Garota de Ipanema

Last week I wrote about the differences between the original Portuguese and English versions of “Águas do Março,” and mentioned my earlier discovery that “The Girl From Ipanema” was (gasp!) not actually an English song.

But I didn’t get into details. So…let’s dive in!

The lyrics to “Garota de Ipanema” were written six years before the music, by Vinicius de Moraes. He really did watch a beautiful girl pass by the bar where he was sitting; she lived nearby and walked past every day. The song was originally written for a musical, with a different first verse, but was rescued from anonymity when António (Tom) Jobim wrote the music for it. Later, Norman Gimbel wrote the English lyrics that enabled a huge North American audience to fall in love with it as well. It is probably the most well-known song ever to come out of Brazil.

But the most famous version of it was not recorded in its home country.

During a recording session in New York with João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz, the idea of cutting an English language version came up. João’s wife, Astrud, was the only one of the Brazilians who could speak English well and was chosen to sing. Her voice, without trained singer mannerisms, proved a perfect fit for the song.

Did it ever. Here is that recording — the long version, with João Gilberto singing the Portuguese lyrics and Astrud singing the English. The Portuguese lyrics are below if you’d like to follow along.

Olha que coisa mais linda
Mais cheia de graça.
É ela a menina que vem e que passa
Num doce balanço a caminho do mar.
Moça do corpo dourado do sol de Ipanema
O seu balançado é mais que um poema
É a coisa mais linda que eu já vi passar.

Ah, por que estou tão sozinho?
Ah, por que tudo é tão triste?
Ah, a beleza que existe
A beleza que não é só minha
Que também passa sozinha.

Ah, se ela soubesse
Que, quando ela passa
O mundo sorrindo se enche de graça
E fica mais lindo por causa do amor
Por causa do amor, por causa do amor…

A few years back, I sat down and did a literal translation of these lyrics for the language practice. Then I compared them to the actual English lyrics and was quite startled. There are some marked differences.

Here is my (admittedly not musically-oriented) translation:

Look at the most beautiful thing
Most full of grace.
It’s her, the girl who comes and passes
In a sweet sway on her way to the sea. [referring to the sway of her hips]
Young girl with a golden body from the Ipanema sun
Her swaying is more than a poem
It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen pass by.

Ah, why am I so alone?
Ah, why is everything so sad?
Ah, the beauty that exists
The beauty that is not mine alone
That also passes alone.

Ah, if she knew
That when she passes
The smiling world is filled with grace
And feels more beautiful because of love
Because of love, because of love…

It’s so Portuguese! (Well, Brazilian.) That melancholy in seeing a beautiful woman and feeling more alone because of her very beauty, which is shared by all. But notice that this song is about the singer paying homage to the grace of youth and beauty, knowing that it is ephemeral — and acknowledging that every time the woman passes by, the world brightens because of her very presence, and because of the existence of love. He may be alone and sad, but this young woman reminds him of times when he was not, and that others still love even now.

The “because of love” is up for interpretation. It might simply be his crush on her, but more likely it refers to the love of beauty which this young woman inspires wherever she goes. Knowing the Portuguese tendency toward saudades, I think the singer is appreciating that love even when he doesn’t have it, and wallowing a bit in his current lack.

Now for the actual English lyrics:

Tall and tanned and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes
Each one she passes
Goes “Aaah!”

When she walks it’s like a samba
That swings so cool and sways so gently
That when she passes
Each one she passes
Goes “Aaah!”

Oh, but he watches so sadly
How can he tell her he loves her
Yes, he would give his heart gladly
But each day when she walks to the sea
She looks straight ahead not at him

Tall and tanned and young and lovely
The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, he smiles —
But she doesn’t see
No she doesn’t see
She just doesn’t see…

This version makes it all about the singer’s ego. It’s about the singer wanting the beautiful girl that everyone swoons over, and feeling sad because she doesn’t see him. He’s not sad in contemplation of the fleetingness of youth and beauty, or because he’s alone. He’s sad because she doesn’t notice him. And could the two endings be more different? One is “because of love,” and leaves it up to interpretation as to just what that love encompasses. The other is “she doesn’t see,” making it all about the young woman’s obliviousness to the singer. It’s so much…smaller that way.

I know which one I prefer.

While searching for the best videos of this song, I stumbled across this one of a 2007 Diana Krall concert in Brazil. The video quality isn’t great (it seems to have been recorded with a cell phone), but the moment it captures is wonderful. Krall starts out singing “‘S Wonderful,” but at about the 2:45 mark, her piano solo segues beautifully into “The Girl From Ipanema.” You can hear the audience responding immediately and with great pleasure, a vast “ahhh” that floats over the crowd.

