Lyrics from “Nanã” by Moacir Santos and Mário Telles (1964)

When I saw Nanã tonight
I saw my goddess by the moonlight
Every night I gazed at Nanã – the most beautiful thing to behold
What joy to finally find this goddess come just for me
And now all I can say is my life is only Nanã
Is Nanã

(Let’s go)
Tonight, of my delirium, I saw a new tomorrow born
Day came, with a new sun
Sun from the light that comes from
To worship Nanã is to be happy
I feel peace in this love
It’s all I ever dreamed of
My life is only Nanã
It’s Nanã…

— Interpretation —

Moacir Santos lived in the Los Angeles area from the late 1960s until his death in 2006.
Moacir Santos lived in the Los Angeles area from the late 1960s until his death in 2006.

One evening in the early 1960s, as he took one of his customary strolls through Parque Guinle in the Laranjeiras neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro,  Moacir Santos — the renowned instrumentalist, arranger, composer and music professor from rural Vila Bela, Pernambuco, who moved to Rio de Janeiro in the late 1940s and Los Angeles in the late 1960s  — hummed to himself. And he liked what he heard. He sang low: “nã nã nã” (the ã is the nasal sound in Portuguese), a tune that resolved in two very low notes that helped him structure the melody.

Santos began to play his new tune on the clarinet in informal get-togethers with Tom Jobim and Baden Powell; on one of those occasions, Nara Leão was there with her future husband, the filmmaker Cacá Diegues.  Diegues loved what he heard, and had Nara Leão record the song — still without lyrics — for his 1963 film Ganga Zumba. 

Vinicius de Moraes tried his revered hand at lyrics for the song, but Moacir Santos rejected them on the grounds that they were “too sensual” — he didn’t want to think about his Nanã being peeped at as she bathed, apparently part of Vinicius’s verses.  Moacir justified himself, explaining, “Nanã is a mixture of onomatopoeic sounds and the name of an African goddess.”

Nanã is actually the supreme god in certain African sects, and a female orixá in Afro-Brazilian religions, mother of all other orixás and the oldest goddess of the waters, most often syncretized with the Catholic Saint Anne, the mother of Mary.

The lyricist Mário Telles wrote the lyrics for the song that would stick, and the singer Wilson Simonal, at the height of his popularity in the 1960s, recorded “Nanã” in 1964. (In the 1970s, Simonal’s popularity plummeted as a result of his alleged support for the military dictatorship and his open criticism of leftist musicians.)

coisasMoacir Santos gave his student Sérgio Mendes the task of orchestrating “Nanã” and “Coisa no. 2” — the latter from Santos’s only Brazilian album, Coisas (1965), on which each track is just named “Coisa no. 1”; “Coisa no. 2,” etc. (“Thing 1; thing 2…”).  Santos suggested the unusual ensemble of two trombones and a saxophone, which ended up inspiring the original make-up of Sérgio Mendes & Bossa Rio. As a sextet, the group went on to record “Nanã” – along with “Coisa No.2” — on the iconic 1964 album Você ainda não ouviu nada!. 



Lyrics in Portuguese

Essa noite quando olhei Nanã
Vi a minha deusa ao luar
Toda a noite eu olhei Nanã
A coisa mais linda de se olhar
Que felicidade achar enfim
Esta deusa só prá mim, Nanã
E agora eu só sei dizer
Toda a minha vida é Nanã, é Nanã…

Nesta noite no delírios meus
Vi nascer um novo amanhã
Veio o dia com um novo sol
Sol da luz que vem de Nanã
Adorar nanã é ser feliz
Tenho a paz e o amor e tudo o que eu quis
E agora eu só sei dizer
Toda a minha vida é Nanã, é Nanã…

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 anos de músicas brasileiras, vol. 2, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

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