It’s safe to assume that, oh, about three-quarters of the world’s best vocal music is from Portuguese-speaking lands. There’s marrabenta in Mozambique, samba rock and samba hip hop in São Paulo, fado in Portugal, bossa nova in Rio, forró and frevo in Brazil’s northeast, música capira in the Brazilian south’s countryside, semba in Angola… We’ll stop there, but a full taxonomy of the wondrous sounds from lusophone lands could go on and on. If you’re not convinced that Portuguese speakers are responsible for most of the world’s best music, spend some time with at least the above shortlist, and report back to me.
The real question is: what makes Portuguese so perfect for music? I’ve got a few theories.
1. Portuguese employs an enormously rich range of vowel sounds. Recall that a vowel is what happens when you’re pushing sound out of your throat, without blocking it with your tongue, teeth, lips, etc. (Blocking or constricting creates a consonant).
To start, there are a lot of basic single-vowel sounds (“monophthongs”). Compare what your open vocal tract can do, for example, when speaking Portuguese, to what happens when you’re employing its less-interesting cousin:
And these basic single vowels are really just the beginning. Some of these are occasionally pronounced through the nose (i.e., nasal vowels). Some of them are pronounced in both “open” and “closed” versions (this can be very difficult for English speakers to master). Finally, Portuguese also uses dipthongs (two vowels stuck together) and even tripthongs (a gang of three, very fun). For an example of the latter, try to say following (the tripthong is underlined):
ele delinquiu — EH-lee day-leen-KWEEew[he got in trouble]
Vowels are very important for singers because that’s when they get to open their throats wide. And, when they wish to extend a word, most choose to do so on the vowel.
If you could sing in any language, wouldn’t you prefer the wide range of vowel options that Portuguese provides? And, wouldn’t you suppose that a singer who grew up speaking with this variety of vowels would have a more intimate and flexible relationship with her vocal tract?
2. Conversely, Portuguese has limited set of consonants to get in the way. Cléa Thomasset, a French singer who performs samba and chorinho, has explained to me her theory that the Portuguese consonants that do exist are particularly percussive-sounding compared to her native tongue; one can employ them to very effectively to mark rhythm. For an example, check out Elis Regina’s consonantal theatrics in the chorus to “Nega do Cabelo Duro“:
3. On a related note, Portuguese consonants tend to come at the beginning of words and syllables, and rarely at the end. This leaves your vocal tract open to extend the ends of syllables, and in no rush to close things off to get to the final consonant (to fully comprehend a syllable in many languages, you must wait for the consonant at the end). Not closing the vocal tract also lends an airy lightness to lyrics.
4. The ão sound is relatively rare in languages, but quite common in Portuguese. It is beautiful, strange, and fun: like “ow”, but with the middle bit of the expulsion forced out through your nose. Most of Portuguese’s Latin-descended words end in -ão (comparable Latinate English words end in -tion or -sion). This makes -ão a quite common word-ending and available for rhymes, as in this classic song by Armando Fernandes, performed by Clara Nunes:
Vai manter a tradição
Vai meu bloco tristeza e pé no chão
[Go on with the tradition
Go on with the samba parade, sadly, with your feet planted in reality]
5. Unlike Mandarin Chinese and some African languages, Portuguese is not a tonal language; at least, tones (variations in pitch) are not used within words to communicate meaning. This seems very useful in its absence, because a songwriter who has to take tone changes into account is necessarily more limited in word choices that will fit her melody.
6. At the same time, like many languages Portuguese does use shifts in tone at the phrase level to indicate some types of meaning (surprise, questions, etc.) and to my anglophone ears at least, these shifts are extremely pronounced. It’s common to hear even the most masculine Brazilian slide up into a falsetto range on a few syllables for emphasis. Does this meaning-enhancing and varied pitch range lead Portuguese speakers to get some of the same benefits in musical intelligence as speakers of true tonal languages? I’m getting into wild conjecture here, but maybe…
7. Saudade: Portuguese speakers claim that this word doesn’t exist in any other language. It’s actually more translatable than they claim (in Bosnian, for instance: sevdah is pretty similar, in English it can be most frequently translated as nostalgia) — but that’s beside the point. This feeling of nostalgia is uniquely celebrated in Portuguese-speaking cultures, and especially in their musics. Who else would relish lacking something or someone, nearly to the point of ecstasy? Saudade seems to come up almost constantly in lusophone music, whether explicitly invoked or not. Take, for example, this masterpiece by Dorival Caymmi and Jorge Amado, sung by Cesária Evora and Marisa Monte.
It must be so sweet to die in the sea’s green waves, the women sing, in what appears to be odd jealousy for a sailor who never returned.
Or, take this masterpiece of samba rock:
Carolina is a very difficult woman to forget, Seu Jorge sings, and lists the ways she’s lovely. But, she’s not returning his calls, and he’s feeling lonely. Of course this must be love. And of course it’s motivated by the absence of the one loved. That’s the essence of saudades.
Dominguinhos’ forró classic “Só Quero um Xodó” [“All I Want Is a Sweetheart”] takes it one step further: the saudades are not for a particular person, but for anyone at all who would be willing to love the plaintive singer back. Here’s Gilberto Gil’s version:
Yes, this is the stuff of pop and folk songs anywhere in the world. But Portuguese has a vocabulary and attitude built right in to celebrate this idea of longing more than anyone.
8. Gostoso/gostosa is an adjective that can mean lovely, tasty, fuckable, beautiful and/or sensual. A search of lyrics sites turns up hundreds of examples of its use, but it’s the attitude that’s important. I have never once heard the term employed ironically. In its use of unabashedly exultant words like gostoso, the Portuguese language seems like it would never tolerate, say, American hipster culture’s incessant irony, or the acidic dry wit of the French. And in music at least, that’s a great thing. Irony and humor in pop songs tend to get old, fast. When we speak Portuguese, we compliment our beloved with wet, sensual enthusiasm. (The only wrinkle is that they rarely return the favor — see the previous point.)
9. The geography of the lusophone world touches the Americas, Europe and Africa, and these historical exchanges (though muddied by slavery, genocide and war) have given its musicians access to some of the world’s strongest musical traditions. (The same influences apply to the nearly-as-great musical styles created by Cubans, Americans from the United States and black Peruvians.) Lusophone countries, particularly Brazil, are quite adept at absorbing musical influences from far abroad, and making something totally new out of them.
Those are my theories for now, born of years of listening to and loving this stuff. I’ve made the effort to learn Portuguese simply in order to understand my favorite songs. But I remain just a fan, and would love to hear opinions from Portuguese speakers, musicians, and others. Feel free to add your thoughts or corrections in the comments, and I will of course update this post as new ideas come my way.
We’ll close with a song from Angola about — what else? — saudades for a better time and place.
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I’m a Canadian learning Brazilian Portuguese and I must say it’s a beautiful language and my many wonderful Brazilian friends are very accommodating to help me learn, never met a friendlier more welcoming bunch, I was inspired to learn Portuguese after hearing the beautiful voice of Jorge Ben Jor, even though I couldn’t understand a word he was saying I was instantly captivated by the language and sounds which ebbed and flowed forth, I was instantly hooked and delved into the world of Samba and Bossa Nova and many more modern Brazilian music, and I come from a punk rock and metal background and yet I find myself hooked on Marisa Monte, Seu Jorge, Joāo Bosco, O Rappa, Juçara Marçal, Os Mutantes (RIP Rita Lee), I also fell in love with the sound of Cuíca haha it’s so fun, the music in general deeply affects me and some of it has rich meaning if you translate and discuss it, I also discovered a lot of Brazillian punk rock and metal music as well, Sepultura I knew already, but that was it, punk like Dead Fish with it’s aggressive charged lyrics still sound beautiful in Portuguese, my musical journey led me to make many Brazilian friends who I hold very dear to me, you just never know how a language and music can impact your life and open your eyes and ears to a whole new world and rewarding experience
A friend forwarded me to this article I was excited to read just music. I thoroughly enjoyed the article, it is an amazing example of beautiful, resilient, lengthy vowels being sung,
Its blog gives information from other people very well I am impressed with its information and the information is very nice.
o que é binomo
Interesting article. I’m an English person living in Brazil and music was one of the big attractions for me. However I was quite surprised you cited vowel variations as a reason that Portuguese is the best language to sing in since English has many more vowel sounds than Portuguese. Also I wouldn’t translate saudades as nostalgia. I would say ‘longing’ or ‘yearning’ are closer. Most English speaking people would use the phrase ‘to miss something’ in everyday speech. eg: “I miss you.” (Estou com saudades)
Hi Jane, I’m a Brazilian musician, it brought my attention your comment, can you share any source to back up your affirmation about English language having more vowel sounds? Like a diagram a the article author did? I’ll be very interested in learn as I live in Canada and Portuguese is my native language. Thank you in advance.
Hi Marco yes I have a chart/diagram (I taught English many years). I can’t see how to post it here. English has 20 vowel sounds which is many more than Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian etc)
Here’s a link to a lesson teaching the sounds with examples. If you search for ‘20 vowel sounds of English’ you will find a lot of stuff
Thank you so much Jane, I’m going to check your youtube channel link right now.
Very interesting article! I am from Brazil and it was fun to learn all this about my own language.
Now, one question: I have always thought that the nasal sounds so common in Portuguese, especially the “ão” sound, were not very good for singing, account for a darker sound. Isn’t it so?
Thanks for your answer.
I found your article very interesting and enlightening, so I identified myself because I also have a website that I built separating 2400 songs from the best brazilian songs I could find on youtube at all times. Who knows if you or someone who likes Brazilian Music.
!Maaaanoooooo, que artigo do caralho!!! Muito o foda!
What a fucking amazing article!
I just have a point about the fact that I believe that “SAUDADE” doesn’t have translation… Is not just that fact that some of us don’t know a word for it in other languages… It’s about the feeling, it’s also about how popular and valued this feeling is. “SAUDADE” is not just a word or a felling, it’s a behavior, a way of seeing the Life
Awesome article !! And glad to find out am not the only one obsessed with all music in Portuguese.Man I love this language and it’s perfect for music ! Thanks for the reco as well !
Oh wow, thank you so much, muito obrigado for the great article and so well illustrated feel free to visit my YT channel for some good music, yes I’m a proud Brazilian musician, who loves to sing and play, Of course I shared on my FB page. I’m actually presenting next week a Brazilian music workshop at the University of Manitoba in WPG Canada and I’ll recommend this article for the students, because I’m talking mostly about the music genres and technical theory only but I can’t ignore the Language and pronunciation who adds a lot on the context! So,
Thank you again.
Thank you Mose, actually the Brazilian music is so unique and beautiful for an array of reasons. The evolution among the years and the diversity mixing and other historic facts have contribute for that.
This is awesome!
