Simon's songs expand both our musical and lexical vocabularies. The terms we learn this time are "banyan"-- a type of fig tree that takes root, not in the ground, but in other trees-- and "brujo," a warlock (male witch), but of a healing magic; a more accurate translation would probably be "shaman." The word is Spanish.
The song begins by taking the listener up a "wide" river (the Amazon?) through a tropical jungle. After the ride, there is a nap on soft leaves. Falling asleep, the narrator hears night sounds and attributes them to the voices of spirits. Evidently, to pass the time on the voyage, the sailors told, or sang, ancient stories of mystery and magic, and these were of some suggestive influence.
The travelers were resting up for another leg of the journey, by moonlight, and this time by foot. The path is made of "river stones," so we assume that the path is near the river.
The destination is the cabin of the brujo, the mystical healer. Not surprisingly, at least to those of us with children, nursing mothers are found there awake, feeding their babies. The other patients include victims of "fevers" and "broken bones," common sights in any emergency room in the world.
It seems unlikely that a tourist or visiting researcher would visit so late. We can only assume, at this point, that the speaker is in need of healing himself.
Our speaker begins to wait his turn, and he watches the healing rites as he does. First, it is so still that he can perceive the flicker of the candle that illuminates the proceedings, and hear the distant cry of a falcon, and notice a small lizard flick by.
And these sounds, now that he is attuned to them, seem to sing. They, not the voice of the brujo, seem to be the ones singing about the unity of the world's waters: "rainwater, seawater/ River water, holy water." Not that this is water especially blessed to become holy-- but that all this water already is holy.
"Wrap this child in mercy" seems a universal enough prayer of healing. As does "heal her," the fact that Moses prays this for its leprosy-stricken sister Miriam in Exodus notwithstanding ("Please, God, please-- heal her, please.") But then comes a decidedly Western line: "Heaven’s only daughter." This seems incongruous, given the setting, but it may be the speaker, moved by the plight of the sick child and the brujo's caring ministrations, injecting his own prayer, taken from his own understanding of the spiritual.
Whatever symptoms the speaker had that brought him to the "brujo's door" were mild enough to allow the trip. Now that he is there and he is relaxed enough for his adrenaline to subside, they manifest: "My hands were numb/ My feet were lead."
The brujo now waits on our speaker. He gives him a dose of "herbal brew." There is now a noticeable "sweetness in the air"-- possibly some sort of aromatherapy incense lit by the brujo. This "combine[s] with the lightness in my head"-- the potion is taking effect!
The result is a sort of auditory hallucination: "I heard the jungle breathing in the bamboo." The voice of this breath is performed by Brazillian musician Milton Nascimento (more on him below), in a falsetto that recalls that of Rev. Claude Jeter from "Take Me to the Mardi Gras."
The Portuguese is available at Simon's site, but it's short, so here it is:
"Greetings! Excuse me, one moment.
I remind you that, tomorrow, it will be all or it will be nothing. It depends, Heart.
It will be brief or it will be great. It depends on the passion.
It will be dirty, it will be a dream. Be careful, Heart.
It will be useful, it will be late. Do your best, Heart,
And have trust in the power of tomorrow."
Ordinarily, I would say that the "Heart" is one's beloved. But this is a medical situation! I think that the brujo is speaking to his patient's actual heart, which he believes can hear and understand him, after a fashion. In Western terms, this is a role play of sorts, or a visualization. A Western therapist might say to a patient: "Imagine your heart healing" or "Talk to your heart and tell it you want it to heal." Studies show that this can help!
In any case, the herbal medicine and talk therapy are powerful. There is a strong reaction in the patient. He imagines himself in an earthquake, he is shaking so much! Then he realizes that only his bed is "trembling," and no others. This realization seems to indicate that consciousness has been regained... and a corner turned in his illness.
This is symbolized by a spider, evidently disturbed by his spasm to the point at which is was simply hanging on to the bedstead and trying not to be shaken loose, now feeling confident enough to "resume" spinning the web it began earlier. The use of the word "rhythm" can also indicate his own heart, now pumping evenly.
The worst over, the speaker drifts off to sleep, lulled by the night sounds-- the spirit voices-- of the jungle.
Singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento had national acclaim in his native Brazil before he broke internationally on a 1974 album by Wayne Shorter. He has worked with everyone from other jazz cats like Quincy Jones and George Duke to folkies like Simon and Cat Stevens.
In 1993, Nascimento worked with Duran Duran. On his own 1994 release, everyone from jazz's Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock to folk-pop's James Taylor and Peter Gabriel sat in.
Next Song: The Rhythm of the Saints