VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Waters of March Mixtape”

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In 2001 a major daily newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo, surveyed journalists, musicians and cultural personalities, and asked them: what is the best Brazilian song? Even though I selected “Waters of March (Aguas de Marco)” to feature this week before I knew about the poll, I never would have guessed that Brazilians were as high on the song as they are, and as I am.

There is a bunch of interesting trivia surrounding the 1972 song but to me the most important fact is that Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote both the music and the lyrics. He wrote the Portuguese lyrics in Brazil and while on a trip to New York, wrote the English lyrics.

It’s a great song with the minimalist melody that almost anybody can hear and sing. One listen and you’ve got it. No difficult changes to negotiate. While it’s not a nursery rhyme, it is catchy as all get out. Plus, whether as a ballad or an up-tempo romp, the song works almost anyway you arrange it.

And yet it’s one of the most unusual songs ever written. There is no narrative—it’s constructed on a list of seemingly unrelated associations. It’s almost surrealistic in expression—what in the hell is a “truck load of bricks/in the soft morning light” doing in a song whose closing verse includes “it’s the promise of life/it’s the joy in your heart”?

The lyrics are not only masterful, the English lyrics are different from the Portuguese. Jobim didn’t simply come up with a translation, he completely changed the thrust of the lyrics and yet the song ends up being just as effective in a similar way. He understood that the cultural context of the two different languages required different directions to get to the same destination.

The “waters of March” refers to Brazil’s rainy season and some of the items on the Portuguese list are very, very specific to Brazil. Plus, in Brazil, rather than heralding the arrival of spring, March closes out the summer. Literary types interpret the song as a confrontation with death. But regardless of how one interprets or sings the lyrics, the song leaves one feeling positive about the future, positive about “the joy in your heart” despite the “gun in the night.”

This is one of our most diverse mixtapes. The versions run the gamut from the opening classic duet of Tom Jobim and Elis Regina (who is generally considered the greatest Brazilian vocalist), to a bass&drum remix—the d&b production work is so deft, you’d think Joao Bosco recorded that way originally rather than had his voice fitted to a most unlikely rhythm bed.

Then there’s Sergio Mendes working with Zap Mama doing a house music version with French lyrics. Mendes is credited with recording the first English version in 1974 and over thirty years later he’s still recording the song in a foreign language.

If you’re anything like me, you will not be able to pick just one favorite version.

Although the opening duet with Elis Regina is widely judged to be the definitive, classic version, I actually prefer the last version, which is a Jobim duet with Miucha. To my ears, the interplay between the two is both more creative and more genuine. They both sound like they are deeply and genuinely enjoying themselves.

In any case, there is something here for everyone. Here are seventeen versions of one of the greatest songs of the 20th century, a song that strikes me as an ode to rebirth.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

Waters of March Mixtape Playlist

At the end of the playlist, I’ve included both the English and the Portuguese lyrics. Enjoy.

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01  Elis & Tom  - Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina

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02 Via Brasil Vol. 1 - Tania Maria

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03 Bossacucanova Ao Vivo - Bossacucanova

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04 Meu - Ana Paula Lopes

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05 Red Hot + Rio - David Byrne and Marisa Monte

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06 Tom Jobim Lounge - Joao Bosco

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07 Encanto - Sérgio Mendes & Zap Mama

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08 Astronauta: Canções de Elis - Joyce & Dori Cayymi

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09 Segundo - Trio Esperança

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10  Love Again - Tok Tok Tok

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11 The New Bossa Nova - Luciana Souza

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12 Stolen Moments (out of print) - Mark Murphy

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13 Heirs to Jobim, A Musical Tribute - Philip Hamilton

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14 Breath Of Brazil - Joanne Brackeen

15 Um Show de MPB (Áudio do DVD) - Ivan Lins, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & João Bosco

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16  Bleed - Tina Schouw

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17 Musicalmente - Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Toquinho & Miucha

"Waters of March"
(English Lyrics)
by Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim
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A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road,
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

It's a sliver of glass,
It is life, it's the sun,
It is night, it is death,
It's a trap, it's a gun

The oak when it blooms,
A fox in the brush,
A knot in the wood,
The song of a thrush

The wood of the wind,
A cliff, a fall,
A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

