Caymmi crooning How sweet to die at sea, singing the anguish and longing of the fisherman’s widow and mother and child. On the green waves of the sea. Painting with his guitar. Sculpting with song. He sings the good souls of the penurious pescador, fishermen, uncut gemstones, too often squandered at sea – singing the unsung. He made his bed in the bosom of Iemanjá, the great sea goddess of African Candomblé. Take a four-logged Asian jang, add logs five and six for a Brazilian jangada, a poor man’s fishing skiff. Launch at sunset into the surf and the curious sail hauls him out 75 miles, six logs and a sail and a fisherman, inconsequential specks on an unending ocean, under starlight, under storm. The ocean wrenches his soul toward fishing. Watch over our pescador, Lady of the Sea. Bring our boy home. His name is Chico Ferreira e Bento – my Chico. Bring his jangada home. And the storm arose and the ocean swelled into roiling liquid mountains and that little flat raft bobbed and dipped and splintered and flung Chico into the bosom of Iemenjá. And his jangada, the Pôr do Sol – Sunset – tumbled to shore two days after, with no Chico, with no Chico. When the fisherman leaves, he never knows if he will return. His mother kneels in the surf, Crying as if not crying. Logs fastened with hardwood pegs and hemp fiber lashings and an upstretched sail of stitched cloth. The fisherman has two loves: One on land, and One at sea. On a plywood square a student poured glue and meted colored gravel carefully for a sandy surf and a tumbling blue and that creamy sail turned upward to the sky, wind-bent and heavy, and the brown fishermen working nets and lines and paddle and sail. The glue and the gravel lie fixed but I hear the water flowing and the sand shifting and the men whistling about the big fish they will heft home for their Chiquinha and Iaiá, their children, to eat, and the big fish they will sell for food and school books and a trinket or two on their birthdays. I went for a walk one day, and every path led to the sea. He who comes to the sea will never wish to forsake her. Sail home, Chico: sail your jangada home.
Artwork above by my father, Owen Nelson Baker, when a post-graduate student in Brazil.
Caymmi released his LP Dorival Caymmi E Seu Violão in 1956, each song a story of the hopes and griefs of poor Brazilian fishermen and their loved ones, and of the ocean’s capricious waters, both treacherous and divine. I still have the old vinyl LP, pictured here. These songs have stirred my soul longer and more deeply than any other music. The italicized lyrics in the essay, above, are my translations from the Portuguese. You can hear some of Caymmi’s folk songs here: