Brazil’s Bicentennial Celebrates the 50th anniversary of its all-time most popular song.
The Waters of March 50th Anniversary. A half-century after its creation the song’s unknown story is one that not even many Brazilians are familiar with.
by Scott Adams
Spring can be the most fickle of seasons, especially here in Chicago. Look at the last few years: either we were basking in a daily stretch of 80-degree weather, or the wind chills were driving the cold into single digits. “In like a lion, out like a lamb?”
Down south, the seasons are reversed. Our fall means spring in Brazil and the beginning of its rainy season. Those Brazilian rains can be powerful and prolonged, and the red clay washes away easily.
I guess it’s no surprise that spring’s ‘fluid’ nature has found its way into Antonio Carlos Jobim’s song about the challenges of life. That’s why I like to feature different versions of ‘The Waters of March’ daily during March on our streaming station.
The story behind The Waters of March and Águas de Março
Connect Brazil is celebrating The Waters of March’s 50th Anniversary. Because of this, I’d like to tell you the real story behind this famous song. It was told to me years ago by one of the Brazilian musicians involved with the Elis & Tom album. It has since been independently corroborated.
‘Águas de Março’ is a rare and wonderful rhyme about the cycle of life. As such, the lyrics earned a place in our home as a reminder of the beauty, the balance, and the reality of things.
There’s a framed copy of the lyrics in English and Portuguese here in our office.
As with other masterpieces, the song’s simplicity is also its power. The shortline form of the lyrics allows us to reflect on the wisdom found in each phrase.
The Waters of March 50th Anniversary: Inspired by a…
The story goes that Jobim wrote ‘The Waters of March’ during a visit to one of his favorite retreats. When he needed a break from city life in Rio, he would head off to a rancho, in the interior of Rio de Janeiro state. Good to get away, a change of scenery.
This time, he arrived during a steady rain that had turned the roads and landscape to mud.
He had become frustrated with the difficulties the rain was causing for the construction of a new boundary wall along the property line.
The skies rained from above while chaos reigned below, as plainly stated in the lyrics: “It’s the mud, it’s the mud…”
However, Jobim might just as easily have included the line “It’s the neighbor, it’s the neighbor”. Because whatever progress had been made during the day was torn down overnight, due to a property line dispute.
With plenty of time to contemplate the situation, Jobim created a modern parable for daily life.
A change of languages and seasons
In fact, the original Portuguese lyrics draw from many common observations of life in the Brazilian interior.
Later, Jobim discovered that his story was equally poignant when translated into English. Subsequently, he penned the English lyrics himself.
But what about the reversal of seasons?
For Brazil, March represents the beginning of autumn. It’s reflected in his original Portuguese. São as águas de Março fechando o verão, são promessas de vida no meu coração.
This means that even while the waters of March bring an end to summer, there is still the promise of life in my heart.
Jobim’s English lyrics were only slightly changed to more strongly reflect the sense of rebirth that Spring brings to us here in the northern hemisphere.
Águas de Março’s less than impressive debut
We’re looking back at The Waters of March’s 50th Anniversary. The unknown story continues with an underwhelming start for Brazil’s most popular song.
‘Águas de Março’ debuted in May 1972. It came via a poorly managed but ambitious project called Disco de Bolso – O Tom de Jobim e O Tal de João Bosco.
Headed by Sergio Ricardo, this ‘pocket disc’ also marked the debut recording for João Bosco. Interestingly, Ricardo’s idea was to promote new artists via an indie newspaper called O Pasquim. Bosco’s song ‘Agnus Sei’ was on the ‘B’ side.
What’s the best way to get people’s attention? Why not debut a new artist by placing a new song by Antonio Carlos Jobim on Side ‘A’?
But an oppressive government had other ideas. The federal government limited free speech through selective censorship. Individual beliefs had to conform or be canceled. The censorship board believed Jobim’s shortline lyrics represented a secret code. Consequently, the release was delayed.
As a result, the ‘Disco de Bolso’ was limited in exposure once it was allowed to be released. Here’s what it sounded like.
The Waters of March 50th Anniversary: Second chances.
Antonio Carlos Jobim was quick to react. First, Elis Regina recorded the song with his approval later in 1972.
Subsequently, ‘Águas de Março’ was the opening track on Jobim’s 1973 album, Matita Perê. The international release included a second version of the song in English.
Then, an improbable twist of fate changed the course of Brazilian music. But we’ll have to go back in time to understand how it happened.
Elis Regina’s unusual request
Imagine that. It began with a spat.
A big one, between a pair of Brazilian superstars back in 1964. These two would go on to record their country’s all-time, most popular song as a duet, ten years later.
Simply put, the rift was due to a decision made by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Brazil’s most influential musician didn’t care for a teenage singer from the Pampas who was looking for her big break. “This gaucha is a bit of a country bumpkin,” he said.