She starts out singing the English “Boy from Ipanema” version, and then hands it over to her audience. They finish the verse, she sings one line of the next one, and then the audience just takes over. You can see from her facial expression that she’s a bit surprised, then delighted, by the universal knowledge her audience has of this song — and how different it sounds when they sing it in the original language. Instead of trying to retake the song from them, she sits with her hands in her lap, swaying and clearly having a great time while they finish the whole thing. Before going back to the piano, she says, “I’ll buy tickets to hear you sing. I’m not kidding!”

But I think the best part is that, when she finishes the bridge of the song, the audience takes over again, without any suggestion on her part. It’s just organic. Quietly they sing the end of the song, while she smiles in clear appreciation, and it’s a truly magical moment of connection between musician and audience. In this case, I’m not sure which is which.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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24 Responses to Garota de Ipanema

  1. Carla says:

    Thank you for finding that Diana Krall video, loved it.

    “Corcovado” is another song that’s pretty different in the English version, at least the first part. And curiously, like “Garota de Ipanema”, it also ends with the word “amor” (“O que é felicidade, meu amor”).

    And now I’m feeling an incredible urge to pick up my Getz/Gilberto album. Haven’t listened to it in a while.

    • oregon expat says:

      And now I’m feeling an incredible urge to pick up my Getz/Gilberto album.

      Confession: I did the same thing while writing this post. And after that, it was Bebel Gilberto.

  2. Jorge says:

    Another adapted song that just doesn’t have anything to do with the original is Sarah Brightman’s “Harem”. A crappy popesque or maybe broadwayesque adaptation of Amália Rodeigues’ “Canção do Mar”. Even so made it to the charts. OUR charts, for crying out loud!

    My feelings about it can be summed up in a single word: yuck.

    • Jorge says:

      Rodrigues, dammit, not Rodeigues.

    • oregon expat says:

      It is?? I heard “Harem” eons ago, before I met a certain lady from Portugal. Haven’t heard it since and had no idea.

      [rushes to iTunes for a listen] Holy smokes! It is “Canção do Mar.” Except…Sarah Brightman isn’t remaking the Amália song. She’s remaking Dulce Pontes’ remake of the Amália song. That’s one of my two favorite Dulce Pontes songs and Sarah is copying her every vocal phrasing. Okay, I’m going to have to look up the lyrics now.

      Edited to add: Sarah’s lyrics bear about as much resemblance to Dulce Pontes’ lyrics as Dulce Pontes’ bear to Amália’s! The only common thread between these three songs is the melody. But yes, Sarah’s lyrics are pretty awful. “Welcoming you to my harem”? [snorkle chuckle har de har]

      • oregon expat says:

        Wait — Amália sang two versions of that song! I didn’t know that! (Neither did my wife.) There’s the original, which indeed has the same lyrics as the Dulce Pontes song, and a newer one performed in a French movie called Les Amants du Tage, with different lyrics and a different title: “Solidão.” That’s the one I’m familiar with.

        Everyone in this house learned something tonight. Thank you, Jorge.

      • Jorge says:

        Told ya. 🙂

        After posting here I dived into YouTube checking for other versions of this song. There are tons of them!

        The one i liked best? This one. It’s in Persian, I suppose, so I don’t have a clue about how faithful the lyrics are to the original. But I love how she sings it. Somehow I don’t think she’d butcher the words as Brightman did. It’s also based on the version Dulce Pontes made popular.

    • Lilaine says:

      This Franco-Portuguese Blogger agrees with you. He doesn’t even have the word to qualify “Harem” (and let me tell you, we have a hell of a number of ‘chosen words’ in French for that!). He doesn’t seem to like the French adaptation by Hélène Segara much more. He says the only positive thing about all the adapted versions is that they might make the original one (i.e. the Portuguese ones, I guess) better known.

      • Jorge says:

        As per Oregon Expat’s clearance… 🙂

        Heh… and things get even more vitriolic in the comments… Brightman suffers a major spanking there. It ain’t pretty. 😀

        Regarding Segara’s version… well… it’s much better than Brightman’s, that’s for sure. Bur I still think she lacks something. Something Shani here has and that most Portuguese singers who sang this song also have… even those who play with it, like Maria João here. 🙂

        (For those of you who were alive in the 80s… yep, that’s a Casio rhythm, the same you can hear in OMD’s Enola Gay. Hehehe)

        I don’t know why. Before Shani, I thought it might have something to do with language. But Shani sings in Persian, so it can’t be language. Dunno.

        • Lilaine says:

          You’re right about the ‘spanking’. 😉
          And as for Segara, it’s just a slapping. 😀

          I don’t know why. Before Shani, I thought it might have something to do with language. But Shani sings in Persian, so it can’t be language. Dunno.

