Bossa Nova Daydreams


Fishing for contemporary Brazilian music? — Two sites for a good catch

These days there are lots of websites that offer a chance to hear classic bossa nova and samba music, but not so many that focus on the current musical scene in Brazil. If you’re a Portuguese speaker looking for contemporary manifestations of MPB, Brazilian jazz and samba, you’ll have an easier time of it, since most of the web coverage of these styles is to be found on Brazilian websites, presented solely in Portuguese. But if you’re not a Portuguese speaker, don’t let that deter you. A few minutes spent visually scanning and exploring links on those sites is usually all it takes to find new musical gems. You can always use your browser’s page translator when you can’t make sense of the Portuguese text on your own. Sure, it won’t be a perfect translation (maybe in a couple more decades?), but it will be good enough to help you navigate and find videos, mp3s and other resources.

Now that I have encouraged you with that little confidence-inspiring pep talk, here are a couple of exciting Brazilian music websites with great listening opportunities:

SESC Instrumental (http://www.instrumentalsescbrasil.org.br/)
SESC is a nationwide Brazilian social support organization that promotes Brazilian culture by supporting musicians and artists. The organization provides venues throughout Brazil that showcase many of today’s best Brazilian talent. On the SESC Instrumental website you can find a treasure trove of high-quality videos of live instrumental music concerts that have taken place at SESC venues throughout Brazil. Shows by well-known artists such as Hermeto Pascoal and João Donato are presented alongside lesser known, but no less interesting artists like the Maogani quartet and Luis Leite. Besides the videos, there are also interviews, artist pages, a tv broadcast link and other resources (all in Portuguese). For instant gratification, find the box entitled “Todos os Shows” (“All the Shows”) on the homepage, then click on the button “Ver todos” (“See them all”) to see the complete list of videos sorted by date and artist/group. (Note that all these videos are also posted on YouTube.) Thanks to Angelo da Silva for giving me the tip about this site!

Cultura Brasil, Brazilian music portal (http://www.culturabrasil.com.br/)
This website is the portal to a wide variety of musical offerings presented by São Paulo-based Radio Cultura Brasil, an organization that has been promoting Brazilian music on the air since 1936. Here you will find an archive with lots of themed radio shows that are great samplers of both current and historical music trends in Brazil. There are also themed playlists, such as “O Fino de Elis”, a “best of” overview of Elis Regina recordings, or “Instrumental cerebral paulistano”, an aural voyage through the “cerebral” instrumental music of 1980s São Paulo. Other resources on the site include special radio programs, podcast support, interviews, photos and a live radio stream. Even if you don’t understand Portuguese, if you can sit patiently through a few seconds of talk here and there, you will be richly rewarded with a huge variety of great Brazilian music of all genres—all gratis! Time to put up the “Gone fishin’ ” sign…

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New English version of “Luz Negra”

I suppose by now it should be fairly obvious that I have a penchant for sad songs with descending melodies. The subject of my latest effort at samba song translation, Luz Negra (“Black Light”), may be the saddest, most descending song there is. It was composed by Nelson Cavaquinho and Irani Barros and has been covered by many great artists, including Leny Andrade, Richard Galliano and Baden Powell.

Nelson Cavaquinho (center)

Nelson Cavaquinho (center)

There seems to be a certain type of “natural” musician, who, regardless of circumstances, is intrinsically compelled to make music with whatever is at hand. How else can you explain someone like Nelson Cavaquinho: He grew up poor, building his first makeshift guitar all on his own out of a cigar box and some wire. He then taught himself how to play cavaquinho (a kind of Brazilian ukelele) and consequently developed his own unique two-finger playing style. Perhaps most impressive of all, he composed over 600 compositions over the course of his lifetime. You don’t crank out that much music unless you just can’t help it.

Here is my new English version of the lyrics for Luz Negra. One of the most beautiful arrangements of this song can be heard on Lea Freire’s excellent album, Vento em Madeira.

