100 ESSENTIAL BRAZILIAN SONGS YOU MUST HEAR Part 6: The 1990s

If there is one word can define the 1990s, that is globalization. With Brazil’s growing openness to the globalized nineties’ culture, greatest influence of foreign musical trends was unavoidable. The youth of that period would increasingly enjoy dancing -in night clubs- to the new electronic rhythms, such as techno, trance and house.

On the other hand, Brazilians revalorized their own historical roots. The great originality and variety of the nation’s music is observed in the creative fusion of diverse influences such as samba, sertaneja, Brazilian rock, samba-reggae, baião, forró, lambada, axé, electronic music, among many others.

Globalization also made easy for Brazilian music to gain worldwide recognition. After pioneers like Carmen Miranda, many other names gave Brazilian popular music international publicity during that decade.

In the 90s, other styles like funk carioca and hip hop became popular among young people of the country’s Southeast, whereas the brega style “resisted” and was renewed, remaining popular especially in the North and Northeast regions.

These are the songs I chose from this period:

74) João Gilberto – “Eu Sambo Mesmo ” (1991) 

One of bossa nova’s fathers, João Gilberto is a consummated artist since the fifties, with enormous international recognition since then.

His 1991 album João, with orchestrations by Clare Fischer, featured songs in English, French, Italian, and Spanish, plus old sambas and his version of Caetano Veloso’s “Sampa”. This song (“I Really Samba”) is the opening track of this wonderful album.

 

75) Sergio Mendes – “Magalenha” (1992) 

Sergio Mendes doesn’t need much introduction. Superstar from the 60’s, with a prolific career and enormous international success, he is “indelibly identified with the pop side of the bossa nova boom”.

“Magalenha” was composed by musician Carlinhos Brown and is the second track of Sergio Mendes studio album Brasileiro. The energetic vocals by Carlinhos and the explosive rhythm of the Bahian percussionists are just electrifying … I dare you not to dance when you listen to it!

“Magalenha” appears in the soundtrack of the 1998 film Dance with Me .

 

76) Daniela Mercury – “O Canto da Cidade(1992) 

“The Queen of Axé” Daniela Mercury is well known for popularizing axé music, not only throughout Brazil, but also internationally. As a matter of fact, she enjoys a goddess-like worship in Salvador da Bahia.

Her second album, O Canto da Cidade (1993) was a national phenomenon, establishing her as the most popular Brazilian performer of the early ’90s. The title track of this album (“The tune of the city”), a celebration of her native Salvador, became a sensation and topped the charts. Not only was O Canto da Cidade the first Brazilian album to top a million in sales, but it remains her best-selling album to date, with millions of copies sold -and it continues to sell today.

 

77) Timbalada- “Beija Flor” (1993)

In the late 1980s the talented drummer Carlinhos Brown started to form percussion ensembles in his hometown Salvador; he simply gathered people in the streets and taught them basic percussion patterns. Eventually these gatherings grew into a band called Timbalada.  Timbalada is credited with the revival of the timbal (a kind of drum used in candomblé), which had been nearly extinct before they began featuring it. Moreover, the band melted the rhythms of Bahia with those of Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean origin, such as samba reggae and axé and added some pop elements; the result is an interesting, extremely prototype sound. The band’s aesthetics also has a distinctive character: the vocalists make heavy use of body painting, which provides a tribal touch and adds to their originality. Timbalada is also well known for its regular participation in Salvador de Bahia’s Carnival.

Due to their innovative music and particular aesthetics, it didn’t take long until the band caught the attention of Brazilians -and the entire world, gaining deserved, huge popularity. Their first album, released in 1993, has one of their major hits, Beija-flor (“Hummingbird”).

 

78) Ivan Lins – “Madalena” (1993)

Songwriter, vocalist, and pianist, Ivan Lins came to fame in Brazil in 1970 when Elis Regina recorded his song “Madalena” and made it a hit. He has been an active performer and songwriter of Brazilian popular music and jazz since then, with numerous of his compostions recorded by remarkable Brazilian and foreign and artists, such as George BensonMichael Bublé,  Ella FitzgeraldQuincy Jones, Sarah VaughanSting and Barbra Streisand.

