Thursday, September 19, 2013

Happy songs and lawsuits - São Paulo

Today was the Assembly of one of my sons at his IB (English-language) school. I won't bore you with the stories of how wonderfully and enthusiastically tone-deaf he is, but rather point out a superior cultural moment. It all has to do with a little song called Happy Birthday. 

At the end of Assembly, to which parents are invited, they call forward all children who have a birthday that week. This is Infant School only -- with kindergarten, first and second graders in attendance. With around 120 kids there, there is always someone with a birthday. They ask each child (this time there were two--Matheus and Mathias) how old he/she is, and then we sing happy birthday.

We start with the American version:

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear whoever,
Happy Birthday to you.

I never realized just how boring this is, until that song is swiftly followed by the Brazilian version. Total party time. Volume goes up, clapping, "heys!" -- it is possibly the happiest, most fun song in the whole world. Okay, not counting Dança Kuduro. Kidding, folks.

Here are the lyrics:

Parabéns pra voce       (Congratulations to you
Nesta data querida       on this special day
Muitas felicidades         Much happiness
Muitos anos de vida      Long life)

that is the basic short version. You clap for each word. Then you yell "hey" at the end of each line. Parabens pra voce -HEY! Check the video below.

At birthday parties, it goes on (and not with smelling like a monkey). Here is the medium version:

"E pra Matheus tudo ou nada? é tudo!!

Como que é?

é pique, é pique
é hora, hora, hora
Ma-the-us, Ma-the-us!"

And the longer version involves marriage or something. Long version as sung by a classroom (not my kids):

Sorry I cannot translate. I am out of my league. It is so loud and so fun. Just sit and envy, Americans.

Now, when I started looking around for videos to put in this blog post, I discovered something really wacky. The Happy Birthday song is not in the public domain. In fact, someone owns the right to that song and will charge $10-$25,000 for the rights to use it in a movie or show. Whaaaaat?  True story. Look here (men will want to read to the end where there is a gratuitous photo of Hooters girls--or just scroll down, it's too many words for y'all, anyway).  Two sisters wrote the original, published it and then the rights were sold on and on, now owned by Warner. 

This is why some restaurants change the lyrics so when they bring out your cake with all the servers, they do not have to pay royalties. And some movies and shows will do the same to avoid paying out. Now a filmmaker in NY is suing Warner for $50 million to have it repay all royalties from what she claims is a public domain song. This article is from June, and I was unable to find any information on the results of the lawsuit, if known yet. If the lawsuit is lost, the US will wait until 2030 to have public domain rights to the song.

But wait, it's not in the public domain here in Brazil either! The song was imported from the US and then a national competition in 1942 (judged by the illustrious Academia Brasileira de Letras) came up with the (short) version seen above (more or less- "pra" has come to be used instead of "a"). According to copyright laws here, the song will enter the public domain in 2017. Much better than 2030.

Here is my advice, USA, forget the US version. Just sing the Brazilian version and have a really good time. Ra-ti-Boom! Brazil! Brazil! Brazil!


  1. That explains why they would use a different song on TV shows (in Brazil). My wife was convinced that they just had a different happy birthday song in Rio, compared to Sao Paulo. :)

    1. I definitely had an "aha" moment after reading the article on public demain or lack thereof. Of course the cariocas do things differently anyway... :)