Roberto Carlos, the Redeemer

Jackson Pollock, Untitled (5), 1944–1967


Roberto finds in his final phase what is most basic, simple and at the same time broad and identifying the being of Brazil: the faith of the people.

“Huh? Huh? What else I think, test and explain: everyone is crazy. You, me, us, everyone. That's why religion is mainly needed: to go crazy, to go crazy. Reza is the one who heals from madness. In general. That's the salvation of the soul... A lot of religion, young man! (Ribaldo, in Great Sertão: Veredas, by Guimarães Rosa).


This article is based on a remembrance, so I apologize in advance to the reader for the personal starting point. I don't think this data weakens it, because it is a commemorative text of the musical life of Roberto Carlos, the most confessional artist in the history of Brazil.

It was the day I turned 15, in October 1986. I left English class, and my mother was waiting for me to go home together. She had a small box with my birthday present in her hand. That day I would receive my first “sound”, a black radio-recorder – which must have been very modern for the time – and two cassette tapes, one by Erasmo Carlos (Woman, 1981) and another by Roberto Carlos, whose title I cannot remember, despite the effort and some attempts to search on his official website, for albums from the 1970s and 1980s. I simply could not recover the name of that first album by the king.

This lapse of memory is proportional to the moments I remember and the ones I insist on forgetting that Roberto Carlos exists. I believe that for some of your admirers it is the same. We can forget about him, but at least once a year his omnipresent appearance takes us back to his world, to his private universe. It is often a pleasure to hear him, at other times a nuisance to hear from him.

His life doesn't seem to fit into a book and when Paulo César de Araújo wrote Roberto Carlos in detail (Planet, 2015) That's how it turned out. His best (and only?) biography was banned from bookstores in Brazil by intervention of the biographer himself, leading the discussion to the STF, which would release unauthorized biographies some time later. It was when we rejected our king for the last time.

His musical work is intertwined with the life of the Brazilian people, immersed in a tension that arises from successes and errors, without mediation, without palliatives. It is this bond that we want to deepen here, because it is through him that we love Roberto, and we cannot and do not want to forget him. Listening to Roberto has always meant getting to know him and his life, at every moment, on every record or television special – which ended up creating a bond between the artist and the fans that no other TV and radio myth could. And Roberto didn't do that within an exhibitionist program, like the big brothers and congeners, that was exactly how his music was born: from the clash between private life, commitment to his subjects and the final form of the song. We were (are we?) his accomplices.

Roberto was born in a city in Espírito Santo, called Cachoeiro de Itapemirim. As we can read and hear through his own testimony on his website, his childhood was happy and his street games were diverse and constant. He was interested in radio and cinema from an early age. At the age of nine he sang for the first time on Cachoeiro radio; he declared that, after that day, nothing else interested him but music. The rest of the story any Brazilian knows with some variations.

Musically, he defined himself like almost all of his contemporaries, that is, from the absolute impact of João Gilberto's singing - a connection only revealed by him in a more incisive way in the concerts in honor of Tom Jobim, alongside Caetano Veloso, but the first recordings leave no room for doubt, he was just another imitator of João among so many who failed. This heritage of spoken singing didn't last long: it was from 1959 to 1962. He sang boleros, versions of North American themes and, of course, a lot of bossa nova. Composer Carlos Imperial is a constant figure in this phase.

Soon after, rock swept him away, and he entered the most fruitful phase of his work. The 1963 record, splash splash, opens with I stopped on the opposite, beginning of the partnership with Erasmo. Visceral, nothing better defines his connection to style. To this day, young musicians have the same admiration for the rocker Roberto they have for Ben Jor, which is enough to understand his musical importance.

However, already at that moment, another characteristic, which ended up predominating over the years, appeared: his romanticism. All singles came with a rock track and another with romantic songs. The two styles were paired. But Roberto dealt with desire very differently at that time. Excessiveness went hand in hand with romanticism and sometimes slipped into the colloquial, simple and deliciously boorish, as in “Eu sou fan do monoquíni”, a partnership with Erasmo, from the album “Roberto Carlos sings for youth”, in 1965. “I can't tell you what I saw / But I know I never forgot / Broto has to wear a monokini / I can't stand the bikini anymore”. In 1968, a romantic song, “I will no longer leave you so alone”, by Antônio Marcos, would replace a rock theme for the first time in the opening of one of his albums. A subtle change, but no less important.

It is enough to remember that its excesses were immediately appropriated by the “Doces Bárbaros”. Gal's recording for your stupidity, on the anthological disc Fatal, from 1971, is still a high moment of this devotion to the great author that was Roberto. Caetano, Gil and Bethânia always showed reverence and a strong bond, just remember the album that Bethânia dedicated to Roberto, The songs you made for meOf 1993.

Caetano wrote outstanding songs for Roberto, such as strange force e like two and two, and received, in exile, a gift from the king in the form of a song, Under the curls of your hair – a quasi-manifesto for the Bahian man’s return to Brazil. Only Gil left an obstacle, because Roberto did not want to record If I want to talk to God, made for him, a skeptical song about the idea of ​​God, but whose hidden and sometimes ascetic content would have been well revealed by Roberto, had he not been a dogmatist. This data allows us to move on to the second part of this comment.