He did release his own version of “Madalena” in his 1993 Minha História; in here though I include this marvellous, live version with Elis Regina, featured in the album Elis Regina e Ivan Lins – Juntos (Ao Vivo).

 

79) Chico Science & Nação Zumbi – “Da Lama Ao Caos” (1994)

From the mud flats of his natal Recife, Chico Science began to experiment with music, blending maracatu with reggae, funk, rap, and rock. The mixture of ancient folkloric Northeastern rhythms with world pop and electronic music would become referred as mangue beat (“mud beat”). Mangue beat eventually grew into a musical movement, one of the most characteristics of Brazil’s musical scene of the 90s.

After being recognized in his region, Chico Science joined Nação Zumbi; their first collaborative album, Da Lama Ao Caos, was released in 1994, from which the eponymous track was a major hit.

 

80) Mamonas Assassinas – “Pelados em Santos” (1995)

Characterized as a satirical rock band, Mamonas Assassinas‘s sound consisted of a mixture of pop rock with influences of popular genres such as sertanejo, brega, pagode, forró, and vira. The only studio album recorded by the band, Mamonas Assassinas, with the hits Pelados em Santos“, “Vira-Vira” and “Robocop Gay” had a meteoric success, rapidly becoming diamond-certified.

Unfortunately, their career was tragically interrupted in March 2, 1996, when the group was the victim of a plane crash which caused the death of all its members, and a great national commotion. In spite of their brief success, the band continues influencing the national musical scene and being celebrated even now, more than two decades after its end.

 

81) Carlinhos Brown – “A Namorada” (1996)

Not only a talented percussionist, Carlinhos Brown is also a greatly praised composer and vocalist. After his success with Timbalada (see above), he decided to display all his musical virtues in his solo album Alfagamabetizado. For the album’s release, Carlinhos Brown performed many shows throughout Brazil, The United Status, Japan and Europe. The track “A Namorada” was the biggest success, even being included on the soundtrack of the film Speed 2, where he also made a cameo appearance performing the song.

 

82) Skank- “Garota Nacional” (1996)

Belo Horizonte band Skank became one of the most popular bands in Brazil in the ’90s. Mixing influences of pop music, reggae, ska and rock & roll, Skank reached the market with their first eponymous album. Their 1996 album O Samba Poconé includes one of their greatest hits, Garota Nacional. Although “Garota Nacional” literally translates to “national girl”, the song is not about the women of Brazil, as usually believed: it refers to the “girls of Bar Nacional”, a bar and nightclub in Belo Horizonte famous in the early 1990s for its beautiful female patrons.

83) Simone and Martinho da Vila – “Ex-Amor” (1996)

One of the greatest Brazilian female artists of all time, Simone is a sensuous singer with a signature low, mellow voice. Although having a more activist repertory in her beginnings, she later abandoned it in favor of more mainstream, romantic songs, with which she has enjoyed international success.

In this song she unites her voice with that of another iconic MPB and samba singer/composer: Martinho da Vila.

 

84) Chitãozinho e Xororó – “Luar Do Sertão” (1996)

With a 30 year-career, 30 released albums and the impressive 30,000,000 sold copies, Chitãozinho e Xororó are a real phenomenon in Brazil. The two singers were the first artists to successfully promote the fusion of “redneck music” (caipira) with urban pop, opening the field for a millionaire craze which would become known as sertanejo romântico, a genre that ultimately took all regions of Brazil -and many other countries. Indeed, Chitãozinho e Xororó have performed with artists such as Billy Ray Cyrus, Reba McEntire and the Bee Gees.

This song, Luar do Sertão (Hinterlands Moonlight in English) is a popular, old Brazilian song, one of the most recorded Brazilian songs of all time. Its simple verses praise the life in sertão (English: hinterlands or countryside). It appears in their album Classicos Sertanejos and counts with the participation of Simone.

 

85) Quarteto Jobim Morelenbaum – “A Felicidade” (1999)

A felicidade (“Happiness”) was composed in 1958 by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes for the film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus). The theme of this mesmerizing bossa nova song is the fragility of happiness: “Tristeza não tem fim. Felicidade sim” (“Sadness has no ending. Happiness does”).

