Hash’s Faves: “Upa Neguina”/”O Morro Nao Tem Vez (Favela)

25 Jan

elis-regina1This week’s pick is from Brasil, a samba medley of the songs ”Upa Neguinha, O Morro Não Tem Vez (Favela)” and another song that I’m not familiar with, but I bet there are a bunch of you out there that can help out. They’re performed by the great singer Elis Regina and Jair Rodrigues. Upa was written by Edu Lobo and Gianfrancesco Guarnieri, and O Morro by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Both songs portray the political scene in Brasil in the 60’s, when it was ruled by a military dictatorship and the gulf between the wealthy and the impoverished was great.

Even with the poor video quality, Regina’s life-force is almost overwhelming; I have to admit that I’m in love with this woman, as most of Brasil was. It looks like the last half of this clip was a mini-documentary about life in the favelas, and if anyone knows anything more about I’d love to know.

My introduction to Brasilian music was through my friend, the late Mexican guitarist/singer Miguel Bermejo, and my education, like many others in Chicago, continued with the band Som Brasil (Made In Brasil), which had a long residency at the much-lamented club The Jazz Bulls. The band, of course, has had many members, but in the time that I regularly went to see them the band was comprised of leader/pianist Breno Sauer, vocalist Neussa Sauer, saxophonist Ron DeWar, guitarist Akio Sasajima, bassist Paulinho Garcia and drummer Luiz Ewerling. Neussa was very much influenced by Regina, and Breno was there at the beginning of bossa nova, back in Rio. Som Brasil’s sole album is extremely rare but worth searching for; it’s some of the most life-affirming music you’ll ever hear.

“O Morro Não Tem Vez” is extremely popular amongst jazz players, and in Chicago Som Brasil’s version was what most of us base our interpretations on. Brasilian Portuguese is a language that resists literal translation, I think; the title can be loosely translated as “There Are No Opportunities For The Hills.” The favelas, or slums, in Rio are mostly located on the mountainside of Corcovado or Sugarloaf Mountain; when it rains torrentially, the favelas often get washed right off of the mountainside. There’s a more-or-less literal translation of the lyrics online that says “The mountain has no chance, but when it gets it’s chance the whole city will sing.” Many of the Samba Schools originate in the favelas, and I guess the reading means that Carnaval time is the only time when the favelas get to be heard by the world, through the music. “Upa Neguinha”” means, more or less, “Rise up, Black Boy!”, a call for revolution that somehow slipped by the official censors.

You can listen to Regina’s video here:

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: