Why Portuguese is the Best Language for Music


A forró party in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. Courtesy of and copyright by the illustrious Johanna Thomé de Souza.
A forró party in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. Courtesy of and copyright by the illustrious Johanna Thomé de Souza.
A forró party in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. Courtesy of and copyright by the illustrious Johanna Thomé de Souza.

[Em portuguès aquí.]

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:

Portuguese vowels (São Paulo)
Portuguese vowels (São Paulo)
Spanish vowels
Spanish vowels

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 escense 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.

 

Motivated to try learning Portuguese (or another language)? I obsessively learn languages via the Complete language books (which are great communicative learning guides) and via  online, one-on-one lessons. Readers of this blog that want to have a free language lesson can get $10 in credit at Italki (the site that I use for learning languages). Using that link will also get me the same credit and help me continue my own language adventures. Thanks!

163 Comments

  1. January 19, 2014
    Reply
  2. January 19, 2014
    Reply

    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?

    http://youtu.be/D-q3jaELQeo

    If you have trouble grabbing the lyrics, here they are:

    http://letras.mus.br/miguel-araujo-jorge/os-maridos-das-outras/

    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:

    http://youtu.be/_rgOFS7UZ2I

  3. January 19, 2014
    Reply

    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.

  4. January 19, 2014
    Reply

    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.

  5. January 19, 2014
    Reply

    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”.

  6. January 19, 2014
    Reply

    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!!

  7. January 19, 2014
    Reply

    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!

  8. January 19, 2014
    Reply

    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.

    • January 19, 2014
      Reply

      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?

      • January 19, 2014
        Reply

        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!

      • January 19, 2014
        Reply

        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.

        • January 19, 2014
          Reply

          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!

          • January 19, 2014

            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.

            http://youtu.be/9mUZrJfh9EM

            (And in another video I shared, Gabriel o Pensador samples a bit of a Portuguese song by Sérgio Godinho, which is another proof.)

          • January 21, 2014

            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…

      • January 19, 2014
        Reply

        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.

      • January 24, 2014
        Reply

        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.

    • January 19, 2014
      Reply

      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…

      • January 19, 2014
        Reply

        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.

        • January 19, 2014
          Reply

          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.

        • January 19, 2014
          Reply

          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!

    • January 19, 2014
      Reply

      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.

      • January 31, 2014
        Reply

        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 😉

    • January 20, 2014
      Reply

      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.

    • January 21, 2014
      Reply

      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.

      • January 21, 2014
        Reply

        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

      • January 31, 2014
        Reply

        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.

    • January 23, 2014
      Reply

      ninguem aqui fala aio (alho) nao

    • January 24, 2014
      Reply

      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! 😀

    • January 25, 2014
      Reply

      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.

    • April 29, 2014
      Reply

      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.

  9. January 19, 2014
    Reply

    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 🙂

  10. January 18, 2014
    Reply

    Hi there.

    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!
    Cheers.

    • January 19, 2014
      Reply

      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.

      • January 21, 2014
        Reply

        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…

  11. January 18, 2014
    Reply

    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.

  12. 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.

  13. January 18, 2014
    Reply

    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!

  14. January 18, 2014
    Reply

    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.

    Greetings.

  15. 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!

  16. January 17, 2014
    Reply

    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).

  17. January 17, 2014
    Reply

    Hi Mose

    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.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1kdJWeZy-4

    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:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cHEYB-I-Cg

    to contemporaneous musical experimentations:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_oYetBqAsE

    passing by the multicultural African influences, as you can listen to in

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3-aHrEyqM4&list=PLBEFD87F1BE4F8E69

    (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,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfDZ68MYdZs

    Fernando Pessoa

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e29mtSMc81o

    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.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrVjgkKNU44

    and that other great genius of Portuguese music, Carlos Paredes.
    No words!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6umgftdxYI&list=PLE3C00B435A2E22F1

    Enjoy!

  18. January 17, 2014
    Reply

    Well, and you can not forget Cante Alentejano…

    http://youtu.be/EDbYOssoOYI

  19. January 17, 2014
    Reply

    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!! 😛

    • January 17, 2014
      Reply

      Sorry, South America (Brasil)

      • January 17, 2014
        Reply

        Oh dear god. Learn your history.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide_of_indigenous_peoples_in_Brazil

        I *do* mention the blending of Portugual, Africa and Brazil!

