In 1937, president Getúlio Vargas made a decree (said to still exist) forcing the samba school anthems to only speak of “historic and patriotic” themes. At the time, song lyrics were censored by the DIP, the State propaganda dept. (just in 1940, the DIP vetoed 370 songs and 100 radio shows). The most famous example was the Bonde de São Januário, by Ataulfo Alves and Wilson Batista. The original lyrics were said to glorify the sly “malandro” figure, who lived a bohemian life, and who wasn’t foolish enough to become a factory worker on the “trolley from São Januário” (an industrial neighborhood) that “takes another idiot” to work.
The original lyrics were said to be: “O Bonde São Januário/Leva mais um sócio otário/Só eu não vou trabalhar…”. In other words, “the trolley takes a fellow idiot/I’m the only one who isn’t going to work.” Alves’ son, however, negates that there was a so-called original version, saying instead that there was a soccer song that parodied his father’s samba. The parody was apparently a success at the 1941 Carnival, saying: “…O bonde de São Januário vai levar mais um otário/Pra ver o Vasco apanhar…” (…”takes another idiot/To see Vasco get beat.”)
If we follow the popularized story of there being an original version, the “otário” lyrics had to be changed to: “Those who work are right/I’m saying it and I’m not afraid to be wrong/The Trolley from São Januário/takes another worker/it’s me going to work.//In the past I didn’t have common sense/But I decided to guarantee my future/Look, you all:/I’m happy, I live very well/Bohemia doesn’t put a shirt on anyone’s back…”
(“Quem trabalha é que tem razão/eu digo e não tenho medo de errar/ O Bonde de São Januário/leva mais um operário:/sou eu que vou trabalhar. //Antigamente eu não tinha juízo/Mas resolvi garantir meu futuro/Vejam vocês:/Sou feliz, vivo muito bem/ A boemia não dá camisa a ninguém…”)
Being aware of the censorship, other samba artists, still wanting to be able to perform, wrote “acceptable” lyrics, such as the case of “Eu Trabalhei” by Roberto Riberti & Jorge Faraj, and “É Negócio Casar” by Ataulfo Alves & Felisberto Martins. On the other hand, there were those that used samba to respond to the censorship, an example being “Senhor Delegado” by Antonio Lopes & Jaú.