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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 hide caption
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.
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.
In the latter half of the 20th century, saudade became associated with the longing for one's homeland, as hundreds of thousands of Portuguese-speaking people left in search of better futures in South America, North America, and Western Europe. Besides the implications derived from a wave of emigration trend from the motherland, historically speaking saudade is the term associated with the decline of Portugal's role in world politics and trade. During the so-called "Golden Age", synonymous with the era of discovery, Portugal rose to the status of a world power, and its monarchy became one of the richest in Europe. But with the competition from other European nations, the country went both colonially and economically into a prolonged period of decay. This period of decline and resignation from the world's cultural stage marked the rise of saudade, aptly described by a sentence in Portugal's national anthem: Levantai hoje de novo o esplendor de Portugal (Lift up once again today the splendour of Portugal).
The Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa defines saudade (or saudades) as "A somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived."
The Dictionary from the Royal Galician Academy, on the other hand, defines saudade as an "intimate feeling and mood caused by the longing for something absent that is being missed. This can take different aspects, from concrete realities (a loved one, a friend, the motherland, the homeland...) to the mysterious and transcendent. It is quite prevalent and characteristic of the Galician-Portuguese world, but it can also be found in other cultures."
In Portuguese, "Tenho saudades tuas" or "Estou com saudades de ti/você" translates as "I have (feel) saudade of you" meaning "I miss you", but carries a much stronger tone. In fact, one can have saudade of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future. For example, one can have "saudade" towards part of the relationship or emotions once experienced for/with someone, though the person in question is still part of one's life, as in "Tenho saudade do que fomos" (I feel "saudade" of the way we were). Another example can illustrate this use of the word saudade: "Que saudade!" indicating a general feeling of longing, whereby the object of longing can be a general and undefined entity/occasion/person/group/period etc. This feeling of longing can be accompanied or better described by an abstract will to be where the object of longing is.
The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.
A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as old ways and sayings; a lost lover who is sadly missed; a faraway place where one was raised; loved ones who have died; feelings and stimuli one used to have; and the faded, yet golden memories of youth. Although it relates to feelings of melancholy and fond memories of things/people/days gone by, it can be a rush of sadness coupled with a paradoxical joy derived from acceptance of fate and the hope of recovering or substituting what is lost by something that will either fill in the void or provide consolation.
There was an evolution from saudades (plural) to Saudade (singular, preferably written with a capital S), which became a philosophical concept. ... Saudade has an object; however, its object has become itself, for it means 'nostalgia for nostalgia', a meta-nostalgia, a longing oriented toward the longing itself. It is no more the Loved One or the 'Return' that is desired, based on a sense of loss and absence. Now, Desire desires Desire itself, as in the poetry of love for love's sake in Arabic, or as in Lope de Vega's famous epigram about the Portuguese who was crying for his love for Love itself. Or, rather, as poetess Florbela Espanca put it, I long for the longings I don't have ('Anoitecer', Espanca 1923).
As with all emotions, saudade has been an inspiration for many songs and compositions. "Sodade" (saudade in Cape Verdean Creole) is the title of the Cape Verde singer Cesária Évora's most famous song. Étienne Daho, a French singer, also produced a song of the same name. The Good Son, a 1990 album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, was heavily informed by Cave's mental state at the time, which he has described as saudade. He told journalist Chris Bohn: "When I explained to someone that what I wanted to write about was the memory of things that I thought were lost for me, I was told that the Portuguese word for this feeling was saudade. It's not nostalgia but something sadder."
The usage of saudade as a theme in Portuguese music goes back to the 16th century, the golden age of Portugal. Saudade, as well as love suffering, is a common theme in many villancicos and cantigas composed by Portuguese authors; for example: "Lágrimas de Saudade" (tears of saudade), which is an anonymous work from the Cancioneiro de Paris. Fado is a Portuguese music style, generally sung by a single person (the fadista) along with a Portuguese guitar. The most popular themes of fado are saudade, nostalgia, jealousy, and short stories of the typical city quarters. Fado and saudade are intertwined key ideas in Portuguese culture. The word fado comes from Latin fatum meaning "fate" or "destiny". Fado is a musical cultural expression and recognition of this unassailable determinism which compels the resigned yearning of saudade, a bitter-sweet, existential yearning and hopefulness towards something over which one has no control.
Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, whose father is a Galician, speaks of saudade in his song "Un Canto a Galicia" (which roughly translates as "a song/chant for Galicia"). In the song, he passionately uses the phrase to describe a deep and sad longing for his motherland, Galicia. He also performs a song called "Morriñas", which describes the Galicians as having a deeply strong saudade.
In 2022, Portuguese singer Maro released a song called "Saudade, saudade" and represented Portugal with it in the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. The song placed 9th in the grand final.
The Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa's posthumous collection of writings The Book of Disquiet is written almost entirely in a tone of saudade, and deals with themes of nostalgia and alienation. Australian author Suneeta Peres Da Costa's novella Saudade follows Maria, a young girl from a Goan immigrant family, growing up in a political hierarchy of racism and colonialism
Saudade is also associated with Galicia, where it is used similarly to the word morriña (longingness). Yet, morriña often implies a deeper stage of saudade, a "saudade so strong it can even kill," as the Galician saying goes. Morriña was a term often used by emigrant Galicians when talking about the Galician motherland they left behind. Although saudade is also a Galician word, the meaning of longing for something that might return is generally associated with morriña. A literary example showing the understanding of the difference and the use of both words is the song Un canto a Galicia by Julio Iglesias. The word used by Galicians speaking Spanish has spread and become common in all Spain and even accepted by the Academia.
Saudade is described as a kind of melancholy yearning. Melancholy means sad, and yearning is a strong, persistent longing or desire, especially for something unattainable. In Portuguese literature and music, saudade is used as a theme or a motif, which is a recurring subject, idea, or element in an artistic work.
In the 1800s, Portuguese poets like António Nobre heavily incorporated a sense of saudade into their lyrical poems, helping to make saudade a lasting part of the national character. That tradition continues today in Portuguese literature and music, and saudade is often mentioned in songs or even used as the title.
The verb to miss (someone) may be translated as to have (ter), to feel (sentir) or to be with (estar com) saudade. It may be used in the singular or plural indiscriminately. 59ce067264