[Monday Notes no. 71] Much of Dorival Caymmi’s music is dedicated to his homeland, Bahia, and to the sea in particular. The singer-songwriter in 1959 recorded Caymmi e Seu Violão, a record made entirely by accompanying himself with only the guitar, from which we hear the song O Mar.
The album chronicles the life of fishermen with minimalist and evocative lyrics. The simple, repeated gestures of fishing contain the whole story of man and his struggle for survival. Dorival Caymmi sings of the fisherman’s raft, nets, coconut plants.
The poet speaks to the wind pushing the sails and to the curimã fish trying to escape the catch on which the fishermen’s livelihood depends. A recurring theme is departure with no return, a possibility that those who make their living from fishing have to deal with every day.
O mar opens with a delicate instrumental introduction and a first sung phrase performed three times freely, with no tempo.
O Mar, free intro
Once the introduction is over, the guitar picks up a bajao rhythm, typical of Dorival Caymmi’s native region.
The second part of the song is performed in time, the melody adapting to the length of the phrases in the lyrics. As a result each phrase has a different length, we see for example how the second one is longer than the first one.
O mar tells of Pedro who goes out fishing every night and returns at dawn. This time, however, the sea, beautiful and cruel, delivers only his lifeless body. There is a gravity, a profundity, and an ancient wisdom in the voice of Dorival Caymmi, who recounts the optimistic and simple patience of his people, bound to the sea not only by need but also by an endless love.
In fact, the fisherman protagonist of O Mar is torn between two loves: one on land and one at sea, and it matters little that the love “on land,” the wife or companion, is often destined not to see her beloved return.
In addition to being one of the fathers of bossanova and modern Brazilian music, Caymmi is an authentic poet who sings emotions that we all have felt: who has not been enthralled and wordless when faced with the sea breaking on the beach?
O mar quando quebra na praia
É bonito, é bonito
e sea when it breaks on the beach
It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful
Until next Monday!