Black Light
(Luz Negra)

All alone
Forever searching for someone
Who suffers just as I have done
But there is no one to be found

Still alone
And life just keeps on passing by
I’ve got no one to care for me
The end is all I see

The black light of a fate so cruel
Shines upon a pallid stage from above
On that stage you’ll find me playing the role
Of the silly fool for love

— English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “Luz Negra” by Nelson Cavaquinho and Irani Barros

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Maritaca—contemporary Brazilian instrumental music at its finest

In my never-ending search for recordings of Brazilian music that satisfy my musical tastes, I have recently come across an excellent record label called “Maritaca“. On the English-language web pages for Maritaca, the label is described as “… a Brazilian Instrumental Music Label renowned for casting only the best Brazilian musicians and recording their contemporary Brazilian music. It is a company made by musicians, and dedicated to music.”

The label is under the creative direction of Léa Freire, an outstanding Brazilian flautist, who also performs on many of the label’s recordings. Maritaca, being based in São Paulo, showcases many “Paulistas” (natives of São Paulo)— who happen to be some of today’s most accomplished musicians working in the Brazilian jazz and what I’ll call jazz-choro-samba-classical crossover genres.

Léa Freire. Photo by Marcilio Godoi.

Léa Freire. Photo by Marcilio Godoi.

Besides Freire’s luscious low-pitched flute playing, there are many other top artists featured, such as percussionist Edu Ribeiro, Paulo Paulelli (whose beautiful bass playing I first encountered on Rosa Passos’ cd “Amorosa”), pianist Fabio Torres, singer-composer-guitarist Filó Machado, the big band “Banda Mantiqueira” and many others. The Maritaca website offers a lot of musical samples from the albums. One of the first that comes up on the website is “Vento em Madeira“. As soon as I heard the sample tunes I was ready to buy. Maritaca’s albums are available for purchase from a number of sources, including sambastore.com and Amazon.com.

Incidentally, Trio Corrente, (Edu Ribeiro, Paulo Paulelli and Fabio Torres), which is one of the groups represented by the label, has a very good album that you can listen to in full on Grooveshark before you buy—just do a search for “Paulelli”.

The music on the Maritaca label varies in style and approach, but there are many common features, such as sophisticated, crystal-clear playing, super-tight ensemble work and excellent sound engineering. Stylistically, the albums on the label tend to offer a pleasantly angular, modern direction, while remaining anchored in Brazilian musical traditions of choro, samba, bossa nova and the classically-rooted legacy of Villa-Lobos. Highly recommended!



New English version of “Moça flor”
Photo by Sebastian Anthony. CC: Some rights reserved.

Photo by Sebastian Anthony. CC: Some rights reserved.

I’ve been home sick with a cold–not pretty. So instead of being bored and miserable, I decided to bring a little beauty into my world by translating one of my favorite bossa nova standards.

“Moça flor”, by Durval Ferreira and Lula Freire, is a bittersweet song that uses a flower metaphor to express the poetic quality of a girl’s first experience of love.

It’s has a gentle, beautiful melody and lush chromatic harmony.  My personal favorite recording of the song is by Tamba 4, on their album “We and the Sea”.

Little Flower
(Moça flor)

Little flower, sweetest flower of them all.

Little flower, you’re the color of love
and your look, though it shines, gives off an air of sadness
brought out by the tear welling up in your eye.

Little flower, that pure tear in your eye
is the dew of a flower that cries
and feels pain.

Give it time, little flower, you’ll cry, little flower, that’s love.

— English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “Moça flor” by Durval Ferreira and Lula Freire

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New English version of “O Meu Pecado”

[In my original post, I attributed authorship of “O Meu Pecado” to Paulinho da Viola, but the actual author of the song is Zé Kéti. Thanks to AD of brazilliance.wordpress.com” for pointing out my error.]

Paulinho da Viola is one of my favorite Brazilian samba and choro artists. He is a comprehensive talent: his singing voice, guitar and cavaquinho playing are all characterized by a clean, smooth and gentle quality, and his original compositions and interpretations encapsulate the core essence of Rio’s samba spirit. His version of Zé Kéti’s song “O Meu Pecado” can be heard on his 1970 album “Foi um rio que passou em minha vida”.

