The Brazil of Ary Barroso and Cazuza

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Two songs that decisively marked their respective eras

One of the main characteristics of Brazilian music is to faithfully portray the different historical contexts crossed by the country. It is almost impossible to listen to “O Bêbado e a Equilibrista”, by João Bosco and Aldir Blanc, and not remember the 1979 Amnesty. New Republic and the death of former president Tancredo Neves; or talking about the Military Dictatorship without mentioning some songs by Chico Buarque, Gonzaguinha and Geraldo Vandré, among others.

In this sense, I highlight in this text two compositions (almost homonymous) that decisively marked their respective eras: “Aquarela do Brasil”, by Ary Barroso, composed in the late 1930s; and “Brasil” – by Cazuza, Nilo Romero and George Israel – released during the 1980s.


“Aquarela do Brasil”, originally performed by Francisco Alves (and re-recorded numerous times), is considered by many to be “Brazilian music of the XNUMXth century”. The classic song was released during the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas (period known as Estado Novo).

At the time, the federal government intended to foster a national culture that could oppose any form of cultural regionalism (it is important to note that, during the Old Republic, a period prior to the Vargas Era, local identities were, in general, stronger than than the national identity itself). Thus, with this nationalist intention, a new musical genre emerged: the so-called samba-exaltation, a less rustic and more sophisticated style of samba, which praised the qualities and grandeur of Brazil.

Following this line, “Aquarela do Brasil” presents an extremely optimistic view of the country. It reinforces the belief that “God is Brazilian”: “The Brazil of my love, land of Our Lord”. He emphasizes samba as one of the national identities: “Brazil is a samba that gives, swaying, that makes you sway […] It is my Brazilian Brazil, land of samba and tambourine”.

Naturally, it also highlights the natural beauties. “Oh, this coconut tree where I tie my hammock on clear moonlit nights. Ah, listen to these murmuring fountains, where I quench my thirst, and where the moon comes to play.”


Five decades after the release of Ary Barroso's classic, Brazil was experiencing a troubled climate: it was the 1980s, a time when the country, just out of the military regime (1964-1985), was going through a serious political crisis (with corruption installed in all public spheres) and economic (marked by currency exchanges and high inflation rates).

In this unique context, the samba-rock “Brasil” was composed. Unlike the almost homonymous composition by Ary Barroso, which emphasizes our natural beauties, the music interpreted by Cazuza points, essentially, to human aspects of Brazil. According to Cazuza, “Brazil is critical music […]. I just spent the year [1986] inside, and when I opened the window I saw a totally ridiculous country. Sarney who was the 'non-direct' became the 'King of Democracy'. […]. Brazil is a very sad tropic”.

The composition, in a version recorded by Gal Like, was the opening theme of the telenovela Vale Tudo, a plot that had as its main theme the question of whether or not it was worth it to be honest in Brazil. “I wasn't bribed. Is it the end of me?”, says an excerpt from the lyrics.

The song composed by Cazuza, Nilo Romero and George Israel also mentions the mainstream media as an alienating and manipulative mechanism: “watching color TV on an Indian tablet, programmed to just say: yes, yes”. It also draws attention to the indifference of the people in cases of corruption and calls on Brazilians to take a stand on what was happening in the country: “Brazil! Show your face. I want to see who pays for us to look like this. Brazil! What's your business? Your partner's name? Trust me".

In general, we can say that in “Brasil” the authors managed to present in a unique way the great corruption and the climate of impunity that prevailed in the country in the 1980s.


A hasty conclusion about the two compositions highlighted here could point out that in Brazil the natural characteristics are extremely positive, as praised by “Aquarela do Brasil”; while the human aspects are absolutely negative, as sung by Cazuza in the song “Brasil”.

Not by chance, an ancient legend says that God created a land where almost all of its right side would be formed by beautiful beaches with clear waters, there would be no cyclones or earthquakes, beautiful waterfalls would mark the landscape of several places, the soil would germinate the that if you want to plant and there would be animals of all kinds. This land would receive the name of Brazil. “Oh, God! But that's a lot of good and nothing bad for a single piece”, questioned a divine assistant. And immediately God replied: “Yes, but you will see the little people that I will put there”.

However, reality does not show itself that way. First of all, it is essential to avoid hasty and Manichaean statements. We do not have such an exuberant nature, nor are we Brazilians degraded human beings.

Physical weather, such as cyclone Catarina, in 2004, corroborate the thesis that we do not have such a privileged nature. We are not as “blessed by God” as Jorge Ben Jor says in the song “País Tropical”. On the other hand, demonstrations of generosity and fraternity by Brazilians confirm that we are not a despicable people, as many claim.

Like any other nation, Brazil has positive and negative points. Therefore, the question is how to analyze them honestly and without prejudice.

*Francisco Fernandes Ladeira is a doctoral student in geography at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). Author, among other books, of The ideology of international news (ed. CRV).

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