Jul 11

Jorge Ben: “Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)”


It doesn’t seem any less impossible when you look at it right-side up…

This wasn’t originally what I had in mind for today’s song selection, but in honor of the U.S. Women’s great win earlier today in the World Cup Soccer (or “football,” to be more internationally proper) semifinals, I thought a soccer song would be appropriate. And it just so happens that I can only think of one soccer song offhand. And thankfully, it’s a really good song, so it works in the context of the blog. Things just work out sometimes, don’t they?

I first heard Jorge Ben’s song, “Umbabarauma” [full title: “Ponta de Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)”], while at an animation film festival at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1990 or so (the 5-minute animated short that it was part of, also called “Umbabarauma,” was released in 1989, so I’m extrapolating a bit). There were some other cool animated short films at the fest, but this one had the biggest impact on me because of its incredible song — it really blew me away, and as soon as I could, I figured out where I could get a hold of it. As it turns out, the easiest album to find it on was Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical, the first of several Brazilian music compilations put together by David Byrne of the Talking Heads, and I got it right away. It was the lead track on the album, but there is a ton of other great music on the compilation (as well as several other compilations), and I highly recommend it if you want to explore a little further.

Jorge Ben is a huge star in Brazil, one of the biggest names in the Tropicalia movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and the 1976 album that “Umbabarauma” comes from is considered one of his best: África Brasil. (I admittedly don’t own this album, but I’m probably going to correct that oversight shortly, now that I’m doing this post.) The song is an incredibly funky, grooving tune, with great rhythms, guitar, and backing vocals. As soon as its spare guitar intro kicks in, you know you’re in for a good time. The lyrics sound very cool in Ben’s native Brazilian Portuguese tongue — it’s only when you read the English translation that they seem a little less heavy than Ben makes them sound when he sings them:

Umbabarauma, goal man
Umbabarauma, goal man

Play ball, play ball, ball player
Play ball, I want to play ball, ball player
Jump, jump, fall, get up, go up and get down
Run, kick, find a hole, thrill and give thanks
See how the whole city empties out
On this beautiful afternoon to watch you play

Play ball, ball player
Play ball, ball player

Shanty town street soccer, Shanty town street soccer

Soccer Soccer Soccer Soccer
[Spoken]*This is the story of Umbabarauma
An African point man
A point man whose mind is made up

Seems a little trite at first, but when you consider how passionate people in Brazil are about soccer, this is nothing less than poetry, and without doubt a great song to play and sing at games there. And whether or not you’re playing, watching, or even thinking about soccer, “Umbabarauma” is an incredible song — I challenge you to get out of your chair while this song is playing and not start grooving along.

And in case you were wondering about that animated short that I first heard the song in, I found it on YouTube (and you can see why I didn’t realize it was about soccer at first). Oh, and despite what the label at the top of this video, says, the song was not “produced” by David Byrne. He only put it onto the compilation later on…

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