On Tuesday afternoon (17.06.14), before Brazil’s group match against Mexico at the ‘Castelão’ stadium in Fortaleza, would-be World Cup sensation, Neymar Junior, was reduced to tears by a tradition inaugurated almost exactly a year ago at the same venue. That day, Brazilian players and supporters united in a heartfelt a capella version of the FIFA-outlawed second section of their national anthem, in solidarity with thousands of people protesting outside the stadium against corruption and wasteful World Cup spending. The tradition was upheld for Brazil’s opening match against Croatia and subsequently adopted by the Chilean, Colombian and Argentinian teams before their inaugural games.
Referring to the phenomenon, the celebrated Brazilian columnist and writer, Luis Fernando Veríssimo, noted, “the smaller the country, the more ferocious its anthem. Anthems of former colonies are generally martial and bloody, in contrast to the hymn, for example, of England, that old criminal colonial power, which is simply a plangent plea for God to protect their lovely queen.” He added that the, “old subjugating powers tend to produce short, tranquil anthems, while the old subjugated powers produce long, resentful ones.”
The Brazilian anthem celebrates the mythical moment when, as immortalized in the canvas painted by Pedro Américo, Emperor Dom Pedro I, rapier held aloft on a dashing white charger, defiantly declares ‘Independence of Death!’, having received letters from Lisbon ordering him to submit to the authority of the Portuguese government. The more prosaic reality is that, when Pedro received his marching orders, he had just shakily remounted a pack-mule having evacuated his bowels for the umpteenth time in roadside bushes following an acute bout of food poisoning.
The Brazilian anthem is fittingly florid, rich in high-flown sentiment and replete – like those of fellow former colonies, Chile, Colombia and Argentina – with the inevitable references to heroism, liberty and death. But it’s redeemed by an upbeat rhythm and jaunty melody not unlike the theme-tune from the BBC TV consumer programme ‘That’s Life!’
Veríssimo’s description of the English national anthem betrays his unfamiliarity with the belligerent second verse of the standard version. With its entreaties to ‘scatter our enemies and make them fall’ and to ‘confound their knavish tricks’ (appropriate as that may be concerning any team which numbers Luis Suárez among its players), it’s an unlikely candidate for the upbeat a capella treatment before England’s game against Uruguay at the Itaquerão on Thursday. The appeal to ‘confuse their politics’, moreover, has a decidedly redundant ring to it in Brazil.
A version of the English national anthem is featured in a Brazilian World Cup lager commercial. In the ad, beer-swilling Brazilians praise the English, to the tune of ‘Bigode, Serve The Queen’ (a play on words on the Brazilian pronunciation of God Save The Queen), for inventing football and then mock them for failing to win anything since 1966. It’s a legitimate target for satire and a bullet-headed John Bull takes the ribbing in good humour. But the joke would have more punch if it was used to promote a beer that didn’t taste of fermented cat’s piss. Skol, the brand in question, is one of a limited number of bland lagers imposed on Brazilian consumers by monopolizing Belgian-Brazilian beverage giant Ambev. The multinational includes the more palatable Bohemia and Original pilsners in its portfolio but, with the exception of overpriced craft brews, beer-drinking in Brazil is a largely joyless activity.
It was the British, inevitably, who introduced beer to Brazil, during their commercial occupation of Rio de Janeiro in the early 19th century. “There are … plenty of English pot houses,” noted travel writer, Maria Graham, in the 1820s, “whose Union Jacks, Red Lions, Jolly Tars, with their English inscriptions, vie with those of Greenwich or Deptford.” “The cult of Bass and Allsopp is popular in Brazil,” added engineer Thomas Woodbine Hinchcliffe, forty years later, “and, even in remote places, it is relatively easy to find English beer.” By the 1870s, German immigrants were getting into their biermeister groove and, as predicted by another English engineer, William Hadfield, “the well-known English brands of Bass and Allsop” were gradually superseded by lighter pilsners more suited to the climate. The British brewing legacy amounted to little more than a reputation for national bibulousness, as noted by British consul, polyglot, adventurer, spy and author Sir Richard Burton, who observed that the phrase “a drunken Englishman” was considered a virtual tautology in Brazil: ‘”fala Inglez” – he speaks English, in Portuguese African [means], “he’s drunk”.’
The Brazilian refusal to drink beer at anything above the temperature of liquid nitrogen, meanwhile, has provided little incentive for producers to offer a product with any discernible flavour. This is unlikely to trouble travelling English football fans, however, who will doubtless continue to belt out Skol-fuelled a capella versions of the national anthem until at least June 24th.