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

Influência do Jazz

Lyrics from “Influência do Jazz” by Carlos Lira (1962)

My poor samba
It started getting mixed up and modernized, and got lost
And the sway, where is it? It’s gone
Where’s that shimmy that stirs us up
Poor thing, my samba changed all of a sudden
Influence of jazz

It almost died
And ends up dying, is almost dying, it didn’t realize
That samba sways from side to side
Jazz is different, forward and back
And samba, half dead, got half warped
Influence of jazz

In the afro-cubano, it’s getting complicated
It’s going down the tubes, it’s going
It’s getting warped, going without rest
Going, leaving, falling off the scale

My poor samba
Go back there to the hillside and seek help where you were born
To not be a samba with too many notes
Not be a warped samba, forward and back
You’re going to have to stand on your own to be able to free yourself
From the influence of jazz

— Interpretation —

In the early 1960s a rift was opening in the bossa nova movement as some – mostly younger – singers developed a taste for including political messages in their songs.  This approach often also involved a rejection of foreign influences in Brazilian music and a return to samba’s roots.   Carlos Lira (often spelled Lyra), born in Rio de Janeiro on May 11, 1936*, was perhaps the greatest leader of the bossa novistas “engajados” — Portuguese for politically and socially “engaged,” whose ranks included  renowned musicians like Edu Lobo and Nara Leão by the mid 1960s. The other side — “purists” who thought bossa nova should remain faithful to the contemplative serenity of songs like “O Barquinho” — included Lira’s former partner (and Nara Leão’s ex-boyfriend) Ronaldo Bôscoli, and the brothers Marcos Valle and Paulo Sérgio Valle. The Valle brothers composed the song “A Resposta” (“The Answer“) to criticize socially “engaged” bossa nova – and Nara Leão in particular.

In 1961, Lira — together with Oduvaldo Viana Filho, Ferreira Gullar, and others —  founded the Popular Culture Center (Centro Popular de Culturaof the National Students’ Union, which aimed to support and disseminate “revolutionary art” among university students. By this point, according to Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, Lira was beginning to express frustrations with bossa nova, feeling it was “just a trite modern style, repeating the same romantic musings as always.” He began to compose more explicitly political and nationalistic songs, including “Mister Golden,” “Os Subdesenvolvidos” (“the Underdeveloped”), and “Influência do Jazz,” which laments the tainting of traditional samba with obvious foreign influences.

While the lyrics protest the influence of jazz, the samba is written in an Americanized, bossa nova style– using the pentatonic scale so pervasive in American jazz and blues compositions — with a melody that purposefully recalls American songs like “You Were Meant for Me,” from Singing in the Rain, and “Indian Love Call,” from Rose-Marie. 

“Influência do Jazz” was first released by the Tamba Trio on Zé Trinidade’s sunday program on TV Rio. It was an immediate hit, and was performed twice at the famous bossa nova show at Carnegie Hall — by Lira and the Oscar Castro Neves Quartet.

*I am using the date cited in A Canção do Tempo, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello (also a main source for this post), although a number of websites list 1939 as Lira’s year of birth.

Rosa Morena

Lyrics from “Rosa Morena” by Dorival Caymmi
Recordings include: Os Anjos do Inferno (1942, Columbia); Dorival Caymmi (Album: Sambas de Caymmi, 1955); João Gilberto  (Album: Chega de Saudade , 1959)

Original Recording:

João Gilberto, on Chega de Saudade:

Rosa Morena
Where are you going, morena, Rosa
With that rose in your hair and that gait of a carefree girl
Morena, morena Rosa
Rosa morena, the samba is waiting
Waiting to see you
Leave aside this act of coyness
Come on, Rosa, come see me
Leave aside this pose, come to the samba, come dance samba
Because the people are tired of waiting, oh Rosa
The people are tired of waiting, morena Rosa
The people are tired of waiting, you hear, Rosa?

— Interpretation —

“Rosa Morena” was first recorded in 1942 by the Anjos do Inferno (Angels from Hell). The group, playfully named after Pixinguinha’s famous orchestra Diabos do Céu (Devils from Heaven), recorded a number of Dorival Caymmi‘s songs in the 1940s, including the hit “Você já foi à Bahia?” (1941).

In 1959, João Gilberto recorded “Rosa Morena” on his iconic debut album Chega de Saudade — generally recognized as the first bossa nova album. Gilberto, who was 27 when he recorded the album, had come to Rio de Janeiro from Bahia, like Caymmi. He was known in the early 1950s for his singing with the group Garotos da Lua, but his career as the voice of bossa nova truly took off with the launch of Chega de Saudade. Many sambistas from Caymmi’s era were put off by bossa nova because it so ardently defied the musical aesthetic of their generation; Caymmi, on the other hand, was full of praise for the young Gilberto. When he heard the song “Chega de Saudade” for the first time, before its initial release in 1958, he told Aloysio de Oliveira, of Odeon Records, “You’ve discovered a gold mine!”

At the same time, Gilberto’s recordings of Caymmi’s songs — and of sambas by Caymmi’s contemporaries, like Ary Barroso (Barroso’s “É luxo só” is on Chega de Saudade) — showed that bossa nova wasn’t the radical rejection of the sambas from the thirties, forties, and fifties that some took it to be. In many cases, it was just a reinterpretation of these songs.  Bossa nova abandoned the previously popular operatic singing style — a vestige of Italian influences in Brazilian music — in favor of Gilberto’s soft-voiced singing style and innovative rhythmic balance between guitar, percussion, and voice.

And João Gilberto recognized “Rosa Morena” as one of the first songs that he experimented with as he developed the bossa nova style:

One of the songs that awoke in me,  that showed me that I could try something different was “Rosa Morena,” by Caymmi.  I felt that the way other singers prolonged the sounds ended up hurting the natural balance of the music. By shortening the sounds of the phrases,  the lyrics fit perfectly within the beats and ended up floating.  I could try different things with the whole structure of the song, without needing to alter anything.  Another thing I didn’t agree with were the changes that singers made with some words, where they would make the accent of the rhythm fall on these words to make a greater balance.  I think that the words should be pronounced in the most natural form, as if I were having a conversation.  Any change ends up altering what the songwriter meant to say with his verses. Another advantage of this concern is that, sometimes, you can start the phrase a little earlier and sometimes make it so that two or more phrases fit in a fixed beat. With that, you can create a rhyme of rhythm. One musical phrase rhymes with the other without the song being artificially altered.

— João Gilberto in interview with Tárik de Souza (Veja, 12 May 1971, my translation)

In turn,  Caymmi declared, “I would like to have recorded my songs the way he [João Gilberto] sang them.  That half-voiced manner, using the voice almost as an instrument — he made a trombone, incredibly in tune.”

Source for this post: Dorival Caymmi: o mar e o tempo, by Stella Caymmi

Note: I’ve noticed some people have found this post after searching for a different song by Caymmi, from 1965, called “Das Rosas,” which has an English translation of “And Roses and Roses” by Ray Gilbert. I’ll add a literal translation soon, but for now, you can listen to the song here.

Post by Victoria Broadus