Milton Nascimento's Beautiful Music
Milton Nascimento turned 80 years old this month! The wonderful musician with the velvety voice has been on a farewell tour. He was in the U.S. recently and will be performing in Brazil in the next few months. And starting this weekend, folks in São Paulo will be able to see a musical about Milton Nascimento and other musicians that formed the Clube da Esquina (The Corner Club). The show, titled O Clube da Esquina, will run until late December.
Milton (as I've said before, Brazilians are on a first-name basis with the artists they love) is an incredibly talented singer and songwriter. If you were prompted to look him up online because of my previous post on his friend and musical collaborator Chico Buarque, then you have already experienced Milton's gift as a singer. And I hope to entice you to look him up some more and appreciate his skills as a songwriter as well.
I have not found much information about Milton as a lyricist. I don't know in which songs he wrote the lyrics in collaboration with other songwriters, in which he wrote them by himself, and in which he wrote the melody but not the lyrics. Milton has had many songwriting partners, including Gilberto Gil (whom I mention in a previous post), Wagner Tiso (who also worked on arrangements of Milton's songs), composer and producer Ronaldo Bastos, and poet and journalist Fernando Brant. Milton has sung about love, hope, faith, friendship, resilience, musicianship, and of course resistance to the military dictatorship in Brazil.
I recommend the songs Maria Maria, Cais (Pier), Nada Será como Antes (Nothing Will Be Like Before), and O Que Será (What Might It Be), this last one written by Chico Buarque, as a sample of his work from the 1970s. My favorite album by Milton is from 1981: Caçador de Mim (Hunter of Myself), possibly the first LP I ever bought with money I had earned myself. I have selected three songs from that album to translate here.
The song Nos Bailes da Vida (In the Dance Balls of Life) speaks of Milton's first years as a musician and crooner performing at dance balls and in bars. It conveys his love of singing, no matter where or under what circumstances. There are several videos of this song on the internet. I recommend listening to the song as you read the lyrics and my translation.
I love that the lyrics say "Tenho comigo as lembranças do que eu era" / "I carry with me the memories of what I was," an acknowledgment that those days of rough working conditions are gone but also that the young artist stays within the highly successful, mature performer.
A few notes on the translation: first, if you know the word pão, you will notice that I didn't translate it as bread. That is because bread is also slang for money in English--think of Billy Joel's Piano Man: "they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar." That is not the case in Portuguese. In this song, pão stands for food or a meal. Second, some may find "In singing I come undone" to be incorrect. Some of my Brazilian friends think he is saying "In singing I am disguised," which also makes complete sentence. The problem is that it is hard to tell whether Milton is saying "me disfarço" (I disguise myself) or "me desfaço" (I come undone). I hear (and have always heard) "desfaço." That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Finally, there are very few rhymes in this song, and I didn't attempt to preserve them this time.
I hope you experience the joy in listening to this song that Milton clearly feels in playing and singing it.
Amor Amigo (Friendly Love) is about longing and being unable to communicate one's feelings for a long time and the joy and release of finally being able to do just that in the song. The melody and arrangement match, and to me intensify, the feelings in the lyrics beautifully. I love how Milton creates melodies that stretch the syllables and have us linger with the feelings in key words. When he sings "sangrar, sangrar," don't you feel like you're bleeding with him?
I felt I had to preserve the few rhymes in the song in my translation because the text is so poetic. I inverted the order of phrases in some lines to (re)create the rhyme.
A couple of videos of Milton singing this song are available online. Do listen to it as you read the lyrics and translation.
Vida (Life) is a song about the simple things in life--home, family, friends--but the melody and Milton's singing convey the immense beauty and value of these paces and relationships. Notice again how the slow tempo of the melody and Milton's lingering on certain syllables invite us to stay with each feeling a little longer.
In the last stanza, you will see I created a rhyme where there was none in the original. It was only too easy to do, and I think the song deserves one more rhyme, especially since I wasn't able to preserve the rhyme in the previous stanza. I have also added a few syllables to some lines in the translation to match the rhythm in the original. They are fillers ("all of its fishes" rather than "its fish", "moonlight" rather than "moon") and don't alter the original meaning.
I have found videos of Milton singing this song online. The arrangement is gorgeous. Enjoy!
Milton continued to record live and studio albums through the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. I hope you will look them up and discover other gems by Milton and the artists he has collaborated with throughout his career.