On Saturday night, in front of a crowd of 80,000 and to chants of “Free Lula”, Chico Buarque and Gilberto Gil sang the legendary protest song Cálice for the first time together since 1973, on a night when Military Dictatorship censors turned off Buarque’s microphone. It was a highlight of an evening with poetry and political speeches, a reading of a letter Lula wrote to the crowd, and appearances by over 40 of Brazil’s greatest musicians, ranging from funk musician MC Carol, 24, to 86-year-old Tropicália legend Sergio Ricardo.
Buarque and Gil’s performance of Cálice was a direct response to a recent article Lula wrote for Folha de São Paulo newspaper. From solitary confinement, banned from giving interviews, held on charges that he committed undetermined acts by a US-backed judge who was allowed to rule on his own prosecution, Lula named the article after a line in Chico Buarque and Gilberto Gil’s song. During the military dictatorship, Buarque and Gil tricked the censors with a play on words: Cálice means chalice, but “Cale-se” means “shut up”. In an ambiguous manner the song either begins meaning, “Father, pull this chalice of blood-red wine away from me”, or “Father, pull this bloody ‘shut up’ away from me”. In the article Lula says, “What are the people who don’t want me to speak afraid that I will say? It isn’t enough for them to arrest me, they want to silence me.” It was fitting that Brazil’s largest TV network, Globo, which was created in partnership between the Marinho family and the Military government, refused to give any coverage of the event.
Gil and Buarque, then and now
Earlier in the evening, in an emotional moment, Samba legend Beth Carvalho, who has had serious health problems recently, came out on stage in a motorized wheelchair. As the announcers said that she was one of the main people responsible for making the concert happen, she spoke of her friend Lionel Brizola, Jango Goulart’s brother in law and former Rio governor who was the CIA’s most wanted man in South American during the 1960s, according to Philip Agee. “Brizola would be happy to see you all here tonight, with the left united again, finally,” she said.
Many of the artists who performed changed the lyrics of their songs to fit the current political climate. Chico César inserted a verse of the anti-dictatorship protest song “Pra não dizer que não falei das flores” by Geraldo Vandre, into his song “Mama Africa”.
Rising funk star MC Carol inserted a verse about 14 year old Marcos Vinicius da Silva, who was recently killed during a bungled military operation while walking to school in his school uniform in the Maré favela, along with chants of “Free Lula”.
The night ended with Gil inviting everyone back on stage for a rousing version of the samba song “Deixa vida me levar”, as 80,000 people sang and cheered for freedom for the political prisoner, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.