Bossa Nova Daydreams


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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