Meanwhile, Elis Regina heard that pass-me-down comment soon enough. Initially, she refused to have anything to do with Jobim’s music. But if you wanted to be a popular singer in 60s Brazil, a Jobim song or two was a requirement. Over time, she gave in.
Years passed and as Regina’s popularity grew, so did her influence. Philips Records’ President André Midani met with her in 1973 with a special offer. It was a gift of her choice to celebrate 10 years with the label. Elis Regina’s manager suggested an album with Antonio Carlos Jobim. Despite their feud, the idea of recording with Jobim was on her wish list.
Jobim was living in Los Angles at the time, so Minardi flew Elis Regina and her husband Cesar Camargo Mariano there in late January 1974. Recording for Elis & Tom began about four weeks later at MGM Studios.
Recording Elis & Tom’s Águas de Março
So, how did it go?
On the back of the original album cover, Elis Regina wrote this. “In my ten years with the label, I got a meeting with Tom as a gift. These were moments lived by two very tense people, who can only relax through music. In which the colors were different and the people were happier”.
Personally and professionally, each was a reflection of the other. Both were accustomed to getting their way. Elis Regina was concerned about Jobim’s ‘traditional’ style hampering her ‘contemporary’ image. Jobim didn’t care for Mariano’s electric piano conflicting with his acoustic grand.
Fortunately, daily calls from the steady hand of artistic director Roberto Menescal calmed these concerns. Ultimately, Elis and Tom found their creative ways to common ground, and the sessions wrapped up within a few short days.
The Waters of March 50th Anniversary. It’s legacy
Today, Elis Regina’s and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s duet of ‘Águas de Março’ remains the definitive version. The song is one of the most recorded in music history.
Subsequently in 2001, ‘The Waters of March’ was named the all-time best Brazilian song in a poll of more than 200 Brazilian journalists, musicians, and other artists conducted by Brazil’s leading daily newspaper, Folha de São Paulo.
Moreover, Rolling Stone Brazil conducted its survey of 100 Greatest Brazilian Songs in 2009, where ‘Águas de Março’ ranked second to Chico Buarque’s ‘Construção’.
Billboard magazine reports that The Waters Of March’ is one of the best-selling Brazilian songs (via Elis & Tom) of all time.
Finally, American jazz critic Leonard Feather lists ‘The Waters of March’ as one of the top 10 songs of the past 100 years.
Lyrics for The Waters of March and Águas de Março
The “It” Factor
Both the English and Portuguese lyrics follow below, but I’ve left one translation of this song off this page. Amazingly, it’s the one that transformed this song from a Brazilian jewel into a worldwide phenomenon. It’s a curious sidebar to The Waters of March at 50.
In 1985, Coke used the song with rewritten lyrics on a summer “Coke Is It” TV campaign. The ad made its US debut on ABC television, on January 20th. It was aired during the Super Bowl XIX broadcast.
Subsequently, unique versions in Portuguese for “Coca-Cola é Isso Aí” also aired on Brazilian TV for several years, with lyrics written by Nelson Wellington.
‘Águas de Março’ (‘The Waters of March’) was already a legendary song in Brazil. However Coke’s worldwide usage of the song ensured a new level of popularity.
English lyrics for The Waters of March
A stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road. It’s the rest of the 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, the knot in the wood, the song of the 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 a slope. it’s a beam, it’s a void, it’s a hunch, it’s a hope. And the riverbank talks of the water of March. It’s the end of the strain, it’s the joy in your heart.
The foot, the ground, the flesh, and the bone, the beat of the road, a slingshot stone. A fish, a flash, a silvery glow, a fight, a bet, the range of the 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 the cold, it’s the mumps.
The plan of the house, the body in bed. The car that got stuck, it’s the mud, it’s the mud. A float, a drift, a flight, a wing, a hawk, a quail, the promise of spring.
And the riverbanks talks of the waters of March. It’s the promise of life, it’s the joy in your heart.
A snake, a stick, it is John, it is Joe. It’s a thorn in your hand, and a cut on your toe. A point, a grain, a bee, a bite, a blink, a buzzard, the sudden stroke of night. A pin, a needle, a sting, a pain, a snail, a riddle, a weep, a stain.
A pass in the mountains. a horse, a mule, in the distance the shelves rode three shadows of blue. and the riverbanks 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 load. The rest of the stump, a lonesome road. A sliver of glass, a life, the sun, a night, 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.
Portuguese lyrics for Águas de Março
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 o 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 cumieeira. 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.
Uma ave no céu, 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 ponta, é um ponto. É um pingo pingando, é uma conta, é um conto. 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. São as águas de Março fechando o verão. É a promessa de vida no teu coração.
É pau, é pedra, é o fim do caminho. É um resto de toco, é um pouco sozinho. 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.
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