I feel flatered as a brazilian to have someone describe my language so beautifully. And I also like your choices of music, you really picked very good artists as examples.
Good article and thoughts, but the cursing was unnecessary.
As for Portuguese, it is indeed a beautiful and very singable language. The only negative I find is the occasional nasality. No language sounds good spoken through the nose. It’s one of the factors that makes American English so ugly.
Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I always wondered what the difference between Brazilian music and music from other countries was, as I could perceive something distinct there, but could never really come to a conclusion: is it the rhythm, the language, the beat? I too often noticed that there was something about the use of the vowels in Brazilian songs, and it is great to read your take on this! Brazilian songs make such rich use of their vowels, stretching them and giving a softness to most lyrics. After many years living abroad I had stopped listening to so much Brazilian music, which was my basic playlist before, but your post made me swing back to those great MPB songs and some other good rock songs from the 80’s and onwards. Thanks for that and for the tips on other Brazilian/Portuguese-speaking songs that I didn’t know!
There’s nothing like moving abroad to help you rediscover the joys of your own culture. Glad you enjoyed it!
Congratulations for this amazing post. I am a Brazilian linguist and translator (from English, Spanish, and Italian). For me, your article is the most important on the subject, as it for the first time explained me why Brazilian musicians are so successful in many parts of the world. Thanks!
Great article. There are simply too many wonderful Portuguese language genres to mention in such a short comment. I want to give honourable mentions to Brega, Tropicália, and Funk Carioca from Brazil, as well as Morna from Cabo Verde. I encourage any Lusophone music fans who don’t know these genres to check them out, you can thank me after
This mix of new Brazilian music from Sounds & Colors by Boebis is a hot compilation of current Brazilian music that’s hard to get hip to if you aren’t in Brasil…http://soundsandcolours.com/articles/brazil/boebis-musica-do-fim-do-mundo-a-brazilian-2015-mix-30354/
That’s another thing: playing with words. See Chico Buarque – Construção (Chico Buarque – Construction) how all the words end in proparoxytone ones.
I love Brazilian music! Thanks for this post. Even though I can’t understand much of the lyrics, it makes me feel good to listen to it. The rhythm & the voices together make the perfect combination.
Martinho da Vila is a singer that just makes me feel happy when I listen to him, although I don’t get much of the story. Check out this old school video of him performing in 1975 to see what I mean. His joy is infectious…https://youtu.be/CFQibzQx_fU?list=PLtu6gsJHln-RHBdeXxlEbz-oKFfVHTlj9
I’m brazilian and I believe the best thing from Portugal is the portuguese language. Some years ago i listened some russian songs and i like their, Russian and portuguese seem the same rhythm.
I´m a musician from Brazil and really appreciate this post, sounds like a lovely compliment about the music from my country.
As a musician, I don´t agree that portuguese is the best language for music, I actually don´t believe in such a thing. I believe the music from every part of the world was developed based on the things that made the place: the weather, the sounds of nature, the food, and the language. The way people sing Baião is obviously influenced by the Brazil´s northeast accent. And my theory answer why Blues doesn’t sounds nice in portuguese, or why bossa nova sounds terrible in english.
Ouve aí Blues em Português 😉
Wow, a really interesting read! Being an amateur singer and having done so in portuguese, spanish, french, latin and of course english, i can relate to most of what you say.
On a sadder note, it seems incredible that you post so many videos and not one of them in the original portuguese, the European. It’s amazingly different to sing than brazilian and even the portuguese from the old african colonies.
But kudos for the analysis!
Hi, I’m brazilian and I loved the article! (Sorry for my bad english)
I just would like to recommend to you brazilian rock (like Legião Urbana and Cazuza), there you will find our irony and social criticism, and I consider them a good ‘shut up’ to people that say that it’s impossible to write good rock musics in portuguese.
Not sure I can completely agree to that. But it definitely is a better sounding language than certain languages like German for singing, haha! I think Portuguese sounds better than Spanish in songs. I know basic Spanish but I have no clue about Portuguese. I wonder if European Portuguese sounds better than South American in signing, I seem to notice European to be smoother. But that could be the singing tradition…or not.
Also, I don’t agree to a high degree about point 5. Speakers/composers of songs of tonal languages never need to worry about the tones of words in songs because the fact that you’re going to sing it already means you’re going to have to change the tone of the word. So that argument doesn’t apply.
(My mother tongue is tonal. I am a linguist.)
Interesting! I did however read some complaints from songwriters in Chinese about trying to match tonal meaning to melody, so it seems to at least a problem for some composers. Maybe not that big of an issue though in general.
Awesome article but Saudade and Nostalgia are not exactly the same thing and they both exists in Portuguese. I’m not a linguistic or don’t have any relation to this field of study but as a Brazilian I would use Nostalgia for something that has happened in the past that could hardly happen again, like an event in my childhood while I could and would employee Saudade to anyone or anything I really really miss. I could use the literal translation of I miss my cat – eu sinto falta do meu gato, but that doesn’t quite have the same meaning as eu tenho saudades do meu gato. The last one has more emotion.
This is true for Portuguese, but has nothing to do with how the words should be translated into English, which depends on context.
I noticed there’s plenty discussion on the saudade x nostalgia thing. I didn’t read all comments about it, but as you probably realized we’re really proud of the word. The best explanation I could find about the difference between them is that Saudade is something you feel in the present and brings back something from the past. You can feel again, in the present moment, that good or bad feeling caused by something or someone. Whilst Nostalgia transports you back to the past and you forget about your present. Let’s say that for Saudade the mountain comes to Mahomet and for Nostalgia, Mahomet goes to the mountain. I’m not saying Saudade is an exclusive word, specially because since it’s a feeling and everybody can feel it, I’m sure there an expression for it in every possible language, even in sign language. I’m just trying to point out that it’s not exactly the same as Nostalgia. By the way, amazing text! 🙂
I am a Brazilian musician and I love composing in English because I enjoy pop vocal melodies, it’s insanely hard to write good melodic hooks in portuguese in more straightforward genders with less swing such as rock, folk and the like. The words are too long and too rhythmic, think of this excerpt from Oasis’ supersonic: “And my friend said he’d take you home, he sits in a corner all alone” it just flows! In portuguese the semantics behind those short sentences would take far more real state thus rendering the simple melody impossible. Portuguese works very well for latin rhythms though like samba, bossa nova, and any other gender that relies on percussive vocal sounds with long words, rap benefits greatly from brazilian portuguese as well.
I appreciate your opinion, and who knows, maybe you’re right. But I suspect this comes out of bias; we’re used to hearing rock in English and so it just “sounds better” that way. Portuguese has lots of short words, just like English! Also, however great the song, the words in the line you quoted don’t have any particular sonic flow, nor would they be poetic or even meaningful if you heard them without the context of a melody… no? It’s hard to separate these things, I know.
I think there is a huge problem with non-native speakers writing in English; it’s a sort of escapism. In many cases, they’re not as self-critical in the second language (or just not as aware of bad poetry) and so it seems “easier”.
There are also awesome non-native writers in English (maybe you’re one!), but it’s something to be very wary of if you choose to do it.
I am very self conscious and judgmental about my writing, I’ve been studying and teaching english as a second language for about 13 years now. I believe there’s something about the stress on english sentences and particular syllabic distortions from certain accents that just clicks with the instrumental arrangements found on rock, pop and folk. Through the years I came to the realization that the language acts as a sort of limiting factor for certain melodic structures and as a catalyst to others – which can be surpassed through experimentation, but in my humble opinion, it seldom leads to euphonic results – thus increasing the likeliness of certain gender or style becoming predominant on that given tongue. The Oasis example I gave wasn’t the best because they actually fancy themselves for writing nonsensical lyrics, which sends my semantics point flying through the window, but to say there’s no flow to that sentence within the melodic and rhythmic context of that song (Supersonic) is sort of an overstatement don’t you think? Anyways listen to one my songs, tell me if you think I’m an shitty composer: https://soundcloud.com/cerulean-lotus/fersken-northern-sky – I guarantee that this song would’ve sounded like crap in portuguese, believe me I’ve tried.
Thank you for your comment. You expressed something I’ve been having the impression for years. In my case, I’ve always noticed how different it is to make rap in portuguese. Portuguese words, specially in Brazillian Portuguese, tend to have much more sounds, thus being longer than English words – I think that’s why it’s not good for rapping. In other genres with more sooth and slow melodies, it goes pretty damn well, though.
As a Portuguese American and a lover of all music – from metal to Sufi music, I disagree. I don’t think there is any best language for song. You can argue that the sound the language influences the sound of the music. For example, Fado has a deep rich tone and sadness that is similar to the European Portuguese accent. While Bossa Nova typically has a lighter more airy sound that is more similar to the Brazilian accent. Perhaps, the author of this article has an affinity towards the sounds of Brazilian artists? I don’t blame him, they are wonderful. However, all cultures around the world have great music and different musical qualities to be appreciated. Look at American music which I think many others mistake as the pop music on the radio, though that should also be included, but don’t forget folk, bluegrass, zydeco, cajun, country, jazz, blues, r&b, rock, indie and so on, each with many sub-categories. I used American as an example because that is the music I have he most exposure too. Also, I don’t know how any page by a person claiming to be in the know could discuss music sung in Portuguese and not include Amalia Rodrigues. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKvcm2QV9tA
Hi Vega! Amalia Rodrigues is fabulous! There are many, many wonderful artists who sing in Portuguese (after all they objectively comprise 75 percent of the world’s best) and so I couldn’t possibly include them all here. I had to pick just a few to illustrate the points in question. American music is, as you mentioned, some of the best music in the world too; objectively about 10-18%. Then there’s Cuban and Afro-Peruvian, which also command hefty percentages of whatever’s left. And French music. I’ve heard that Vietnamese popular musics are universally terrible. I’m in Serbia right now and the options for pop and folk styles are a bit hokey. I’m not willing to promote cultural relativism against something as sacred as good music. The 75 percent figure is objective fact, it’s my responsibility to report this, as an important journalist with an important, objective, canonical blog.
As long as we are only discussing objective fact. I have found that folk or traditional music can mix with modern music in.. uh… well.. interesting ways. Far East countries typically have beautiful and exotic sounding traditional music. Some pop I have heard just sounds like versions of Western pop or techno. Pop as in the radio stuff as opposed to pop as in all styles that aren’t classical or traditional. I don’t know much about Serbian music but I believe Balkan Brass originated with the Serbian military though it is associated with gypsies or Romanis. Anyway, the only Balkan Brass band I know is Romanian, Fanfare Ciocarlia.
I’m not sure it would be your taste, though. I typically don’t argue over music since you can’t control what moves your soul. Anyway, if you don’t mind my recommending some artists for you (whom you may already know). They both sing creole (or crioulo) music and sometimes use different accents.
