Rhythm and Grace - An all-Brazilian XI in song

To celebrate the all-Brazilian Copa Libertadores semi-final, here’s an eleven to rival any other, from a country where footballers and musicians operate on the same wavelength with frequency.

The relationship between football and music in Brazil is joyous and both are ever present in day to day life. In the earlier part of the 20th century, while the nation was developing into the modern identity we know today, music and football grew in tandem as forms of self expression. Musical and sporting heroes of a myriad of diverse backgrounds emerged under the oppression of a military dictatorship as Brazil found its voice on the world stage.

Here at Copa Libertadores, we want to pay tribute to the astounding wealth of poetry and sound inspired by the beautiful game in its spiritual home of Brazil.

In Latin America’s largest nation, musicians play football and footballers play music. Chico Buarque, one of Brazilian music’s most celebrated artists has his own team and private pitch, where Bob Marley once played, while it’s common for professional athletes to play instruments and dance in dressing rooms where goal celebrations are rehearsed.

In the spirit of this wonderful symbiosis between rhythm and movement, poetry and sport, I have chosen a team of songs to represent the country, which I think would more than rival any other collection from around the world.

It’s not been easy; just as Brazil (nearly) always has enough players to compose two decent international squads, there have been enough quality tunes written about football for Brazil to organise an internal competition. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to put each song into a relevant position and to field a balanced side, worthy of international recognition.

I’ll also be going out there with all guns blazing in a classic 4-2-4 formation using Brazil’s traditional squad-numbering system, developed away from the European pyramid and 4-4-2.

One song will be announced per day in the run up to the massive Copa Libertadores semi-final 2nd leg between Brazilian giants Flamengo and Gremio, on Wednesday, October 23rd.

In this series we will meet: barrier breakers, Pixinguinha, one of Brazil’s all-time great composers who melded foreign influences to popularise choro music and Arthur Friedenreich, arguably the sport’s first world-class, mixed race player; forgotten hero and political rebel Afonsinho, plus the musicians forced into exile by the military government; and Jorge Ben, the superfan who exalts the African contribution to Brazilian culture, and his half-remembered legend of Babaraum.


No. 11, Right Wing - Canhoteiro - Zeca Baleiro and Fagner


In the 50s and 60s Brazil had an inordinate number of what they call ‘craques’ and we would refer to as ‘world-class’ players. Inevitably, some of the best players that Brazil or even the world has ever seen ended up being largely forgotten for various reasons, even at home.

Two popular Northeastern musicians, Raimundo Fagner and Zeca Baleiro were determined to remember one such talent that they both felt they had a personal connection with.

José Ribamar de Oliveira was discovered playing keep-ups on the beaches of Maranhão and taken to play for América Football Club, in Ceará, where he played from 1949-1953. Considered the ‘Garrincha of the left’, Ribamar was given the nickname ‘Canhoteiro’ or ‘lefty’ and is still considered the greatest player in América’s history.

From there he went to Sao Paulo FC and his mazey runs down the left wing won him such a host of admirers that it’s said he was the first Brazilian player to have his own fan club. Just like Garrincha, he appeared to play the game for the sheer fun of it and would regularly dribble past the same opponent twice or more in one move. “I would try to irritate my opposite number so I could play comfortably,'' he explained in a TV interview.

He had, what is referred to in Brazil, as ‘ginga’. A term which comes from the martial art/dance combo of Capoeira, also with its roots in the North-East of the country. Ginga is best described as a swagger and an ability to move loosely and freely and is used to refer to dancers and football players alike.

The talented winger then broke into an exceptional Brazil team containing the likes of Didi, Djalma Santos and Jair, but either due to a bad attitude or a drinking problem, or perhaps both, he was left out of the 1958 World Cup squad and Mario Zagallo went in his place.

Tragically, Canhoteiro died a poor alcoholic just a few years after retiring from the game, much like his right wing counterpart, Garrincha.

But who else could I choose to complete my musical line-up? This song could be the definitive Brazilian marriage between sport and art, a poem set to music by two drunk musicians exalting an athlete who encapsulated the freedom and playfulness that everyone who attends lives matches longs to see from their team.


