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!


  1. Avatar
    May 24, 2019

    !Maaaanoooooo, que artigo do caralho!!! Muito o foda!
    What a fucking amazing article!
    I just have a point about the fact that I believe that “SAUDADE” doesn’t have translation… Is not just that fact that some of us don’t know a word for it in other languages… It’s about the feeling, it’s also about how popular and valued this feeling is. “SAUDADE” is not just a word or a felling, it’s a behavior, a way of seeing the Life

  2. Avatar
    January 19, 2019

    Awesome article !! And glad to find out am not the only one obsessed with all music in Portuguese.Man I love this language and it’s perfect for music ! Thanks for the reco as well !

  3. Avatar
    October 20, 2017

    Oh wow, thank you so much, muito obrigado for the great article and so well illustrated feel free to visit my YT channel for some good music, yes I’m a proud Brazilian musician, who loves to sing and play, Of course I shared on my FB page. I’m actually presenting next week a Brazilian music workshop at the University of Manitoba in WPG Canada and I’ll recommend this article for the students, because I’m talking mostly about the music genres and technical theory only but I can’t ignore the Language and pronunciation who adds a lot on the context! So,
    Thank you again.

  4. Avatar
    January 23, 2017

    This is awesome!
    I feel flatered as a brazilian to have someone describe my language so beautifully. And I also like your choices of music, you really picked very good artists as examples.
    Congratulations 🙂

  5. Avatar
    August 21, 2016

    Good article and thoughts, but the cursing was unnecessary.

    As for Portuguese, it is indeed a beautiful and very singable language. The only negative I find is the occasional nasality. No language sounds good spoken through the nose. It’s one of the factors that makes American English so ugly.

  6. Avatar
    July 20, 2016

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I always wondered what the difference between Brazilian music and music from other countries was, as I could perceive something distinct there, but could never really come to a conclusion: is it the rhythm, the language, the beat? I too often noticed that there was something about the use of the vowels in Brazilian songs, and it is great to read your take on this! Brazilian songs make such rich use of their vowels, stretching them and giving a softness to most lyrics. After many years living abroad I had stopped listening to so much Brazilian music, which was my basic playlist before, but your post made me swing back to those great MPB songs and some other good rock songs from the 80’s and onwards. Thanks for that and for the tips on other Brazilian/Portuguese-speaking songs that I didn’t know!

    • Avatar
      July 22, 2016

      There’s nothing like moving abroad to help you rediscover the joys of your own culture. Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Avatar
    Fernando Furlani
    May 23, 2016

    Congratulations for this amazing post. I am a Brazilian linguist and translator (from English, Spanish, and Italian). For me, your article is the most important on the subject, as it for the first time explained me why Brazilian musicians are so successful in many parts of the world. Thanks!

  8. Avatar
    January 9, 2016

    This mix of new Brazilian music from Sounds & Colors by Boebis is a hot compilation of current Brazilian music that’s hard to get hip to if you aren’t in Brasil…http://soundsandcolours.com/articles/brazil/boebis-musica-do-fim-do-mundo-a-brazilian-2015-mix-30354/

  9. Avatar
    January 7, 2016

    That’s another thing: playing with words. See Chico Buarque – Construção (Chico Buarque – Construction) how all the words end in proparoxytone ones.

  10. Avatar
    January 7, 2016

    I love Brazilian music! Thanks for this post. Even though I can’t understand much of the lyrics, it makes me feel good to listen to it. The rhythm & the voices together make the perfect combination.
    Martinho da Vila is a singer that just makes me feel happy when I listen to him, although I don’t get much of the story. Check out this old school video of him performing in 1975 to see what I mean. His joy is infectious…https://youtu.be/CFQibzQx_fU?list=PLtu6gsJHln-RHBdeXxlEbz-oKFfVHTlj9

  11. Avatar
    Belmont Costa
    January 5, 2016

    I’m brazilian and I believe the best thing from Portugal is the portuguese language. Some years ago i listened some russian songs and i like their, Russian and portuguese seem the same rhythm.

  12. Avatar
    January 5, 2016

    I´m a musician from Brazil and really appreciate this post, sounds like a lovely compliment about the music from my country.
    As a musician, I don´t agree that portuguese is the best language for music, I actually don´t believe in such a thing. I believe the music from every part of the world was developed based on the things that made the place: the weather, the sounds of nature, the food, and the language. The way people sing Baião is obviously influenced by the Brazil´s northeast accent. And my theory answer why Blues doesn’t sounds nice in portuguese, or why bossa nova sounds terrible in english.

