Brazil enjoys the largest recording industry outside of the United States, so the number of brilliant artists and the wide variety of genres (most people have never heard of), is truly staggering.
The first time I’d ever hear this beautiful language was by vinyl record, as my father had a huge jazz collection, and even before I was born the Bossa Nova was played in my house often, so the first song I can remember, and first words in Portuguese are from the famous song: Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema).
The Girl from Ipanema is a well-known bossa nova song, a worldwide hit in the mid-1960s that won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. It was written in 1962, with music by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. English lyrics were written later by Norman Gimbel.
In Revelação: a verdadeira Garota de Ipanema (Revealed: The Real Girl from Ipanema) Moraes wrote she was:
“o paradigma do broto carioca; a moça dourada, misto de flor e sereia, cheia de luz e de graça mas cuja a visão é também triste, pois carrega consigo, a caminho do mar, o sentimento da mocidade que passa, da beleza que não é só nossa—é um dom da vida em seu lindo e melancólico fluir e refluir constante.”
“the paradigm of the young Carioca: a golden teenage girl, a mixture of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, the sight of whom is also sad, in that she carries with her, on her route to the sea, the feeling of youth that fades, of the beauty that is not ours alone—it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow.”
The song was inspired by Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (now Helô Pinheiro), a nineteen-year-old girl living on Montenegro Street in the fashionable Ipanema district in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Daily, she would stroll past the popular Veloso bar-café, not just to the beach (“each day when she walks to the sea”), but in the everyday course of her life. She would sometimes enter the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother and leave to the sound of wolf-whistles.
As the legend has it (which isn’t 100% accurate), in the winter of 1962, the composers watched the girl pass by the bar (now a restaurant, see footnote), and it is easy to imagine why they noticed her—Helô was a 173-cm (five-foot eight-inch) brunette, and she attracted the attention of many of the bar patrons. Since the song became popular, she has become a celebrity.
While Helô inspired the song, it was another Carioca who carried it beyond Rio. Astrud Gilberto was just the wife of singing star João Gilberto when she entered a NYC studio in March 1963. João and Jobim were making a record with tenor saxman Stan Getz. The idea of cutting a verse on “Ipanema” in English came up, and Astrud was the only one of the Brazilians who spoke more than phrasebook English.
The hit English language song; “The Girl from Ipanema” was the alchemy of Astrud’s child-like vocal, devoid of vibrato and singerly mannerisms, it was the perfect foil for her husband’s soft bumblebee voice. Jobim tinkled piano. Getz blew a creamy smooth tenor. Four minutes of magic went to tape.
Note: One of my favorite places to eat and drink in Rio is the Garota de Ipanema, sure it’s a bit of a tourist trap because of the song “Girl from Ipanema” but seriously the restaurant is really excellent and it’s super casual being just a couple of blocks from Ipanema beach. You can grab a good window seat near the corner if your timing is good and then watch all the Cariocas trudging home from the beach at the end of the day. The draft beer is cold and frothy however the caipirinhas might be as good as you’ll find anywhere but the main attraction is the great food, especially the Picanha, which is thinly sliced beef rump that you grill yourself, right at your table, on a super-hot brazier, similar to a hibachi bar-b-que. (See: Garota de Ipanema Restaurant)