Sara Tavares, Portuguese born but of Cape Verdean descent:
Oquestrada, I highly recommend their Tasca Beat: O Sonho Portugues album:
And, just to give you a laugh, my Brazilian cousin’s favorite band is Guns n’ Roses. Go figure, right?
First off, you didn’t manage to hold your grounds at all. Probably because you didn’t have any to begin with.
Since it seems you completely forgot the whole point on dissertations, I’ll illuminate you: persuasion. Dissertations is all about persuasion. And, you know… Opinions aren’t the way to go with that.
>It’s safe to assume that, oh, about three-quarters of the world’s best vocal music is from Portuguese-speaking lands.
This is pretentious as fuck. It’s just you blurting whatever you feel like, given that you don’t have even the minimal of the basis to hold up to that at all. Now, wanna now what it’s actually perfectly safe to assume? You’ll die without having listened to so much as 1/4 of what the world has to offer you in terms of music. And even if you managed that, your language limitation truly wouldn’t let you appreciate half of them, much less speculate about.
Now, let’s segue to your so-called theories:
>a singer who grew up speaking with this variety of vowels would have a more intimate and flexible relationship with her vocal tract
>wouldn’t you prefer the wide range of vowel options that Portuguese provides
Let us upturn view points here: a singer who grew up speaking with this variety of vowels would pretty much fall to depend on them in every fucking piece, making it annoyingly repetitive or/and disgustingly dull with the same extended parts over and over as many bands in general tends to do.
Variety is also something inversely proportional to creativity, mind you.
>Portuguese has limited set of consonants to get in the way
>french singer explained theory vowels blah blah muh argument ;(( employ them to rhythm
Rhythm isn’t a good aspect to point out or hell, to even crave to. It’s mostly creatively remarkable on Rap/Hip Hop genres since it’s the majority, but aside from that and a few others it’s just plain bad. Especially Brazilian’s deal with that, most of the time turning up to be just either relatively silly or completely unappealing. Actually, a point that instantly reveals one band/singer/composer’s class is the way it/he/she deals with them.
>This leaves your vocal tract open to extend the ends of syllables
>no rush to close things off to get to the final consonant
>The ão sound is relatively rare in languages
>It is beautiful, strange, and fun
>his makes -ão a quite common word-ending and available for rhymes
>not a tonal language
>very useful in its absence
>necessarily more limited in word choices that will fit her melody
>in English it can be most frequently translated as nostalgia
Respectively: This is not something to crave for unless you think music is all about dumbly extending syllables and rhyming them without a care for creativity or it’s content. You can also feel free to treat yourself to some drink while you wait to close things up to the final consonant, no one minds. Hell, bet they’ll even cheer with you. And while you’re at it, you could try to stop thinking everything new you know that your country/culture/whatever doesn’t have is automatically awesome, I guess. Associate ‘limited’ to ‘creativity’ would be one hell of a good idea too.
And to finish, the feeling you’ll get some moment in you life when remembering my little comment here and thinking “I miss that guy a lot” is not nostalgia.
Have a nice life.
Your text is really great. But I was saddened by some biased reviews I’ve read of people born in Portugal, “great” discoverers of my country, Brazil. But that is another story … In time, the sound of the songs sung in English is very nice! I can not forget to say that the sound of songs in French is also very, very nice (just listen Carla Bruni). And my English was written by the translator google, so I hope you understand …
Great article! I’m not going to get into the details and arguments, just want to congratulate you for your the article itself. Wonderful idea!
Oops! Sorry for the misspelling!… Here goes the correct typing:
“Great article! I’m not going to get into the details and arguments, just want to congratulate you for the article itself. Wonderful and brilliant idea!”
I thinks that nostalgia is not the best translation for saudade… get’s close, but’s not the same. We, portuguese, also have the word nostalgia. Nostalgia come and go. Saudade is something that, for any reason, live with you.
Saudade has something to do with fate (destino, fado), with sadness (tristeza) and lost (perca). It’s what makes you cry, smiling, when you’re way from home and ear fado or morna.
It’s not an exclusive feeling, but an exclusive word.
Loved the article, I’m brazilian and an aspiring musician. I do agree that the Portuguese Language fits into music in a way that no other language does.
One thing I must say is, in my humble opinion, it’s more difficult to compose portuguese songs.
One can hear and compare the varied rhythms and poetry the Portuguese language has to offer on the web radio Mais Portugues (http://www.maisportugues.com), a cultural project that aims to bring music from countries that speak Portuguese and disseminate them to the rest of the world.
Olá. Obrigada pela elucidação =) Concordo e já havia pensado nessas qualidades do português (não em todas). O debate aqui no Brasil é de que o português não seria uma língua apropriada ao rock. No entanto, acredito que o que ocorre é pouca maturação e muita imitação nessa área. Te indico uma banda de rock-brega que creio que esteja no caminho do sol: Cidadão Instigado, particularmente “O pinto de peitos” e “Deus é uma viagem”. Saudações do Brasil
A good exemple of a brazilian song like these is “Se fiquei esperando meu amor passar” by Legião Urbana. In a determinate moment the singer tells… Seeeeiii rimaaar rômãããã, com traaaaveeeseeeiiirooou…”, something like “I know how to rhyme pomegranete with pillow” just using the vowels syllables in order, “AEIOU”.
I just missed some reference about the sensuality of Brazilian singers, especially the ones from Bahia. Pay attention to the way Gal Costa sings this, it seems her voice makes a loop, I’d say that her voice ‘rebola’ (moves her hips roundly):
Also sung by Gal, the lyrics of this one are about the formation of Brazilian music:
and this one is about the same subject; it was originally sung by Clara Nunes, but since you have already posted a video of her, I’ll post here this song being performed by Mariene de Castro in a tribute-concert she made for Claridade:
As I’m from Rio Grande do Sul, the most southern state of Brazil, I’ll post a song a lot representative of such geography:
and a last one from another gaúcho:
What an unmitigated load of nonsensical clichés. Even the tired, corny old trite about ‘saudade’ was given an airing.
Portuguese-speaking countries also have by far the highest rate of tone-deaf singers, from shower shouters all the way to the top of the charts. A disproportionate number of female singers have hoarse voices that sound like they’re caged for life in their throats. What does *that* say about this thesis?
Do you know what ”inveja” means?
Ahahahahahahahhaahahhaha inveja, apenas
My thesis is that your wife – or your husband, whatever – has left you, for living with a brazilian gay singer. So, there’s no more love in your poor heart and, although even you don’t know it, you are having “saudade” of having a life.
(Sorry if my answer was too sarcastic, but your comment was also too exaggerated and antipathic.)
I agree with Gozo and Zé.
Your comment is about taste: Le goût est comme l’âne, chacun a son.
The article is not.
Your comment is so ridiculous that i wish nobody have to read this.
Saudades of smart and respectful comments.
KKKKKKK belo uso de “saudades” aí.
First of all, I really enjoyed your post.
Saudade is actually a very tricky word, because it’s meaning is certainly something felt by everybody, though it’s not quite clear for those who feel it. We also have the word nostalgia in our vocabulary, but it’s meaning refers to something painful from our past. Saudade, on the other hand, is frequently associated with the future, as we say “tenho saudades de algo que ainda não vivi”.
As in Crepusculário, Pablo neruda says about Saudade:
O que será… não sei… procurei sabê-lo
em dicionários antigos e poeirentos
e noutros livros onde não achei o sentido
desta doce palavra de perfis ambíguos.
Dizem que azuis são as montanhas como ela,
que nela se obscurecem os amores longínquos,
e um bom e nobre amigo meu (e das estrelas)
a nomeia num tremor de cabelos e mãos.
Hoje em Eça de Queiroz sem cuidar a descubro,
seu segredo se evade, sua doçura me obceca
como uma mariposa de estranho e fino corpo
sempre longe – tão longe! – de minhas redes tranquilas.
Saudade… Oiça, vizinho, sabe o significado
desta palavra branca que se evade como um peixe?
Não… e me treme na boca seu tremor delicado…
But my favorite tribute to Saudade is the song Pedaço de mim, written by the genius Chico Buarque. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIFWpMzwUnc
Great post! Please keep on writing.
I loved the article, but I’m most delighted to see someone say saudade is *not* untranslatable. It does not have an exact synonym in English, like many English words have no exact synonyms in Portuguese, but the word itself isn’t something as unique as people want to believe.
Great observation! I lived in Germany and one day, after calling home to kill the “saudade”, the secretary turned to me and said. ” I love hearing you when you’re speaking to your family. I don’t get a word but I feel as if you were singing”. That’s the way we are.
Lovely! I get that response from people too. It’s such a compliment, isn’t it?
Entendo bem. Morei na Alemanha e todos diziam a mesma coisa, que nossa língua tem uma cadência maravilhosa – e muitos diziam que odiavam o alemão pela ausência dessa sonoridade.
It was very interesting to read all you wrote about portuguese language and brazilian and african songs and singers, but you forgot to mention examples from Portugal. You must not know them, so I decided to send you some. I chose some songs with the sea, through which portuguese arrived everywhere, taking the “saudade” and the word itself with them. Others have the nostalgia or saudade that remained with women seeing men leaving.
Thanks for sharing, I’m from Brazil originally but always wanted more suggestions on Fado! 😀
De arrepiar! Fico feliz de ter visto sua indicação.
And Amália Rodrigues, there’s no reference to Amália, and fado?! Portuguese language and fado are are our soul. Listening “Gaivota”, by Amália Roduiges. Best regards.
I adore Amália, of course!
Excellent article. Never mind the stupid ones that comes here to talk about such a missimportant thing. Your theory is great and i agree almost completly.
I often hear something about the portuguese brazilian speaking, that sounds like a wave. And most of them represent doin a sinusoid movement with their hands. Not the singing, the talking.
I would complement saying something that’S not written here. Portuguese has an imprecise form of reading whats written so you can read the same word in many ways, or a sentence with lots of variations. All the ways are correct and normaly they happen normaly depending on the accent.
And, to finish i would consider the strong and constant use of metaphors in the daily speaking.
Portuguese music has a very rich history regarding double meanings, satire and irony; just check portuguese revolutionary music (that was popular around the end of the Portuguese dictatorial regime)
Dear Mose Hayward,
I found your article “WHY PORTUGUESE IS THE BEST LANGUAGE FOR MUSIC” interesting to read. And thank you for the musical examples, I didn’t know all of them. However, as a musician myself, I don’t believe it is complete while not mentioning the more charismatic portuguese Fado singer, Amália Rodrigues. Hereby, I send you some examples of the portuguese feeling of “saudade” sang by her. These are good examples that show the feeling of “saudade” and its connection to the sea and the navigators. The european portuguese is not as articulated as the brazilian portuguese but it still keeps the same variety of vowels thus giving the language a character of “continuous” eternity. The last link is a general link about Fado and other portuguese musicians.