  13. Avatar
    Manuel Pimenta
    January 4, 2016

    Wow, a really interesting read! Being an amateur singer and having done so in portuguese, spanish, french, latin and of course english, i can relate to most of what you say.
    On a sadder note, it seems incredible that you post so many videos and not one of them in the original portuguese, the European. It’s amazingly different to sing than brazilian and even the portuguese from the old african colonies.
    But kudos for the analysis!

  14. Avatar
    January 3, 2016

    Hi, I’m brazilian and I loved the article! (Sorry for my bad english)
    I just would like to recommend to you brazilian rock (like Legião Urbana and Cazuza), there you will find our irony and social criticism, and I consider them a good ‘shut up’ to people that say that it’s impossible to write good rock musics in portuguese.

  15. Avatar
    January 3, 2016

    Not sure I can completely agree to that. But it definitely is a better sounding language than certain languages like German for singing, haha! I think Portuguese sounds better than Spanish in songs. I know basic Spanish but I have no clue about Portuguese. I wonder if European Portuguese sounds better than South American in signing, I seem to notice European to be smoother. But that could be the singing tradition…or not.

    Also, I don’t agree to a high degree about point 5. Speakers/composers of songs of tonal languages never need to worry about the tones of words in songs because the fact that you’re going to sing it already means you’re going to have to change the tone of the word. So that argument doesn’t apply.

    (My mother tongue is tonal. I am a linguist.)

    • Avatar
      January 4, 2016

      Interesting! I did however read some complaints from songwriters in Chinese about trying to match tonal meaning to melody, so it seems to at least a problem for some composers. Maybe not that big of an issue though in general.

  16. Avatar
    October 5, 2015

    Awesome article but Saudade and Nostalgia are not exactly the same thing and they both exists in Portuguese. I’m not a linguistic or don’t have any relation to this field of study but as a Brazilian I would use Nostalgia for something that has happened in the past that could hardly happen again, like an event in my childhood while I could and would employee Saudade to anyone or anything I really really miss. I could use the literal translation of I miss my cat – eu sinto falta do meu gato, but that doesn’t quite have the same meaning as eu tenho saudades do meu gato. The last one has more emotion.

    • Avatar
      November 12, 2015

      This is true for Portuguese, but has nothing to do with how the words should be translated into English, which depends on context.

      • Avatar
        January 6, 2016

        I noticed there’s plenty discussion on the saudade x nostalgia thing. I didn’t read all comments about it, but as you probably realized we’re really proud of the word. The best explanation I could find about the difference between them is that Saudade is something you feel in the present and brings back something from the past. You can feel again, in the present moment, that good or bad feeling caused by something or someone. Whilst Nostalgia transports you back to the past and you forget about your present. Let’s say that for Saudade the mountain comes to Mahomet and for Nostalgia, Mahomet goes to the mountain. I’m not saying Saudade is an exclusive word, specially because since it’s a feeling and everybody can feel it, I’m sure there an expression for it in every possible language, even in sign language. I’m just trying to point out that it’s not exactly the same as Nostalgia. By the way, amazing text! 🙂

  17. Avatar
    Romulo Ferreira
    August 19, 2015

    I am a Brazilian musician and I love composing in English because I enjoy pop vocal melodies, it’s insanely hard to write good melodic hooks in portuguese in more straightforward genders with less swing such as rock, folk and the like. The words are too long and too rhythmic, think of this excerpt from Oasis’ supersonic: “And my friend said he’d take you home, he sits in a corner all alone” it just flows! In portuguese the semantics behind those short sentences would take far more real state thus rendering the simple melody impossible. Portuguese works very well for latin rhythms though like samba, bossa nova, and any other gender that relies on percussive vocal sounds with long words, rap benefits greatly from brazilian portuguese as well.

    • Avatar
      August 19, 2015

      I appreciate your opinion, and who knows, maybe you’re right. But I suspect this comes out of bias; we’re used to hearing rock in English and so it just “sounds better” that way. Portuguese has lots of short words, just like English! Also, however great the song, the words in the line you quoted don’t have any particular sonic flow, nor would they be poetic or even meaningful if you heard them without the context of a melody… no? It’s hard to separate these things, I know.
      I think there is a huge problem with non-native speakers writing in English; it’s a sort of escapism. In many cases, they’re not as self-critical in the second language (or just not as aware of bad poetry) and so it seems “easier”.
      There are also awesome non-native writers in English (maybe you’re one!), but it’s something to be very wary of if you choose to do it.

