Vinícius de Moraes

When I get to the end of my life, I hope I’ll be able to look back and say that I lived a little. I guess things are going pretty well so far – I’ve travelled more than most (and had scrapes and adventures along the way), I’ve had some interesting jobs and I’ve met a good number of weird and wonderful people.

But no matter how interesting my life turns out to be, I doubt I’ll come close to the subject of today’s post. This Brazilian was born in 1913 and died in 1980 and during his 66 years he worked as a diplomat, musician, composer, poet and playwright. He married 8 times, had 4 kids, wrote a play that was adapted into an Oscar winning film and was central to the development of a new and hugely successful style of music. Oh yeah, and he co-wrote the second most recorded pop song of all time.

In case you haven’t guess yet, I’m talking about this guy:


Vinícius de Moraes – a man of many talents.

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Brazilian Portuguese Tom

He tossed the coin up and I called “Heads!” – he looked down and the expression that appeared on his face told me I’d lost. My friend and I were 18, travelling round New Zealand and had just decided which of us was going to make a rather awkward phone call.

One of us had to call up the bus company and arrange a spot on the bus that was coming through town the next day. The problem was that we were staying in a town called Whakapapa.


Whakapapa is in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. Like much of New Zealand, it is spectacular. Source


“Er… so what? Just call up and tell them you’re in Whakapapa!” I expect you’re thinking. Well we had just read in our guide book that the Maori pronunciation of the letters “Wha” should sound like “Fu”. Seriously? One of us had to phone up a stranger and say all bright and breezy: “Hi there! Can I book two seats on the bus from Fuckapapa tomorrow?”.

Looking back I can’t think why we were so reluctant to make the call, but as slightly timid 18 year olds I guess neither of us felt very confident about this whole “Fuckapapa” thing (was that really the proper way to say it?). For the record, I made the call, I pronounced it “Fuckapapa” and the woman on the phone didn’t bat an eyelid! (As a footnote to this story, I just did a little search on Whakapapa and found I’m not the only one who has issues with the name!)


When you’re not familiar with a language, it can be tricky to get the pronunciation right. In Portuguese, my name (Tom) means ‘tone’ which seems quite appropriate because although it is spelt the same, it sounds very different to its English equivalent. I discovered this the hard way when I first got to Brazil.

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Não fala que grava!

I’ve mentioned a few of my favourite Brazilian albums in recent months – music by artists such as Jorge BenJoão Gilberto and Novos Baianos to name a few. There are a lot of other artists still to talk about, but one name is particularly conspicuous by its absence.

Antônio Carlos Jobim

Also known as Tom Jobim, this colossus of Brazilian music is known as the main force behind the creation of Bossa Nova and one of the most talented and successful composers of the 20th century. You can’t mention the man without also mentioning his most famous composition, Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema). The original (Portuguese) lyrics are so much nicer than the English version that it’s reason enough to learn Portuguese in itself!

For me, it seems like this subject is almost to big to cover – I don’t know enough about him and besides, you can get a better run-down of this man and his story on Wikipedia.

Tom Jobim

Tom Jobim (sounds kind of like Tohn zho-been). The man credited (along with João Gilberto) with the creation of Bossa Nova.


So instead of trying to cover Jobim’s entire career, I’m going to focus on just a single song.

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Some of you may remember that in March this year I went to London for a couple of months. It was my first taste of a real winter in 3 years and I felt almost instant saudade for the warmth and sunshine of Rio. Perhaps as a result, I found myself listening to Brazilian music as I stood at chilly bus stops, or shivered my way between the train station and my office.

During my time in Brazil I’ve made a few musical discoveries that have come as revelations. The first was when I discovered ‘A Tábua de Esmeralda’ by Jorge Ben. It’s a brilliant album – unusual, very accessible and made me realise that not all Brazilian music has to sound like samba or bossa nova. I wrote about it here.

But back in London I had a new album on constant rotation.

Chega da Saudade

Chega da Saudade by João Gilberto.


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Que Saudade!

How are you feeling today? Are you experiencing a faint longing for anything? Is your heart a little heavy? Do you feel listless and melancholic? Well you should do, and not just because it’s a Monday. Today, 30th January, is Dia da Saudade. You didn’t know? Didn’t you see the Brazilian Google Doodle today? For those of you who missed it, here it is:

You may find this hard to believe, but I’ve had no formal training. This is natural, raw, diamond-in-the-rough, talent…


OK, so Eat Rio and Google haven’t really teamed up (well, in a way, I teamed up with them, but that makes it a rather one-sided arrangement doesn’t it?). I made this myself as apparently Google forgot to check their calendar today.

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"To live in Brazil is shit…

…but it’s great.”

Who said that? None other than Antônio Carlos Jobim, also known as Tom Jobim, the godfather of bossa nova, composer of The Girl from Ipanema and one of the great Brazilians of the 20th Century. The full quote is:

“To live in other countries is great, but it’s shit. To live in Brazil is shit but it’s great.”

Tom Jobim – legend.

Beautiful Ugly Rio

In early July 2010 I found myself in Fortaleza in the state of Ceará (just up the coast from the tip of Brazil’s pointy nose). I had made my way by river and overland from the border with Colombia in the north but Rio, my final destination, was still a long way off. And after almost of year of living out of a backpack, staying in hostel dormitories, enduring long bus rides and even longer periods without clean clothes, I had started to crave a break. 

The approach to Santos Dumont at dawn

I booked a flight and flew into Santos Dumont, Rio’s domestic airport. Rio’s main international airport, Galeão International, is a long way out of town and in a very ugly area but Santos Dumont is far closer to Rio’s iconic attractions: Copacabana, Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) and Cristo Redentor (the statue of Christ the Redeemer). As you approach Santos Dumont you get an incredible view of these sights and you instantly understand why they call it A Cidade Maravilhosa (the Marvellous City). 

Take a chopper ride around the Rio of 1968 to the sound of Gilberto Gil’s Aquele Abraço. Not only a lovely song but also a fascinating view of Rio as it was in the 60s (and you have to admire the pilot’s nerves of steel!).

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