“A felicidade” has had many re-recordings throughout the years; I love this one by the Quarteto Jobim-Morelenbaum, which features Antonio Carlos Jobim’s son, guitarist/vocalist Paulo Jobim, and his grandson, pianist/vocalist Daniel Jobim, along with cellist Jacques Morelenbaum and his wife, vocalist Paula Morelenbaum. With the exception of Daniel, all of the group’s members were members of Jobim’s final band before his death in 1994.

 

86) Ney Matogrosso – “Poema” (1999)

Famous for his singular countertenor voice, but mostly for his provocative stage costumes, make-up and daring movements, Ney Matogrosso has always been regarded as a controversial character. What nobody can deny is that Ney is an extremely talented artist. In fact, he was ranked by Rolling Stone as the third greatest Brazilian singer of all time.

He is best known as a member of the glam rock group Secos & Molhados, a phenomenon band during the 1970s. After the band split up, Ney pursued a successful solo career in Brazil and abroad, obtaining several Gold and Platinum records.

This song (“Poem”) belongs was released in Olhos de Farol, an album that celebrated 25 years of Ney’s solo career.

 

Coming soon:

  • The 2000s – 2010s

 

100 ESSENTIAL BRAZILIAN SONGS YOU MUST HEAR Part 3: The 1960s

As the bossa nova movement evolves in the early 1960s, Brazil’s original aestheticism gives way to the introduction of political themes. The politicization of popular music would take shape under Brazil’s military dictatorship of 1964 leading to the so-called “protest song“, of which one of the most emblematic is Caminhando (“Walking”) by Geraldo Vandré. It is the time of great musical festivals, when a “university” generation of composers and singers appeared. Artists such as Chico Buarque and Edu Lobo would be idolized by intellectuals and were instrumental in the creation of Música Popular Brasileira (Brazilian Popular Music) or MPB, a movement initially linked to political engagement against dictatorship.

The Tropicália movement was also a form of protest song that appeared during the same period; it was characterized by the eclectic blend of pop culture elements -such as rock- with the elite culture -the modernist and concretist schools of visual arts- having a more erudite and experimental character. The Bahians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were the main exponents of this movement.

The Iê-iê-iê style (Brazil’s rock’n’roll of the 60s, the equivalent of France’s yé-yé) was “softer” in Brazil than in the USA or UK, adopting a more romantic style. This movement came to be known as Jovem Guarda (Young Guard) and had huge commercial success. Its more representative artists were Roberto Carlos, Erasmo Carlos, Tim Maia and Wanderléa, among others.

These are some of the greatest songs of this period:


11) João Gilberto – “Corcovado” (1960) 

Corcovado” was written by Antônio Carlos Jobim in 1960 and refers to Rio de Janeiro’s iconic  Corcovado mountain. An English version was later released with the title “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars“.

This song was included in the album Brazil’s Brilliant João Gilberto, which was released in the United States in 1960. It was the record that introduced João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and bossa nova to the American audience, before Stan Getz scored a hit with “Desafinado”.

 

12) Carlos Lyra – “Minha Enamorada” (1960) 

This song (“My beloved”) is the most successful fruit of Carlos Lyra’s partnership with “El poetinha” Vinicius de Moraes.

“Minha Namorada” was released during the bossa nova boom, but in terms of rhythm and melody it does not have much to do with it. It is a romantic, tender and sincere ballad; Lyra and Vinicius wrote other emblematic songs, but few were as perennial as this one.

 

13) Maysa – “O Barquinho” (1961) 

One of Brazil’s most charismatic divas, known as “the Janis Joplin of Bossa Nova” due to her tumultuous personal life, Maysa would become influential for a whole generation of Brazilian artists.

This song (the title means “Little boat”) was reportedly composed by Roberto Menescal and Ronaldo Bôscoli while being with friends on a boat; suddenly the engine broke down, and the sound of the motor when they were trying to restart the boat made the tune for “O Barquinho”. It was re-recorded many times, but this is one of the most successful and beautiful versions.

 

14) João Gilberto and Stan Getz – “So Danço Samba” (1962)

“Só Danço Samba” was composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes; it was suggested that the song was part of a failed movement to invent a bossa nova dance.

