Defining any country is impossible, but music brings us close. Image from

When people think of Brazilians they either think of happy people on the beach or soccer players. After reading an article from an important Brazilian newspaper regarding the presence of Brazilian authors at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I realized that – yes – the above image is still the predominant one that the world has of us. The article mentions one naive question from a foreign reporter to one Brazilian author: “I thought Brazil was a happy country, but yesterday I heard that you were sad people. Are you happy or sad?” My first reaction to this observation was to laugh, of course; we are happy during carnival, for example, but we aren’t happy all the time – that’s obvious! – we’ve got problems of our own to deal with.

Then I started thinking that it’s interesting to try to define a country in one single adjective, taking into consideration our values, our traditions, our cultural principles, and our beliefs of what is right or wrong. I thought to myself: I’m Brazilian, so how could I show what Brazilians are all about? How can I prove that we are what I think we are? There’s one thing that express the cultural identity of a country: their language – but I guess many of you don’t speak Portuguese, although you’ve probably heard Brazilian songs. Tom Jobim, Vinícius de Moraes, and Chico Buarque are well known singers and poets, perfect to explain to the world the Brazilian characteristics. Poets that send out messages of happiness and sadness, but also of saudade, love, spirituality, hope, and simplicity.

1. Saudade (to miss somebody or something)

“Chega de Saudade” (No more Saudade) – Tom Jobim

Extract: “Vai minha tristeza e diz a ela que sem ela / Não pode ser, diz-lhe numa prece / Que ela regresse, porque eu não posso / Mais sofrer. Chega de saudade a realidade / É que sem ela não há paz, não há beleza / É só tristeza e a melancolia / Que não sai de mim, não sai de mim, não sai”

“Go away my sadness and tell her that without her / It can’t be, tell her in a prayer / For her to come back, because I can’t / Suffer no longer. No more ‘saudade’, the reality / is that without here there’s no peace, no beauty / It’s just sadness and melancholy / Which don’t leave me, don’t leave me, don’t leave”

2. Amor (love)

“Garota de Ipanema” (Girl from Ipanema) – Vinícius de Moraes & Tom Jobim

Extract: “Ah, por que estou tão sozinho / Ah, por que tudo é tão triste / Ah, a beleza que existe / A beleza que não é só minha / Que também passa sozinha / Ah, se ela soubesse / Que quando ela passa / O mundo inteirinho se enche de graça / E fica mais lindo / Por causa do amor”

“Ah, why am I so lonely? / Ah, why is everything so sad? / Ah, the beauty that exists / The beauty that is not only mine / That also goes by alone / Ah, if she knew / That when she goes by / The whole world fills with joy / And it becomes more beautiful / Because of love”

3. Espiritualidade (spirituality)

“Preciso me encontrar” (I need to find myself) – Cartola

Extract: “Quero assistir ao sol nascer / Ver as águas dos rios correr / Ouvir os pássaros cantar / Eu quero nascer, quero viver… / Deixe-me ir / Preciso andar / Vou por aí a procurar / Rir prá não chorar… / Se alguém por mim perguntar / Diga que eu só vou voltar / Quando eu me encontrar…”

“I want to see the sun rising / To see the water of rivers running / To hear the birds singing / I want to be born, I want to live… / Let me go / I need to walk / I am going to wander to search / To laugh not to cry… / If someone asks for me / Tell that I am going to return / When I find myself…”

4.  Esperança (hope)

“Vai passar” (It will pass / It’s going to be ok) – Chico Buarque

*Historic context: This music was composed during the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985), so Chico Buarque, under censorship, wrote a samba that, in fact, reflected hope. In the lyrics carnival represent the short period of happiness for Brazilians during severe dictatorship. The song is hopeful that this “false feeling of joy” would pass (it will pass) only after Brazil’s opening under democratic values.

Extract: “E um dia, afinal / Tinham direito a uma alegria fugaz / Uma ofegante epidemia / Que se chamava carnaval / O carnaval, o carnaval / (Vai passar)”

“And one day, after all / They were entitled to a brief joy / A breathless epidemic / That was called Carnival / Carnival, Carnival / (It will pass)”

5. Simplicidade (simplicity)

“Águas de Março” (Waters of March) – Tom Jobim & Elis Regina

This the simplest and most poetic song written. I guess all Brazilians are simple and poetic deep down. See the video for the translated version.