Tips & Tricks

Finding the lyric for a song: a few tips

We’ve all been there: you hear a cool capoeira song somewhere and you want to learn it yourself so you can sing it during the next class or roda. The only problem is, you don’t understand everything the singer is singing (because he mumbles, the audio quality is terrible, there is a lot of background noise, …). How do you go about getting the complete lyric for that song? It is a problem that I encounter quite often. Maybe it’s because I have a tendency to prefer unknown songs above the popular ones. But the main problem is my proficiency in Portuguese, which is not good enough so that I can understand every single word of a song where the audio is not that good.

Getting that lyric: different approaches

When you’re at an event

Is it about a song you hear live, than the solution is simple: go ask the singer afterwards. If he only speaks Portuguese and you don’t, ask someone to help you translate. When you show interest in a song that person was singing, he will be happy to help you. For him it’s a sign that you appreciate his effort to bring energy to the roda. Besides asking to write down the song, it’s also a good idea to ask if you can make an audio recording with your phone. That way you won’t have to remember the melody. Plenty of capoeiristas do this and it is a great way to build a library of recordings and lyrics.

Write down the words you understand

When it is a song on the internet or on a CD that you want to learn, then the first step is to write down the words you do understand. Try starting with the chorus, since the chorus is repeated several times you’ll have a better chance at understanding every word. When you have the chorus (or a part of it) you can start googling that. Most of the time you’ll get at least one or two pages where the chorus is mentioned.

When you are not sure how to spell a word, enter it in Google Translate. It will autosuggest similar words if the spelling is not correct. Slowing down the audio might also help to better understand every word. If you manage to get some words out of a verse, you will be able to query for more relevant search results in Google. Imagine a song where the chorus is something with “la la ê”… there are dozens of those, but the verses will be (more or less) unique.

Check YouTube and leave a comment

A lot, and really a lot, of songs can be found on YouTube. If the lyric is not in the description, be sure to check the comments. That’s often the place where you find the name of the author, the chorus, or the whole lyric. If no one has asked for the lyric before, leave a comment yourself (if possible in Portuguese and English). I do this from time to time and managed to get the lyrics in most cases. It often takes a long time (read weeks or months) for someone to respond, even more when the video has few views.

Ask someone who speaks Portuguese

When I can’t figure it out myself I ask someone who speaks Portuguese to help me out. If you are a capoeirista chances are pretty high that you know someone who speaks fluent Portuguese (be it your teacher, a veteran student, …). They’ll probably won’t have so much trouble understanding everything, even if the audio is bad.

Take it to a forum

Since the rise of Facebook groups forums aren’t that popular anymore. Luckily there are still a number of capoeira forums with an active user base. Register for an account an create a new post where you ask for some help. People are on a forum because they are interested in the topics and they want to help others, so getting a response usually doesn’t take very long. With some luck another user might be able to help you out or at least point you in the right direction.

Reddit might be one of the best places to post a question, either in the capoeira subreddit or the Portuguese subreddit.

Find the author or his student(s) on a social network

I learned only a short while ago that this approach works very well in certain situations. When you know the name of the author (often a Mestre), you can try to find him on Facebook for example. If he has a public profile or a page you can post something on his timeline, otherwise try to send him a friend request along with a message why you friended him. I have done this on three occasions and all were very successful.

When you can’t find the author on any social network, but you do know the name of his group try to search for that. Most groups have pages or profiles on Facebook. And often students of a group keep the name of the group in their Facebook name (e.g. “Baiano Abadá”, “Onça Muzenza Capoeira”). If you manage to find them on a social network, you’ll have multiple targets to contact and thus a higher chance that someone will respond. With some luck the song is well known in their group or they can ask someone else.

An example

Most recently, I wanted to know the lyric of a song call “Linda Margarida” by Mestre Perna. It is track 22 on the album No Tempo Que Se Destina. I quickly found another version on YouTube by Mestre Marcelo but I still couldn’t understand all the words. So I decided to look up Mestre Perna on Facebook and discovered that we had three friends in common. I sent him a friend request and half an hour later we were chatting. I told him how I liked the song on that album and that I would very much like to introduce it in my own group. He was happy to pass me the correct verses along with a nice anecdote. Although I didn’t know him, he was very friendly and helpful.

E-mail the group

If the above doesn’t work but you do know to which group the author belongs, you can search for a website of that group. They’ll probably have one in the countries they are active in. Most websites allow you to send a contact message, this is also an option to get more information about the lyric of the song. But beware, a lot of capoeira groups don’t maintain their website very well and it might take weeks to get a response, if you get one at all.

Write it down for later

Sometimes you just don’t manage to get the lyric of that one particular rare song. Write down the words you do understand and add a meaningful reference. Because sooner or later, you will bump into the song again but you might not remember where you heard it the first time. If you keep a small list, you’ll be able to look it up and add the new information. It is always rewarding to see progress in your “research”.

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