Sunday, May 22, 2011


You like what you like. Sometimes you can't explain why you're drawn to someone, a particular show/movie, song; you just are.

A few months ago I opened Jorge Ben Jor's discography in my iTunes and let it play in the background as I worked. I already had quite a few of his songs with 5-star ratings, I workout to some, I want to do a burlesque routine to one and I've used them in some of my mixes and playlists. Now I wanted to hear everything. "Zumbi" (A Tábua De Esmeralda, 1974) struck me.

"What song is this?" I wondered. It made me move unconsciously and when I listen to the layers at the end of the song I feel surrounded. It has the energy of a rally song--every time I play it I put the volume up. I have a visceral response to that song. The crescendo of the song represents all coming together. I wish the song would go on forever (or at least 2 more minutes!) Although it's in Portuguese I started learning the words. I sang along with the chorus and I knew the word "Angola" was in the song. And "Nina" and "Congo". But what exactly was I singing?

I researched the lyrics and learned the meaning of the song as well. Turns out Zumbi (which always makes me think of Fela Ransome-Kuti when I say the name) was the leader of a runaway slave colony, Quilombo dos Palmares, in Alagoas, Brazil. Zumbi was born a free man but then captured and sold into slavery. He escaped for 15 years was the military leader of the colony until an attack by the Portuguese military. He still evaded capture for 2 years after the colony fell until November 20, 1695. He was beheaded and his head was displayed as a warning to all other slaves. November 20 is still recognized in Brazil as a day of remembrance and celebration of Zumbi and Afro-Brazilian history.

"Zumbi" Lyrics (English):

Congo, Benguela
Monjo, Capinda, Nina
Quiloa, Rebolo

So here’s a meat market for men
An auction of Africans 
Up on the block there is a princess up for sale
Captured with all her kin and all her tribe 
Chained in carts and just barely alive

I want to see (4x)

Congo, Benguela
Monjo, Capinda, Nina
Quiloa, Rebolo

Here come the slave plantation men
On one side, kings of sugarcane
The other side is the coffee overlords
you sit in the middle, watch the pain
See them unloading the cotton in big bales
Cut down by blacks who work under the sword

I want to see (4x)

To see just what happens
When Zumbi comes for vengeance

Zumbi’s the Lord of Terror
The Dictator of Disaster
When Zumbi comes at last then
Zumbi will be their master

I want to see
I want to see
When Zumbi comes
When Zumbi comes  

Angola, (I want to see, I want to see)
Congo, (I want to see, I want to see)
Benguela (I want to see, I want to see)
Monjolo, (I want to see, I want to see)
Capinda, (I want to see, I want to see)
Nina (I want to see, I want to see)
Quiloa, (I want to see, I want to see)
Rebolo (I want to see, I want to see)


Who will run when Zumbi comes?
Who will run when Zumbi comes?

- Translation by Joel Sattler

A really good friend calls me a rebel rouser. Always. I've always known if I were alive during slavery, I would've escaped, led some sort of slave revolt, or I never would have been captured. They'd never catch me or someone would die trying.

After reading the story behind this song, I feel Jorge Ben's even more of a kindred spirit. I love his sound; he acknowledges his African heritage in his music. I learned that a majority of the Jorge Ben's songs that I like are esoteric. I'll research the meanings of those as well. I wonder what other part of me he's singing to...

What are your favorite Jorge Ben songs?

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  1. All of that album is fantastic.
    it needs more love

    1. I agree. That album is in my top rated playlist. It's in constant rotation in my shuffle!


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