Corcovado

Lyrics from “Corcovado” by Antônio Carlos Jobim (1960)



Good Audio Version (João Gilberto)

A little nook, a guitar
This love, a song
To make the loved one happy
Plenty of calm to think, and to have time to dream
Through the window I see Corcovado, Redentor, how lovely

I want life like this always, with you near me,
Until the old flame dies out
And I who was sad, disbelieving in this world,
Upon finding you I found out what happiness is, my love.

The apartment where Tom Jobim wrote Corcovado, and a picture of him inside. Photos via culturabrasil.com.br.
The apartment where Tom Jobim wrote Corcovado, and a picture of him inside. Photos via culturabrasil.com.br.

This song is an icon of the bossa nova genre, which was both adored and derided for its focus on superficialities of life in Rio: beaches, breezes, beers, beautiful views, music and love.

Tom Jobim wrote both the melody and the lyrics. Initially the song began, “A cigarette, a guitar,” but the mention of a cigarette made João Gilberto uncomfortable when he was recording the song for the album O amor, o sorriso e a flor. He told Tom a cigarette was something rotten, and convinced him to change the verse to “A little nook, a guitar”; it became one of the best known and most sung verses of bossa nova.

View of Corcovado similar to the view from Tom Jobim's window in Ipanema in 1960.
View of Corcovado similar to the view from Tom Jobim’s window in Ipanema in 1960.

Corcovado, the mountain where Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue stands, could be seen from the window of Tom Jobim’s apartment at Rua Nascimento Silva 107, where he lived with his wife Tereza from 1953 – 1962. The line in Portuguese about the window would translate more literally to, “From the window one sees Corcovado – Redentor …” Shortly after Tom wrote the song a new building blocked the view.

The English version of the song (sung here by Frank Sinatra) was written by Gene Lees,   and represents one of the best English-language versions of the bossa-nova repertoire.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Um cantinho um violão
Este amor, uma canção
Pra fazer feliz a quem se ama

Muita calma pra pensar
E ter tempo pra sonhar

Da janela vê-se o Corcovado
O Redentor que lindo

Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim
Até o apagar da velha chama

E eu que era triste
Descrente deste mundo
Ao encontrar você eu conheci
O que é felicidade meu amor

Main sources for this post: Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias de Bossa Nova, by Ruy Castro; Histórias de Canções: Tom Jobim by Wagner Homem; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

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Falsa Baiana

Lyrics from “Falsa Baiana” by Geraldo Pereira (1944)



Good Audio Versions: João Gilberto, Gal Costa

[This] baiana, who goes into the samba and just stands there
Doesn’t samba, doesn’t dance, doesn’t move or nothing
Doesn’t know how to leave the youth in a craze

[The] baiana is the one who goes into the samba any which way
That moves, that shakes, twists her hips into a knot
Leaving the young’uns’ mouths watering

The phony baiana, when she goes into the samba,
No one goes out of their way, no one claps
No one opens the circle, no one yells “Oba, Salve a Bahia, Lord”
But we like it when a baiana dances samba just right
From the top on down, she rolls her little eyes, saying,
“I’m a daughter of São Salvador”

— Interpretation —

Geraldo Pereira, image via Funarte

Dona Isaura, the wife of the composer Roberto Martins, takes the dubious honor of being the inspiration for this song. On the second to last night of Carnaval in 1944, Martins was at a bar chatting with Geraldo Pereira when Dona Isaura showed up, dressed up as a baiana (a woman from the state of Bahia, where the population is predominantly of African descent). In contrast to Bahian women, who are reputed for being joyful and exuding positive energy – and for knowing how to dance samba “just right” – Dona Isaura was in a sour mood that night, prompting her husband to observe to Geraldo, “Check out the phony baiana.” Martins’s observation got Pereira thinking about how to distinguish a true baiana from an impostor, and he wrote his greatest hit based on that premise.

Baiana dancing
What would appear to be a true baiana, dancing.

Pereira’s innovative style of syncopated samba and the rhythm within the lyrics themselves had a strong influence on João Gilberto, who, in turn, went on the make this song doubly famous with his bossa nova version, released on the 1973 LP João Gilberto.  

Geraldo Pereira was born in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais,  in 1918, and moved to Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Morro da Mangueira  in 1930. He died in 1955, at age 37, from a hemorrhage that was rumored to have been caused by a fight with an almost mythical marginal figure of the carioca night, the drag artist and capoeirista known as Madame Satã (Madam Satan). Although even Satã took advantage of this story, the most reliable sources say Pereira actually died from an untreated intestinal disease that was aggravated by his drinking habits.

How to dress up as a falsa baiana.
How to dress up as a falsa baiana.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Baiana que entra no samba e só fica parada
Não samba, não dança, não bole nem nada
Não sabe deixar a mocidade louca
Baiana é aquela que entra no samba de qualquer maneira
Que mexe, remexe, dá nó nas cadeiras
Deixando a moçada com água na boca

A falsa baiana quando entra no samba
Ninguém se incomoda, ninguém bate palma
Ninguém abre a roda, ninguém grita ôba
Salve a bahia, senhor

Mas a gente gosta quando uma baiana
Samba direitinho, de cima embaixo
Revira os olhinhos dizendo
Eu sou filha de são salvador

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos da músicas brasileiras by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Melo

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