Monday Notes

Chico Buarque de Hollanda, Olê Olá. A smile that hides sadness.

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[Monday Notes no. 62] Olê, Olá is part of Chico Buarque de Hollanda’s first album, released in 1966. The Brazilian musician was just 22 years old, yet in his first record are already present the typical elements of his music, rooted in Brazilian popular music but often very elaborate from a harmonic point of view.

Besides being one of the greatest interpreters of bossa nova, Chico Buarque is also a dramatist and poet. His lyrics deal with themes of social and political criticism.

For his opposition to the dictatorship in the years 1969-70 he left Brazil and lived in Italy where he realized two albums with Ennio Morricone, which were very important for the diffusion of Brazilian music in Italy.

Olê, Olá consists of three verses, each of which is bipartite. The resulting form is therefore AB AB AB. Part A is always played with guitar only and is based on the Em chord.

In part B we find instead a modulation between the keys of F, G♭, G , A♭ and then a chromatic descent of the bass, an element typical of many other Chico Buarque songs.

Chico Buarque Olê, Olá, parte B

The sudden modulations and the final chromatic descent make the song unstable and uncertain; part B seems to contradict the content of part A. Despite being apparently a hymn to happiness and lightness, the song contains a growing anxiety, moreover the final phrase “You can cry now” contradicts what was stated at the beginning “Don’t cry baby”.

Often Chico Buarque’s songs have a double level of interpretation, the real one hidden behind a superficial one. The most famous case is that of A banda, a song that accuses the dictatorship: behind the fake joy of the band playing in the street, the people is suffering in silence.

From the Italian version of La banda, interpreted by Mina, however, was eliminated the last sentence, the one that reveals the deception and clarifies the true meaning of the song. A real falsification that transforms a protest song into a pointless tune.

Olê, Olá can also be interpreted in this way. This and other songs on the album describe the hypocrisy of the dictatorship. Behind the superficial and forced cheerfulness of the people there is actually misery and suffering.

Until next Monday!

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