Ainda Não Havia Para Mim, Rita Lee

It’s been long enough that I don’t remember their names. I don’t remember who I was with. I don’t remember which area it was (I think it was my second, in São José dos Campos, but I’m not sure anymore).

But I remember what happened. We were at a young family’s home. She was an inactive member of the church. He wasn’t a member. Both were friendly and welcoming. And on this visit, he pulled out his guitar. He started to play and sing. And I was introduced to “Sampa,” Caetano Veloso’s plaintive ode to São Paulo, his adopted city and my Mormon mission.

It wasn’t common, but occasionally on P-day, the district or zone I was in would get permission to go to the center of São Paulo; it was outside of our mission boundaries, but it was also, to a kid who grew up in the suburbs of San Diego, my first experience in a truly urban area, with all that brings with it. And a necessary stop on those trips to the city center were the informal markets that popped up on bridges and side streets. There were always a couple tables filled with (undoubtedly pirated) CDs.

I didn’t go out of my way to listen to music on my mission; I obeyed our mission rules. At the same time, it was Brazil. There was music literally everywhere. (One time, we spent half an hour knocking doors on a block where nobody answered, but one house was blasting music so loud that, even outside, I could hear it better than if I’d had my radio on at home.) I picked up a handful of CDs on those trips, including a greatest hits by Caetano Veloso.

I also bought a greatest hits album by Rita Lee. Today I know that she was a member of the seminal Brazilian rock band Os Mutantes and the queen of Brazilian rock. At the time, though, I had no idea. In fact, almost everything I knew about her was that “Sampa” included this line:

Ainda não havia para mim, Rita Lee
A tua mais completa tradução

Roughly translated, it says

For me there still hasn’t been, Rita Lee
Your most complete translation

And that was enough. When I saw Meus Momentos – Rita Lee on a table under a canopy in the middle of São Paulo, I bought it. And brought it home.

Yesterday, at 75, Rita Lee passed away.

I hadn’t listened to her music in probably 20 years. But as I listened on Spotify, I remember the waterfall of synthesizer notes that leads off “Mania de Você” (and its lyrical sensuality). The Pink Floyd-esque “Doce Vampiro.” The Brazilian-inflected disco of “Chega Mais.” The sounds of Brazilian buses and streets and homes and shops. The sounds of being a young Mormon missionary.

So thanks to a man with a guitar who welcomed Mormon missionaries into his home, in fact havia para mim Rita Lee.

Photo: “Cantora Rita Lee em 2011” by Caio Webber. CC BY 2.0


  1. John Harrison says:

    I remember being absolutely destroyed when Renato Russo passed away. And not having anyone around that understood it at all.

    I hadn’t heard of Rita’s passing until reading this.

    There must be so many great artists that I’ll never be aware of due to differences of language and culture.

  2. That’s true. I actually have a couple Legião Urbana CDs I got at the same city center markets, though I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve listened to them.

  3. Joe Hardy says:

    Okay. When did you serve? I was in Sao Paulo East circa 1992-1994 and specifically in Sao Jose dos Campos mid-1993.

  4. Ooh, same mission just after you!

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