enough of the shade, João Continue reading