Samba do Avião

Lyrics from “Samba do Avião” by Tom Jobim (1963)

Good Audio Version

My soul sings
I see Rio de Janeiro
I’m dying of longing
Rio, your sea
Beach without end
Rio, you were made for me
Christ the Redeemer
Open arms over Guanabara
This samba is just because
Rio, I like you
The morena is going to dance samba
Her whole body swaying
Rio, of sun, of sky, of sea

In one more minute we’ll be at Galeão
Rio de Janeiro, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro


Tighten your seatbelt, we’re going to arrive
Shining water, look at the runway coming up
And here we go

— Interpretation —

The scene that inspired Tom Jobim’s “Samba do Avião”

Tom Jobim was terrified of flying. He spent days dreading any travel that required him to take a plane, and usually needed a lot of cajoling from friends and family members before gathering the courage to board.

Upon arriving in New York in 1962 for the famous Bossa Nova at Carnegie Hall show, he wrote to his wife Thereza about the “thousand years – An Eternity”  during the last leg of his journey from Brazil when he felt his plane was barely staying in the air. (A full section of the letter is translated below.) Soon after, Brazil’s Varig airline suffered a tragic accident in Lima, Peru, and Tom Jobim  played guitar for the Varig crew in New York City to try to cheer them up. Writing to Thereza about the scene, he wistfully remarked that he would be returning to Brazil by taxi.

Coupled with this crippling fear of flying was the euphoria he felt every time he survived a flight — a euphoria that was heightened when he was landing in his beloved Rio de Janeiro.  “Samba of the Airplane” was written about the joy that overwhelmed him when his plane was landing at Rio’s international airport, Galeão — now renamed “Galeão/Antônio Carlos Jobim.”

The song became a classic in the repertoire of the vocal group Os Cariocas. You can listen to their version here.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Minha alma canta
Vejo o Rio de Janeiro
Estou morrendo de saudades
Rio, seu mar
Praia sem fim
Rio, você foi feito prá mim
Cristo Redentor
Braços abertos sobre a Guanabara
Este samba é só porque
Rio, eu gosto de você
A morena vai sambar
Seu corpo todo balançar
Rio de sol, de céu, de mar
Dentro de mais um minuto estaremos no Galeão
Copacabana, Copacabana

Cristo Redentor
Braços abertos sobre a Guanabara
Este samba é só porque
Rio, eu gosto de você
A morena vai sambar
Seu corpo todo balançar
Aperte o cinto, vamos chegar
Água brilhando, olha a pista chegando
E vamos nós

 Tom’s letter to Thereza:

The DC-8 I came in was beautiful. Its wings have fingers, like a bird’s, which it uses to handle and oppose the wind. A giant aluminum bird. Me, alone, in an empty airplane.

From San Juan, Puerto Rico, to New York it’s a direct flight over the Atlantic Ocean. Well, two hours after taking off from San Juan, the bird (at midnight) started to jump. We were at 35,000 feet — the “fasten your seatbelts” sign lit up. After that, all of the lights went out — great, I thought, the fuse is blown.  Then, the pilot began to speak slowly, as if he were sleepy (how phony!)

 — “We have some turbulence… ahh, ahh, ahh … some strong winds, more or less 200 miles an hour … ahh, ahh, ahh… Coming from the Northeast … We’re going to slow down to get more… ahh, ahh, ahh…comfortable.”

He said that the wind was against us, which would make us late. The sounds from the jet-engines started to change, and the plane slowed down —  the bumps did, too. From the window (total darkness in the plane) I saw two thick flames that intermittently appeared and disappeared in the darkness. They beat like a heart, they seem like a live animal, breathing, and make the sound of a person panting after a run, right by your ear. Except you don’t hear the inhale, only the exhale: haaa – haaa-haaa…– the sound and the pause are about the same. The inhale is loud, and through the mouth — the pace is rigorous. The sound coincides with the flame. [A drawing of flames coming out of the plane’s three motors.]

There, a thousand years passed. An Eternity. I closed my eyes and saw the face of Beth [daughter] with the mumps. Beautiful as only she is.

The pilot continued making his small talk, acting like he was in striped pijamas and a wicker chair. He said, hour after hour, that we were 15 minutes away from the NY area. A roller-coaster with rubber tracks…. [infinity sign]… Finally,  the “NY area” arrived.  Thousands of lights, New Jersey, Manhattan — the giant bird was moving its fingers, going against the air, braking, descending — it rolled onto the runway, went into reverse thrust (already a familiar phenomenon for me. There were 4 landings that day — Brasilia – Port of Spain – San Juan, Puerto Rico – New York) and the hundred-and-fifty tons (air train) came to a stop.


The rest was cake…

[Carnegie Hall]

Main sources for this post: Antônio Carlos Jobim: Um Homem Iluminado  (pages 116-117 in Portuguese version), and  A Canção no tempo: 85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol. 2: 1958 – 1985 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

5 thoughts on “Samba do Avião”

  1. I love this song — but never tried to find the lyrical translation. Now– reading this adds so much more definition to the evocative lyrics. thank you.

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