No. 10, Attacking Midfielder - Camisa Dez - Luiz Américo


He was randomly assigned the number 10 shirt for the 1958 World Cup and duly announced himself as the greatest player the planet had ever seen. Ever since then this shirt number has become a cult in Brazil and around the world; some players become almost superhuman with the 10 on their back but for others it can be something of an albatross.

Ever since He retired from the seleção in 1971 after helping Brazil win three World Cups, every forward to pull on that special number has had to live with the inevitable comparisons to ‘The King’.

Prior to the World Cup in ‘74, (the first in 20 years without Him in the side,) Brazilians were understandably worried about the balance of their team. Mario Zagallo had coached Brazil to a famous win in 1970 but all of a sudden his defending champions looked less than invincible for various reasons.

Before the tournament, Helio Matheus and Luis Vagner put the nation’s unease into song. Addressing Zagallo directly, the lyrics have the tone of a polite letter from a worried admirer, criticising his choices and warning him about perceived weaknesses in the team. Despite voicing specific concerns about Jairzinho not being selected, Rivellino’s short temper and the team’s inadequacies in attack, the apprehensions always come back to the inability of replacing a certain player in the lineup..

É camisa dez da seleção, laia, laia, laia

It’s the number 10 shirt for the national team, laia, laia, laia

Dez é a camisa dele, quem é que vai no lugar dele?

10 is his shirt, who will go in his place?

Brazil didn’t play well, drawing a scoreless opener with Scotland and eventually losing to Johan Cruyff’s Holland. The song however, was a huge success and became a standard for singer, Luiz Américo.

Another joyous and playful number, this track reflects Brazil’s love affair with World Cups and heroic figures that resolve disputes with their own brilliance. In a country with a very individualistic culture there will always be immense pressure on certain individuals to come to the country’s rescue and this can be seen in the political arena as well as the sporting.

Rivellino, Zico, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Neymar.. All burdened with the task of living up to an impossible standard. In fact, the only player to even come close is Marta, scoring a record-breaking 17 goals in World Cups and being the first player of either sex to have scored in five tournaments.

In the men’s game though, the search continues. Interestingly, the song never actually mentions His name. Such is the cult of this God-like number 10, widely considered the greatest to ever take to a football field, that everyone knows who we’re talking about.


No. 9, Centre-Forward - Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma) - Jorge Ben


Jorge Ben, the Brazilian master of the football song is back and I’ve chosen his ‘Ponta de Lança Africano’ as the striker for my musical XI. The position ‘ponta de lança’ translates as ‘spearhead’ and is actually a term used to refer to a Number 10, who is the focal point for a team’s attacking moves.

With it’s muscular and brooding minor key riff, played on electric guitar instead of the traditional acoustic, the track opens Jorge Ben’s classic 1976 album, Africa Brasil, with a bang. After much deliberation, it has also been chosen to lead the line for my team, wearing the number 9 shirt.

This wouldn’t be the first time a Brazilian side has had an embarrassment of riches in this position, Mario Zagallo managed to fit four number 10s into his Brazil team of 1970. So, if Zagallo can get Tostão, Rivellino and Jairzinho to play around Pelé, I think I can get Umbabarauma to accomodate my own ‘Camisa Dez’.

The song is a psychedelic samba-rock about an African footballer that Ben saw play in France when he toured with his first group, ‘Admiral Jorge V’. It’s not clear whether the player, Babaraum, was professional, played for a national team, or even if he was indeed African. But the singer was sufficiently inspired by something he saw that day to immortalise this sporting figure in Brazilian popular culture, adapting his name to Umbabarauma to fit into the rhythmical pattern of the piece.

“Umbabarauma,” chant Jorge and his female backing singers with seemingly unstoppable, driving, rhythm, “homem gol”, which literally translates as ‘goal man’. The lyrics are uncomplicated and direct, just the qualities you want in a goal scoring centre-forward.

