Sandra Portella: Banho de Fé

Samba Showers

Listening Post 162. Samba isn’t just Brazil’s most iconic cultural symbol, it’s also a useful lens. From its roots in Africa to its emergence in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, from attracting the most talented artists to inspiring pulsing love stories, from bringing together people of different classes and races to channeling (through Carnival) every aspect of Brazilian history, it reflects and radiates countless facets of the nation’s identity and soul. On Banho de Fé (Shower of Faith), Sandra Portella covers songs from leading samba composers of the past 75 years and the album’s range is breathtaking—even before you consider the singer’s dazzling, powerful voice. Though both of her parents were samba composers, Portella grew up in Juiz de Fora, 180 kilometers north of Rio, and worked her way from singing supermarket cashier to nominee for the 2018 Premio da Música Brasileira as best female samba performer. In Amor Náo é Brinquedo (Love is Not a Game), composer Martinho da Vila joins her in giving a gender twist to his song about the terms of endearment (video 1). Love hurts when the terms don’t work, as in Cartola’s samba-canção Autonomia (Freedom, video 2). A Grande Conquista (The Great Victory) is an ode to one of the storied samba schools of Rio’s Carnival (video 3). But the annual parade is more than competition: Os Sertões (The Backlands) is a Carnival theme based on Euclides da Cunha’s 1902 literary classic about a rebellion that made urban elites pay attention to the interior (video 4). Other rousing numbers are the title track, weaving samba through the rituals of Candomblé, and Maneiras (My Way), a take-me-as-I-am declaration. Portella covers a lot of ground on her album, and she vibrantly begs the question: Is samba a microcosm of Brazil—or is Brazil a microcosm of samba? (Mins Música)


Amor não é brinquedo/Love Is Not a Game
(from the Portuguese lyrics)
If you just want distraction/
Turn on the television
My love, don’t play that game with me…

If you just want distraction/This romance won’t last
Please, don’t toy with my secret/True love is not a game

You have to cry with my cry/Smile with my laughter
Dream my dream/Rhyme with my verses
Sing in my choir/In my sadness, you have to be sad.

Let me know if you’re kidding/And I’ll play the same sport
I won’t cry your cry/Won’t dream your dream
Won’t rhyme with your verses/Or humor you silly ideas

I opened my heart/And shared my most intimate thoughts
You know my story/My lies and my truth
But if you’re misleading me/You’re not behaving with dignity
I’ll close this door/I’ll shut you out
Then I’ll indulge in missing you


It’s impossible this spring, I know/Impossible, because I’ll be far away
But thinking about our sincere love/Oh, if I were free
If I could, I’d scream/I won’t, I don’t want to
So enslaved, my poor heart
What I need is a new abolition/To bring back my freedom

If I could, I’d scream, my love/If I could, I’d fight, my love
But I won’t, I don’t want to


A Grande Conquista/The Great Victory
Note: The song is about the renowed samba school Portela—not to be confused with the singer’s name.
Portela parading on the promenade/Once again being cheered
Winning another beautiful Carnival/Such great emotion
What memories it brings back

At that/Memorable victory
Whoever was on the parade route/Saw the consecration
Portela, I worship you, revere you
That’s why I really love you/With all my heart

I defended your colors/With such difficulty
And the great reason/That I’ll never forget
Is the passion in my heart for you


Os Sertões/The Backlands
Set apart by nature/The Northeast of my Brazil
Oh lonely backlands/Of suffering and isolation
The earth is dry/It can barely be cultivated
Plants die, air flees/Life is sad in that place

The sertanejo is strong/Overcoming endless misery
The sertanejo is strong/The poet said so

It was in the last century/In the interior of Bahia
He revolted, and with luck/Against the world he lived in
Hidden in the backlands/Spreading rebellion
Revolting against the law/That society imposed

The rebels fought/Until the end
Defending Canudos/In that fatal war


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