Matt Cahill

Waters Of March In November

I was sitting alone in an empty bar on College Street on a November night, pissing rain outside. It was 1995. I had few friends and fewer prospects for work. I can’t recall how I’d planned to pay for the drink in front of me: it was probably a coffee. I was just thankful to be dry. Out of nowhere came this voice, soft and warm:

É pau, é pedra,
é o fim do caminho
É um resto de toco,
é um pouco sozinho.

Elis Regina, “Águas de Março” (MPB Ensaio, TV Cultura, 1973).

I discovered years after (this being a pre-Shazam age) the name of the song was “Águas de Março” (or “Waters of March”). It’s a bossa nova piece written by Antonio Carlos Jobim in 1972. One of the definitive performances is captured above by Brazilian superstar, Elis Regina, who died, tragically, of a drug overdose at the age of 36.

The song is inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s heavy downpours in late March—the end of summer in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a stunning bit of onomatopoeia, regardless that I can’t understand the lyrics. Jobim did re-work them into a longer English translation, something he felt was necessary to keep the feel and structure of the original. This said, I prefer the original Brazilian-Portuguese: the song is so ethereal that English lyrics seem plodding by comparison.

Since that night, almost fifteen years ago, it’s been a tune which has continued to enchant me. What I love about it is its combination of childlike tick-tock rhythm and lyrical stream of consciousness. Time stops whenever I hear it, English or not, though there’s a dearth of good interpretations. In truth, they typically run the gamut from treacly to nauseating. This convince you?

Sérgio Mendes, Carol Rogers, Marietta Waters (Brasil ’88, 1980)

Not quite? How’s this?

Coca-Cola Global, “Commercial For Coca-Cola” (1985)

Oh my.

Art Garfunkel gave it a good try. It’s better than most: almost all of these performances tend to encapsulate the best (and worst) of the era in which they were recorded.

Art Garfunkel, “Águas de Março” (1975, from the album “Breakaway“)

Byrne & Feist? Sounds good on paper…

David Byrne & Leslie Feist, “Live At The Radio City Music Hall” (2009)

Not so much in reality.

To be honest, I don’t know if it was Elis Regina I heard over the sound system that night in November (for years I was convinced Astrud Gilberto had done it originally, which turned out to be a red herring, as so many things were that I’d naively attributed to her). Like all great performances, what I heard that night transported me; I was temporarily removed from the cold distortion of my problems into an oasis. On that note, I leave you with a duet between Elis Regina and Tom Jobim himself.

Antonio Carlos Jobim, Elis Regina , “Águas de Março” (1974)

– Matt Cahill

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Matt Cahill is a writer, photographer, and psychotherapist. He is the author of the novels "The Society of Experience" and "Radioland." He lives in Toronto. For more Matt Cahill, click here.