Sunday, 4 November 2012

Faithful or attractive?

I heard Antony Gormley's music choices on Desert Island Discs Revisited this morning, and one was Gilberto's Gil's version of  'I just called to say I love you'. (The iPlayer link will only last a week, but you can download your own copy from the Archives. the relevant music is at 30'05".) I've admired João Gilberto's music since my older brother exposed me to Getz/Gilberto in the early '60s (it was recorded in 1963, and he was quick to respond to popular culture, as long as it avoided the Beatles - with whom his younger siblings were obsessed). And I confused the two Gilbertos.

As you may know, the hook-line occurs in the middle eight, and it took me a few bars to tune in to the Portuguese, so I still had time to wonder how the translator would handle those words ( 'I just called to say I love you'). Many years ago I was trying to make a living by various means - one of which was translating songs. So I am alive to the problems of translation,  and familiar with the sexist joke about a good translation being like a woman - faithful or attractive, but not both. In fact my one foray into the world of translating a Brazilian song was António Carlos Jobim's Engano, which rather than the rather prosaic 'Deceit' or the unfortunately punning 'Deception' - punning for linguists, anyway - I called 'How wrong'.
Você sempre me disse
Que é falso meu amor
Que os beijos que lhe dou
Não têm nenhum calor...
[I think. It was 35 years ago, and Essex bl**dy Music didn't        return my copy of Boss Bossas - not that I bear a grudge, you understand.]
Anyway, returning to 'I just called to say I love you' I wasn't surprised by Só chamei, nor by te amo. But joining them was not p'ra dizer - which I half expected, in spite of the extra syllable - but porque. Good call - musically better, suiting the singer's plaintive voice, and giving an extra rhyme (chamei/porque).  Thinking back to my 'How wrong', I remember shying away from the heat of those kisses in ll. 3-4 of Jobim's original:
My love you always said
My love was never true -
My kiss, you said, was cold
And dum-di dum-di you
(The actual words escape me - though they may be in the loft, if they've survived 35 Spring Cleans).  I held over the idea of burning until I came to the later lines:
I only made a show
Of love whose fire was dead
And only kindled to
Another's warm Hello.
In  translating songs, faithfulness is the least (and perhaps last) of  your worries.

Those were the days; still, Music and Language's loss was Technical Documentation's gain. And, by happy chance,  António Carlos Jobim (writer of the song I translated - keep up) appeared on the same Getz/Gilberto album. What goes around comes around - preferably on black vinyl.

Update: 2016.09.16.11:15 – Removed old footer and fixed typo

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