One of the more unusual CDs in my collection – and one of the most frequently played – is Clara and the Real Lowdown by Clara Sanabras, which was produced by her musician husband Harvey Brough.
It was this album which introduced me to the genius of Paolo Conte, a previous Friday songster, whose ‘Sparring Partner’ is covered on the CD. It also reminded me of that terrific song ‘Put the Blame on Mame’, written by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher for Rita Hayworth in the 1946 film Gilda.
But my favourite track on the album is ‘Dance of Solitude’, an English version of ‘Dança da Solidão‘ from the first album by the Brazilian guitarist and songwriter Paulinho da Viola. In purist terms, I probably should have chosen the excellent version by Marisa Monte, who has performed it with da Viola, but I prefer Harvey’s and Clara’s production – the addition of a charango to give the thing a bit more swing was clever touch – and, to be honest, I think Clara’s voice is better suited to the song.
I love its tempo, its mood and melody, which compare to the best of Tom Jobim. I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian music recently because I’m, trying to write a song with a samba rhythm. What interests me more and more is how these songs resist translation.
Take Jobim’s great ‘Corvocado’, which was translated quite successfully and unobjectionably as ‘Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars’. Here’s that version:
‘Quiet nights of quiet stars
Quiet chords from my guitar
Floating on the silence that surrounds us
Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams
Quiet walks by quiet streams
And a window looking on the mountains
And the sea, so lovely…’
And so on. It’s fine as a translation – there’s an atmosphere, a beautiful mellow, melancholy vibe. ‘Chega da Saudade’ has that too, and so does ‘Girl From Ipanema’. And ‘Dança da Solidão‘. But, I’m beginning to wonder, can you get anything else – any other mood – from this genre of song? Is there any subject it can tackle apart from sunsets, mountains, loneliness and watching girls? We’ve heard about the One Note Samba. Is it possible that there can only be one-mood samba?
Or perhaps the problem is that the whole business of translating lyrics is fraught with difficulty. Unless the translator just takes the tune and writes a whole new lyric, as Paul Anka did when he turned Claude Francois’ ‘Comme D’Habitude’ into ‘My Way’, or you risk ending up with a pale imitation of the original.
If you compare, say, the depth and intensity of Jacques Prévert’s lyrics for ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’ with the saccharine nothingness of Johnny Mercer’s ‘Autumn Leaves’, it’s like going from from a Truffaut film to a schmaltzy B-movie.
With ‘Dança da Solidão’, the translation, presumably by Clara and Harvey (there’s no credit on the CD), is a valiant job but still has, to me, a touch of the self-conscious to it.
None of which detracts from a superlative song, beautifully sung and with stunning production and performance.