João Gilberto – “João Valentão” (Dorival Caymmi) and “Chão de Estrelas” (Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas)

 

“João Valentão” by Dorival Caymmi (1945)

João Valentão é brigão// João Valentão is a tough
De dar bofetão// He throws blows
Não presta atenção e nem pensa na vida// He doesn’t pay attention and doesn’t even contemplate life
A todo João intimida// He intimidates every João
Faz coisas que até Deus duvida// He does things even God can’t believe
Mas tem seu momento na vida// But he has his moment in life…

É quando o sol vai quebrando lá pro fim do mundo pra noite chegar// It’s when the sun goes breaking over the end of the world, for night to arrive
É quando se ouve mais forte o ronco das ondas na beira do mar// It’s when the roar of the waves can be heard more loudly at the edge of the sea
É quando o cansaço da lida, da vida, obriga João se sentar// It’s when the weariness of the struggle, of life, forces João to sit down
É quando a morena se encolhe, se chega pro lado querendo agradar// It’s when the morena curls up, comes to his side, wishing to please
Se a noite é de lua a vontade é de contar mentiras, de se espreguiçar// If the night is moonlit, the urge is to tell fibs, to stretch out
Deitar na areia da praia que acaba onde a vista não pode alcançar// Lie down on the sand on the beach that ends beyond where the eye can see
E assim adormece esse homem que nunca precisa dormir pra sonhar// And that’s how this man falls asleep, who never needs to sleep to dream
Porque não há sonho mais lindo do que sua terra não há// Because there is no dream more beautiful than his land, there’s none

“Chão de Estrelas” by Orestes Barbosa and Silvio Caldas (1937)

Minha vida era um palco iluminado// My life was a lighted stage
Eu vivia vestido de dourado// I was always dressed in gold
Palhaço das perdidas ilusões// Clown of lost illusions
Cheio dos guizos falsos de alegria// Full of the phony bells of joy
Andei cantando minha fantasia// I went around singing my fantasy
Entre as palmas febris dos corações// Among the feverish palms* of hearts

Meu barracão lá no morro do Salgueiro// My shack, on Salgueiro Hill
Tinha o cantar alegre de um viveiro// Had the cheerful song of an aviary
Foste a sonoridade que acabou// You were the sonority that ended
E hoje quando do sol a claridade //And today, when the sun’s rays
Forra meu barracão, sinto saudade// Stream into my shack, I feel saudade
Da mulher, pomba rola, que voou// For the woman, dove that flew away

Nossas roupas comuns dependuradas// Our modest clothes hanging
Na corda, qual bandeiras agitadas// Out on the line, like waving flags
Parecia um estranho festival// Appeared an exotic festival
Festa dos nossos trapos coloridos// A party of our colored rags
A mostrar que nos morros mal vestidos// Showing that on the poorly dressed hillsides
É sempre feriado nacional// It’s always a national holiday

A porta do barraco era sem trinco// The shack’s door had no latch
Mas a lua furando o nosso zinco// But the moon, boring through our tin
Salpicava de estrelas nosso chão// Peppered our floor with stars
E tu pisavas nos astros, distraída// And you stepped on the stars, absent-minded
Sem saber que a ventura dessa vida// Unaware that the fortune of this life
É a cabrocha, o luar, e o violão// Is the cabrocha, the moonlight and the guitar

— Commentary–

 

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João Gilberto’s debut at Copacabana Palace, 1959. Photo via Arquivo Publico do Estado de São Paulo. 
Jornal Aqui Sao Paulo;
João Gilberto. Photo via Arquivo Público do Estado de São Paulo.

It would be hard to find a foreign lover of Brazilian music whose life wasn’t fundamentally changed by João Gilberto, who died yesterday, July 6, at age 88.  I remember listening over and over to a playlist put together by the fantastic Zuim Podcast in 2011 for Gilberto’s 80th birthday. I was living in New York at the time and the songs — which still bring to mind memories of runs in Prospect Park and drab days at a midtown office — helped inspire this blog, which I started a few months later, and my move to Brazil. They included several from this 1958 recording from the casa de Chico Pereira, linked above. Especially beautiful to me was “João Valentão,” to this day, thanks to that recording, maybe my favorite Brazilian song — or at least one of the first that would come to mind if I had to answer that impossible question. It was one of the first songs I translated for the blog back in 2011. Here it is reprised with João Gilberto singing, along with “Chão de Estrelas” (which also has its own post from 2012), which follows “João Valentão” on the album. Over the next few weeks I hope to get time to translate more João Gilberto recordings on here; for now, here are two of my favorites.

