It’s been said poetry is that which is lost in translation. Not so with the songs of Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim. Aside from such wonderful wordplay on The Girl from Ipanema as “But each day when she walks to the sea, she looks straight ahead – not at he…” Then there’s Jobim’s song “Desafinado (“Off Key”), written in response to those who claimed Brazilian singers couldn’t sing in tune, which mentions the Rolleiflex, the superb classic SLR camera of days gone by.
I heard Astrud Gilberto sing the classic song “One Note Samba” recently and once again the utter coolness of Jobim’s music and lyrics. They’re as cool and smooth as the sound of Getz’s tenor. As its title would suggest, the song is built around single note, except for the bridge, which goes up and down the scale. The song is in the key of B flat. Newton Mendonça wrote the Portuguese lyrics; Jobim the English translation. No wonder the words (in both languages) fit his song like a glove.
One Note Samba
This is just a little samba,
Built upon a single note
Other notes are bound to follow,
But the root is still that note
Now this new one is the consequence,
Of the one we’ve just been through
As i’m bound to be the unavoidable consequence of you
There’s so many people who can talk
And talk and talk and just say nothing,
Or nearly nothing
I have used up all the scale i know, and at the end i’ve come to nothing,
Or nearly nothing
So i come back to my first note,
As i must come back to you
I will pour into that one note,
All the love i feel for you
Anyone who wants the whole show,
Re mi fa sol la si do
He will find himself with no show,
Better play the note you know
Here is the 1964 live version of “One Note Samba”, with original Portuguese lyrics first, then English with the Brazilian accent that gives the translated lyrics even more appeal.