Being American, I thought for most of my life that “The Girl from Ipanema” was an English song. It wasn’t until I was an adult exploring what we like to call “world music” — i.e., anything not sung in English — that I realized the version I’d always known was in fact a translation. And it wasn’t until I began to learn Portuguese that I realized it wasn’t even a very good translation. The existential longing of the Portuguese version does not come through, and of course neither does the rhythm or beauty of the Portuguese word choices.
Tom (António) Jobim wrote the music for “Garota de Ipanema.” He also wrote both the music and the words for one of the best-known Brazilian songs of all time, “Águas de Março,” an impossibly catchy bossa nova tune that celebrates the sudden rainstorms of March and the way they flood Brazilian streets, the water carrying leaves and stones and all manner of things as it swirls ever downward.
There was an English version of this, too, written by Jobim himself. You’d think it would be just as good, but there are some things that can’t be done in both languages.
You can judge this for yourself, even if you don’t speak Portuguese. First, we have a video of Tom Jobim and the fabulous Elis Regina recording “Águas de Março” in the studio. Their mutual delight in the song is infectious, and you don’t need to understand the language to enjoy the lovely rhythms of the rhyming words.
And now, the English version, sung by Art Garfunkel. Setting aside the very different tempo, does this sound anywhere near as…fun?