 

*The first verse of “Chão de Estrelas” ends with “among the feverish palms of hearts.” In Portuguese, the literal translation for “clap” in English is “to beat palms.” Orestes Barbosa played with this phrase, referring to beating hearts as “palms of hearts.”

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Adeus, América

Lyrics from “Adeus, América” by Geraldo Jacques and Haroldo Barbosa (1948)

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Não posso mais, ai que saudade do Brasil // I can’t take it anymore, ai, what saudade of Brazil
Ai que vontade que eu tenho de voltar // Oh how I long to return
Adeus América, essa terra é muito boa // Farewell, America, this land is very good
Mas não posso ficar porque // But I can’t stay because
O samba mandou me chamar // Samba’s sent for me
O samba mandou me chamar // Samba’s sent for me
Eu digo adeus ao boogie woogie, ao woogie boogie // I bid adieu to boogie woogie, woogie boogie
E ao swing também // And the swing too
Chega de hots [rocks], fox-trotes e pinotes // Enough of hots [rocks], fox-trots, and hops
Que isso não me convém // That’s not what I need
Eu voltar pra cuíca, bater na barrica // I’m going back to the cuíca, to beat on the barrel
Tocar tamborim // To play tamborim
Chega de lights e all rights, e de fights, good nights // Enough of lights, all rights, and fights and goodnights
Isso não dá mais pra mim // This just isn’t working for me
Eu quero um samba feito só pra mim // I want a samba made just for me

Oooô, ooooooô

— Commentary —

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Image of “Os Cariocas” printed in “A Cena Muda” – 24 August 1948
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Best-selling albums listed in Diário da Noite, 8 July 1948.

A long line of fervid fans forming in Cinelândia for a show by Spanish-born bandleader Xavier Cugat — largely credited with popularizing rumba and other Latin rhythms in mid-century North America — inspired Geraldo Jacques to write a samba with a nationalist tilt.  Then and there, at a news stand in the square, he wrote the first verses for “Adeus, América,” which Haroldo Barbosa later helped to complete.  The song pays homage to the supreme beauty and allure of Brazilian music, rebuffing such veneration of foreign music — and all things foreign.

With its 1948 release, “Adeus, América” was one of the first hits of the tremendously important vocal group Os Cariocas, which, to add a touch of irony, had been modeled after the American group the Hi-Los.  With their sophisticated vocal harmonization, Os Cariocas represented a dramatic advance in the quality of vocal groups in Brazil.  Several later recordings changed the original “hots” in the lyrics to “rocks”; the internet, unsurprisingly, adopted these as the official lyrics.  However, at the time the song was composed, rock and roll hadn’t even truly congealed as a genre; that would only be around 1955, with Buck Ram’s “The Great Pretender” and the first hits by Chuck Berry. “Hots” in this case refers to a fast swingy style of fox-trot.

Main source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 anos de música brasileira by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello, and conversation with Jairo Severiano.

“Chega de Saudade” — “Garota de Ipanema” — “O amor em paz”

Chega de Saudade (1958, Tom Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes)

Vai minha tristeza // Get along, my sorrow
E diz a ela que sem ela não pode ser // And tell her it’s just impossible without her
Diz-lhe numa prece // Urge her in an entreaty
Que ela regresse // To come back to me
Porque eu não posso mais sofrer // Because I can’t suffer any longer

Chega de saudade // That’s enough of saudade
A realidade é que sem ela não há paz // The truth is that without her there’s no peace
Não há beleza  // There’s no beauty
É só tristeza e a melancolia // Only sadness and melancholy
Que não sai de mim, não sai de mim, não sai // That won’t leave me be, won’t leave me, won’t leave…

Mas se ela voltar, se ela voltar // But if she comes back – if she comes back
Que coisa linda, que coisa louca // What a beautiful thing, what a crazy thing
Pois há menos peixinhos a nadar no mar // Cause there’re fewer fishies swimming in the sea
Do que os beijinhos que eu darei na sua boca // Than the kissies I’ll plant on her mouth

Dentro dos meus braços // In my arms
Os abraços hão de ser milhões de abraços // The hugs will become millions of hugs
Apertado assim, colado assim, calado assim // Tight like so; entwined like so; hushed, like so
Abraços e beijinhos, e carinhos sem ter fim // Hugs and kisses and caresses without end
Que é pra acabar com esse negócio de você viver sem mim // Which is to put an end to this nonsense of you living without me!