Song: “Povo que lavas no rio”
Song: “Barco Negro”
Another important musician Brazil is the composer Tom Jobim (António Carlos Jobim) which songs are a great example of the capacity of brazilian music to integrate elements from other cultures in its own music. Tom Jobim was responsible to mix the samba rhythms with the jazz swing.
Here a great example of his music sang by him and Elis Regina, while not forgetting the rhymes (-ão, -nho). The lyrics of this song are really hard to grasp but they are amazing!
Song: “Águas de Março”
Some good examples for the topic 9 (geography) are:
A) cordel do fogo encantado (they mix African and North East region rhythms):
b) this music from Angra (Although they sing Heavy metal in English, they try to mix some brazilian rhythms to the songs):
Since the video from Angra you posted didn’t work I’ll go ahead and link to another one that they sing in portuguese and mix perfectly traditional brazilian music aspects with heavy metal:
very interesting article. I only think that “saudade” is quite different from “nostalgia”. The latter seems to refer to a long gone past, whereas the former not necessarily so. I can fell “saudade” even for something that happened yesterday. I can fell saudade for may kid, who I have just left at school.
I chose my words quite carefully to describe ‘saudade’, and I stand by what I said. I did NOT say that it is exactly like nostalgia. If you wish, take a look again above, and at point number 15 in this post: http://tipsypilgrim.com/blog/get-fluent-in-any-language-in-just-20-minutes.html
Quite different, no. A little different, sure.
This is a very nice article. You have a very interesting view of the the Portuguese language. I enjoyed reading about my language on a different perspective. But like Renato, I have to agree that saudade is not like nostalgia. Not only in a dictionary definition sense, but in sense of the feelings these words represent for a native speaker. We have the word nostalgia in Portuguese, and they are not the same. Nostalgia relates to a long past and something/ someone/ or a time, that is not coming back. Saudade can be about that; the two can, in fact, overlap. But saudade is more about longing not necessarily nostalgia. It is about missing someone or something. Nostalgia comes a lot more from a memory, while saudades comes from inside you, in spite of anything exterior. IT;s about the person who’s feeling it, not the subject of your saudade. You can be driving your car, and suddenly feel this huge saudade of your mother that lives in a different city, and is also not the same as missing her. It is some where between all these English words. The song “Eu só quero um xodó”, mentioned here, is a perfect example. What he is feeling is not nostalgia, not even close, it’s longing. You can choose to explain this word anyway you see fit, but translating any song (since this is the topic here) or text from saudade to nostalgia, you will not translate the feeling the writer was talking about from the point of view of any native speaker.
But still, really enjoyed every point of the text, and even your analysis of how we are obsessed with saudade, because we really are. 🙂
Guys, guys, guys.
Our host here isn’t speaking about the Portuguese meaning of the word nostalgia, which is the one you are referring to — he is speaking about the English meaning of the word. It’s similar, yes, but it’s not the same(*). He would be wrong had he be referring to the Portuguese word, but he’s not. So he’s right.
(*) – these words that mean slightly (or much) different things in different languages, despite being identical or very similar, have a name in translation jargon — false friends. Thay are a major pain in the butt for bad translators, and even more so for the people who read them.
An example everyone who knows Portuguese and Spanish should be aware of is the word “largo”. For them, it means long. For us, it means wide.
Thanks Jorge. As I’ve said, what’s important is not the translatability of the word — there’s always a way, depending on the context (nostalgia, missing, longing, etc). What’s special about lusofonia is the obsession with both the word and concept.
HI, I’m a Brazilian translator and once I had to translate a children’s book from Portuguese to English. Guess what was the title? Yep — saudade!
I used the word longing.
I agree that nostalgia is quite different from saudade. Nostalgia seems to always evoke sadness, whereas saudade doesn’t. It’s good to feel saudades, and even better when you get the chance to ‘matar a saudade’, that is, to live once again that situation you were longing for.
Yeah, I’m with Jeorge, cut the guy a break, I think I would have used the word ‘longing’ over ‘nostalgia’, but we don’t have to
crucify him :-*
An important different with ‘saudade’ is that is a noun ad it’s seldom a noun in any other language, so he kind of had to use ‘nostalgia’ to give English speaking people a notion. After all ‘longing’ and ‘missing’ are verbs in Gerundium form, ‘ing’ form, and that’s what makes ‘saudade unique, in Spanish ‘estranar’ or ‘hechar de menos’ and most western languages are verbs too, and the deep longing feeling and poetic vibe of ‘saudade’ gets lost.
The beauty of language is that each language is a way of thinking, you can’t ‘fall in love’ in Portuguese, you can’t have a ‘namorado’ in Spanish, not exactly, etc…
I completely agree with your theories, let’s keep brainstorming 😀
As everyone said, this is a very interestig article 🙂
Although, I think that portuguese spoken by people from Portugal and spoken by people from Brazil (the declination that you focused on) are quite different in some aspects like the open and closed vowels in some words, brazilians tend to open vowels often than us (I’m portuguese, btw).
Portuguese music is more dark and sad than brazilian music, not in the lyrics but in the melody and harmony. But we do have some music that is funny and ironic, such as Deolinda. This band has the gift of turning fado into something lightful and ironic.
This song has a revolutionary tone but an ironc lyric: it says something like “now we will turn this over, now we can change the things” but these words are repled with “not for now because my belly hurts… not now, because they say that’s going to rain”. This is ironic and characterizes our society very well! 😛
Anyways, congratulations for the article and thank you for giving some attention to our language 🙂
Thanks for sharing. You might be right, but I’ve certainly heard some lively and goofy Portuguese popular music as well.
Just a little token for your information:
the utter difference between saudade and nostalgia is when you feel it. Nostalgia tends to happen when you get in contact with something/someone from the past. Saudades happen the opposite way, growing stronger as more distant in time/space you get. Maybe the best translation is longing.
Hi! I’m a Brazilian from São Paulo, where the portuguese language spoken is very much influenced by Italian, Amerindian and Banto languages in Africa. Well, I really liked your article, specially because I’m an enthusiastic of brazilian folkloric music – that unfortunate doesn’t have as much expression in the world as samba or mpb (but it’s all awesome haha)… actually, if you get interested, there are many material of (or inspired by) our folkloric music in the internet, for example:
Ok, putting this aside, I’m actually writing because of the meaning you gave to the words “gostoso” and “saudade”.
First, I would like to alert you. “Gostoso” can mean “nice”, “good”, “pleasurable” (for example: when your lover is caressing you –not in a sexual, but in a tender way – we can say that he or she is giving a “carinho gostoso”). Gostoso can also mean tasteful as in a tasteful dish, dinner etc. But, it can also be used in a bit aggressive way and, even, sometimes – depending of the situation – in a diminishing way towards woman. In those occasions we frequently translate “gostosa” to “hot”, like “a hot girl” or “she’s hot”. But, you’re right, in those brazilian rhythms you cited I also think that these form of “gostosa” is unusual.
Concerning the word “saudade”, I don’t agree that it can be translated as “nostalgia”. That’s because we have a word that is spelled exactly as nostalgia and we don’t use it in the everyday language as a synonym of “saudade” (although dictionaries do describe “saudade” as “nostalgia”, I would rather say that it is a different category of nostalgia. Actually, this latter substantive is rarely used in our quotidian).
When we try to translate “saudade” to english I think we prefer the expression “I miss”. “Eu tenho saudade de você” is something like “I miss you” once “saudade” is kind of a felling that a part of yourself is lost, but it is not only the absence of something. You can feel “saudade” as an agony, a latent sadness, but also as an expectation of re-encountering someone. I don’t think you can feel “saudade” of an “object” in the exception of humanizing this object, filling it with a lot of significance. In my view, “saudade” is very close to love in a way. You have to love to feel “saudade” when it (or he or she) is away. Saying that, I disagree with your affirmation that Dominguinhos’ Só quero um xodó is about “saudade”. To me it is more an expression of someone that really needs someone to love (more similar to that Jefferson’s Airplane song). To me, what Dominginhos is saying is that it is really difficult to be alone and that feel in love is something that he miss – but I don’t see a reference to a past love as it should be in the case of “saudade” or even “nostalgia”… but that is the way I see things… well… I’m going to stop writing now, I already did it a lot ahahah…
So, hope that my way of seeing things helps you in some way… goodbye and good luck!
Hi, I appreciate your input. I think if you read my description of those words carefully, you’ll see that we agree quite a bit about what they actually mean. I do enjoy the different flavors that everyone’s been giving them in this comments section though — it seems that the meaning is shaded slightly differently for each.
I’ll check out these songs…
I don’t know, many of the arguments didn’t seem that much final for me, more like personal tastes.
For example, you mentioned that Portuguese has a range of 11 vowels whilst Spanish (shockingly marked as “it’s less interesting cousin”) tops at 5…
But is it really that great an advantage? You yourself mentioned Portuguese had an advantage over tonal languages, since it could chose freely (almost) what tone to use in the middle of the song. Wouldn’t it be a bad thing then, to have a greater number of phonemes by the same logic? A Spanish song writer could freely choose between using the vowel “e” as “ɛ” or “e”, when a Portuguese one would be forced to use the sound that went with the song. It’s actually not rare for me to hear Brazilian (which btw I am) songs with a “forced” rhyme, when the singer should have used a specific phone which went along with the meaning of the word, but used up the wrong one to sustain the rhyme (this is most common in less erudite and more “mass produced” music).
For example, look at the song “Festa no Guêto” from Ivete Sangalo. In a given moment, she sings
“guitarra de rock ‘n roll, batuque de candomblé”
“Batuque” should have been pronounced /batukɪ/ or, even more commonly, /batuk/. But this pronunciation didn’t fit the song, and so we end up with /batuki/, using a high i which is never used in Brazilian Portuguese on last syllables. The result is that the music’s rhythm and rhyme were preserved, but it sounds awfully odd for a native listener, not because the phone ɪ isn’t a part of the language, but specifically because it is a phoneme, and we feel it being wrongly used in there.
Spanish speakers can perform both phones, but they don’t see a phonemic difference between the two of them, so it would be a free choice to use either.
I couldn’t disagree more with you, Thiago. If our Brazilian Portuguese is not the best language in terms of prosody, it most certainly is one of them. And it is also great that we do have liberty to play with it. Djavan does that a lot (mais fácil aprender japonês em braille). Caetano Veloso also greatly makes use of such resource (acho que a chuva ajuda a gente a se ver).
By the way, he wrote a very beautiful song about the Portuguese language called ‘Língua’. This is the link for it performed by Gal Costa:
Hi. (sorry for my english!)
I´m portuguese…from Portugal, and I read the article and also all the coments after…
Portuguese form Portugal is very diferent from Portuguese from Brasil, Angola, Cabo Verde, Guiné Bissau, S. Tomé e Principe ou Moçambique. Like English from UK is diferent from English from EUA (USA) or Austrália and others.