Pula pula, cai, levanta, sobe desce

Jump up, fall down, get up, advance retreat

Corre, chuta, abre espaço, vibra e agradece

Run, shoot, open up space, excite and be thankful

Olha que a cidade toda ficou vazia

Look how the entire city has stopped

Nessa tarde bonita só pra te ver jogar

On this sunny afternoon just to see you play


No. 8, Centre Midfield - Meio de Campo - Elis Regina, written by Gilberto Gil


Some people say politics and football shouldn’t mix, others say the two cannot be separated. That said, it’s very difficult to argue the former when writing about a tournament called ‘Libertadores de América’.

These two spheres have collided at many points in Brazil’s recent history, from the sport being used as a form of social control under the military dictatorship to when Socrates and Co. used Corinthians to communicate the value of democracy as the country returned to free elections in the 80s.

In 1971, playing under Mário Zagallo at Botafogo, was a young and gifted midfielder named Afonsinho, who was also studying to become a doctor at the time. With his long hair and beard, the young player’s appearance was considered subversive by the military government and Botafogo ordered him to pay a visit to the barbers.

Afonsinho refused, was subsequently frozen out of the team and then placed on loan to the inferior, Olaria.

In those days, for a player to be transferred from one club to another, an extra ‘release’ fee had to be paid to the selling club in order for them to let the athlete go, whether or not his contract had expired. In other words, players could be held hostage by their employers.

Seeking a way out, Afonsinho challenged this regulation in the courts and the following year, won his legal battle against Botafogo. He later joined Santos to play alongside Pelé (also mentioned in the lyrics), who called him ‘the first free man in the history of the sport.’

Gilberto Gil wrote ‘Meio de Campo’ or ‘Midfield’ in 1973, about the young rebel after returning from a three-year political exile in London. In it, Gil compares the difficulty of scoring goals to the difficulty of scoring political points.

fazer um gol nessa partida não é fácil, meu irmão 

scoring a goal in this game isn't easy, my brother

Prezado amigo Afonsinho

Dear friend Afonsinho

Eu continuo aqui mesmo 

I remain here

Aperfeiçoando o imperfeito

Perfecting the imperfect

The version I’ve chosen, is sung by Elis Regina, often celebrated as the greatest Brazilian singer of all time, herself no stranger to political persecution.

The actions of a young Afonsinho eventually created conditions for players to take more control of their rights and laid the groundwork for later legal rulings that resulted in the ‘Zico’ and ‘Pelé’ laws which insured proper transparency and professionalism regarding football finances and player sales.

All of this was made possible because one long-haired number 8 decided that footballers are good for more than just kicking a ball.


No. 7, Right Wing - País do Futebol - MC Guime feat. Emicida


One consistently moving story you will often see played out on Brazilian TV is when a young footballer comes home after a big money transfer to a top club. He comes home to tell his family, who have sacrificed so much to get him there, that they’ll never need to work again.

“This is probably the song which best articulates my reality,” says MC Guime of São Paulo in the intro to the fantastic promotional video which accompanies the release.  Around six percent of Brazilians live in favelas and in big urban areas the rate is much higher, for example, nearly a quarter of Rio de Janeiro’s six million inhabitants reside in these communities. “We have to go out into the world and show them our truth,” he explains. “Tell them our story.”

The clip focuses on young kids playing football on clay pitches. These dusty strips of baked earth are brown oases for the little ones in a sprawling and unforgiving urban landscape. What’s more, they are the training grounds for a huge proportion of Brazil’s best known players. Currently, a lot of these pitches are under threat from developers who want to build car parks and shopping malls. This is something which seriously threatens to halt Brazil’s production line of world class talent, which has already ground to a slow trickle compared with the last half of the 20th century.

País do Futebol (Country of Football) celebrates the possibilities that football and music can offer young, impoverished Brazilians; it’s a chance for a malnourished kid to become a global superstar.

“We run to get changed and get straight down here [to play]” says one boy excitedly, while another humbly admits his dream is to “become a professional and help my family.”

It’s not just the economic disadvantage they must negotiate though, but also a psychological one, as Emicida explains in the clip: “The biggest barrier is self-belief, people push you down, the whole of society pushes you down so you don’t believe in yourself.”