      • Avatar
        Romulo Ferreira
        August 19, 2015

        I am very self conscious and judgmental about my writing, I’ve been studying and teaching english as a second language for about 13 years now. I believe there’s something about the stress on english sentences and particular syllabic distortions from certain accents that just clicks with the instrumental arrangements found on rock, pop and folk. Through the years I came to the realization that the language acts as a sort of limiting factor for certain melodic structures and as a catalyst to others – which can be surpassed through experimentation, but in my humble opinion, it seldom leads to euphonic results – thus increasing the likeliness of certain gender or style becoming predominant on that given tongue. The Oasis example I gave wasn’t the best because they actually fancy themselves for writing nonsensical lyrics, which sends my semantics point flying through the window, but to say there’s no flow to that sentence within the melodic and rhythmic context of that song (Supersonic) is sort of an overstatement don’t you think? Anyways listen to one my songs, tell me if you think I’m an shitty composer: https://soundcloud.com/cerulean-lotus/fersken-northern-sky – I guarantee that this song would’ve sounded like crap in portuguese, believe me I’ve tried.

  18. […] a supposedly untranslatable, intense and beautiful feeling of nostalgia (like Brazilian saudades, but usually with a stronger whiff of tragic melodrama). Put on some sevdahlinka music, and revel […]

  19. Avatar
    January 19, 2015

    As a Portuguese American and a lover of all music – from metal to Sufi music, I disagree. I don’t think there is any best language for song. You can argue that the sound the language influences the sound of the music. For example, Fado has a deep rich tone and sadness that is similar to the European Portuguese accent. While Bossa Nova typically has a lighter more airy sound that is more similar to the Brazilian accent. Perhaps, the author of this article has an affinity towards the sounds of Brazilian artists? I don’t blame him, they are wonderful. However, all cultures around the world have great music and different musical qualities to be appreciated. Look at American music which I think many others mistake as the pop music on the radio, though that should also be included, but don’t forget folk, bluegrass, zydeco, cajun, country, jazz, blues, r&b, rock, indie and so on, each with many sub-categories. I used American as an example because that is the music I have he most exposure too. Also, I don’t know how any page by a person claiming to be in the know could discuss music sung in Portuguese and not include Amalia Rodrigues. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKvcm2QV9tA

    • Avatar
      January 21, 2015

      Hi Vega! Amalia Rodrigues is fabulous! There are many, many wonderful artists who sing in Portuguese (after all they objectively comprise 75 percent of the world’s best) and so I couldn’t possibly include them all here. I had to pick just a few to illustrate the points in question. American music is, as you mentioned, some of the best music in the world too; objectively about 10-18%. Then there’s Cuban and Afro-Peruvian, which also command hefty percentages of whatever’s left. And French music. I’ve heard that Vietnamese popular musics are universally terrible. I’m in Serbia right now and the options for pop and folk styles are a bit hokey. I’m not willing to promote cultural relativism against something as sacred as good music. The 75 percent figure is objective fact, it’s my responsibility to report this, as an important journalist with an important, objective, canonical blog.

  20. First off, you didn’t manage to hold your grounds at all. Probably because you didn’t have any to begin with.

    Since it seems you completely forgot the whole point on dissertations, I’ll illuminate you: persuasion. Dissertations is all about persuasion. And, you know… Opinions aren’t the way to go with that.

    >It’s safe to assume that, oh, about three-quarters of the world’s best vocal music is from Portuguese-speaking lands.
    This is pretentious as fuck. It’s just you blurting whatever you feel like, given that you don’t have even the minimal of the basis to hold up to that at all. Now, wanna now what it’s actually perfectly safe to assume? You’ll die without having listened to so much as 1/4 of what the world has to offer you in terms of music. And even if you managed that, your language limitation truly wouldn’t let you appreciate half of them, much less speculate about.

    Now, let’s segue to your so-called theories:

    >a singer who grew up speaking with this variety of vowels would have a more intimate and flexible relationship with her vocal tract
    >wouldn’t you prefer the wide range of vowel options that Portuguese provides
    Let us upturn view points here: a singer who grew up speaking with this variety of vowels would pretty much fall to depend on them in every fucking piece, making it annoyingly repetitive or/and disgustingly dull with the same extended parts over and over as many bands in general tends to do.
    Variety is also something inversely proportional to creativity, mind you.

    >Portuguese has limited set of consonants to get in the way
    >french singer explained theory vowels blah blah muh argument ;(( employ them to rhythm
    Rhythm isn’t a good aspect to point out or hell, to even crave to. It’s mostly creatively remarkable on Rap/Hip Hop genres since it’s the majority, but aside from that and a few others it’s just plain bad. Especially Brazilian’s deal with that, most of the time turning up to be just either relatively silly or completely unappealing. Actually, a point that instantly reveals one band/singer/composer’s class is the way it/he/she deals with them.