Yes, it´s very difficult to sing Rock in portuguese from Portugal, but we have good Rock in Portugal (Toranja, Da Weasel, and many others)
And we have Xutos e Pontapés, very good band with 35 years, and still move crouds of every age…
Try to listening and read ind the first music – “O homem do leme”, and the second – “Não sou o único”
Once more time soory for my english…
Concrete poetry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQcj7R2Roo0
On irony and the Portuguese language, I think you may be a bit off there. As evidence, may I present this awesome bit of irony in musical form?
If you have trouble grabbing the lyrics, here they are:
And, in general, irony is pretty well-developped in Portuguese culture, including the musical one. It was widely used for political purpuses during Salazar’s dictatorship, since ironical subtleties were one of the methods artists used to criticize, bypassing censorship (censors weren’t the brightest of people, and often didn’t quite understand the meaning of things until it was too late), and it kept going strong to this day.
Here’s a modern example dipping in bitter irony:
wow, great article, made me look at my own language in a whole new perspective.
Funny when you think that, until the beginning of the 80’s, portuguese popular musicians were afraid to sing in portuguese, and most of them believed it couldn’t de used in pop/rock music.
Portuguese is actually also spoken in Asia (Macau) and Oceania (East Timor) and some luso dialects are spoken in Índia (Goa) and in Malaca.
This is a ver interesting article.
You could explore more about the differences in the portuguese language. The european portuguese have lots of more richness in vowels and consonant mixtures. When spoken is very difficult to understand any word but if you study the padron you´d be amazed how it is a beautiful language.
I’d like to see that too.
Awesome article, pretty interesting and sums up a lot a of stuff.
You focus a lot on brazilian portuguese which is normal since it is more exported and brazil has a bigger influence on the world. Unfortunately not everything that is commercial is quite the best and nowadays a lot of good music continues being produced all around portuguese speaking countries (and other latin based ones), the real problem, like you said indirectly, is the difficult to understand or sing (with brazilian being closer to english and also often teach around the world compared to portugal portuguese). I can try to tell some in private if you would like to try out as there is much more richer musics than those to explore. Thought many musicians chose to sing in english to reach a wider variety of public and because portuguese tend not to recognize “artists” unless they are “easy listening”, “for the masses”, “mainstream” and/or “commercial”.
I am an American music professor living in Brazil, I !love writing music for texts in Portuguese, and I love singing in Portuguese! (as an aside reply to a post way up in the beginning of the comments, I only every hear the word “Alho” pronounced *with* the “l” sound here in Brazil, and “real” Portuguese? What the heck is that?!? Besides, don’t diaspora communities in general keep the original traces of their culture more authentically preserved than the “mother” land?) Now my aside comment is bigger than my original comment! hahah!!
Nice article there! Very interesting!
I’m a native portuguese speaker (from portugal) myself and i consider brasilian and portuguese to be two completely differente things, even though they have had a common point in the past. The brasilian came from a mixture between the Old Spanish-Portuguese that was spoken by the royal houses, the ones that colonised brasil i mean, and the native tongue used by the locals. It became something more than portuguese even though it is called a portuguese language.
The portuguese and brasilian are very close and we can easily understand each other but the musicality is much different. Consider brasilian to be more open vowelled and melodic and the portuguese to be a bit more monochordic and with more closed sounds. Both have the LH and the AO sound (which foreigner come close to get with the LIE and OW sound ) but in the end the music from brasil is much more colourful and uplifting and the portuguese music is much more heavy with the SAUDADE and the (pardon the paradox) happy sadness we feel with it. None of the two is better, just different, and both bring a huge richness to the world. I would love to see a bigger investment in the exploration of the lusitanian languages in contrast and portuguese vs brasilian because they are very similar and very different!
Again, great article! Cheers!
Hello, the portuguese you are talking about is brazillian portuguese, wich is very different than the real portuguese. Real portuguese has a lot of sounds that brazillians are not able to create, like the LH in ALHO (in Brasil they say AIO), etc. Real portuguese is a very rich language, brazillian portuguese is very wrong spoken.
I still haven’t decided on a comments policy for this blog. At what point should I start just deleting misinformed, idiotic and/or subtly xenophobic comments? How bad does it have to get? Any thoughts, anyone?
Nooooooo please! Dont delete me! You will crush my world! If you want to preach about something, do it about the real thing. I am portuguese from Portugal, where portuguese comes from, you probably dont even speak the language. This artical is idiotic and misinforms people. buh bye!
Well, as a fellow Portuguese, in my opinion this moron should be deleted and morons such as him should not be allowed to pollute comments any further.
These guys fill me with a concept you’re probably familiar with (and to which I have no translation in English): vergonha alheia. It’s not pleasant to read this kind of… well… crap.
Jorge, one time I translated vergonha alheia as non-self shame! Br Portuguese and Pt Portuguese are just amazing in their on ways. Some songs don´t work on one but are just perfect for the other. The most important is that the core of the language is enough to maintain as one language both!
Yeah. And that nuclear unity is pretty obvious to all.
Then again, maybe not to all. Some may need proof of it. So here it is.
(And in another video I shared, Gabriel o Pensador samples a bit of a Portuguese song by Sérgio Godinho, which is another proof.)
Not only that, people from portugal often forgets that Brazil is a damn HUGE land and that the difference on the portuguese spoken on the south compared to that spoken on the northeast, or even closer like the ones spoken in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas gerais are so big that they could probably fit the “original” portuguese from portugal in between them…
Maybe some regions pronounce “alho” as AIO but i talked a lot with people from Portugal and Angola and i can surelly say that i pronounce “Alho ” the same way they do…
Mose, my comment is: start your policy as soon as possible and don’t let this weed grow. Otherwise, it will smother the good crop you have ib this website.
Portuguese real essence is exactly the diversity of the way it is spoken from Europe to South America, from Africa to Asia. Spoken, thought and sung. No other language in the world has become so enriched by so many cultures.
Brazilian here. Great comments until this one… I’m with some portuguese fellows and i suggest you do delete it.
I saved a lot of portuguese song links to my watch it later playlist. Thanks guys, and keep up the good work!
Very interesting article, grats.
As opposed to what Sr. Mendes said above, it is believed that the pronunciation of words in Brazil are CLOSER to the acient Portuguese than the one spoken in Portugal itself. There are some studies on that, illustrated by portuguese Camões’ poems, which wouldn’t make sense or rhyme in portuguese accent. So, let’s leave it as the ROYAL Portuguese, not REAL, thus it has been influenced over the centuries by french and spanish accents.
On another matter, I was once enlightened by my father about one difference on singing in portuguese and english: the propulsion of the blow. He convinced me that, in english, the propulsion comes from deeper, inside the lungs, as opposed to closer to the vocal chords (for portuguese). The disvantage comes with the power on the voice (gain), and by trying to do it in portuguese, people may end up mispronouncing some consonants. It conflicts artists, once we can’t have any Janis Joplin, nor Roy Orbison. But, anyway, I like lighter tones…
Sr. Joao Sardenberg, what about the ACCENT, influence from the language of the natives, the invasion of German (Sardenberg? Sounds germanic to me), british, dutch, japanese, arab, italian people, etc. That saw big bussines in that new country. The african slaves that the portuguese took there. Didnt that influence the brazillian portuguese? And here you have the ethnic groups in Portugal and Brazil. Port: 96,87% portuguese; 3,13% other. Braz: 47,73% white; 43,13% pardo; 7,61% black; 1,09% asian; 0,43% amerindian.
Senhor Roberto Mendes,
You are probably jealous of our much colorful portuguese. Have you been here in Brasil? How can you say that we, brasileiros, can not speak a correct portuguese. I feel sorry for you. You guys gave us a very powerful language and we simply made it sound better. But it’s okay. But, can you tell me one singer from Portugal that can match Chico Buarque and his ” very wrong spoken portuguese”? i hope you sleep well.
Sr. Mendes, I’m not trying to pick a fight. I do enjoy the portuguese culture and music. And, yes, we had a lot more influence from different cultures. It IS true that many people want to come to Brazil, and why wouldn’t they?
Still, you’re missing my point. Acient portuguese isn’t spoken ANYWHERE, but the way the portuguese people used to pronounce the vowels isn’t really how they do it nowadays. It actually was closer to the pronunciation in Brasil and other portuguese collonies. That’s all I’m saying. Just don’t brag yourself for being european, it doesn’t matter much to me.
I am proudly brazilian, parts of my family came from Portugal, France, Switzerland, Germany (ya), U.S.A., Africa, and some branches were, indeed, amerindian. Man, I guess I’m better cultured than you, in fact!
Oh, and by the way, we DO say ALHO like the portuguese people. But we listen better than you, too!
Why is Brazilian Portuguese not real to you? Linguistics and language in general is a dynamic part of all humans’ lives. It is always changing. Just because Brazilians do not speak like Euro/Portuguese people does not make it any less real. How incredibly ignorant of you to say such things.
Sandy, I wouldn’t really take any offence. I’m from Portugal but what Mendes said is something that you can hear from some speakers that hail from the land that named the language (be it Portuguese, English, Spanish, etc). It’s always the same argument (we’re the original ones!) and it’s also usually tied with a certain feeling of “losing control” (e.g. with American English and Brazilian Portuguese being much more widelyu spoken then their European counterparts). The opposite reaction also exists of course, the idea that “we have the majority of speakers so what we say, goes!”. This is particularly widespread in Brazil which, in my opinion, has a disproportionate amount of “language nativism” still tied to a discourse that would be understandable in the XIX century but not today – and which is why you see many Brazilians stressing that they use “Brazilian Portuguese”, something that is rarer with North-Americans (which only use “English” and at most add “US” in front).
All this to say that much more than being a language it’s mostly political.
As for the article, while I always enjoy hearing good things about my langauge I do think that there are some broad generalisation there – but then again there are many more in articles about “Why is English/French/Spanish/German the best” and the like and most people swallow it whole, so I don’t mind the ocassional display of language jingoism 😉
OMG, what have I just read? Are you serious, Roberto Mendes? Where have you learned that Brazilians don’t pronounce LH”? LOL. I guess you have talked to a Brazilian with some speech disorder? haha. Here is my tip: search for “alho” on YouTube and watch some Brazilian videos.
By the way… what you mean with “real Portuguese”? Really? Dude, you must be a troll. If Brazilian Portuguese is not a “real Portuguese”, then the Portuguese from Portugal must be fake too, because the real Portuguese comes from the Old Portuguese (also known as Galician-Portuguese). Oh, BTW, Galician-Portuguese is fake too, because it comes from Vulgar Latin language, that, of course, is not real, because it comes from Latin, and so on. Gosh.