Well, clearly I want this young upstart in my team; maligned for being unrefined and lacking class but perfect to inject a little tempo, grit and desire into the mix. He just needs a manager’s arm round him and a friendly word in his ear, ‘get out there, my son, and make your family proud.’


No. 6, Left Back - Meu Time - Siba and Fuloresta


Although full-backs (or wing-backs) have more and more attacking influence in today’s football (look at River and Flamengo for example), this has traditionally been a maligned position, often occupied by dependable, level-headed and functional footballers.

This is not so in Brazil however, and the list of names to pull on number 6 for the seleção over the years contains some outrageously talented players; Marcelo, Roberto Carlos, Branco and Nilton Santos, to name but a few.

At left back in my musical XI, I’ve gone for the mercurial talents of Sergio Veloso, better known as Siba.

Emerging out of the 90s mangue beat scene in the North-Eastern city of Recife, Siba has experimented with diverse styles of maracatu, rock, jazz and Brazilian folk. In the early 2000s Siba teamed up with a veteran band called Fuloresta who play coco and maracatu from the nearby rural area of Nazaré da Mata. Most of the band also happen to be fans of local club, Santa Cruz.

In 2007, when Siba and the band launched their album ‘Toda Vez Que eu Dou Um Passo o Mundo Sai do Lugar’ (Every Time I Take A Step The World Shifts Out Of Place), Santa Cruz were relegated to Serie C following a dismal campaign.

Meu Time’ (My Team) with it’s chorus of ‘My team’s been relegated to the third division,’ is a hilarious and politically incorrect attack on the arbiters of the game and the incapability of fans to understand why referees would award any decision in the opposition’s favour.

Meu zagueiro na bola dividida

In a one on one my centre-back 

Quase mata de um chute o centroavante

Almost kicks the  striker to death

Só por isso o juiz ignorante

Just for this the ignorant ref

Expulsou o coitado da partida

Sent the poor guy off

Sem pensar que quem tem perna comprida

Without thinking that he who has long legs

Faz a falta sem ter a intenção

Gives away fouls unintentionally

E pra mim o castigo da expulsão

And for me the punishment of expulsion

Só se aplica se houver assassinato

Should only apply if there’s been a murder

E ninguém pode ganhar campeonato

And no one can win the championship

Se o juiz nem tem mãe nem coração

If the ref has neither a mother, nor a heart


No. 5, Centre Midfield - Replay - Trio Esperança


No one celebrates goals quite like Brazilian commentators and that elongated cry of ‘goooooooooool’ is a trademark known and loved the world over. The country’s best known announcer, Galvão Beuno, compares the iconic scream to a tenor’s high C, the most impressive skill in their arsenal.

It all started in 1946 when Sao Paulo radio commentator, Rebello Júnior, decided to recreate the supporters' exuberant cries during his narration. This distinctive howl has since been taken up by commentators all over Latin America, Spain and even Germany (where they shout the word ‘tor’).

This wonderfully descriptive and joyous piece of music from 1974, written by João Lemos and Roberto Correa and performed by Trio Esperança, literally narrates a goal scored from a free-kick by Paulo Cézar Caju, then at Flamengo.

The build up of tension at the end of a decisive game, the little moment when time stands still as your free-kick specialist lines up his shot in an important match and then the deafening roar as the ball flies past the keeper and into the net.

It’s all here in this gorgeous samba-rock which has become pure nostalgia for Brazilians as it was used for many years by the radio station, Jovem Pan, to accompany the announcer as goals went in. In fact, the song even mentions one of the supporters in the stands, watching the action live whilst listening to the radio commentary with the device pressed up against his ear. Sadly, a tradition that’s dying out.

‘É gooool! Que felicidade! Meu time é a alegria da cidade!

‘It’s a goal! What joy! My team is the pride of the city!