        • January 25, 2014
          Reply

          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 best!
          Viviane

  20. January 16, 2014
    Reply

    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. 🙂

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiW8as3EPPs

    • January 22, 2014
      Reply

      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:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7allekyiCY8

      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.

      • January 27, 2014
        Reply

        Quoting:
        “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:

        http://youtu.be/uvd4pYt2EPM

        or

        http://youtu.be/rQfmypifNXU

        Reggae:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21hDI9II4Fw&feature=share&list=PL5CA185DE4AA8AED7&index=5

        Funk:

        http://youtu.be/kmXl5DEyWV0

        (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):

        http://youtu.be/EcMxQnPlueQ

        (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:

        http://youtu.be/XC4fNeNmelU

        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:

        http://youtu.be/XC4fNeNmelU

        And so on, and so forth. There’s no lack of variety in Portuguese music.

  21. January 16, 2014
    Reply

    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

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65JXzQqhR40

    the best portuguese singer that represent portugal (in my modest opinion)

  22. January 16, 2014
    Reply

    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”

    • January 19, 2014
      Reply

      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)

      Saudade <3

  23. January 16, 2014
    Reply

    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.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzPa5abgQNE

    • January 21, 2014
      Reply

      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 🙂

  24. January 14, 2014
    Reply

    This is a very interesting train of thought, thank you for sharing.

  25. January 14, 2014
    Reply

    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.

  26. FernandoDante
    January 14, 2014
    Reply

    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.

  27. Alex
    December 5, 2013
    Reply

    "three-quarters of the world's best vocal music is from Portuguese-speaking lands." … wow… that's just a ballsy over generalization.

  28. Gabriella
    December 5, 2013
    Reply

    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.

    • January 19, 2014
      Reply

      Quoting:

      “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.

  29. Guilherme Oliveira
    December 4, 2013
    Reply

    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.

  30. Ricardo
    December 4, 2013
    Reply

    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

  31. Pedro Dearo Batista
    December 4, 2013
    Reply

    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.

  32. Dora
    December 3, 2013
    Reply

    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.

  33. Bia
    December 3, 2013
    Reply

    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.

  34. Dayane
    November 23, 2013
    Reply

    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!

  35. Priscila
    November 22, 2013
    Reply

    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.

  36. Gabriel C.
    November 22, 2013
    Reply

    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.

  37. November 22, 2013
    Reply

    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).

  38. Tipsy Pilgrim
    November 22, 2013
    Reply

    @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.

  39. November 22, 2013
    Reply

    http://tinyurl.com/m4k9nqs
    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".

  40. John
    November 22, 2013
    Reply

    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.

    For example:
    "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…

  41. Bernardo
    November 21, 2013
    Reply

    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.

  42. Gabriel
    November 21, 2013
    Reply

    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.

  43. The Peters
    November 21, 2013
    Reply

    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

    • January 14, 2014
      Reply

      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.

    • January 17, 2014
      Reply

      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… 😉

  44. José Miguel
    November 21, 2013
    Reply

    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.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_language

    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.

  45. Renato
    November 21, 2013
    Reply

    Funny, couse heare in Brazil most of the people that listen to ROck, Metal music prefer singin in English.. and hear too

  46. AA
    November 20, 2013
    Reply

    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 🙁

    • January 14, 2014
      Reply

      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.

  47. Michelle Meyer
    November 19, 2013
    Reply

    That´s why I love listening http://www.maisportugues.com

  48. Tipsy Pilgrim
    September 17, 2013
    Reply

    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!

  49. Jennifer
    September 16, 2013
    Reply

    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 🙂

  50. João Spínola
    September 16, 2013
    Reply

    Thank you for the article. Very interesting. Do you know this song by Sara Tavares?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yj-X136Eoqk

Leave a reply

applications-internet.png

Comments Policy

We read the comments; useful additions and corrections are quite welcome, and articles are frequently updated based on comments from readers. • We do our best to delete ethnocentric, xenophobic, and other useless comments. • Offended? Think we've got your culture all wrong? Nationalism (or regionalism, patriotism, whatever) is an understandable reaction; it’s also boring. Disagree with something? Tell us what you think joking, flirting, drinking, sex, dancing and other debauchery in your culture is really like. If you don't like these things, or want to pretend that your culture doesn't have a unique take on them, you're really in the wrong place. • This site, like any cultural anthropology, deals in generalizations. Of course not each and every person does blah, blah, blah... • And finally, before you go thinking this is all about you, you may want to bounce around the site a bit and learn about the ridiculous ways we screw, drink, and dance in other parts of the world.
 

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.