Sooner than you think

Brazil lived under a military dictatorship for more than twenty years: some say from 1964 to 1985, others to 1988-89. For about five years after the coup of 1964, the generals retained some outward vestiges of democracy. In December 1968, however, they closed Congress and suspended habeas corpus, switching to direct rule by decree.

In keeping their grip on society, the generals relied on clandestine torture and explicit censorship, both political and “moral.” Even popular musicians had to submit their recordings for the censors’ approval in order to have them distributed or broadcast. It’s ironic perhaps that the anti-Communist junta resorted to Soviet-style censorship but that’s what it did.

Chico Buarque de Hollanda, the great Brazilian songwriter, was good at gaming the censors despite his relative youth. He was only 25 in March 1970, when he wrote Apesar de você (In Spite of You). To the author’s surprise, the censors cleared the song for publication; the single went on to sell 100k copies within a week. On the surface, it could be mistaken for an extended grudge against a particularly unpleasant ex-lover, sweetened with a foretaste of inexorable revenge.

The audience, however, interpreted it much as the author intended: as a message to the uniformed usurpers, in particular their so-called president – who, by a curious twist of history, bore the name of Medici. Médici, to be precise, or else the accent would fall on the penultimate syllable in Portuguese. His government then prohibited the sale of the single. Under the next military president, Ernesto Geisel, Apesar de você was finally cleared for distribution in 1978. Shortly afterwards, the Chico Buarque re-recorded the song so there exist two canonical recordings of it: the 1970 version, already linked above, and the 1978 version, the better known one.

What’s so great about the song? It’s a samba, obviously, but samba comes in different varieties – this one sounds carnavalesque so one would expect relatively simple lyrics. Simple does not mean shallow or straightforward, and subtleties of the lyrics get lost in translation, to say nothing of the assonance. Without going into much detail, here’s a rough draft:

[Intro sung by a chorus] Tomorrow [there] will be another day… Tomorrow [there] will be another day… Tomorrow [there] will be another day…

Today it’s you who give orders.
You’ve spoken. You’re speaking.
There’s no discussion.
My people today walk
talking sideways
and looking at the ground – you know:
You who made up this state [of affairs]
and made up your mind to make up
all this darkness;
you who made up the sin
have forgotten to make up
the absolution.

Despite you
tomorrow is to be
another day.
I’m asking you,
Where are you going to hide
from the enormous euphoria?
How can you forbid it
when the cock keeps
new waters spring forth,
people fall in love
all the time?

When the moment comes,
I’ll recover this suffering of mine
with interest, I swear:
All this repressed love,
this restrained cry,
this dancing in the dark.
You who made up this sorrow,
will you now kindly
unmake it.
You’re going to pay, and pay double,
for every tear that’s rolled
in this grief of mine.

Despite you
tomorrow has to be
another day.
I’d pay to see
the garden bloom
against your wish.
You’ll get so bitter
watching the day break
without your permission,
and I’m going to die of laughter
because that day must come
sooner than you think.

Despite you
tomorrow has to be
another day.
You’ll have to watch
the morning come again
and throw poetry around.
How will you explain yourself
when you see the sky clear up
all of a sudden, with impunity?
How will you hush up
our chorus from singing
to your face?

Despite you
tomorrow has to be
another day.
You’re bound to go down
and so on, and all that…

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