    >This leaves your vocal tract open to extend the ends of syllables
    >no rush to close things off to get to the final consonant
    >The ão sound is relatively rare in languages
    >It is beautiful, strange, and fun
    >his makes -ão a quite common word-ending and available for rhymes
    >not a tonal language
    >very useful in its absence
    >necessarily more limited in word choices that will fit her melody
    >in English it can be most frequently translated as nostalgia

    Respectively: This is not something to crave for unless you think music is all about dumbly extending syllables and rhyming them without a care for creativity or it’s content. You can also feel free to treat yourself to some drink while you wait to close things up to the final consonant, no one minds. Hell, bet they’ll even cheer with you. And while you’re at it, you could try to stop thinking everything new you know that your country/culture/whatever doesn’t have is automatically awesome, I guess. Associate ‘limited’ to ‘creativity’ would be one hell of a good idea too.
    And to finish, the feeling you’ll get some moment in you life when remembering my little comment here and thinking “I miss that guy a lot” is not nostalgia.

    Have a nice life.

  21. Avatar
    April 28, 2014

    Your text is really great. But I was saddened by some biased reviews I’ve read of people born in Portugal, “great” discoverers of my country, Brazil. But that is another story … In time, the sound of the songs sung in English is very nice! I can not forget to say that the sound of songs in French is also very, very nice (just listen Carla Bruni). And my English was written by the translator google, so I hope you understand …

  22. Avatar
    March 23, 2014

    Great article! I’m not going to get into the details and arguments, just want to congratulate you for your the article itself. Wonderful idea!

    • Avatar
      March 23, 2014

      Oops! Sorry for the misspelling!… Here goes the correct typing:

      “Great article! I’m not going to get into the details and arguments, just want to congratulate you for the article itself. Wonderful and brilliant idea!”

  23. Avatar
    March 6, 2014

    I thinks that nostalgia is not the best translation for saudade… get’s close, but’s not the same. We, portuguese, also have the word nostalgia. Nostalgia come and go. Saudade is something that, for any reason, live with you.
    Saudade has something to do with fate (destino, fado), with sadness (tristeza) and lost (perca). It’s what makes you cry, smiling, when you’re way from home and ear fado or morna.
    It’s not an exclusive feeling, but an exclusive word.

  24. Avatar
    February 22, 2014

    Loved the article, I’m brazilian and an aspiring musician. I do agree that the Portuguese Language fits into music in a way that no other language does.
    One thing I must say is, in my humble opinion, it’s more difficult to compose portuguese songs.

  25. Avatar
    February 13, 2014

    One can hear and compare the varied rhythms and poetry the Portuguese language has to offer on the web radio Mais Portugues (http://www.maisportugues.com), a cultural project that aims to bring music from countries that speak Portuguese and disseminate them to the rest of the world.

  26. Avatar
    January 31, 2014

    Olá. Obrigada pela elucidação =) Concordo e já havia pensado nessas qualidades do português (não em todas). O debate aqui no Brasil é de que o português não seria uma língua apropriada ao rock. No entanto, acredito que o que ocorre é pouca maturação e muita imitação nessa área. Te indico uma banda de rock-brega que creio que esteja no caminho do sol: Cidadão Instigado, particularmente “O pinto de peitos” e “Deus é uma viagem”. Saudações do Brasil

  27. Avatar
    January 31, 2014

    A good exemple of a brazilian song like these is “Se fiquei esperando meu amor passar” by Legião Urbana. In a determinate moment the singer tells… Seeeeiii rimaaar rômãããã, com traaaaveeeseeeiiirooou…”, something like “I know how to rhyme pomegranete with pillow” just using the vowels syllables in order, “AEIOU”.

  28. Avatar
    January 30, 2014

    Great article!

    I just missed some reference about the sensuality of Brazilian singers, especially the ones from Bahia. Pay attention to the way Gal Costa sings this, it seems her voice makes a loop, I’d say that her voice ‘rebola’ (moves her hips roundly):
    Also sung by Gal, the lyrics of this one are about the formation of Brazilian music:

    and this one is about the same subject; it was originally sung by Clara Nunes, but since you have already posted a video of her, I’ll post here this song being performed by Mariene de Castro in a tribute-concert she made for Claridade:

    As I’m from Rio Grande do Sul, the most southern state of Brazil, I’ll post a song a lot representative of such geography:

    and a last one from another gaúcho:

  29. What an unmitigated load of nonsensical clichés. Even the tired, corny old trite about ‘saudade’ was given an airing.
    Portuguese-speaking countries also have by far the highest rate of tone-deaf singers, from shower shouters all the way to the top of the charts. A disproportionate number of female singers have hoarse voices that sound like they’re caged for life in their throats. What does *that* say about this thesis?

