That Elusive Element Of Brazilian Bossa Nova

Classic Brazilian bossa nova music has a familiar, slow, graceful pulse. NPR's Felix Contreras of Alt.Latino plays some songs for NPR's Rachel Martin.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERS OF MARCH")

ELIS REGINA: (Singing in foreign language)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That is the familiar slow, graceful pulse of classic Brazilian bossa nova. There's plenty here that we recognize, the subtle guitar strums, the poetry of Brazilian Portuguese, that slow rhythm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATERS OF MARCH")

REGINA: (Singing in foreign language)

ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM: (Singing in foreign language)

REGINA: (Singing in foreign language)

JOBIM: (Singing in foreign language)

REGINA: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: NPR's Felix Contreras is here to tell us that there's something else that gives all Brazilian music its unmistakable feeling. His co-host Jasmine Garsd is on assignment but Felix is here. Good morning, my friend.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Brazilian music, we've all had some exposure to it to some degree. But what is this elusive element you guys recently devoted an entire show to, right?

CONTRERAS: It's called Saldaje.

MARTIN: Saldaje.

CONTRERAS: That's it.

MARTIN: OK.

CONTRERAS: It's easier to say than to define.

MARTIN: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Try.

CONTRERAS: It's hard to translate. It's more of a feeling. It's more of an emotion. In fact, it took us a whole show to try to define it with words and music. For words, we invited two guests to help us out. Beco Dranoff is a regular guest on Alt.Latino. He is a prolific producer of Brazilian music of all kinds. And we were very fortunate to have Luciana Souza with us, a Grammy-winning vocalist who mixes jazz and Brazilian music.

MARTIN: OK, so sounds like they would be pretty much experts on the subject?

CONTRERAS: Well, you know, even with advanced notice, the exact definition was elusive to both of them. Now, here's how they each defined it separately.

BECO DRANOFF: There are two kinds of Saldajes, I think. Saldajes can be happy and can be sad. You can miss something that you know is going to be coming, you know, you're to meet somebody again, or you're going back to your homeland, or you're going - something good is going to happen. And, of course, there is Saldajes of somebody that, you know, departed or something that has no chance of happening again.

LUCIANA SOUZA: That feeling of wanting this thing that you may not ever have again but you carry with you, so it's an absence but it's also a presence, if that makes any sense.

MARTIN: So it's like longing kind of?

CONTRERAS: It's sort of a longing.

MARTIN: OK.

CONTRERAS: It's sort of a longing. I think if you ask Brazilians how they define it you would get 10 similar but very different definitions.

MARTIN: So we have a definition of sorts as per some experts.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Now you're going to illustrate with some music, right? What does it sound like?

CONTRERAS: The first thing that I brought in is a song called "Chega de Saudad." It's by Joao Gilberto. Some consider this the first bossa nova from the late '50s. And it's one of the first times non-Brazilians were exposed to that word and to the concept.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHEGA DE SAUDADE")

JOAO GILBERTO: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: Mmm, that's lovely. But does this Saldaje, does it always had this really slow rhythm or are there different versions?

CONTRERAS: The short answer is no.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHEGA DE SAUDADE")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing in foreign language)

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK.

CONTRERAS: 'Cause many forms of Latin music use up-tempo beats and rhythms to express melancholy or sadness, for example, salsa. Our next track is an example of Saldaje as a form of new party music. This is called "Saldaje."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, " SALDAJE DE BAHIA")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: OK, that's cool. I know there's a lot of jazz in Brazilian music.

CONTRERAS: Yes.

MARTIN: When that happens is there Saldaje when you mix Brazilian jazz with other forms of Brazilian music?

CONTRERAS: We ask the expert, Luciana Souza, on the show. And she said absolutely. And I asked her which song that she performs that lays her out with Saldaje whenever she performs. And she said it was this one. And it's from her album "The Book of Chet."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE WAS TOO GOOD TO ME")

SOUZA: (Singing) He was too good to me. How can I get along now? So close he stood to me. Everything seems all wrong now...

MARTIN: OK. So I feel like we're closer to a definition. It's kind of longing. But you and Jasmine devoted an entire show to thinking about the stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I mean we are efficient here at WEEKEND EDITION but...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...what are we missing out? What else is this about, this feeling, this music?

CONTRERAS: Well, this morning we covered the basics 'cause there's so much more. For example, Beco and Luciana both talked about the legacy of the slave trade in Brazil and how that unimaginable despair of being owned by another human being has been manifested in music and literature and poetry in Brazil. So there were a lot of other things to talk about, to try to fill in the gaps, to try to get an idea of the essence of Saldaje.

MARTIN: OK. Well, I have learned a lot today...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...including word: Saldaje.

CONTRERAS: There you go.

MARTIN: Thank you so much.

CONTRERAS: You're welcome. Thank you.

MARTIN: NPR's Felix Contreras. This show on Saldaje will be on this week on Alt.Latino. You can download it every week from iTunes or from their website@npr.org/altlatino.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: To learn more about Saldaje and to discover other interesting musical insights, go to our Facebook page. You can find it NPRWeekendFacebook. And we share all kinds of good stuff on Twitter during the week. You can find us @ nprweekend or I am @rachelnpr.

BJ Leiderman wrote that theme music you hear at the top of the show. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHEGA DE SAUDADE")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Singing in foreign language)

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