Well, as a brazilian who read books and watched movies from both countries during my whole life, and visited Portugal many times, I never saw something as ridiculous as this comment. “AIO” is pronounced by a couple of brazilians, specially in the countryside, it’s true. However, the correct pronunciation is easily find all around the country. Because it IS the correct pronunciation. Brazilian portuguese is as “real”, rich and complex as Portugal’s portuguese. The brazilian literature of the XX century, the brazilian concrete and modernist poetry and the brazilian 60-70’s music (a.k.a. MPB) are solid portuguese masterpieces by definition. They are real linguistic concepts. Sad to see portuguese people trying to justify that they have “rock” and other types of music… Of course they have, that’s what we expect from a culturally rich country such as Portugal! What is clear here is that we don’t know each other very well. That’s it. Now is time to change.
Well my friend, don’t pay attention to this guy, really…you said everthing what I think about PortBR and PortPT. A book written by Olavo Bilac is as valid as a book written by Fernando Pessoa, and so on…If it’s spoken correctly they are both right, even with the differences, and it’s very wrong who thinks the opposite, in fact, I think all this differences are positive, I like to learn and to hear some PortBR.
Abraço de Portugal
As a Portuguese allow me to add XIX Brazilian literature to the mix… which is IMO especially good and on par with some of the greatest romances of the time – and in an exquisite Portuguese that is both typical of the time (reminding one of Eça, etc) and also contains those peculiarities that make it interesting.
As for the “real”, well, I’m just happy that many comments from Portugal in here made it clear what the vast majority thinks, I think more than anything this clears things up.
You have pinpointed _the_ most critical issue we face though: the lack of knowledge we have. And here allow me to say that it is much more lack of knowledge from your end than ours… if not only because, for example, everyone in Portugal watches Brazilians soaps, hears Brazilian music, etc, etc. So at a _popular_ lever there is this huge difference, which I think was in very good measure fuelled by an extremely “nativist” discourse that seems to be quite popular in Brazil and that mostly attaches to Portugal everything that is negative: if you read the news about a couple of Portuguese tourists that were shot in Rio you will find several comments (from a minority, of course!) that “explain it” because of the “gold stealing and colonial oppression bla bla bla”. This discourse ressonates throughout all layers of Brazilian society, in different ways, which makes it quite hard to make cultural inroads of some magnitude, which in turn leads to lack of exposure, which in turn leads to isolation.
In a way Brazil (like the US regarding England) would be expected to reclaim a lot of the colonial legacy and make it his own, and while this was somewhat done in the beginning of the XX century it seems that today there remains a palpable hostility based on a kind of nativism that finds support in the recycling of historical half-truths which are mostly anedoctical.
Just my 2 cents, sorry to hijack the thread.
ninguem aqui fala aio (alho) nao
Brazilians have a different pronunciation than Portuguese people. I would not have accepted anyone putting down Portuguese accent or way of speaking. But most Brazilian can pronounce ‘alho’ and any ‘lh’ sounds perfectly, and I write most only because not everyone has the same accent or the same privilege to a good education. It’s as if I started to poke fun at some accent from the US, not nice!
This totally stinks of ‘language’ jealousy! LOL because Brazilian accent is so popularly liked 😀
I wouldn’t delete it, he wants to be silly, let him be, we can handle! 😀
People In Brazil says “aio”? Where? Because i’m brazilian and I speaks “alho”. This thing of “real portuguese” is bullshit. We, brazilians, speaks portuguese as the portugueses, only with a diferent acent.
Sr. Mendes, 81% of all Portuguese speakers in the world speaks the Brazilian variant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Falantes_no_mundo.jpg), and probably someone who is not a Portuguese native speaker and has the desire to learn the language will learn the one from Brazil. It looks more like that the “real” Portuguese has being spoken in Brazil nowadays. Moreover, Brazilians are able to speak “LH” sound and any other Portuguese sound as well. The difference is that Brazilians speaks more openly and don’t sizzle so much like Portuguese people. It makes it be more smooth and less annoying to listen.
Poor soul. So naïve and lacking education.
This is a very interesting article. Never thought of Portuguese as a good music language. Funny!
Just one thing, don’t say that saudade and nostalgia are the same or close because, in fact, they aren’t. We have nostalgia and we have saudade. I can feel nostalgic without feeling saudade. And I can feel saudade without being nostalgic 🙂 Weird? A bit, I agree 🙂
Very good article. I am involved in both Linguistics and Music worlds so I found the article really interesting. I’m even commenting on it, which is something I never do online.
I’m a native European Portuguese speaker and I sing in Portuguese usually, although, quite misteriously, I must say, I tend to sound slightly better in English than in Portuguese. It’s perhaps due to the fact that I speak English since the age of 4, but either way, I find it rather hard to make the vowels sound right in Portuguese. However, I must point out that your article focused a lot on Brazilian Portuguese, which despite being the same language, is actually quite different from European Portuguese in what concerns phonetics and especially prosody and melody. People usually say that Brazilian Portuguese is more “sung” than European Portuguese. Actually, to some American people, European Portuguese sounds a bit like Russian in terms of melody. It’s just less melodic, to sum up.
Nevertheless, we do have a rich vowel system in EP (although not as rich as the one from São Paulo), and yes, the CV structure makes it easier to extend words. I think that’s what makes it sound so good to a lot of us, even though, like someone already mentioned, it is way harder to make it sound so good in rock or any other “originally anglophone” music genre.
Being a complex language, like you said, also brings disadvantadges. Because the morphological and phonological system is so complex, there are endlessly different endings for words, which makes rhyming not so easy when writing lyrics for a song. For this reason, there are some strategies to overcome that, like recurring the -ão words (there are loads of them) or to some verbal form, whether infinitive or not. There are lots of European Portuguese lyrics with most of their rhyming based on either -ão or a verbal form.
Anyway, this was just my two cents, I’m not criticizing anything or stating that whatever I said is the absolute truth. I was just trying to share some of the info that I have as a native EP speaker.
Congratulations on the article!
Thanks for your comments.
I’m not interested in arguments about rock being better in English, or that samba has to be in Portuguese for that matter. We hold those beliefs dear because they’re what we are used to, but there’s nothing to back that up in the languages or musics themselves. It just seems true.
Mose i think you missed his point here, he’s not saying rock must be in english, he said it sounds better in english…
Wich i kinda agree, but probably not because of how the language sounds but rather how the language flows, by that i mean the number of syllables we use in portuguese to say the same thing is higher than the amount used by english, also we like to use long and very complex sentences to state sometimes simple things (and that is actually one of the barriers faced by brazilians trying to learn english) so, it is harder to fit something too long in a fast paced music style like rock (for example the extension of the last vowel you stated as one of the big advantages of portuguese is hardly ever used on rock), of course it doesnt mean its impossible due to all the options portuguese brings, but harder than to make the same with english. (thats probably true when reversed with english and samba too). But of course its natural that other languages struggle to fit a genre that wasnt made for it… try to fit russian or german in the japanese traditional enka for a very good illustration of what i mean…
Very good! I studied linguistics at the university and we used to have this debate on whether there is a better language for music or not, and to be honest, I dont think there is an answer to that, of course I agree with most of your arguments, but if you take, for exemple, Classic Rock, I don’t think it’s possible to sing that in portuguese, we use to say we don’t have real Rock and Roll in Brazil, we do have something that is called Rock, but it’s slightly similar to real classic Rock (Led Zeppelin, for a major exemple).
Now, as a phonetic lover I should point that you missed the fact that what makes rythm in portuguese is our syllabic pattern: CV (consonant vowel), we tend to adapt sounds to this pattern even when the word is not written like this.
Very flattering to read a most interesting viewpoint built from research and comparative analysis.
I could not be as blunt but would certainly rank Portuguese among the best languages for music.
Brazil’s contribution through its richly varied, melodious, original and creative musical traditions has elevated Portuguese ever higher since long. Their talents have innovated chords, sounds and blending them all harmoniously to then fit in Portuguese words flawlessly.
That should speak tons for the language’s versatility.
Portuguese music from Portugal is much more than fado.
From African Portuguese-speaking countries there are many great singers too, Cabo Verde standing out prominently.
Thank You Mose Hayward for a great article to read and reflect on.
As a singer, I agree with many of the specific points you make about the vowel sounds and rhyming possibilities of Portuguese but your point (8) “humour and irony get old in pop songs fast” is way off base! Ever heard of Cole Porter? His delightfully witty puns and humorous rhymes will never get old. If sincerity is built in to Portuguese I would say this is a deficiency and not an advantage. Also, there is something too soft about the sound of the language, especially as spoken in Brazil (where many Ds sound like soft Gs), and the fact that so many words end on vowels and not consonants, for it to be convincing in rock and any music that expresses anger or more complicated emotions than love-sickness. The dipthongs and trithongs don’t help. One commenter above, points out that the short words of English are an advantage and I would agree. Because one-syllable words allow enormous flexibility in songwriting. They can extend over many measures (“I am calling you-oo-oo..”) in a very flowing and lyrical fashion, or be spat out in truncated form (“let me go!”), their brevity emphasizing the content and meaning. Portuguese tends to bind the song to the rhythm of the words as spoken and so it works beautifully in music that is rhythm-driven. But English allows for different syllable emphasis than in speech when sung which opens up vast possibilities. The contractions and colloquialisms of English (e.g. “gonna” instead of “going to”) are also without a parallel that I’m aware of and not only are great for singing rock but convey a different feeling than formal language. We all know how stupid French sounds in rock music, and the famous French preciousness about their language is probably one reason for this. I would say 90% of the world’s best rock music is in English. Let’s also not forget what happens when English is merged with a local accent or dialect. Without the Jamaican patois, we wouldn’t have reggae! Because English absorbs other languages and is transformed by people of other cultures as it goes around the world, it will never be beaten as the number one language of pop music either. It’s universal, whereas “Brazilian music” or Fado will always be culturally specific. It’s definitely fun to sing though!
“Also, there is something too soft about the sound of the language […], and the fact that so many words end on vowels and not consonants, for it to be convincing in rock and any music that expresses anger or more complicated emotions than love-sickness. ”
I think you are very, very wrong in this. Here are a couple of examples as to why.
Oh, and it’s not just an European Portuguese thing either. Here’s a Brazilian example:
Well, I believe there is a some lack of a deeper knowledge about music in poruguese expressed here.
First of all humour is deeply embeded in our music, I couldn’t even think of one most flagrant example as you did with Cole Porter.
And second, complementing what JORGE also exposed, saying that the language sounds too soft and is poor in expressing complicated emotions beyond love-sickness is an extremely superficial analysis. I’ll add to his examples:
I’m surprised by the accuracy of your arguments and opinions on Brazilian music, culture and even feelings. Specially on the topic about Saudade. Moving article!
For more on Saudades, listen to Rodrigo Amarante’s “Irene”, in which he puts personality attributes to the feeling. And Marcelo Camelo’s “Saudade”, whose title dispenses further explanation.
