March 2000

Singing Along

In Brazil, children's songs were performed with no instruments, always in a circle where the kids would hold hands and follow special commands. They started as a cross between the ballroom dances and square dance!

Cristiana Hamann

The world seems to have adopted Brazilian music. Some music stores throughout the world have even opened up a special section for Brazilian recordings, and we are no longer being classified as general Latin music. But where does that all begin? How do we get little Brazilians to grow up with that passion for their own music? Well, the magic happens through tradition, and it begins very early, as Brazilian lullabies and children's songs (the nursery rhymes type) are passed on to the new generations by their parents.

It all begins around the 1890's at a very "European Brazil" enchanted with France. As a matter of fact, France seemed to dictate fashion trends, music, dances, and costumes in general. This was the time when music was danced in groups, according to very fancy choreography. The Minuette and other ballroom dances were most popular at the Brazilian saraus (music parties), and a proper education would certainly include those dances.

From the ballrooms, the songs moved to the household, some of them through the kitchen door, as the less fortunate Brazilians had no other access to the balls. Mothers and nannies eventually adapted those songs to be sung to the children with educational purposes.

From then on, the music took a totally different course, and the songs got a new classification and began being called cantigas. Some lyrics carried a political context, some were merely entertainment more on the comic side, and, some were just nonsense. The children picked up fast the new fashion, and enjoyed very much the "playing songs". The cantigas were performed with no instruments, always in a circle where the kids would hold hands and follow the special commands on the lyrics. In practical terms, this was a cross between the ballroom dances and square dance! Some were to be danced performing choreography with a handkerchief (such as "Samba Lelê"), some were just repetition for rhymes and rhythm (such as "Mineira de Minas").

There is nothing better to spread a new fad than good mouth-to-mouth communication. Soon the cantigas got their own local flare, a Brazilian twist, getting mixed up with afro rhythms and a lot of hand clapping, brought in by the slavery. A Brazilian tradition was born, and by the 1920's the cantigas were true Brazilian music.

Sadly enough, with the invasion of television, video clips, video games and massive media information, the cantigas were on the verge of extinction. Entertainment for kids did not include cantigas, and artists in general were not too concerned with tradition or folklore. Very little has ever been recorded. Fortunately, a new duo, João and Kiki, came to the rescue of culture, releasing a CD where they perform the cantigas in sophisticated arrangements of bossa nova, samba and even salsa. The CD is called Canta Pra Mim and more information on purchasing it can be found at their web page: or e-mail:

Some of the most popular cantigas are the romantic ones such as "Nesta Rua" and "O Cravo e a Rosa."

Nesta Rua

Nesta rua, nesta rua tem um bosque
Que se chama, que se chama solidão
Dentro dele, dentro dele mora um anjo
Que roubou, que roubou meu coração

Se eu roubei, se eu roubei teu coração
É porque tu roubastes o meu também
Se eu roubei, se eu roubei teu coração
É porque eu te quero tanto bem

Se esta rua, se esta rua fosse minha
Eu mandava, eu mandava ladrilhar
com pedrinhas, com pedrinhas de brilhante
Para o meu, para o meu amor passar.

If Only This Street Were Mine

On this street, on this street, there is a little forest
And it's called, it's called loneliness
In this forest, in this forest, there lives an angel
Who has stolen, who has stolen my heart

If I've stolen, if I've stolen your heart
It's because you've also stolen mine
If I've stolen if I've stolen your heart
It's because I like you too much

If this street, if this street were mine
I would have it all paved
And covered in tiny precious stones
So my love, so my angel, could walk on it with me


O Cravo E A Rosa

O Cravo brigou com a Rosa
Debaixo de uma sacada
O Cravo saiu ferido
E a Rosa despedaçada

O Cravo ficou doente
A Rosa foi visitar
O Cravo deu um desmaio
A Rosa pôs-se a chorar

The Rose and the Carnation

The Carnation had a fight with the Rose
This happened under the veranda
The Carnation was wounded
And the Rose was left in pieces

The Carnation got ill
The Rose paid him a visit
The Carnation passed out
And the Rose began to cry

Note: This one between lines tells
the story of a romantic political
scandal of the period.



Ai bota aqui, ai bota aqui
Ai bota aqui o seu pezinho
Seu pezinho bem juntinho
Com o meu

E depois não vai dizer
Que você se arrependeu

Little Foot

Ah, put your little foot here
Ah, put your little foot here
Your little foot, your little foot
Right next to mine

So that later you will not say
That you have regretted it

Some of them are fun, playing songs where the children obey certain commands as they dance. Here are some of those:

Fui ao Tororó

Fui ao Tororó
beber água não achei
Achei linda morena
que no Tororó deixei

Aproveita minha gente
que uma noite não é nada
Quem não dormir agora
dormirá de madrugada

Oh Dona Maria, oh Mariazinha
Entra nesta roda
ou ficarás sozinha

"Sozinha eu não fico, nem hei de ficar
Porque eu tenho o Pedro

para ser meu par."

