Saudade da Bahia

Lyrics from “Saudade da Bahia” by Dorival Caymmi (1957, Odeon)

1973 footage of Caymmi singing “Saudade da Bahia,” aired in a tribute after his death on Aug. 16, 2008:

Ai,  what longing I feel for Bahia
Ai, if I’d listened to what mama said
“Dear, don’t go leaving your mother worried
We do as our heart commands
But this world is made up of malice and illusion”
Ai, if I’d listened, today I wouldn’t suffer
Ai, from this longing in my breast
Ai, if feeling longing is some sort of defect
I at least deserve the right
To have someone with whom I can confess
Put yourself in my place, and look how an unhappy man suffers
He had to unburden himself
Telling everyone that which no one says
See, what a situation
And see how a poor heart suffers
That poor guy who believes
That glory and money bring happiness

— Interpretation —

Caymmi and his guitar, Rio de Janeiro, 1980

The Bahian singer-songwriter Dorival Caymmi (April 30, 1914 – August 16, 2008) wrote this samba on a melancholy, sultry summer day in Rio de Janeiro in 1947. Caymmi, “annoyed by the agitation of the city,” composed the lyrics in his head as he sat alone in Bar Bibi, in Leblon; he asked the barman for a piece of paper to write down the lyrics, so as not to forget them.

Original lyrics for “Saudade da Bahia,” written at Bar Bibi, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1947. In these lyrics a few words are different: Caymmi says “If I had thought…” which became “If I had listened,” and “…this emptiness in my breast” which turned into “this longing in my breast.” Source: Dorival Caymmi, O Mar e o Tempo

He then held on to the paper for ten years, reticent to share the raw, wistful lyrics with the public. After all, Caymmi prided himself on his optimism and his ability to deflect “brown and black feelings.” According to his wife Stella, he never complained.

These lyrics revealed a different side of him. Fortunately, as Stella observes in Dorival Caymmi: O Mar e o Tempo, it’s a side that everyone can identify with, which is part of what made the song such a timeless success (along with the beautifully matched melody and lyrics, she points out).

After Caymmi’s 1956 hit “Maracangalha,” Odeon Records director Aloysio de Oliveira was eager to release another sure-fire hit from Caymmi in 1957.  De Oliveira had heard “Saudade da Bahia” at Caymmi’s home, and insisted that the singer record the song. Caymmi resisted initially, but de Oliveira won out, and “Saudade da Bahia”was released in May of that year.

The song recalls a poem from 1859 written by one of Caymmi’s favorite poets, Casimiro de Abreu, called “Meus Oito Anos” (My eight years):  “Oh, what longing I feel/for the aurora of my life/Of my dear childhood/That the years won’t bring back.”

Of course, longing is a simplified translation of saudade, a word that encompasses feelings of yearning, longing, nostalgia, heartache, homesickness, and simply missing something — people, places, things, moments, etc.

Beloved Bahian singers Caetano Veloso, Dorival Caymmi, and Gilberto Gil at Copacabana Palace

Lyrics in Portuguese

Ai, ai que saudade eu tenho da Bahia
Ai, se eu escutasse o que mamãe dizia
“Bem, não vá deixar a sua mãe aflita
A gente faz o que o coração dita
Mas esse mundo é feito de maldade e ilusão”
Ai, se eu escutasse hoje não sofria
Ai, esta saudade dentro do meu peito
Ai, se ter saudade é ter algum defeito
Eu pelo menos, mereço o direito
De ter alguém com quem eu possa me confessar
Ponha-se no meu lugar
E veja como sofre um homem infeliz
Que teve que desabafar
Dizendo a todo mundo o que ninguém diz
Vejam que situação
E vejam como sofre um pobre coração
Pobre de quem acretida
Na glória e no dinheiro para ser feliz

Main sources for this post:  Dorival Caymmi: O Mar e o Tempo by Stella Caymmi, and A Canção no Tempo:  85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol. 1: 1901 -1957 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

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