(repeat)


“Garota de Ipanema”(1962, Tom Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes)

Olha que coisa mais linda // Look, what a most beautiful thing
Mais cheia de graça // Most full of grace
É ela a menina // It’s her, the girl
Que vem e que passa // That appears and passes by
Num doce balanço // In a sweet sway
A caminho do mar // On her way to the sea

Moça do corpo dourado // The girl with that body of gold
Do sol de Ipanema // From the sun of Ipanema
O seu balançado é mais que um poema // Her sashay is more than a poem
É a coisa mais linda que eu já vi passar // It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen go by

Ah, por que estou tão sozinho? // Oh, why am I so lonely?
Ah, por que tudo é tão triste? // Oh, why is everything so sad?
Ah, a beleza que existe // Oh, this beauty that exists
A beleza que não é só minha // Beauty that’s not mine alone
Que também passa sozinha // That also passes by on her own

Ah, se ela soubesse // Oh, if she only knew
Que quando ela passa /That when she passes by
O mundo inteirinho se enche de graça // The whole wide world swells up with grace
E fica mais lindo // And grows more beautiful
Por causa do amor // On account of love


“O amor em paz” (1961, Tom Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes)

Eu amei // I loved
E amei, ai de mim, muito mais // I loved, woe to me, much more
Do que devia amar // Than I ought to have loved
E chorei // And I cried
Ao sentir que iria sofrer // Sensing that I would suffer
E me desesperar // And grow desperate

Foi então // That was when
Que da minha infinita tristeza // Out of my infinite sadness
Aconteceu você // You came along
Encontrei em você // I found in you
A razão de viver // My reason for living
E de amar em paz // And for loving in peace
E não sofrer mais // And never suffering again
Nunca mais // Never again
Porque o amor // Because love
É a coisa mais triste // Is the saddest thing
Quando se desfaz // When it falls apart
O amor é a coisa mais triste // Love is the saddest thing
Quando se desfaz // When it falls apart

— Commentary —

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Tom Jobim & Vinicius de Moraes at Tom’s home on R. Barão da Torre, Ipanema. 1960s.

Bossa nova classics are some of the songs curious listeners search for the most, so here are a few of the standards.  And as you can see, the Portuguese lyrics differ significantly from their respective English versions (“No more blues“; “Girl from Ipanema“; “Once I loved“).

So much has been written about bossa nova that I think my posts on bossa nova songs are probably more valuable just for the literal translation of the lyrics, in part because there are so many different stories out there – even in generally reliable sources – that it’s hard to feel confident about the veracity of many of them. But below I provide a little commentary on each of these songs.

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A “lavadeira” like the ones João Gilberto says he was inspired by.

João Gilberto liked to say he developed his innovative bossa-nova rhythm on the guitar in imitation of the rhythmic sway of the hips of the lavadeiras (laundry women) in Juazeiro, his home town in Bahia. He has also always insisted that bossa nova isn’t a genre; it’s just sambas performed with a little added twist – the new bossa of his guitar and voice. As you know, that bossa — whether it was the result of an epiphany he had while watching the lavadeiras of Juazeiro, or the culmination of a trend in Brazilian music that he managed to capture and express — turned the Brazilian music scene on its head in 1958, and in turn, quickly swept the United States off its feet.

“Chega de Saudade” was the title track on João Gilberto’s seminal 1958 album that is considered the cornerstone of bossa nova. Tom Jobim summed up the importance of the album and João Gilberto’s influence on the Brazilian music scene in his clear-sighted text in the liner notes. At the time, his affirmations seemed exaggerated to many consumers who had barely heard of 27-year-old Gilberto:  “In almost no time, he [João Gilberto] has influenced an entire generation of arrangers, guitarists, musicians and singers,” Tom wrote.

