I came across this song much in the same way I came across the song for which this blog is named. I knew a man from Brazil and he introduced me to the singer Ney Matogrosso. It was actually a different song he wanted me to hear when he lent me the album – a greatest hits album. Of course, I listened to the hell out of that other song (Tem Que Rebolar) which his cousin would dance the hell out of when he got drunk. Oh, those crazy Brazilians. But, I listened to the whole CD and Rosa de Hiroshima caught my attention.
Then tragedy struck. Due to the disparity of civil rights in this country my friend was given a 5th-class ticket back to Brazil and there was nothing I could do about it. (We had dated I would certainly have married him if that had been an option.) But alas, it was not to be. I have spoken to him on the phone and we still communicate via email, but the CD in question remains in my possession.
I pulled the CD out the other day to listen to Tem Que Rebolar, and I remembered this first song on the CD. It is hauntingly beautiful. Reading the title, one doesn't have to speak Portuguese to know that it's Rose of Hiroshima. I speak some Spanish, so I can follow along a little. But, listen to it with an ear that doesn't understand the words. It's just amazing.
As usual I did my exhaustive research (I looked the song up on Wikipedia) and the only article I could find was in Portuguese. I was impressed that I understood it, most of it anyway.The song began its life as a poem. The poem was written by a rascal named Vinícius de Moraes, who, from what I gather, married 9 times, was known as O poetinha and was an integral part of the birth of Bossa Nova, along with Tom Jobim and João Gilberto. (I have also begun to explore Bossa Nova and I'm familiar with these other two gentlemen.) Quite the Bohemian, O peotinha was, working in music, literature – including poetry – and theater.
As a song, it was released in 1973 on the debut album of Secos & Molhados, featuring Ney Matogrosso as lead singer with his oddly soprano voice. It was a cry for peace in the nuclear age. (I'm of the generation that remembers thinking that any day the leaders of the nations were going to "press the button" and start a nuclear war, annihilating civilization as we know it.) It was released in an era of dictatorship in Brazil and ended up being one of the most-played songs of the year. They were rebels with a cause.
Watching the video one can't help but be distracted by the flamboyance of the singer. (Freddie Mercury had nothing on Ney Matogrosso.) But, just like Freddie, I can't help but be captivated by his talent as a singer and an artist. One can feel the message just from the aesthetics. Its beauty goes beyond the manifest. There is something about it, some underlying quality that defies expression with words. After listening to it a few times I felt it more than heard it. This live version is even better than the studio recording on the CD that I have. I can see that he's been on stage singing a while – he's covered in sweat. This song is slow. As the flute leads the introduction Ney covers his face with his arms and then opens up into the song. He has my heart, my soul in his hand as he sings slowly, deliberately in his soprano voice that just floats along with the flute. Then, after listening to it several times and I began to understand the words, they stabbed me in the heart. They exhort us to think, to think about the people affected, in harsh detail. And then the song ends, leaving me to die in the last lingering instrumental notes.
This is a song. This is art.