Zé Kéti

Zé Kéti

When I posted this yesterday I must have had one too many margaritas, because I had decided to use “my transgression” as the translation of the first line (“meu pecado” in Portuguese). When I woke up this morning I had to admit to myself that even though “my transgression” has its advantages, it’s just too elevated in register and doesn’t suit the conversational quality of the song. So now I’ve settled on using “my sin”, which is how most people would probably translate the title. It doesn’t have as many syllables as “meu pecado”, but since the melody for that line has only three distinct pitches, I think it’s manageable. You just have to sing the first two pitches on the “my” and not reiterate the last pitch. Sometimes when translating from Portuguese to English you just have to accept such compromises. Here’s what I ended up with:

My Sin [alt.: My Transgression]

(O Meu Pecado)

My sin [alt.: My transgression]
was that I wanted in my youth
to love so many women.
My time has come and gone.
I long for the old days.

My sin
was that I spent all my nights drinking
and singing serenades
down in the city.

But now that I’m broke,
it seems women just don’t want me anymore.
Oh, if only things could go back
to the way they were before.

— English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “O Meu Pecado” by Zé Kéti

[Since I posted this I’ve received feedback from some people saying they think “My Transgression” works better than “My Sin”. I’m still not sure, so I’m putting up as an alternative version, and you can decide for yourself.]

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New English version of “Samba da Pergunta”

Photo by mike.in.ny. CC: Some rights reserved.

This translation has been brewing for quite a while. It’s been a joy to work on because not only is the music lovely, but the lyrics are truly poetic–a kind of quiet explosion of colors. The poem is full of vivid images assembled in such a way to create a fantastic, metaphysical and emotionally charged atmosphere. The way I read it, there is no one absolute sense or meaning–it is intentionally abstract. That’s part of what gives it its magic.

Elis Regina’s perfect rendition on the album “Como & Porque” was my first chance to fall in love with the song. João Gilberto has his own haunting version on the album “João Gilberto en México” (1970). I highly recommend both.

Keeping to the sense and spirit of the original version was a special challenge with this one. As a result, how the words and syllables line up with the music may be a little confusing at first. To make it more useful, here is a pdf file that shows the music with the English lyrics underneath. (Sorry it looks so rough, I don’t have Finale right now.)Question_Samba_ENG

I could be wrong, but I think this is the first time this song is being made available in an English version. I’m not aware of any other.

A final note: In the original Portuguese, the song is also sometimes entitled “Astronauta” (not to be confused with the samba “O Astronauta” by Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell).

The Question Samba
(Samba da Pergunta)

Now she’s living
all alone in contemplation,
or perhaps up in the heavens,
in everything that flies through the sky.
She could be an astronaut, or
she could be a little songbird,
or become a gust of wind, or
a kite made of silken paper,
a little balloon, or maybe
she is on an asteroid, or
she could be the morning star that you can see from down here.
She could be somewhere on Mars now,
never to be heard from again.
She’s just disappeared…

— English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “Samba da Pergunta” by
Pingarilho and Marcos Vasconcelos

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New English version of “O Nosso Amor”

Today I offer a new translation of the Jobim/Vinicius classic “O Nosso Amor”, which translates as “Our Love”. My favorite version of this song is on the classic Elenco release “MPB-4”–which is both the name of the group and the album. There is also a lovely rendition by Joao Gilberto. I’m not aware of any other English version of this song, so I hope my version will suffice. It’s nice and short, unlike some of the others I’m currently taking on–“Samba da Pergunta” and “Tem Do”–which I’ll try to offer one fine day.

Our Love
(O Nosso Amor)

Here’s how our love is going to be:
just me for you, just you for me.
(2x)
This sadness is not welcome anymore.
I will bring you happiness.
I will want to live in peace
It’s what destiny tells me.

(Da Capo)
Here’s how our love…

— English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “O Nosso Amor” by
Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes

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