Music is one of the most powerful cultural expressions of a nation, a sort of thermometer which reflects the history and mood of the people at a certain time, whether they feel happy, troubled, or oppressed.
And this is certainly true for Brazil: throughout the years music has been drawing the face of the country, mirroring Brazilians’ joy, uncertainties and longings…
Whoever has been in Brazil has most likely realized that music is deeply rooted into Brazilians’ DNA. Music is everywhere, accompanying every single mundane activity: Brazilians have fun with music, travel with music, prepare feijoada with music. And they dance… When I first visited Brazil I was amazed to see that just by hearing samba in the street, everybody -kids and grown-ups alike- would start dancing, as something natural, without inhibitions of any kind…
I love Brazil, its beautiful nature, its people, culture and music… Thus, I decided to pay a tribute to Brazil’s music by choosing 100 among the most representative songs of all times… I believe that after listening to all these songs you will realize -like I did- how timeless Brazil’s music is…
This introductory post will help you understand Brazilian music history and styles. More posts will follow presenting 100 iconic Brazilian songs in chronological order.
I hope you enjoy it!
Música do Brasil – Overview
Until the 19th century, Portugal (and Europe for that matter) is the main gateway to most rhythms that would built Brazilian music, both erudite and popular. With the passage of time, African melodic and rhythmic elements begin to exert increasing influence on popular music, which would thus acquire the characteristic Brazilian sound that consolidates in the twentieth century, mainly through the diffusion of the genres lundu, frevo, choro and samba (see below). The indigenous practically left no trace in mainstream music, except in some regional folkloric genres.
In the twentieth century there is an extraordinary flowering of Brazil’s music. It is the period when national music gains autonomy and identity, although it never ceases – rather increases – the blend with new foreign rhythms. The fundamental work of Heitor Villa Lobos is the first great landmark of erudite Brazilian music, later developed by many other composers. During the same period, popular music gains the respect of elites and consolidates genres that would become trademarks of Brazil, such as samba and bossa nova. Regional folk genres such as musica sertaneja, baião and forró also gain popularity and are heard throughout the entire country.
Brazilian music styles
The First Music Styles
- Lundu: brought by African slaves, it is one of the genres that would later compose samba.
- Frevo: included on UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage, it is the traditional music of Pernambuco’s Carnival. Its trademark is the colorful umbrellas, which would “hide” the forbidden at that time capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial art and dancing).
- Choro: (means “cry”) a music gender originated in Rio de Janeiro. It is considered the first characteristic rhythm of Brazilian popular music, and is still very popular nowadays. In spite of its name, it usually has a fast, happy rhythm. Representative artists: Waldir Acevedo, Dominguinhos, Joaquim Callado, Pixinguinha and Luis Gonzaga (the later represents a regional form of choro called baiāo).
- Maxixe: it is a mix of lundu with Argentinian tango, Cuban habanera and polca. It was considered so scandalous that caught international attention and travelled to Europe, together with tango. Maxixe contributed, together with lundu, to the origins of samba.
Contemporary Brazilian Music
These musical styles are Brazil’s trademark and are all listened nowadays.
A music style that originated in Brazil’s countryside in the 1920s. It is the most popular music genre in Brazil, particularly throughout the southern/ southeastern and center/ western countryside. Sertanejo has seen a revival in the 90’s, regularly topping Brazilian music charts and earning a specific category at the Latin Grammy Awards. Representative artists: Sergio Reis, Chitãozinho & Xororó and Michel Teló.
When in 1945 the northeast musician Luiz Gonzaga recorded Dança Mariquinha, the genre forró was launched – a rhythm and type of dance typical of the Northeast of Brazil. Given the vagueness of the term, there is no consensus on the definition of forró as a musical style, the name being usually used as a generalization of various musical rhythms of Northeast region. Famous artists include Luiz Gonzaga, Wesley Safadão, and Solange Almeida.
The year 1916 is considered the official birth of samba, a mix of maxixe with Bahia folklore rhythms. Samba rapidly spread throughout Brazil dominating not only its iconic carnival, but also the whole world. Samba is the most famous Brazilian musical style, and has many other sub genres:
- Samba-canção: Appears in the 1920s, with slow rhythms and sentimental lyrics. Example: Ai Ioiô by Luís Peixoto.