It's the wind blowing free,
It's the end of the slope,
It's a beam, it's a void,
It's a hunch, it's a hope

And the river bank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of the strain,
The joy in your heart

The foot, the ground,
The flesh and the bone,
The beat of the road,
A slingshot's stone

A fish, a flash,
A silvery glow,
A fight, a bet,
The range of a bow

The bed of the well,
The end of the line,
The dismay in the face,
It's a loss, it's a find

A spear, a spike,
A point, a nail,
A drip, a drop,
The end of the tale

A truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun
in the dead of the night

A mile, a must,
A thrust, a bump,
It's a girl, it's a rhyme,
It's a cold, it's the mumps

The plan of the house,
The body in bed,
And the car that got stuck,
It's the mud, it's the mud

Afloat, adrift,
A flight, a wing,
A hawk, a quail,
The promise of spring

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
It's the joy in your heart

A stick, a stone,
It's the end of the road
It's the rest of a stump,
It's a little alone

A snake, a stick,
It is John, it is Joe,
It's a thorn in your hand
and a cut in your toe

A point, a grain,
A bee, a bite,
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night

A pin, a needle,
A sting, a pain,
A snail, a riddle,
A wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains,
A horse and a mule,
In the distance the shelves
rode three shadows of blue

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It's the end of all strain,
It's the joy in your heart.

"Águas de Março" (Portuguese lyrics)

É pau, é pedra,
é o fim do caminho
É um resto de toco,
é um pouco sozinho

É um caco de vidro,
é a vida, é o sol
É a noite, é a morte,
é um laço, é o anzol

É peroba do campo,
é o nó da madeira
Caingá, candeia,
é o Matita Pereira

É madeira de vento,
tombo da ribanceira
É o mistério profundo,
é o queira ou não queira

É o vento ventando,
é o fim da ladeira
É a viga, é o vão,
festa da cumeeira

É a chuva chovendo,
é conversa ribeira
Das águas de março,
é o fim da canseira

É o pé, é o chão,
é a marcha estradeira
Passarinho na mão,
pedra de atiradeira

É uma ave no céu,
é uma ave no chão
É um regato, é uma fonte,
é um pedaço de pão

É o fundo do poço,
é o fim do caminho
No rosto o desgosto,
é um pouco sozinho

É um estrepe, é um prego,
é uma conta, é um conto
É uma ponta, é um ponto,
é um pingo pingando

É um peixe, é um gesto,
é uma prata brilhando
É a luz da manhã,
é o tijolo chegando

É a lenha, é o dia,
é o fim da picada
É a garrafa de cana,
o estilhaço na estrada

É o projeto da casa,
é o corpo na cama
É o carro enguiçado,
é a lama, é a lama

É um passo, é uma ponte,
é um sapo, é uma rã
É um resto de mato,
na luz da manhã

São as águas de março
fechando o verão
É a promessa de vida
no teu coração

É uma cobra, é um pau,
é João, é José
É um espinho na mão,
é um corte no pé

É um passo, é uma ponte,
é um sapo, é uma rã
É um belo horizonte,
é uma febre terçã

São as águas de março
fechando o verão
É a promessa de vida
no teu coração

This entry was posted on Monday, May 25th, 2009 at 5:50 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Waters of March Mixtape””

rich Says:
May 27th, 2009 at 8:23 am

In the short film Bossa Nova – the sound that seduced the world there is a range of contemporary and archival interviews with key musicians and songwriters from the movement. apparently a key influence on the soft, acoustic groove and sound at the heart of so much Bossa was the angry landlady who lived in the apartment above the one where many of the key figures met to jam, talk and share songs. part of the laid back approach was apparently designed to keep her from banging on the roof late at night. Thanks for sharing these gems!

Tricia Cochee Says:
May 27th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

The perfect “zen koan” of a song.

Minkah Says:
May 31st, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Thanks. I was only familiar with Cassandra Wilson’s version.

lebo Says:
December 20th, 2009 at 7:27 am

Just a note on the Sergio Mendes Encanto entry. There’s a Ledisi version and also a Zap Mama version on the Encanto CD. What Ledisi does on her version is absolute magic! Zap Mama’s version? Umm, not so much. But I don’t speak french so… 🙂

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