Else, being fond of Brazilian music, you might know Tom and Vinicius’ “Chega de Saudade” and its version to english “No More Blues”. Of course numerous other examples would ilustrate the discussion.
Thanks for your informal, but very precise study on Portuguese Language… I am Brazilian, but I’m never getting bored to listen to different sounds of the enormous mix of accents that Lusophon world provides! Congs!
I really enjoyed this article, you’re quite spot on, except on the Saudade VS Nostalgia thing (as some of the people who commented stated).
If you want to hear some Portuguese (from Portugal) music I would reccomend Toranja: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIfKivOzpYw
The singer/songwriter is simply a genius on songwritting, one couldn’t simply translate the song to English (even for some Portuguese native speakers the lyrics in that song is kinda abstract).
Great article putting it all so simply and interesting. Here I leave a few references so you can enrich the list with Portuguese from Portugal music.
For more vowel ‘abuse’ don’t miss one of my favourite traditional songs sang here by the Portuguese composition genius José Afonso.
José Afonso’s revolutionary singing qualification has covered his more diverse and across the spectrum attributes for original compositions, which stretch from traditionally inspired melodies:
to contemporaneous musical experimentations:
passing by the multicultural African influences, as you can listen to in
(due to his long term chronic illness which degenerated his ability to sing and prevented him to sing all songs of his last work, this beautiful LP is not the best example of his wonderful voice)
Through him you will also come across the medieval ‘Cantigas de Amigo’ style and some of our most beautiful poetry, including by Luis Vaz de Camões,
and his own.
Thesis have been done on ‘Zeca’ masterpiece work, most abroad due to political censorship applied surreptitiously to our culture by all recent governments.
As you have been able to read, when it comes to our music there is no lack of Portuguese feverish enthusiasts who provide you with endless references of our wonderful language. It is all part of it, the paixão, the amor, and the saudade, that ‘nostalgia’ that is felt even before it exists.
I finally add two more links where the sang language is conveyed by the guitar, one more reason why Portuguese may be the best language for music, the secular relationship our trovadores have with this instrument.
and that other great genius of Portuguese music, Carlos Paredes.
Well, and you can not forget Cante Alentejano…
I liked this article… however… there must be a mention of Portugal’s culture that has blended with Africa and South Africa in such a way that created the amazing music that you speak of… and by the way, there has not been genocide, that would have been the Spanish!! 😛
Sorry, South America (Brasil)
Oh dear god. Learn your history.
I *do* mention the blending of Portugual, Africa and Brazil!
Thanks for replying this wikipedia article, Mose!
We brazilians surely need to learn more about our history, specially when it comes to our indians. And sadly this genocide still happens every day and people just ignore it!
Thanks again for your interest in brazilian music! I’m living in Paris and I guess the thing that I miss the most is the brazilian portuguese. Talk about saudade there 🙂
And it’s too bad that with your interest you probably came to realize how picky we are when it comes to “outsiders” opinion about our culture. We are really grateful, but we just can’t show it, so instead we criticize each and every little thing. I read some comments here and oh my… the saudades definition and other stuff are such a pain. Hope you don’t get too annoyed about it.
My friend..great article. Just remember something: Portugal is one thing and Brazil is another thing. Portugal colonized Brazil and the language suffered several modifications. Just listening to this truly portuguese from Portugal songs. 🙂
These songs sounds like… sad. Is there some happy song or the Portugal accent forbids some kind of music?
By the way, say that Portuguese from Portugal and Portuguese from Brazil are different things are the same to say that British English and American English are completely different languages, which are wrong. They share the same root, and the regions share different slangs, most utilised terms and most important, different accents. It is largely visible for us Brazilians because we live in a huge country where each region uses different terms for a single thing (such as tangerina, mexerica, and so OR another example is semáforo and sinaleira, and many other different terms for same thing inside the Brazil), different accents for same word, creating a totally different sound for a single word, and the totally different use for slangs (like fudido, which is a bad thing in northeast regions but it is a good thing in south regions).
I recommend you to watch Cine Holliúdy, where they jokingly says that this is the first portuguese-spoken movie subtitled in portuguese 🙂
Here is a trailer:
So, finishing my point: It IS normal to have differences in a same language, even in a same country, so it’s more than acceptable, it’s expected to have huge differences in a same language spoken in two different countries, which have different influences. BUT they also are the same language, even if you think it is not.
“These songs sounds like… sad. Is there some happy song or the Portugal accent forbids some kind of music?”
Nah. We’ve got just about anything you can think of. Including bubbly pop songs:
(This is, as you may have noticed, the actual kind of funk, not that oh-so-bad brazilian twist to it. Speaking of which, we also have a whole lot of really bad music, somewhere between folk, pop and electropop, most of which is meant to amuse/dance to, although there’s also some of it in the lines of the old romantic croonism so common in Latin America. We call it “pimba”, a poorly defined umbrella term for all things cheesy. I won’t post here examples — I hate it with all my heart).
Old-fashioned rock-n’-roll (with a humorous twist to it):
(Enapá 2000, mind you, has a lot of songs that are very much unsafe for work. Handle with care. This one is safe, though.)
Modern rock, and quite jumpy:
This one is sooooooo ironic that they made a minimalist version of it, just to underline that irony, here followed by a second rock song just as ironical as the first:
And so on, and so forth. There’s no lack of variety in Portuguese music.
very interesting post.
i dont know if portuguese its the best language to sing, but i do love it since its my language and it touch me harder of course.
dont forget about madredeus
the best portuguese singer that represent portugal (in my modest opinion)
I’m brazilian and I listened to them because i like heavy metal, and i heard this cover: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2V-WcSvY2k
Heavy Metal singed in portuguese (a Madredeus cover).
Tip for english speaking people:
The sound of “ão” is the same as the diphthong in the worlds “sound”, “round”, “pound”. So, from “round” slice the “r” and “d”, and you have “oun”. That’s exactly what it sounds like.
There’s also “ãe” which is the diphthong form the word “mind”, or “kind”, again, without the “m”/”k” and “d”
And there’s “õe” which is very close to the diphthong in “join”, “coin”, without the “j”/”c”
Afonso, it’s not the same! It sounds simillar, but it’s not. That’s why you language is so interesting (and hard to learn it completely ahahaha)
In Timor, Asia, Dansa is very lusophonic. In Hawai, Oceania, the Ukulele has its origin in the XIX century ancestors Braguinha and Rajão, instruments carried by the islanders from Madeira, including João Fernandes, when they immigrated to Hawaii to work with sugar cane. From Africa you missed Merengue.
Actually, the Braguinha is a later variation of the Cavaquinho, which originated in Braga, a city in northern Portugal. That’s why it’s called Braguinha 🙂
This is a very interesting train of thought, thank you for sharing.
Maybe it’s not so much the language as the talent of its speakers. After all, all good Portuguese songs are Brazilian. No Portuguese or Angolans.
As other people have said above, actually writing music in Portuguese is much harder. The words have more syllables, and become more difficult to adapt, specially when writing rock lyrics. The rhymes tend to become similar, and silly.
"three-quarters of the world's best vocal music is from Portuguese-speaking lands." … wow… that's just a ballsy over generalization.
Very interesting article (and I agree with most of it) but I have a point to make.
As a Brazilian whose parents are Portuguese, I can assume that most of the charactheristics you've mentioned apply to Brazilian Portuguese, but not to all variations of Portuguese.
It's true that Portuguese uses a lot of vowels, but European, for example, has a tendency to add consonants and cut off vowels when they are at the end of a word, e.g.: "pente" (the word said by Elis Regina), would be pronounced by a Portuguese or some Africans like "pent", whitout the vowel sound at the end.
The caractheristic to pronounce clearly a consonant and a vowel (sometimes adding vowels) is a heritage from native Brazilian languages like Tupi-Guarani, Carajá etc.
I'm not saying that those issues are only related to Brazilian Portuguese, but some specific points, in my opinion, are.
“The caractheristic to pronounce clearly a consonant and a vowel (sometimes adding vowels) is a heritage from native Brazilian languages like Tupi-Guarani, Carajá etc. ”
This is a widespread myth. Linguists, however, know better.
The fact is that the tendency to close vowels in European Portuguese is a recent innovation. Classic Portuguese was much more open and thoroughly pronounced than current EP, and much closer to the way the language is pronounced today in Brazil. Including the clear pronounciation of all syllables. Up north, there’s a region whose pronounciation still includes everything, although it doesn’t get to the extreme of inserting made up vowels, which is indeed a Brazilian thing. “Psicologia” only sounds as “pissicologia” in Brazil.
Also, the word “pente” can be pronounced in contemporary Portugal variously as “pente”, “pent”, “penti”, “piente”, “puent” and pretty much anything in between.
Hi there! (i'm already sorry for my english!)
I'm a brazilian musician and i really love knowing that there are people who enjoy lusophone music, specially brazilian music.
One of the things you said that i can really see almost in a daily basis in my work, it's people mixing all kinds of styles and rhythms, most of because we do have a high miscigenation rate, specially between europeans and africans. And one thing is for sure: our rythm, our "swing" came with our "Black Side" of ancestors.
Another thing is that, yes, samba, choro, bossa, are really good expressions of what brazilian music is, but there are plenty of variations and styles, who achieve, nowadays, much more people than, let's say, classic brazilian styles. For instance, i'm a huge fan of the BRock band from Brazilia in the 80's, Legião Urbana. Of course, they have intense british influences, but still it's a unique and original representation of a moment in history of Brazil and, even more, for brazilian music.
I also recomend listening Raúl Seixas, creator of so called Rock Baião in the 70's, mixing up traditional styles from the backwoods of Bahia with eletric guitars, and synthesizers.
It's very Psy! And the last indication is Novos Baianos. They were the true brazilian hippies and they made incredible musics, also mixing all kind of styles, and their first (or second) album it's considered the best brazilian album of history: Acabou Chorare.
Hey, I liked this topic!
you might want to check this excellent link:
Radio Batuta – João Gilberto
it's a detailed explanation about the revolutionary João Gilberto's way to sing, that have been influencing all brazilian singers since the late 1950's. Includes a full analysis of how he used vowels and consonants in different musical contexts, creating new textures.
The exposition, illustrated with many of his performances and recordings, is commented by a super qualified team of musicians, vocal coach, composers, linguists such as:
Aderbal Duarte, Edinha Diniz, Felipe Abreu, José Miguel Wisnik, Lorenzo Mammì, Luiz Tatit, Moogie Canázio, Roberto Menescal, Ruy Castro and Walter Garcia.
hope you enjoy it!
Ricardo – vocal coach
Congratulations for the excelent article. Few were the times when I read something about portuguese from an author who is not originally from a portuguese speaking country that could describe so well the beauty of the language.