- Carnival Samba: composed by samba marches – known as marchinhas – and made to be danced and sung in carnival events. Examples: Abre alas, Cabeleira do Zezé, among others.
- Samba-exaltação: With patriotic lyrics highlighting the wonders of Brazil, with orchestral accompaniment. Example: Aquarela do Brasil (see here).
- Samba de breque: (literally brake samba) This style has moments of quick stops, where the singer includes comments, usually with critical or humorous tone. One of the masters of this style is Moreira da Silva.
- Samba de gafieira: It was created in 1940 and has orchestral accompaniment. Fast and strong in the instrumental part, it is widely used in ballroom dancing. K-Ximbinho is a famous artist of this genre.
- Sambalanço: Emerging in the 50s in nightclubs in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, it received a strong influence from jazz. One of the most significant representatives of Sambalanço is Jorge Ben Jor, which mixes elements of other genres too. This style would set the grounds for bossa nova.
- Pagode: Born in Rio de Janeiro in the 70s, it has a repetitive rhythm and uses percussion instruments and electronic sounds. It spread rapidly throughout Brazil and conquered radios and dance floors in the next decade thanks to its simple and romantic lyrics. Representative artists are Fundo de Quintal, Negritude Jr., Só para contrariar, Raça Negra and Zeca Pagodinho.
Bossa nova is a Brazilian popular music movement of the late 50s initiated by João Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and other young singers and/or songwriters from Rio de Janeiro. The style was derived from samba, with a strong jazz influence. Initially, the term bossa nova (“new wave”) was used only to describe a new way of singing and playing samba.
The ground zero of bossa nova is the song Chega de Saudade (see here). Bossa nova gave a more sophisticated touch to the samba genre; over the years, it would become one of the most influential movements in the history of Brazilian music, and the song Girl from Ipanema would be its anthem.
This style went through many transformations that resulted in a new generation of composers; new artists appeared in the music scenario who were collectively named Sons of bossa nova. Artists such as Geraldo Vandré and Chico Buarque are among the Sons of bossa nova, although their style has little or nothing to do with bossa nova (see MPB).
Originated by the end of the 60s after bossa nova, Tropicália was the next musical movement and came at a time when Brazil was undergoing political upheaval due to a strict military dictatorship. The rebellious lyrics of Tropicalia songs bothered the government, who decided to exile the most influential Tropicália artists, such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
Música Popular Brasileira (MPB)
Appreciated mainly by Brazil’s urban middle classes, Brazilian popular music – known as MPB – emerged in the 1960s with the Sons of Bossa Nova. MPB was the merge of two previously divergent musical movements: bossa nova (representing musical sophistication) and folk music (which defended Brazil’s music roots). As a result of the 1964 dictatorship, the two movements became a broad cultural front against the military regime; this new genre presented at first a distinct nationalistic profile, but with time it comprised more diverse trends of Brazilian music.
MPB also includes other mixtures of rhythms such as samba and rock – giving rise to a new style known as samba-rock – or pop and samba, with famous artists like Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque. By the end of the 1990s the mixture of Latin music together with reggae and samba gave space to a new genre known as samba-reggae.
Even though extensive, MPB should not be confused as comprising all music of Brazil; it is rather a specific music style.
Although extremely successful, this genre is the target of strong criticism as performers use obscene and vulgar language, many times inciting to violence and drug consumption. See here for some of the most known funk artists.
Axé emerged in Bahia in the 80s during the Carnival of Salvador. It mixes frevo rhythms, reggae, merengue, forró, maracatu and other african-latino rhythms. The song Fricote by Luiz Caldas, is usually regarded as the starting point of this style.
The word “axé” is a religious greeting which means positive energy, used in Candomblé and Umbanda – religions with African origins which are commonly practiced in Bahia. It quickly spread throughout the country and still enjoyes great commercial success; its biggest names are Daniela Mercury, Ivete Sangalo, Claudia Leitte, Timbalada, among others.
https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Música_do_Brasil (in Portuguese)
- The 1960s
- The 1970s
- The 1980s
- The 1990s
- The 2000’s