Guest DJs

Saudade: An Untranslatable, Undeniably Potent Word

Gilberto Gil, pictured here on the cover of Luar (A Gente Precisa Ver o Luar), is one of the many artists we listen to this week to understand the concept of "saudade." i i

hide captionGilberto Gil, pictured here on the cover of Luar (A Gente Precisa Ver o Luar), is one of the many artists we listen to this week to understand the concept of "saudade."

Courtesy of the artist
Gilberto Gil, pictured here on the cover of Luar (A Gente Precisa Ver o Luar), is one of the many artists we listen to this week to understand the concept of "saudade."

Gilberto Gil, pictured here on the cover of Luar (A Gente Precisa Ver o Luar), is one of the many artists we listen to this week to understand the concept of "saudade."

Courtesy of the artist

I've always been fascinated that there are certain words with no direct equivalents in other languages. It goes to the idea that life is so varied and complex, it will spawn words as distinctive as snowflakes.

The natives of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina have the word mamihlapinatapai for a look shared between two people when both are wishing the other would do something neither wants to. In Thai there is greng-jai — when you don't want someone to do something for you because it would be a bother for him or her.

Perhaps my favorite of these elusive words is saudade, a Portuguese and Galician term that is a common fixture in the literature and music of Brazil, Portugal, Cape Verde and beyond. The concept has many definitions, including a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened. It often carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again. My favorite definition of saudade is by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: "a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy."

Since it comes up so frequently in the music we listen to on our show, we decided to dig deeper. Joining us to explain the concept are two musical masterminds: jazz singer Luciana Souza and producer Beco Dranoff. Both do a great job of explaining what saudade means playing some of their favorite tracks. Since we are wrapping up our Black History Month coverage, it's also a window into the African influence on Brazilian songs.

Even if you can't quite wrap your mind around the word saudade, you can certainly understand it through this music. And please, if you want to add to their explanation of what saudade is, tell us about your own saudade and your favorite songs on the topic in the comments section below.

Saudade: The Untranslatable Word Everyone Sings About

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Cartola

  • Album: Cartola [O Mundo e um Moinho]
  • Song: As Rosas Não Falam
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  • "As Rosas Não Falam"
  • Album: Cartola [O Mundo e um Moinho]
  • Artist: Cartola
  • Label: Melopea Records
  • Released: 1976
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Gilberto Gil

  • Album: Arte de Gilberto Gil
  • Song: Lamento Sertanejo (Forró Do Dominguinhos) [Ao Viva]
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  • "Lamento Sertanejo (Forró Do Dominguinhos) [Ao Viva]"
  • Album: Arte de Gilberto Gil
  • Artist: Gilberto Gil
  • Label: Universal International
  • Released: 2005
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Cover for 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Antonio Carlos Jobim

Antonio Carlos Jobim

  • Album: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Antonio Carlos Jobim
  • Song: Aguas de Março (Waters of March)
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  • "Aguas de Março (Waters of March)"
  • Album: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Antonio Carlos Jobim
  • Artist: Antonio Carlos Jobim
  • Label: Hip-O Records
  • Released: 2005
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Joao Gilberto

  • Album: U Samba da Minha Terra
  • Song: Chega de Saudade
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  • "Chega de Saudade"
  • Album: U Samba da Minha Terra
  • Artist: Joao Gilberto
  • Label: Excalibur
  • Released: 2013
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Amalia Rodrigues

  • Album: Amalia/Vinicius
  • Song: Saudades Do Brasil em Portugal
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  • "Saudades Do Brasil em Portugal"
  • Album: Amalia/Vinicius
  • Artist: Amalia Rodrigues
  • Label: EMI Music Distribution
  • Released: 2001
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Luciana Souza

  • Album: Tide
  • Song: Adeus America & Eu Quero Um Samba
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  • "Adeus America & Eu Quero Um Samba"
  • Album: Tide
  • Artist: Luciana Souza
  • Label: Verve
  • Released: 2009
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Dorival Caymmi

  • Album: Minha Historia
  • Song: Saudade Da Bahia
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  • "Saudade Da Bahia"
  • Album: Minha Historia
  • Artist: Dorival Caymmi
  • Label: Polygram
  • Released: 1997
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Luciana Souza

  • Album: Book of Chet
  • Song: He Was Too Good to Me
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  • "He Was Too Good to Me"
  • Album: Book of Chet
  • Artist: Luciana Souza
  • Label: Sunnyside Communications
  • Released: 2012
 

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