Essays

“Pulo, Pulo” and the Universal Language of Expectation

O que você esperava?

Wherever we go, be it Rio de Janeiro or an article on the web, we bring along a set of expectations. These expectations can consist of humble communal traditions or grand scientific truths: for example, a family going out for their weekly Friday night pizza and, upon their arrival, a chef demonstrating gravity (“what goes up must come down”) with a toss of said pizza pie. The art of reading into these spectral bonds between present and future is perhaps a non-omniscient being’s only method of survival. Expectation, most importantly for the sake of culture (which I expect is why you are here), grants us all a feeling of control that, while illusory, ends up shaping our individual and collective experiences. And in that shaping of collective experience, expectation becomes a universal language, evoked in silent dialogue between audience and performer, ever chasing that Zeitgeist-defining white whale: the new “cool.”

The complexity of the “cool” (apart from the no-brainer of its positive nature) may be perhaps the greatest mystery most of us will never admit to contemplating. Of course, those of us who are not contemplating it probably already have it figured out. To be cool, especially where music is concerned, is to reside just outside the realm of expectation while remaining fluent in the realm’s language. In a manner of speaking, being cool means just that: “being” rather than “understanding” – composure over analysis, fluidity over knowledge. Cool, while ultimately elusive and arguably more marketable than spiritual, is an inference that a certain look, sound, or way of thinking is itself autonomous; in other words, the look, sound, or way of thinking is not constrained by cultural norms (the result of collective expectation). And this is where we jump into Jorge Ben’s “Pulo, Pulo.”

One would expect that Jorge Ben (pronounced “George”), an artist like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil who rose to cultural prominence amidst the radical strains of Brazil’s Tropicalia movement of the 1960s, must be a performer of explosive antics and leftist beliefs (performed slyly through double – sometimes triple – entendres). However, the truth is much simpler: the man is a masterful songwriter of the pop genre, playing on the expectations each listener brings to the listening experience. And, from the age of 21 with the recently Black Eyed Pez-remixed “Mas Que Nada,” Jorge made it look cool. Surviving through government censorship (due to his predominantly apolitical subject matter), Jorge became and remains of the biggest pop stars from Brazil, blending the West African grooves of Samba with a distinct, self-taught percussive style of guitar playing brought up during years in the army. And there is no better example of this style than on track five of Jorge’s seventh album Forca Bruta (1970): “Pulo, Pulo.”

Commencing with a clearing of his throat, Jorge blazes through the song in a chorus-bridge-chorus-bridge-chorus-outro format, throwing away the verse-chorus form for an alternative which places feeling and centripetal force over narrative. From the title “Pulo, Pulo” (meaning “Jump, Jump”), Jorge coerces the listener to provide their own cause-and-effect relationship born from expectation: if I jump, surely I must expect to fall. And in this case, as one would expect from most pop songs, Jorge really expects us to believe the classic romantic trope: if I jump, surely I will fall… in love. Yet, instead, his lyrics artfully trapeze the fringes of cultural expectation. He writes:

(Chorus)

Pulo, pulo, pulo
E não caio
Pulo, pulo, pulo
Se eu caio
Eu caio dentro do balaio
De flores do meu amor

(translated)

Jump, jump, jump
And do not fall
Jump, jump, jump
If I fall
I fall within the basket
Of flowers of my love

Jorge acts within and without the cultural norms of “falling in love,” working autonomously from our expectations while also very conscious of what those expectations entail. In his world of vibrations and vinyl crackles, if you jump, you don’t have to fall, but, if you do, you will certainly fall in love (a vision of love, worth mentioning, that Jorge chooses to present as a basket full of numerous angiosperms). The nonsense is the source of the listener’s empowerment, and the performer’s effortless sense of cool.

Melodically, the song works the same way, as the chorus follows the oldest play on expectation in music history: suspension. With the lowered seventh of the first chord, Jorge, bleeding the edge between preparation and actual suspension, leads you, the listener brimming with infinitesimal impatience, right to the resolving subdominant chord, as the seventh of the tonic rolls down to the major third of the subdominant. This creates a seesawing whirl of a groove, oscillating between two simple chords, stuck in an ecstatic confusion of expectation and reckless abandon. In less than three minutes of rather simple song-writing, Jorge defies expectation (becoming cool) while creating expectation within the context of the song itself, as found at the song’s incredible climax in the third chorus.

After repeating the mantra of jumping and leaping, Jorge, seemingly out of breath (after listing again the love-hamper’s assortment of flowers), takes on the last chorus:

Pulo, …

This void in the lyric defies the expectation set by Jorge himself, sending the listener on a virtual nosedive into silence. It is a daring and delectable feat that cements “Pulo, Pulo” as a song sung in Portuguese, and well-versed in the universal language of expectation.

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