No. 4, Centre Back - Um a Zero - Pixinguinha and Benedita Lacerda, with lyrics by Nelson Angelo


Pixinguinha was responsible for popularising choro music on the world stage by melding the classic 19th century form with foreign influences like jazz and African rhythms. He was also a pioneer amongst band leaders and composers in incorporating African percussion instruments, the pandeiro and afoxé, now ubiquitous in choro and samba. As a young musician in a racially mixed group called Os Oito Batutas (The Eight Maestros) he was one of the first black musicians to play in whites-only venues for the Rio de Janeiro aristocracy. Not only did he have to personally combat racism, but also a nationalist, white elite who were unhappy with a black man being seen as a Brazilian musical ambassador. Amazingly, this sentiment still persists today with the denigration of Brazilian funk.

Um a Zero or One-Nil, is the earliest piece of Brazilian music I can find that’s dedicated to football. It was written in 1919 to celebrate Brazil’s first victory in the South American Championships.

The only goal in the final was scored in the second 30-minute period of extra time in a marathon match against Uruguay. The man responsible for that goal, after 122 minutes of play, was Arthur Friedenreich.

The son of a German immigrant and the daughter of black freed slaves, Friedenreich was the first Brazilian football superstar, touted as the ‘King of Football’ on a 1925 European tour, the first professional of Afro-Brazilian heritage in Brazil and possibly the game’s first exceptional mixed-race player. Born in 1892, just four years after Brazil became the last country to oficially outlaw slavery, Friedenreich too found himself unwelcome in spaces that white players frequented. Nonetheless, thanks to his sheer talent and force of will, The Tiger, as he became known, was the first Brazilian player to gain worldwide recognition as his goal announced Brazil as an emerging footballing powerhouse.

In the 90’s the piece was given lyrics by Nelson Angulo, best-known from his time in Clube da Esquina, another group known for its blend of musical styles. In this version we hear Angulo singing with Chico Buarque, the lyrics a celebration of the famous 1919 win and how watching a live match captivates and excites the adoring public.

Vai começar o futebol, pois é,

The football’s about to start, yeah,

Com muita garra e emoção

With plenty of grit and emotion,

São onze de cá, onze de lá

There are 11 over here, 11 over there

E o bate-bola do meu coração

And the ball-beat of my heart


No. 3, Centre Back - Zagueiro - Jorge Ben Jor


This is the song that this whole ridiculously stretched metaphor is built on, just the fact that it exists is a delight. Jorge Ben decided, in the mid-seventies to pay tribute to an oft-overlooked position, that of the ‘zagueiro’ or centre-back.

Known around the world as a robust brute, central defenders are often giant warrior-men typified by Terry Butcher and his bloody, bandaged head or the never-say-die attitude of Carlos Puyol.

This is Brazil, however, and here the great centre-backs have a certain swagger and a low cunning. Players like Luiz Pereira, Domingos da Guia, or more recently Aldair and Lucio, could all serve as the titular ‘Zagueiro’ in Jorge Ben’s ode to a ball-playing defender, for whom hoofing it into touch is still an option, but merely the last resort.

Torment them, centre-back! He implores, cooing, in thrall of the lithe colossus he sees before him, patrolling his team’s penalty area with a cool arrogance. To all intents and purposes, a love letter, Jorge Ben’s lyrics are a great example of how unfettered romanticism from one straight man to another is, even where homophobia is rife, accepted within the prism of football.

Ele é um bom zagueiro                             He is a good centre-back

É o anjo da guarda da defesa                   He’s the guardian angel of the defence

Mas para ser um bom zagueiro                But to be a good centre-back

Não pode ser muito sentimental               He can’t be too emotional

Tem que ser sutil e elegante                     He has to be subtle and graceful

Ter sangue frio                                          Be cold blooded

Acreditar em si                                          Believe in yourself

E ser leal                                                   And be trustworthy

Zagueiro tem que ser malandro                A centre back must be cunning

Quando tiver perigo com a bola no chão  When there is danger with the ball at his feet

Pensar rápido e rasteiro                            Think quickly and uncomplicatedly

Ou sai jogando ou joga a bola pro mato   Either play out or launch the ball into the jungle

Over a lengthy career, Jorge Ben has composed a team’s worth of songs about the beautiful game all by himself and there are a few others worth a mention, including ‘Fio Maravilha’ and ‘Numero 10 de Gávea’ about Zico, but 1975’s ‘Zagueiro’ is a monumental paean to the last line of defence and, ideally, the first line of attack.

