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


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

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


Lyrics from “Lígia” by Tom Jobim (1972)

Good Audio Version (João Gilberto)

I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the movies
I don’t like samba, I don’t go to Ipanema
I don’t like rain, I don’t like sun
I never called you up, why, if I knew?
I never attempted – and would never dare – the sweet nothings
That I learned with you
No, Lígia, Lígia

To go out with you holding hands on a serene afternoon
A cold beer in a bar in Ipanema
Walk along the beach down to Leblon
I’ve never fallen in love, I’d never be able to marry you
I would suffer such pain inevitably just to lose you in the end

You come close to me with your peculiar ways, and I say yes
But your brown eyes fill me with more fear than a ray of sun
Lígia, Lígia

— Interpretation–

Tom Jobim at Ipanema Beach, c. 1968
Tom Jobim at Ipanema Beach, c. 1968

Tom Jobim used to say that any song with a woman’s name just stirred up trouble. He cited the case of Dorival Caymmi’s “Marina,” which provoked threats to Caymmi from an angry husband who thought the song had been written for his wife.

And indeed “Lígia” caused some problems for Tom, since the name happened to be the name of his close friend Fernando Sabino’s wife.

In interviews over the years following the release of “Ligia,” Tom avoided the subject or denied that the song was written for Sabino’s wife, Lygia Marina de Moraes. But in a 1988 interview with Ruy Castro for Playboy, Tom hinted that his denials could be interpreted in the same way as the denials in the song: “Fernando Sabino is a good friend, I get along really well with him and his wife, Lygia. They come to my house, I want all the best for them and, naturally, Lygia is a very beautiful woman and all that. What exists in  “Lígia” is the following: something that you deny so much that ultimately it turns into an affirmation – a supreme affirmation of love. ‘I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the cinema… when I called you… it was just an illusion, I ripped up your name.’ That is to say, I’m not even close to Lygia.”
Continue reading “Lígia”