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



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” 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.]


New English version of “Samba da Pergunta”

Photo by 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


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.
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


New English version of “Eu sei que vou te amar”

Here’s another new English version of a Bossa Nova classic. “Eu sei que vou te amar” is the original Portuguese title of the song by A.C. Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. My version is called “I know that I’ll love you”, which is pretty much a literal translation of the original. This song has been recorded by numerous performers, but there doesn’t seem to be any standard English version for it (though other English versions do exist). One of my favorite renditions is sung by Norma Bengell on a classic sixties album produced in Brazil called “Oooooh! Norma”. Also excellent are those of Sylvia Telles and Lenita Bruno, which were also recorded in Brazil in the 60s.

This song has been on my mind a lot over the last few days, because in addition to working on the new translation, I’ve also been making an arrangement of the music for a trio of voice, flute and guitar. As usual, if you like this version I encourage you to use it in performance. Let me know if you do. I’d love to hear it!

I know that I’ll love you
(Eu sei que vou te amar)

I know that I’ll love you,
my whole life through, I know that I’ll love you.
At every farewell I will love you,
with desperation I know I’ll love you.

And every verse I write will be my chance to say
I know that I’ll love you, love you my whole life through.

I know I’m going to cry,
whenever you’re not here I’m going to cry.
But each time you return will make up for
the loss I felt when you weren’t at my side.

I know I’ll have to bear
a never-ending feeling of despair,
while waiting for the chance to be with you,
with you my whole life through.

— English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “Eu sei que vou te amar” by
Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes


New English version of “Ah!, se eu pudesse”

Here is another one of my new English versions of a Bossa Nova classic. This time I chose the lesser known “Ah!, se eu pudesse” by Menescal and Bôscoli, the same authors that brought us the more famous songs “O Barquinho” (the Little Boat) and “Rio”. As far as I know, there is no other English version of this gem. Check out Lúcio Alves’ recording of the orginal Portuguese version on the 1963 Elenco release entitled “Balançamba”, which is one of my favorite albums. According to Ruy Castro, author of the excellent book “Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World”, Alves was one of the Brazilian singers who influenced the famous João Gilberto.

If I Could Only

If I could only come and find you smiling
and if the day was beautiful as it once was,
the beauty of the day made for the two of us,
when everything surrounding us became a song.

If I could only show you all the flowers
whose choruses sing praises to the growing morning
and fill the streets with fragrance like someone intoning
the loveliest devotions to the rising sun.

If I could only, at the end of the street, find our little boat and take it out to sea!
If all that poetry would come together,
If I could only have that day forever,
If I could find you sitting there serenely,
I’d take you by the hand and we would stroll together,
both looking out to sea and somehow speaking volumes
almost silently.

— English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “Ah!, se eu pudesse” by Roberto Menescal
and Ronaldo Bôscoli


New English version of "Só danço Samba"
December 1, 2009, 11:23 am
Filed under: lyrics | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I haven’t spent much time lately with the stated project of posting about the Divas, but I have spent a fair amount of time creating English versions of several bossa nova classics. Here’s the latest. I suspect there may already be an English version of “Só danço samba”, but I haven’t been able to locate it, so I did my own. I left the Portuguese “Vai vai vai” in there, because I don’t think “go go go” sounds good with the rest—too guttaral. I figure the “vai vai vai” helps keep the Brazilian flavor in any case. If you like it, use it.

I Only Dance the Samba

I dance the samba, but only samba.
Vai vai vai vai vai
I dance the samba, but only samba.

I’ve already twisted all I can,
so please don’t wear me thin
with calypso and cha cha cha.
[alternative 2nd verse:
I’ve danced the twist so much I’m out of breath.
So please don’t bore me stiff
with calypso and cha cha cha.]

English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “Só danço samba” by Antonio Carlos Jobim and
Vinicius de Moraes


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