No. 2, Right Back - E Uma Partida de Futebol - Skank


There is a myth in Europe that Brazilian fans praise skill and technical play over actually sticking the ball in the back of the net. This is false. There are teams who have a certain style or philosophy but the simple fact is that Brazilians like winners, even if they do expect something out of the ordinary from their best players. This is a results business, after all.

“Hitting the post won’t change the scoreline,” sings Samuel Rosa of Skank in this smash hit from the mid-nineties. Co-written by Nando Reis, and included by Fifa, on the official soundtrack to the World Cup 1998, the song is a celebration of ‘matchday’, the fans, and all the various characters who contribute to the spectacle.

The concept of supporting or spectating in Latin America is a very involved one. You’ll know if you’ve ever been to a concert in Brazil that, compared to Europe for example, fans take a much more active role. In London or New York when a band take to the stage, the crowd will often eye them cooly, as if to say: ‘Go on. Impress me. Then I might think about dancing.’ Whereas in Brazil, the fans are the show, or at least an integral part of it. Brazil is a country where thousands of football fans will turn up to the airport to ‘motivate’ their team before an important away fixture, or break into the training ground and physically threaten players if they are not understood to be pulling their weight.

Most supporters in Brazil also play football as well, “quem não sonhou em ser um jogador de futebol?” Who hasn’t dreamt of becoming a football player? Indeed, the band in question is also a team and in the video for the song, filmed on the day of the derby match in Belo Horizonte, Skank play a game against Bloco Uai in the Mineirao stadium. Both sides are made up of ex-footballers and musicians; in action we see the ever-present Jorge Ben, Gabriel O Pensador, Nando Reis; and legends of Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro, Nelinho, Joãozinho, Reinaldo and Eder Aleixo.

Filmed in the golden age of the music video, the promo is as evocative as the track itself and is an homage to everyone involved in putting on a game of football, not just the players and the fans, but street sellers, radio commentators and caretakers all have pride of place here.

An old man opens the gates to the stadium, we hear legendary journalist and coach João Saldanha’s voice saying: “Football is a branch of art. I would call it folk-art.” Then we see scenes from an empty stadium, a blank canvas, before the beloved radio man, Willy Gonser, starts his narration of the derby game and we’re off! It’s an explosion of colour and sound that anyone who has been to a match in Brazil will remember fondly.

This track and video neatly articulate the feeling that despite not being able to make it as a professional player, you can still influence your favourite team from the sidelines.


No. 1, Goalkeeper - Vou Lhe Avisar - sung by Gal Costa (written by Jorge Ben)


Number one on the team sheet is always the goalkeeper and an experienced pair of hands is needed to spread calm throughout the side. Thankfully, we couldn’t ask for more know-how than the two artists responsible for ‘Vou Lhe Avisar’. Sung by Gal Costa, one of Brazilian music’s all-time great vocalists, and written by Jorge Ben (more from him later in the series), this lyric references the pitfalls of being the low man on the totem pole.

In Brazil, when a goalie makes a howler they are called a frangueiro, or chicken. The term was coined by the journalist ‘Ze de Sao Januario’ in the 1940s when he saw the keeper of his beloved Vasco da Gama bend down to pick up an innocuous looking shot, much like you would if you were stooping to nab a hen. This was no fowl, however, and the ball bumbled passed the hapless stopper and into the back of the net. The furious reporter then immortalised the term which is still used all the time. The act itself is called engolir um frango, or to swallow a chicken.

“I’m going to warn you,'' sings Gal, with supreme agility as ever, “A goalkeeper mustn’t make a mistake, they can’t be hungry when they play. If not it’s a chicken here, a chicken there, a chicken yonder.”

Another great part of the footballing lexicon in Brazil for when keepers make mistakes is mao de alface or lettuce hands; a strong addition to the culture of casually abusing professional athletes that so many of us love to indulge in.

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