In Which Jose Gonzalez Teaches Us The Meaning Of Saudade

by Molly Lambert


An attempt to depict saudade through clip art

Saudade is a Portuguese and Galician word meaning a feeling of longing for something that one is fond of, which is gone, but might return in a distant future. It has a fatalist tone and involves repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return.

There’s no direct English translation. It’s apparently very difficult to translate, because the translation depends completely on context. The German word Sehnsucht has a similar meaning and reputation for untranslatibility. There’s also a Japanese cousin, mono no aware, which means a gentle sadness at being aware of the transience of things and their passing.

Jose Gonzalez wears his heart on his heart

My brother hipped me to Jose Gonzalez, the Swedish-born Argentinian singer-songwriter. His cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” is killer. Ian showed me the attendant beautiful video by Andreas Nilsson where a million bouncy balls are filmed coming down a steep San Francisco hill. It’s like a CGI effect done without computers.

Sometimes even I am the last to know about things. Gonzalez’s‘s voice sounds like the great Gilbert O’Sullivan song “Alone Again, Naturally” (not to be confused with Love’s “Alone Again Or” though I guess they all cover similarly bittersweet territory).


The Argentine Beatles, Los Shakers

What it really sounds like (other than Nick Drake) is Tropicalia, which is Brazillian, not Argentine. Most specifically Caetano Veloso and Jorge Ben.

jorge Ben

What’s up, 1969?

Wiki says:

Saudade is different than nostalgia (the English word, that is). In nostalgia, one has a mixed happy and sad feeling, a memory of happiness but a sadness for its impossible return and sole existence in the past. Saudade is like nostalgia but with the hope that what is being longed for might return, even if that return is unlikely or so distant in the future to be almost of no consequence to the present. One might make a strong analogy with nostalgia as a feeling one has for a loved one who has died and saudade as a feeling one has for a loved one who has disappeared or is simply currently absent.

Nostalgia is located in the past and is somewhat conformist while saudade is very present, anguishing, anxious and extends into the future. In Portuguese, the same word nostalgia has quite a different meaning. 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.


“Some specialists say the word may have originated during the Great Portuguese Discoveries, giving meaning to the sadness felt about those who departed on journeys to unknown seas and disappeared in shipwrecks, died in battle, or simply never returned. Those who stayed behind—mostly women and children—suffered deeply in their absence;


The state of mind has subsequently become a “Portuguese way of life”: a constant feeling of absence, the sadness of something that’s missing, wishful longing for completeness or wholeness and the yearning for the return of that now gone, a desire for presence as opposed to absence—as it is said in Portuguese, a strong desire to “matar as saudades” (lit. to kill the saudades).


The same feeling is also found in Brazil, the destination of immigrants who never saw their homelands again. The feeling was so much ingrained into the Brazilian mind that virtually every immigrant settled there learned this notion and incorporated it (even people from radically different mindsets, like Germans and Japanese, soon understood it). Another permanent source of saudades for the Brazilians is the hugeness of the country itself, which in the past caused most people to feel alone almost everywhere.”

Andreas Nilsson’s video for Jose Gonzalez’s “Down The Line”

A UK Art exhibition about saudade

Jose Gonzalez MySpace

Jose Gonzalez video for “Crosses”

Jose Gonzalez video for “Heartbeats” (The Knife cover)

The Knife’s video for “Heartbeats”

Jose Gonzalez – Slow Moves: mp3

Jose Gonzalez – Heartbeats: mp3

Jose Gonzalez – Hints: mp3

Molly Lambert is Senior Editor of This Recording. Like Don Draper, she can be kind of a gloomy Jew.

16 thoughts on “In Which Jose Gonzalez Teaches Us The Meaning Of Saudade

  1. wow- you couldn’t have described jose’s music more spot on. you get it. there is something so painfully beautiful in his music and simple yet intimate.

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