Reflector #39: Chico Buarque – “Tanto Mar”

Chico Buarque keeps wishing for a little scent of rosemary from Portugal.

Francisco Buarque de Hollanda is definitely one of the most important household names of Brazilian, and even Lusophone, music. In the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974, Buarque hailed it with the song “Tanto Mar” (So Much Sea), conveying not only the physical distance, but also the disparity in situation between Portugal and Brazil at that particular time. Spring had arrived in Portugal, recently freed from the yoke of dictatorship, while Brazil was still in winter, amidst two decades of an authoritarian military regime (which was apparently not enough for a majority who voted for the current Brazilian president in 2018).

In the lyrics, Buarque sings how he would love to join the party and asks to save him a carnation and send over the scent of rosemary, so that said Spring could feel closer. Also, he endearingly but rather unnaturally ends his sentences with pá: a widely used and typical European Portuguese informal interjection that doesn’t easily translate but might derive from the reduction of rapaz (boy).

The song was obviously censored in Brazil then. But Chico Buarque still has run-ins with the Brazilian government to this day. In 2019, following his novel Essa Gente, he was awarded the Camões Prize (the prestigious Lusophone literary prize). The prize is usually signed off by both Portuguese and Brazilian presidents — but Bolsonaro, in his true fashion, refused to sign it. Chico Buarque flippantly received this rebuke as “having won the award twice.” In his thank you video message for the ceremony that was supposed to take place on April 25  in Lisbon, but was cancelled due to the pandemic, he exhorted his “Portuguese friends to send over the scent of rosemary” again.

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