    • Avatar
      January 31, 2014

      Do you know what ”inveja” means?

      • Avatar
        December 30, 2015

        Ahahahahahahahhaahahhaha inveja, apenas

    • Avatar
      February 10, 2014

      My thesis is that your wife – or your husband, whatever – has left you, for living with a brazilian gay singer. So, there’s no more love in your poor heart and, although even you don’t know it, you are having “saudade” of having a life.
      (Sorry if my answer was too sarcastic, but your comment was also too exaggerated and antipathic.)

    • Avatar
      March 6, 2014

      I agree with Gozo and Zé.
      Your comment is about taste: Le goût est comme l’âne, chacun a son.
      The article is not.

    • Avatar
      May 24, 2014

      Your comment is so ridiculous that i wish nobody have to read this.
      Saudades of smart and respectful comments.

  30. Avatar
    January 29, 2014

    First of all, I really enjoyed your post.
    Saudade is actually a very tricky word, because it’s meaning is certainly something felt by everybody, though it’s not quite clear for those who feel it. We also have the word nostalgia in our vocabulary, but it’s meaning refers to something painful from our past. Saudade, on the other hand, is frequently associated with the future, as we say “tenho saudades de algo que ainda não vivi”.
    As in Crepusculário, Pablo neruda says about Saudade:

    O que será… não sei… procurei sabê-lo
    em dicionários antigos e poeirentos
    e noutros livros onde não achei o sentido
    desta doce palavra de perfis ambíguos.

    Dizem que azuis são as montanhas como ela,
    que nela se obscurecem os amores longínquos,
    e um bom e nobre amigo meu (e das estrelas)
    a nomeia num tremor de cabelos e mãos.

    Hoje em Eça de Queiroz sem cuidar a descubro,
    seu segredo se evade, sua doçura me obceca
    como uma mariposa de estranho e fino corpo
    sempre longe – tão longe! – de minhas redes tranquilas.

    Saudade… Oiça, vizinho, sabe o significado
    desta palavra branca que se evade como um peixe?
    Não… e me treme na boca seu tremor delicado…

    But my favorite tribute to Saudade is the song Pedaço de mim, written by the genius Chico Buarque. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIFWpMzwUnc

    Great post! Please keep on writing.

  31. Avatar
    January 27, 2014

    I loved the article, but I’m most delighted to see someone say saudade is *not* untranslatable. It does not have an exact synonym in English, like many English words have no exact synonyms in Portuguese, but the word itself isn’t something as unique as people want to believe.

  32. Avatar
    January 26, 2014

    Great observation! I lived in Germany and one day, after calling home to kill the “saudade”, the secretary turned to me and said. ” I love hearing you when you’re speaking to your family. I don’t get a word but I feel as if you were singing”. That’s the way we are.

    • Avatar
      January 27, 2014

      Lovely! I get that response from people too. It’s such a compliment, isn’t it?

    • Avatar
      March 30, 2014

      Entendo bem. Morei na Alemanha e todos diziam a mesma coisa, que nossa língua tem uma cadência maravilhosa – e muitos diziam que odiavam o alemão pela ausência dessa sonoridade.

  33. Avatar
    Rosárioame Carvalha
    January 24, 2014

    It was very interesting to read all you wrote about portuguese language and brazilian and african songs and singers, but you forgot to mention examples from Portugal. You must not know them, so I decided to send you some. I chose some songs with the sea, through which portuguese arrived everywhere, taking the “saudade” and the word itself with them. Others have the nostalgia or saudade that remained with women seeing men leaving.




    • Avatar
      January 24, 2014

      Thanks for sharing, I’m from Brazil originally but always wanted more suggestions on Fado! 😀

    • Avatar
      February 6, 2014

      De arrepiar! Fico feliz de ter visto sua indicação.

  34. Avatar
    January 24, 2014

    And Amália Rodrigues, there’s no reference to Amália, and fado?! Portuguese language and fado are are our soul. Listening “Gaivota”, by Amália Roduiges. Best regards.