I Went to Tororó

I went to Tororó
To drink water, but I couldn't find it
Instead I found a beautiful brunette
But I left her there

Please everybody take advantage
Because one night is not nearly enough
The ones that will not sleep now
Will have to do it at dawn

Oh Miss Maria, oh Little Maria
Come inside this circle if you don't
want to be left alone

"Alone I won't be, alone I won't stay
because I've got Pedro

to pair up with me".

Note: Tororó is actually the "Natural
Springs of Itororó"


Samba Lelê

Samba Lelê está doente
Está com a cabeça quebrada
Samba Lelê precisava
De umas dezoito lambadas

Samba , samba,
Samba ô Lelê
Pisa na barra da saia ô Lalá

Ó Morena bonita,
Como é que se namora ?
Põe o véu na cabeça
Deixa a pontinha de fora
Ó Morena bonita
Como é que se casa
Põe o véu na cabeça
Depois dá o fora de casa
Ó Morena bonita
Como é que cozinha
Bota a panela no fogo
Vai conversar com a vizinha
Ó Morena bonita
Onde é que você mora
Moro na Praia Formosa
Digo adeus e vou embora

Samba Lelê

Samba Lelê is sick
He has broken his head
Samba Lelê really deserved
Eighteen beatings
Dance the samba; dance the samba,

Samba oh Lelê
Step on the rim of the skirt, oh Lalá

Oh beautiful brunette
How is it that one flirts?
Put the handkerchief in your pocket
Leave the top showing
Oh beautiful Brunette
How is it that one gets married?
Cover the head with the veil
And then just get away from home

Oh beautiful Brunette
How is it that one cooks?
Put the pan on the fire
Then go and talk to the neighbor

How is it that one gets married?
Tell me where do you live
I live on Formosa Beach
I say bye-bye and I go away

Note: this one is supposed to be about
a very fresh house slave, Samba Lelê,
who fell in love with a young lady.
The children dance this cantiga holding
a handkerchief and mimicking the lyrics…
Such as using it as a bandage around
the head, putting the hankie in the pocket,
using it as a veil, waving bye-bye,
and so on.


The cantigas also evolved to fit the local events and celebrations. This is the case of the ones that are sung during the St. John's festivities, during the month of June. They are referred to as Cantigas Juninas (June Songs).

Being a very catholic country, events and celebrations would take place around the "holly days" or the days of the saints. Many of those days happen to fall throughout the month of June, the month of the "happy saints" (St. John on 06/24, St. Peter on 06/29 and St. Anthony on 06/13). Those cantigas were either for square dance or were simply a description of the festivities. Still today, during the month of June, Brazilians will dress up imitating the country folks (hillbilly style), to attend local open carnivals, or church fairs, where they dance around open fire and eat typical country food.

It is important to say here that although this all began around the Church, the cantigas and festivities have no longer a religious connotation. They are merely folkloric. Here are two examples of Cantigas Juninas:

Cai Cai Balão

Cai cai balão,
cai cai balão
Na rua do sabão
Não cai não, não cai não,
não cai não
Cai aqui na minha mão!

Cai cai balão,
cai cai balão
Aqui na minha mão
Não vou lá, não vou lá,
não vou lá
Tenho medo de apanhar!

Fall, Fall Little Balloon

Fall, fall little balloon
Fall, fall little balloon
Fall on Soap Street
Don't fall there, don't fall there,
and don't fall there
Fall right here on my hand

Fall, fall little balloon
Fall, fall little balloon
Fall right here on my hand
I don't dare to go there,
I don't dare to go there
I'm afraid I'll get spanked

Note: The little balloon referred
to in this song, is a miniature hot air
balloon, made of tissue paper,
very popular at the June Festivities.


Capelinha de Melão

Capelinha de melão
é de São João
É de cravo
é de rosa
é de manjericão
São João está dormindo
Não acorda não!
Acordai, acordai, acordai, João!

Little Chapel of Melon

Little chapel of melon
belongs to St. John
Belongs to the carnation,
Belongs to the rose,
Belongs to the basil
St. John is sleeping
He won't wake up
Wake up, wake up, wake up John

Lullabies were meant to put children to sleep, but also to scare the little ones and thus reinforce the bond between mother and children, making sure they would stay in bed all night. Here is an example of the most popular one:

Boi da Cara Preta

Boi, boi, boi,
Boi da cara preta
Pega está criança que
tem medo de careta
Não, não, não
Não pega ele não
Ele é bonitinho,
ele chora coitadinho

Bull of the Black Face

Bull, bull, bull
Bull of the black face
Get this child who
is afraid of frowns
No, no, no
Please do not get him
He is a beautiful child and
he is crying, poor little one

For more information about the cantigas, please visit, where you'll be able to actually listen to the songs of the CD Canta Pra Mim. You will be surprised at the diversity and richness of rhythms.

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