Funnily enough, according to Tom, quoted in A Canção no Tempo, this song — which casts off saudade in its lyrics — is nostalgic in its very construction, and not really the best representative of anything “nova”: “Its introduction recalls those traditional introductions of ensembles of guitar and cavaquinho … It has all of the classic modulations of old music… It’s a nostalgic song that’s rejecting saudade!”

But the version released on João Gilberto’s album was indeed bossa nova, with João Gilberto’s rhythmically innovative guitar strokes woven together with his soft style of singing and the simplicity of the lyrics — including the rhyme of peixinhos (fishies) with beijinhos (kissies), which raised more than a few critical eyebrows.

“Chega de Saudade” was first released on Elizeth Cardoso’s landmark album Canção do amor demais, six months prior to Gilberto’s Chega de Saudade, and on that album already represents a strong precursor to bossa nova, with João Gilberto playing his signature guitar accompaniment. Cardoso’s album is considered a “bridge” to the bossa-nova period that came into swing with Chega de Saudade.

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22 September 1963: Lyrics published in Jornal do Brasil column “Sing along with Radio JB”

Tom and Vinicius said that “Garota de Ipanema” was inspired by a teenage girl who they often admired as she passed by Bar Veloso, a bar on the street where she lived where the two were devoted patrons in the early ’60s. The bar has since taken the name of the song. In a 1965 interview with the magazine Manchete, Vinicius identified the girl as Heloísa (Helô) Menezes Pais Pinto (Helô Pinheiro, after marriage), saying: “For her we composed, with the utmost respect and speechless enchantment, the samba that put her in headlines around the world and turned our dear ‘Ipanema’ into a magical word for foreign listeners.”

The song wasn’t thrown together on a napkin in Bar Veloso, though. Both Tom and Vinicius labored carefully over their respective parts and, together with João, presented the version they were pleased with during the show Encontro, which debuted its forty-five day run at the boîte Au Bon Gourmet on 2 August 1962.  During the show, the trio included a playful intro to “Garota de Ipanema” that could actually serve as an introduction to much of bossa nova:

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Vinicius de Moraes with Helô Pinheiro (1960s)

João Gilberto: “Tom e se você fizesse agora uma canção que possa nos dizer, contar o que é o amor…” (Tom, how about if you were to make a song right now that might tell us, explain what love is…)

Tom Jobim: “Olha Joãozinho, eu não saberia, sem Vinicius para fazer a poesia…” (Look, dear João, I wouldn’t know how, without Vinicius to write the poetry…)

Vinicius de Moraes: “Para essa canção se realizar, quem dera o João para cantar” (For this song to come to be, if only we could have João to sing…)

João Gilberto: “Ah, mas quem sou eu? Eu sou mais vocês. Melhor se nós cantássemos os três” (Ah, but who am I? I prefer the two of you. Best for all three of us to sing!)

…Olha que coisa mais linda, mais cheia de graça…

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21 August 1964: “Brazil seen from afar” column in Rio’s Diário das Noticias newspaper features news of “Garota de Ipanema,” the “latest champion of album sales in the United States, beating out the Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night.'”

“Garota de Ipanema” was released in early 1963 on the Phillips LP A Bossa dos Cariocas, and six months later Tom introduced it to American listeners on the Verve LP The Composer of Desafinado PlaysAt the end of ’63, Verve released the Astrud Gilberto/Stan Getz single “Girl from Ipanema” (with the title taken from the new English-language version, by Norman Gimbel), and then in 1964, the tremendously influential album Getz/Gilbertowhich changed the musical landscape around much of the world, became the first Grammy-Award-winning album from non-American artists and propelled “Garota de Ipanema” and the amateur Astrud Gilberto to enduring international stardom.

Finally, I don’t have much to say about “O amor em paz,” except that the harmony and lyrics are brilliantly complementary in this song, shifting between minor and major modes as the lyrics shift between notes of sadness and joy. João Gilberto released the song on his self-titled LP in 1961.

For more bossa nova songs, see: Insensatez; Corcovado; LigiaRosa Morena; Se todos fossem iguais a você and Samba do Avião.

Main sources for this post: A Canção no Tempo by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello and Bim Bom by Walter Garcia