          My guess is that it’s not language, but the lyrics–and what they evoke in the Portuguese souls and make them sing it that way, and certainly the music–for who better than a Portuguese can express the richness and nuances of the Fado? As for Shani, maybe the Persian lyrics evoke the same kind of feelings as the Portuguese ones? Or is it simply the talent of the singers that shows?
          Btw, if someone would translate the lyrics and explain what they mean to a Portuguese soul…?
          I used Google, but… :p
          I’m guessing it has something to do with a sailor (in love?), dancing in his boat as the cruel sea roars… and he won’t be lost for he dances, sings and dreams of her? Am I too far off?

          • Jorge says:

            Btw, if someone would translate the lyrics and explain what they mean to a Portuguese soul…?

            Well, I tried, but it came out too crappy to post anywhere. These lyrics, despite having meaning, are more about the very cadence of the waves, I think, and any translation that lacks that cadence just doesn’t do it.

            As for the meaning, well, it’s very much a woman’s song — which is why it’s seldom sang by men, I suppose — in which she wrestles with the sea for the love of her loved one by telling him to come see if what the “cruel seas” told him is true or not — that she stole the light out of his eyes.

            It has to do, of course, with the ages old tradition of men going out to sea, to sail, conquest distant lands or trade with them, or fish, and leaving the women behind… or renouncing the sea to stay with them.

          • Lilaine says:

            Thanks Jorge. 🙂
            I should have guessed the person who dances in the boat was a woman… 🙂
            And now I understand better some of the lyrics. It is so much a song about the Portuguese soul. The Portuguese women’s soul. And it could apply to any woman who has to compete with the sea for their loved one. I just need clarification on one little detail:
            “Fui bailar no meu batel
            Além do mar cruel…”
            Além do… Is her boat far at sea or out of reach from it (i.e. her ‘boat’ would simply be her home)?
            And then maybe she’s just telling her loved one to come back home and see if it’s true that she stole the light … or if she’s actually the one who turns it on…? 😉

          • Jorge says:

            @Liliane. Good question. As I said, part of the structure of these lyrics has more to do with cadence than with meaning, and this also includes some vocabular choices. “Além do mar cruel” means, literally, “beyond the cruel seas”, but I do believe the implicit meaning here is indeed “beyond the reach of the cruel seas”.

            It isn’t clear, though.

        • oregon expat says:

          My first thought when I watched this was, “Eurovision.” The costume, the tackiness, the music that doesn’t exactly make you want to get up and dance…

          • Jorge says:

            I think Maria João was just being irreverent with the whole thing. This was sang in a very uptight and pretentious (yeah, and tacky too) TV show – slash – ceremony, whose aim was to “elect” the “seven wonders” of Portugal. Maria João probably thought the whole thing was ridiculous and came up with this irreverent mix of one of the most sacred songs Portugal has and that Casio thingy. Her or Mário Delgado or maybe both; they are both great musicians, and I don’t know who came up with this arrangement.

            For those of you who really want to know how great Maria João is here’s a marvelous improvised duet of hers with Bobby McFerrin. Remember the fun you mentioned in the post about Águas de Março? Yeah. Plenty of that here too. 😀

  3. oregon expat says:

    @ Jorge: Hey, don’t stop on MY account. I love that song. Might have to listen to my Dulce Pontes album tomorrow, between the various Brazilian discs that will be in rotation.

  4. xenatuba says:

    Someone needs to expand her music library. Off to iTunes for me!

  5. Ana_ñ says:

    Wonderful song and fascinating reflections about the versions, as it is not a translation.

    There are great renditions by very different singers, but I had a look focusing just on the lyrics in other languages. It’s a funny experience 🙂

    As you say, the most centered on the singer is the English version — By the way, Frank Sinatra sings “I/me” (–jobim/frank-sinatra-girl-from-ipanema.html), instead of “he/him” as Astrud Gilberto does in the version of this post.

    The Portuguese version talks about a girl oblivious of her effect (“she doesn’t know that when she passes the smiling world is filled with grace…”), maybe the Italian girl is more arrogant; this version is also centered on the singer (song and lyrics in Italian with translation into Portuguese here:
    The French version is sung in third person and the girl makes an effect on the boys who look at her, not on the singer (song and lyrics in French here: In this case, there are some graceful marine analogies.
    The Spanish version is the most similar to the Portuguese one. There is not the Aaaah! efect, present in the other three languages, but curiously omits “por causa do amor” (song and lyrics in Spanish here:

    After a few Brazilian songs, I’m going now to dig up some old fados. 🙂

  6. Lilaine says:

    And the Russian version, after a …weird (say the comments) attempt at singing the Portuguese one. He does know how to play guitar, however.

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