  35. Avatar
    January 22, 2014

    Excellent article. Never mind the stupid ones that comes here to talk about such a missimportant thing. Your theory is great and i agree almost completly.
    I often hear something about the portuguese brazilian speaking, that sounds like a wave. And most of them represent doin a sinusoid movement with their hands. Not the singing, the talking.
    I would complement saying something that’S not written here. Portuguese has an imprecise form of reading whats written so you can read the same word in many ways, or a sentence with lots of variations. All the ways are correct and normaly they happen normaly depending on the accent.
    And, to finish i would consider the strong and constant use of metaphors in the daily speaking.

  36. Avatar
    January 22, 2014

    Portuguese music has a very rich history regarding double meanings, satire and irony; just check portuguese revolutionary music (that was popular around the end of the Portuguese dictatorial regime)




  37. Avatar
    January 22, 2014

    Dear Mose Hayward,

    I found your article “WHY PORTUGUESE IS THE BEST LANGUAGE FOR MUSIC” interesting to read. And thank you for the musical examples, I didn’t know all of them. However, as a musician myself, I don’t believe it is complete while not mentioning the more charismatic portuguese Fado singer, Amália Rodrigues. Hereby, I send you some examples of the portuguese feeling of “saudade” sang by her. These are good examples that show the feeling of “saudade” and its connection to the sea and the navigators. The european portuguese is not as articulated as the brazilian portuguese but it still keeps the same variety of vowels thus giving the language a character of “continuous” eternity. The last link is a general link about Fado and other portuguese musicians.

    Song: “Povo que lavas no rio”

    Song: “Barco Negro”

    Fado link:

    Another important musician Brazil is the composer Tom Jobim (António Carlos Jobim) which songs are a great example of the capacity of brazilian music to integrate elements from other cultures in its own music. Tom Jobim was responsible to mix the samba rhythms with the jazz swing.
    Here a great example of his music sang by him and Elis Regina, while not forgetting the rhymes (-ão, -nho). The lyrics of this song are really hard to grasp but they are amazing!

    Song: “Águas de Março”

    Enjoy it!

    Paulo Santiago

  38. Avatar
    January 21, 2014

    Some good examples for the topic 9 (geography) are:
    A) cordel do fogo encantado (they mix African and North East region rhythms):
    b) this music from Angra (Although they sing Heavy metal in English, they try to mix some brazilian rhythms to the songs):

  39. Avatar
    January 21, 2014

    very interesting article. I only think that “saudade” is quite different from “nostalgia”. The latter seems to refer to a long gone past, whereas the former not necessarily so. I can fell “saudade” even for something that happened yesterday. I can fell saudade for may kid, who I have just left at school.

    • Avatar
      January 21, 2014

      I chose my words quite carefully to describe ‘saudade’, and I stand by what I said. I did NOT say that it is exactly like nostalgia. If you wish, take a look again above, and at point number 15 in this post: http://tipsypilgrim.com/blog/get-fluent-in-any-language-in-just-20-minutes.html

      Quite different, no. A little different, sure.

      • Avatar
        January 22, 2014

        This is a very nice article. You have a very interesting view of the the Portuguese language. I enjoyed reading about my language on a different perspective. But like Renato, I have to agree that saudade is not like nostalgia. Not only in a dictionary definition sense, but in sense of the feelings these words represent for a native speaker. We have the word nostalgia in Portuguese, and they are not the same. Nostalgia relates to a long past and something/ someone/ or a time, that is not coming back. Saudade can be about that; the two can, in fact, overlap. But saudade is more about longing not necessarily nostalgia. It is about missing someone or something. Nostalgia comes a lot more from a memory, while saudades comes from inside you, in spite of anything exterior. IT;s about the person who’s feeling it, not the subject of your saudade. You can be driving your car, and suddenly feel this huge saudade of your mother that lives in a different city, and is also not the same as missing her. It is some where between all these English words. The song “Eu só quero um xodó”, mentioned here, is a perfect example. What he is feeling is not nostalgia, not even close, it’s longing. You can choose to explain this word anyway you see fit, but translating any song (since this is the topic here) or text from saudade to nostalgia, you will not translate the feeling the writer was talking about from the point of view of any native speaker.

        But still, really enjoyed every point of the text, and even your analysis of how we are obsessed with saudade, because we really are. 🙂

        • Avatar
          January 22, 2014

          Guys, guys, guys.

          Our host here isn’t speaking about the Portuguese meaning of the word nostalgia, which is the one you are referring to — he is speaking about the English meaning of the word. It’s similar, yes, but it’s not the same(*). He would be wrong had he be referring to the Portuguese word, but he’s not. So he’s right.