Those two styles, the rocker and the romantic, would monopolize the charts for a while. But, in 1978, something different seems to happen. Roberto opens the disc with the song Faith, also with Erasmus. A third field of expression was opening up, perhaps the strongest of all: the religious. In 1981, in he is about to arrive, Roberto sang the announcement of the Redeemer’s return: “It’s no use trying to hide / Nor trying to deceive yourself / Look for it, find yourself quickly / He is about to arrive”. In 1986, the disc would open with the verses: “Near the end of the world/ How to deny the fact/ How to ask for help/ How to know exactly/ The little time/ That remains”; the song was called “Apocalypse”.

Jesus Christ, from 1970, is still one of the most remembered themes: “I look up to the sky and see/ A white cloud passing by/ I look at the ground and see/ A crowd walks by/ Like that white cloud/ These people don’t know where they are going/ Who can say the right way / It's You my Father / Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ / Jesus Christ, I'm here”.


In no way does this timid tribute republished here on the occasion of his 80th birthday intend to psychologize the great artist. It would be easy, and banal, to oppose the three bases on which the aforementioned styles are based: instinct, desire and faith. Easy because they are too close to each other, and banal because we all live under these same designs, even though only Roberto managed to turn this into popular musical empathy. But before dealing with this important stylistic change, there are still other “identities” to mention in the work as a whole.

Ecological themes (such as Ace Baleias, from 1981, Amazon, from 1989), it is true, they do not form a cohesive set like the above triad; they always seemed to be the result of powerful but immediate interventions, dictated by certain moments. The same can be said of the songs – how to say, politically correct? – dedicated to small, chubby women with glasses, etc. Roberto also ventured into market openings, recorded in Spanish, Italian and captured warm fans around the world.

But none of this is as profoundly significant in demonstrating the close bond between Roberto and his public-people than the religious trait developed last in his trajectory. It is about this bond that I would like to conjecture, taking the song Our Lady, from 1993. First, I ask permission to publish the lyrics in full.

Cover me with your mantle of love
Keep me in the peace of that gaze
Heal my wounds and pain
make me endure
May the stones in my path
My feet bear stepping
even wounded by thorns
help me pass
If you were sorry for me
Mother, take my heart away
And those I made suffer
Forgive me
If I bend my body in pain
It relieves me of the weight of the cross
Intercede for me, my Mother
next to Jesus
Our Lady give me your hand, take care of my heart
Of my life, of my destiny
Our Lady give me your hand, take care of my heart
Of my life, of my destiny, of my way
Take care of me
Whenever my tears flow
Lay your hands on me
Increase my faith and calm
My heart
Great is the procession to ask
Mercy, Forgiveness
Healing the body and soul
The Salvation
Poor sinners, oh Mother
so needy of you
Holy Mother of God
have mercy on us
On your knees at your feet
Extend your hands to us
Pray for all of us, your children
My brothers
Our Lady give me your hand, take care of my heart
Of my life, of my destiny
Our Lady give me your hand, take care of my heart
Of my life, of my destiny, of my way
Take care of me

Dorival Caymmi's songs blend in with the Bahian atmosphere; we know how simple and perfect he can build in a representation of his people and his life. But even Caymmi declared her desire to see one of her songs diluted in the collective memory. He would have said: “My dream is to be the author of a ciranda-cirandinha, something that is lost among the people”. Caymmi takes as an example the song we sang in childhood, without the need for origin and authorship, the so-called “popular domain”. This kind of oral teaching is rare even in popular culture today.

Well, nobody but Roberto Carlos saw Caymmi's wish come true with the length of the aforementioned song. Other themes of his were incorporated into the collective space of religious festivals, but this song is sung with praise in masses, processions and novenas throughout Brazil, and especially in celebrations at the Sanctuary of Aparecida, in São Paulo. The revelations in the lyrics may have different origins – his personal pain, his fears, his faith, his devotion – but, without a doubt, it is the theme that most openly exposed him as a man “of the people”. Still, it's not a naive song, it's a popular, commercial song, but it differs by not being light, rather being able to perpetuate itself in collective intonation.

What is emblematic of it is the fact that Roberto seems to want to be remembered – and immortalized – in the end for his charismatic style and not for libertarian or romantic themes. And the people, who sing this song throughout Brazil with great devotion, love Roberto until the end because he redeems them. Roberto's work finds in its final phase what is most basic, simple and at the same time broad and identifying the essence of Brazil: the faith of the people. If at a certain moment in the 1930s of the last century, Mário de Andrade identified the truth of Brazil in his popular art, and if this art remains still today linked to the religious domain, this says a lot about our identity as a country and the destiny of a work of art. like Roberto Carlos.

By imploring Our Lady's zeal and pouring out his most intimate pain and open wounds, Roberto equals his fans, letting his work echo in all the faithful who equally gave up on seeing their pain overcome. This spiritual bond between Roberto and his public-people touches deeply on the value of his work, which ends by explaining the profound meaning of his most perennial designation: KING.

*Henry Burnett is a professor of philosophy at Unifesp. Author, among other books, of Nietzsche, Adorno and a bit of Brazil (Unifesp Publisher)

Originally published in the defunct electronic magazine Trópico: Ideas from North to South in 26 / 4 / 2009.


Paulo Cesar Araujo. Roberto Carlos in detail. Sao Paulo, Planet.

Pedro Alexandre Sanches. Like two and two is five. Sao Paulo, Boitempo.

Oscar Pilagallo. Folha explains Roberto Carlos. Sao Paulo, Publifolha.


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