Three days ago I heard the song “Superbacana” by Caetano Veloso for the first time… or at least it was the first time that I “heard” it, really listened to it. It blow me away. It’s off his Tropicalia album, the one that really shook the earth beneath all of Brasil and started the whole Tropicalismo or Tropicalia social and political movement there. (Along with equal contributions from Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes and Tom Ze and Gal Costa and others.
Anyway, I do what I always do. I listen to the song ten to twenty times in a row, analyzing the lyrics and the poetry of the beautifully perfect Portuguese language, still in my opinion the most poetic of them all (and yes, being Italian and speaking Italian and French and Spanish etc. I know what a betrayal that may sound like… but there’s just something transcendent about this language, both in how it sounds to the ear and in how the words and phrases are strung together…. Obviously a subjective thing. I’ll give you that.) I then do a quick translation to English to see if I missed anything. Wow, what a fucking song that is. Simple. Fun. Light-hearted. On the surface. And yet still a Dylanesque social protest song. And the way he spits the lyrics out so fast. Truly genius.
Then I spend three days transcribing the chords, listening to it over and over again. Searching the internet for anyone who has ever transcribed the chords to just get some help with it. But no one has. And this song is 50 years old! I WhatsApp a friend of mine in Brasil to ask him about the song. He tells me “yeah bro, not many people know that song. Not even here in Brasil. It’s only hip with super hip people. It’s not like a popular song, like so many of his….Good luck with that. But I really hope you figure it out, because I can’t wait to hear you sing it with your strong funny Portuguese accent!”
I’m going to include some links below so you can listen to the song on YouTube. Because it’s just that good. Bear in mind, it’s 1967, so it still has elements of that orchestrated pop of the sixties, plus elements of the popular bossa nova style happening in Brasil at the time (think Tom Jobim) and yet it also has this frantic rock ‘n’ roll vibe to it and a sort of folky protest theme to it as well. A very hip tune. The whole Tropicalia album by Caetano is brilliant. A definite must-have.
When you analyze the lyrics, basically Caetano is saying “You all act like you don’t even know I exist, but I believe you’re pretending. Not only do you know I was born, but you also know that I am super fucking cool. (Superbacana literally translates to “super-cool”). And he uses the song to rally against the bourgeois class currently occupying Copacabana and the government with all their big spending on technology and other things that he doesn’t believe help him or the people of the country. But in the end he and his people are still super-cool regardless.
When I first discovered it, it reminded me of the song “ManChildWoman”, the way he’s just overtly bragging, very rock ‘n’ roll swagger… Which I admit I do a lot of from time to time in certain songs… It’s all in fun…. Just to catch a groove and ride it. But after studying the song more, I believe there’s more to Caetano’s “Superbacana” than just empty bragging like “ManChildWoman”. Truly. It’s more Dylan. The bragging is more asserting his existence against an authoritarian regime that refused to acknowledge their existence for so long. It’s a life or death kind of “I believe in me” type of thing. Whereas I was there when I wrote “ManChildWoman” (at least I think I was…as much as I could be considering…) and there was no life or death vibe in my mind. I remember. It was more just “I believe in me mother fucker yeah!” They both have their place. It’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all important. As important as rock ‘n’ roll can be.
I’m still trying to figure it out. Learning the chords. Trying to learn the phrasing of how he spits out those lyrics so fast. It’s a brilliant piece of work.
Anyway, check it out. It’s a hip tune. Truly special.