          (*) – these words that mean slightly (or much) different things in different languages, despite being identical or very similar, have a name in translation jargon — false friends. Thay are a major pain in the butt for bad translators, and even more so for the people who read them.

          An example everyone who knows Portuguese and Spanish should be aware of is the word “largo”. For them, it means long. For us, it means wide.

          • Avatar
            January 23, 2014

            Thanks Jorge. As I’ve said, what’s important is not the translatability of the word — there’s always a way, depending on the context (nostalgia, missing, longing, etc). What’s special about lusofonia is the obsession with both the word and concept.

      • Avatar
        January 30, 2014

        HI, I’m a Brazilian translator and once I had to translate a children’s book from Portuguese to English. Guess what was the title? Yep — saudade!
        I used the word longing.
        I agree that nostalgia is quite different from saudade. Nostalgia seems to always evoke sadness, whereas saudade doesn’t. It’s good to feel saudades, and even better when you get the chance to ‘matar a saudade’, that is, to live once again that situation you were longing for.

    • Avatar
      January 24, 2014

      Yeah, I’m with Jeorge, cut the guy a break, I think I would have used the word ‘longing’ over ‘nostalgia’, but we don’t have to
      crucify him :-*
      An important different with ‘saudade’ is that is a noun ad it’s seldom a noun in any other language, so he kind of had to use ‘nostalgia’ to give English speaking people a notion. After all ‘longing’ and ‘missing’ are verbs in Gerundium form, ‘ing’ form, and that’s what makes ‘saudade unique, in Spanish ‘estranar’ or ‘hechar de menos’ and most western languages are verbs too, and the deep longing feeling and poetic vibe of ‘saudade’ gets lost.
      The beauty of language is that each language is a way of thinking, you can’t ‘fall in love’ in Portuguese, you can’t have a ‘namorado’ in Spanish, not exactly, etc…
      I completely agree with your theories, let’s keep brainstorming 😀

  40. Avatar
    January 20, 2014

    As everyone said, this is a very interestig article 🙂
    Although, I think that portuguese spoken by people from Portugal and spoken by people from Brazil (the declination that you focused on) are quite different in some aspects like the open and closed vowels in some words, brazilians tend to open vowels often than us (I’m portuguese, btw).
    Portuguese music is more dark and sad than brazilian music, not in the lyrics but in the melody and harmony. But we do have some music that is funny and ironic, such as Deolinda. This band has the gift of turning fado into something lightful and ironic.
    This song has a revolutionary tone but an ironc lyric: it says something like “now we will turn this over, now we can change the things” but these words are repled with “not for now because my belly hurts… not now, because they say that’s going to rain”. This is ironic and characterizes our society very well! 😛

    Anyways, congratulations for the article and thank you for giving some attention to our language 🙂

    • Avatar
      January 21, 2014

      Thanks for sharing. You might be right, but I’ve certainly heard some lively and goofy Portuguese popular music as well.

  41. Avatar
    January 20, 2014

    Just a little token for your information:

    the utter difference between saudade and nostalgia is when you feel it. Nostalgia tends to happen when you get in contact with something/someone from the past. Saudades happen the opposite way, growing stronger as more distant in time/space you get. Maybe the best translation is longing.

  42. Avatar
    January 20, 2014

    Hi! I’m a Brazilian from São Paulo, where the portuguese language spoken is very much influenced by Italian, Amerindian and Banto languages in Africa. Well, I really liked your article, specially because I’m an enthusiastic of brazilian folkloric music – that unfortunate doesn’t have as much expression in the world as samba or mpb (but it’s all awesome haha)… actually, if you get interested, there are many material of (or inspired by) our folkloric music in the internet, for example:

    Ok, putting this aside, I’m actually writing because of the meaning you gave to the words “gostoso” and “saudade”.
    First, I would like to alert you. “Gostoso” can mean “nice”, “good”, “pleasurable” (for example: when your lover is caressing you –not in a sexual, but in a tender way – we can say that he or she is giving a “carinho gostoso”). Gostoso can also mean tasteful as in a tasteful dish, dinner etc. But, it can also be used in a bit aggressive way and, even, sometimes – depending of the situation – in a diminishing way towards woman. In those occasions we frequently translate “gostosa” to “hot”, like “a hot girl” or “she’s hot”. But, you’re right, in those brazilian rhythms you cited I also think that these form of “gostosa” is unusual.
    Concerning the word “saudade”, I don’t agree that it can be translated as “nostalgia”. That’s because we have a word that is spelled exactly as nostalgia and we don’t use it in the everyday language as a synonym of “saudade” (although dictionaries do describe “saudade” as “nostalgia”, I would rather say that it is a different category of nostalgia. Actually, this latter substantive is rarely used in our quotidian).
    When we try to translate “saudade” to english I think we prefer the expression “I miss”. “Eu tenho saudade de você” is something like “I miss you” once “saudade” is kind of a felling that a part of yourself is lost, but it is not only the absence of something. You can feel “saudade” as an agony, a latent sadness, but also as an expectation of re-encountering someone. I don’t think you can feel “saudade” of an “object” in the exception of humanizing this object, filling it with a lot of significance. In my view, “saudade” is very close to love in a way. You have to love to feel “saudade” when it (or he or she) is away. Saying that, I disagree with your affirmation that Dominguinhos’ Só quero um xodó is about “saudade”. To me it is more an expression of someone that really needs someone to love (more similar to that Jefferson’s Airplane song). To me, what Dominginhos is saying is that it is really difficult to be alone and that feel in love is something that he miss – but I don’t see a reference to a past love as it should be in the case of “saudade” or even “nostalgia”… but that is the way I see things… well… I’m going to stop writing now, I already did it a lot ahahah…
    So, hope that my way of seeing things helps you in some way… goodbye and good luck!


    • Avatar
      January 21, 2014

      Hi, I appreciate your input. I think if you read my description of those words carefully, you’ll see that we agree quite a bit about what they actually mean. I do enjoy the different flavors that everyone’s been giving them in this comments section though — it seems that the meaning is shaded slightly differently for each.

      I’ll check out these songs…

  43. Avatar
    January 20, 2014

    I don’t know, many of the arguments didn’t seem that much final for me, more like personal tastes.
    For example, you mentioned that Portuguese has a range of 11 vowels whilst Spanish (shockingly marked as “it’s less interesting cousin”) tops at 5…
    But is it really that great an advantage? You yourself mentioned Portuguese had an advantage over tonal languages, since it could chose freely (almost) what tone to use in the middle of the song. Wouldn’t it be a bad thing then, to have a greater number of phonemes by the same logic? A Spanish song writer could freely choose between using the vowel “e” as “ɛ” or “e”, when a Portuguese one would be forced to use the sound that went with the song. It’s actually not rare for me to hear Brazilian (which btw I am) songs with a “forced” rhyme, when the singer should have used a specific phone which went along with the meaning of the word, but used up the wrong one to sustain the rhyme (this is most common in less erudite and more “mass produced” music).

    For example, look at the song “Festa no Guêto” from Ivete Sangalo. In a given moment, she sings
    “guitarra de rock ‘n roll, batuque de candomblé”
    “Batuque” should have been pronounced /batukɪ/ or, even more commonly, /batuk/. But this pronunciation didn’t fit the song, and so we end up with /batuki/, using a high i which is never used in Brazilian Portuguese on last syllables. The result is that the music’s rhythm and rhyme were preserved, but it sounds awfully odd for a native listener, not because the phone ɪ isn’t a part of the language, but specifically because it is a phoneme, and we feel it being wrongly used in there.
    Spanish speakers can perform both phones, but they don’t see a phonemic difference between the two of them, so it would be a free choice to use either.

    • Avatar
      January 30, 2014

      I couldn’t disagree more with you, Thiago. If our Brazilian Portuguese is not the best language in terms of prosody, it most certainly is one of them. And it is also great that we do have liberty to play with it. Djavan does that a lot (mais fácil aprender japonês em braille). Caetano Veloso also greatly makes use of such resource (acho que a chuva ajuda a gente a se ver).
      By the way, he wrote a very beautiful song about the Portuguese language called ‘Língua’. This is the link for it performed by Gal Costa:

  44. Avatar
    January 19, 2014

    Hi. (sorry for my english!)
    I´m portuguese…from Portugal, and I read the article and also all the coments after…
    Portuguese form Portugal is very diferent from Portuguese from Brasil, Angola, Cabo Verde, Guiné Bissau, S. Tomé e Principe ou Moçambique. Like English from UK is diferent from English from EUA (USA) or Austrália and others.
    Yes, it´s very difficult to sing Rock in portuguese from Portugal, but we have good Rock in Portugal (Toranja, Da Weasel, and many others)
    And we have Xutos e Pontapés, very good band with 35 years, and still move crouds of every age…

    Try to listening and read ind the first music – “O homem do leme”, and the second – “Não sou o único”



    Once more time soory for my english…

Leave a Reply to Vega Cancel reply


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.