I do, however, have some remarks to make and information to provide:
1-Another reason why portuguese is very good for music is because it allows a huge amount of different ways to say the same things. It enjoys a certain freedom grammatically speaking. For example, take the phrase "Eu te amo", which means "I love you". It is perfectly possible to invert the phrase, as in "Eu amo-te", without loosing any of its meaning. You could also imply the personal pronoun and say "Te amo" and it still has the same meaning and it is grammatically correct. Not many languages can do that. It is very hard to thing of another way of saying "I love you", for example.
2- Saudade and nostalgia do have some proximity in meaning, but the feeling they describe are very different. Portuguese indeed does have the word nostalgia, and no portuguese speaker would confuse their meaning. Nostalgia generally refers to something you once had and you remember about it with care and a bit of sadness. It is usually used to talk about our chilhood or some time of our live ling gone. Saudade has a much stronger meaning. It refers to something you had and almost despairingly want back. It can be used to talk from the past long gone until the presence of someone with whom you were 5 minutes ago. Lovers call each other and say they have saudade from each other, but they would never say they have nostalgia. You could roughly say that nostalgia is envolved in the feeling of saudade, but it is not enough to describe the intensity that is envolved in saudade.
3- Another proof that portuguese is good for music is that is also one of the best languages for poetry (if not the best). And that is for the same reasons sad in the article and a few others (but I won't get into that). All you need to do is to read about epic poetry. There are only four compositions that can really be called epic poetry (or, for the critics of this position, at least only these four works can be considered great symbols of the style). They are the Iliad and Odyssey, by Homer, Aeneid, by Virgil, and The Lusiads, by Luís Vaz de Camões. The three first were written in greek a looooong time ago, in Ancient Greece. Only a portuguese author (Camões) was able to translate the maestry from the greek poets in this style to another language. That was done in the 16th century, and never before (since the greeks) and never since that could another author make a poem which can trully be called an epic poetry, with all the gramatic rules, metrics and rhymes it demands. That is not something that happened by chance. Portuguese is a very complex and at the same time free language, which opens more ways than almost any other language when it comes to poetry and music.
I say good bye with a suggestion. Try listening to the music "Construção" (translating, Construction), by Chico Buarque de Hollanda. It is one of the most beautifull songs ever in every sense (in terms of meaning, poetry, structure, gramatic, sound, and anything you can think of). It is a very powerfull song.
Sorry for the very long comment.
Once my kids and I were speaking Portuguese in a doctor's waiting room in Washington, DC (we are Brazilian) and the doctor's secretary said that she loved the Portuguese language and fado. "When I listen to fado I don't understand a word but it makes me cry." she added.
Chico Buarque's song "Pedaço de Mim" (piece of me) says that "saudade é arrumar o quarto do filho que já morreu ('saudade is to clean the room of a son who is already dead' – portuguese speakers, help me with this poor translation!!). I think it's a beautiful definition.
I've just read the article and I really enjoyed it. As a native speaker I must say Portuguese is a very complicated language. Actually, it sometimes trick us, but I love the diversity. Music is one of my passions, in the other hand I don't know too much about linguistics and morfology. In the music performed by clara Nunes the word "tristeza" is translated as "sadly", but should be "sadness". Great reading!
About the paroxitones followed by the weakly pronounced last syllable, I agree. I'm not a musician, but I've always thought that this characteristic made the spoken Portuguese specially pleasant to listen, because it gives fluency. In Spanish, for example, the syllables are all very well pronounced, what makes the end of a word and the beginning of other very marked. As we don't pronounce strongly the end, it gets more fluid. Comparing with french, for example, this caractheristic (of fluency) is also seen and it includes, also, the formation of entire phrases wich have the same phonetics but may be whiten in distinct ways, meaning distinct thinks. Otherwise, french is a more Oxytone idiom. I can't explain why, but a really think french a hard idiom to find pleasant songs (they exist, certainly, but are less common). I suspect it happens because when giving emphasis to the last syllabe it gives a rythm already very marked to the spoken language, wich pre determines the growing tone of the voice from the beginnig to the end of the word. For the record, I think english succes in music is not only for cultural imperialism reasons, it's actually also a good idiom for songs.
I'd say "saudade" is more like the feeling of missing someone or something, but not quite like nostalgia. I think nostalgia has a meaning of "long time" imbued to it, whereas saudade is the feeling itself, independent of time. Hell, brazilians can feel saudade the moment you greet them goodbye. We do have a word for nostalgia, and its also nostalgia
"Me sinto nostálgico"
At least that's my take as a brazilian.
What an amazing post! As a brazilian and former Portuguse and Literature teacher, I have to say that this text made me prouder of being a Brazilian Portuguese speaker. I ask you to permit me to translate this text and post in my Facebook fanpage (with the credits, of course).
@Bernardo, I'm very curious why the "predominant use of paroxytones" would be beneficial exactly for singers. If you or anyone else can fill me in, please do!
@José Miguel I didn't mention Asia because I don't anything about interesting music coming out of lusophone Asia, or out of these contacts. Maybe you can enlighten me. There was also a ton of Japanese immigration to São Paulo, but I haven't seen much Japanese influence in the music there.
That's the most accurate meaning of "saudade" I've ever found.
Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being. Is an emptiness, like someone or something that should be there, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.
When I was living in Blumenau (in the southern state of Santa Catarina) I've learned the german word "sehnsucht", that I think is the closest translation for "saudade".
I would say that the best word to describe "saudade" is "to be longing for" something/someone/some stage in time, always in a positive way.
"Que saudade da minha familia" – i miss my family a lot. i'm longing to my family.
"Que saudade daquele verão de 2010" – i'm longing for that 2010 summer…
Actually, the English language is richer than Portuguese when it comes to vowels, which weakens a bit the argument. Anyway, I've studied singing with Spanish, French and Bulgarian-speaking teachers, and all three of them said that Portuguese was a good language for singing because of it's predominant stressing of the penultimate syllabes – that is, the predominant use of paroxytones. Not only that, in Portuguese the last syllabes of paroxytones are barely pronounced, and that is very musical – it's basic singing phrasing. Other than that, I think that Portuguese's limited use of consonants being a musical advantage makes a lot of sense. I had never thought of that before.
You are the man! you have put on words stuff i've always wondered about songs in my first language. My contribution would be about the meaning of stuff and games of words in lyrics. It's like pure poetry… even on the pop songs. (take lyrics of old axé songs like Banda Eva and Marisa Monte's Beija Eu as an exemple). You cannot found so many songs that rhyme so well in other language… as you do in portuguese. I always wondered if this kind of stuff is understandable by a foreigner. There are several jokes on the meaning of words, is like, its not a brazilian song without "duplo sentindo". To be a MPB songwriter you have to master this figure of speech, as well as "trocadilho". This is really a common thing to most brazilian music.
I think that Portuguese is very good to hear in a song. But its much more difficult to write lyrics in portuguese than in english. In english there are many one syllable words, but in portuguese, the words are longer. And its very difficult to write in a way that they fit in the song, mainly if you consider that you have to put the tonic syllables in the right place. Sometimes the composer uses this in his favor, like Chico Buarque in Construção: he ends all the lines with a proparoxítona word (a word where the tonic syllable satys in the third syllable from the end to the beggining). Other difficulty is to use the rhymes. In english, the terminations are more diverse. In portuguese, there are less types of terminations and each rhyme becomes more common. if you use a common rhyme, you can sound silly, at least for a brazilian listener. Many brazilians, rock fans specially, prefer to listen and write in english. My band insists I have to write in english…. And I´ve wrote some songs in english… But portuguese is much more challenging, and when you come up with a trick that you can only do in portuguese, its very pleasant
Totally agree on that, specifically on being harder to write. For me it feels like in Portuguese there are mostly either passable, somewhat boring lyricists and absolutely amazing ones. Not much in between.
Another thing I think makes it harder in Portuguese is just the abundance of an awkward sounding “s” or “r” in the middle of a word. It rarely sounds nice. I guess that’s more of a personal opinion though.
You and Fernando are both spot on on that one! Look no further than Sérgio Godinho, master songwriter of songs chock-full with composite metric, complex melody/harmony and stylistic resources like alliteration, for instance.
I should also mention, as a bit of trivia, that a proparoxítona word is also called an “esdrúxula” (ayj-drew-shu-le[r], from the italian “sdrucciolo”, or slippery), which, in turn, can also be a replacement adjective for eccentric (funnily enough, both words are recursive in that they fit their own definition). Just goes to show how eccentric the language is… 😉
Very interesting essay!
Allow me a small adjustment. Where you say: "The geography of the lusophone world touches the Americas, Europe and Africa…", you should add Asia.The lusophone world (just) touches Asia on Macau, East-Timor and, on a different level, some cities mostly in India.
I also agree that you should use Fado as an example in point 7, since 'saudade' (I would translate to 'longing') it's a main subject in most of the songs of this kind of music.
On a side note, Fado (witch could be poorly translated to 'destiny') was categorized in 2011 as a World's Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
Related to both my two points – Asia and Fado – I would suggest a movie called "Isabella" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499141/). This movie tells a beautiful story set in Macau with a Fado soudtrack that will surely give you chills.
Funny, couse heare in Brazil most of the people that listen to ROck, Metal music prefer singin in English.. and hear too
Saudades doesn't mean nostalgia. We have a word for it, and that would be "nostalgia".
Saudades is similar, but not the same thing. Not easy to translate though 🙁
Yep, also I don’t really think “saudade” is so widely celebrated as stated there. Yes I can name a few songs about it, but it really isn’t as big of a thing as people make it out to be. Plus, as the article says, it isn’t really special, as a word.
In English, saudade is expressed saying that you miss something. English speakers use it as a verb, Portuguese speakers as a noun. That’s basically it. In English it goes “I miss my brother” in portuguese “I have saudades of my brother”.
It’s no different than how in English “lunch” is strictly a noun while in Portuguese it is used as a verb.
For me, the most interesting way of saying you miss something comes from French “Tu me manca”. Unlike Portuguese or English, in French you are the object and the thing you miss is the subject. For me it feels like saying the thing you miss is hurting you from not being close to you.
That´s why I love listening http://www.maisportugues.com
I love fado, and so, so many other styles of music in Portuguese that aren't even mentioned here. Sure, tell me your favorite fado tunes!
A friend forwarded me to this article knowing my love of Fado (also being Portuguese and a fadista) so I was excited to read just why someone else thinks Portuguese is the best language for music. I thoroughly enjoyed the article but I'm disappointed by the single mention of Fado in the introductory paragraph and not in the examples. Fado (like morna) embodies saudade, is an amazing example of beautiful, resilient, lengthy vowels being sung, and most certainly uses shifts in tone to indicate some types of meaning. Fado brings people to tears! If you'd like some fado suggestions, let me know 🙂
Thank you for the article. Very interesting. Do you know this song by Sara Tavares?