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'Mi Bossa Nova': A Lifelong Love Affair in Song

Carmen Cuesta's new album is titled <em>Mi Bossa Nova</em>.
Courtesy of the artist
Carmen Cuesta's new album is titled Mi Bossa Nova.

In 1964, "The Girl From Ipanema" put bossa nova on the charts in the U.S. The song was composed by the godfather of the bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and features the languid, lush, lovely saxophone stylings of Stan Getz. The hit was one of many collaborations between Jobim and Getz that would bring the intoxicating sounds of the bossa nova across borders — and into the life of a young Spanish singer named Carmen Cuesta.

In 1979, Getz played a show in Madrid where Cuesta was in the audience. She fell in love with the music and with Getz's guitarist, Chuck Loeb. Getz was best man at their wedding.

This year, Cuesta and Loeb celebrate the music that brought them together with a tribute album, Mi Bossa Nova, featuring the music of Jobim and other great Brazilian composers. After completing a 20-show tour of the East Coast in support of the album, Cuesta spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon from her home in Madrid.

When asked to explain the enduring appeal of the bossa nova, Cuesta is at a loss for words.

"I don't know what it is, but I don't even want to know it," she says. "It just reaches a string in my heart that nothing else does."

Cuesta says she initially intended to record the songs in Spanish, so that their beautiful lyrics could be understood by a wider audience, but the Jobim estate insisted that the songs remain in their original Portuguese. Still, Cuesta's efforts as a translator were not in vain. She had to learn Portuguese to sing Jobim's songs, but she says knowing their Spanish translations helped her feel a more profound connection with the music.

Most of the songs on the album are Jobim's, but a few were written by Cuesta. One, simply titled "Jobim," is about the deep connection she feels with the composer and his music. When she listens to Jobim, Cuesta says, she feels as if "I could almost touch the places where he was when he was writing these songs."

"Jobim" evokes the Copacabana in the early hours of the morning, where Jobim and his fellow architects of the bossa nova were said to go after long nights of jamming together. Another lyric was inspired by a quote from Jobim, who once described the experience of walking on the clean, white sands of Ipanema Beach as "like singing." When she sings, Cuesta says, "I can feel that. I can see exactly what he means."

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