Só Danço Samba became in instant classic with hundreds recordings over the decades. With English lyrics provided by Norman Gimbel, it gained immediate international popularity under the titles Jazz Samba, Jazz ‘n’ Samba or occasionally I Only Dance Samba (literal translation of the original Portuguese title).

 

15) Antônio Carlos Jobim – “Água De Beber” (1963)

“Drinking-Water” was composed by Brazil’s towering figure of bossa nova and one of the great songwriters of the century Antônio Carlos Jobim, with lyrics by another fundamental figure in Brazilian music, the co-father of bossa nova, Vinicius de Moraes.

This was reportedly the first song composed in the new Brazil capital, Brasilia, while it was still being constructed. It has had many re-recordings; some great versions are those by Astrud Gilberto, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

 

16) Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto and Stan Getz – “The Girl from Ipanema” (1964)

This is arguably Brazil’s most iconic song; the sound of an era in which bossa nova was the lingua franca of the country and this song its anthem.

Summer 1962, Rio de Janeiro. The story goes that Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes were sitting at a bar near Ipanema Beach in Rio, when they saw the most beautiful woman walking by, and they immediately wrote this song down on a bar napkin! (not quite exactly the truth, though, read more here). The original version, Garota de Ipanema was released in 1962. Nevertheless, while an Ipanema girl named Heloísa inspired the song, it was another Carioca who made it famous worldwide.

Astrud Gilberto was the wife of singing star João Gilberto, when she entered a New York studio in March 1963. João and Jobim were making a record of the song with tenor saxman Stan Getz. The idea of a verse in English came up, and Astrud was the only one of the Brazilians who spoke English. The song with the name “The Girl from Ipanema” was released and it rapidly became a huge worldwide hit. Indeed, it is the second most re-recorded song in history after The Beatles’ “Yesterday”.

 

17) Demônios da Garoa – “Trem das onze” (1964)

This song (English: “The 11 P.M. Train”) was composed by São Paulo singer and composer Adoniran Barbosa; it portrays, in a tragicomical way, the drama of a lover who lives in a distant suburb of São Paulo, and who cannot stay longer with his beloved woman because the last train will be departing soon, at 11 p.m, and his mother won’t sleep until he gets home. “Trem das Onze” is an example of both samba paulista  (samba developed in São Paulo) and samba-de-breque (here).

It was released in 1964 and made famous that same year by the samba group Demônios da Garoa. It is one of the best known Brazilian popular songs and considered of the most representative cultural symbols of the city of São Paulo.

 

18) Moacir Santos – “Nanã – Coisa Número 5” (1965)

“Coisas” (“Things”) is the debut album by composer, maestro and multi-instrumentalist Moacir Santos. It was released in 1965; the ten tracks of the album were named as “Things” – numbered from 1 to 10. The LP was chosen by the Brazilian Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the 100 best Brazilian records of all time.

 

19) Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 – “Mas que nada ” (1966)

If you want to hear good, uplifting samba, this is the song! Mas que nada (the English translation would be “come on” or “yeah! Right”) was the first hit of an artist who would became a real school within Brazil’s popular music, Jorge Ben (later, Jorge Ben Jor). It was an impressive hit in 1963, and the beginning of Jorge Ben’s career.

But I have to say I love this version by another great artist, Sergio Mendes. With this song he managed to go beyond Brazil’s borders in 1966, and then again in 2006 when he re-recorded with The Black Eyed Peas

 

20) Walter Wanderley Trio – “Samba de Verão” (1966)

“Summer Samba” (also known as “So Nice”) was first popularized by Walter Wanderley Trio in 1966 — the album Rain Forest on which it was issued reached platinum status in 1970. The song became an instant success, with radio stations playing it constantly. Also in 1966 the trio accompanied Astrud Gilberto on her A Certain Smile, a Certain Sadness album, which features a beautiful, sung version of this song.

Although immortalized as an “easy listening” or “lounge music” artist, Wanderley music was at that time innovative and revolutionary. The percussive rhythms reminiscent of a Brazilian black tradition were not dear to many Brazilians; in fact most of his successful career took place in the United States.

 

21) Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes – “Canto de Ossanha” (1967)

In candomblé (an Afro-American religious tradition), there is no ceremony without the presence of Ossanha,  the entity that holds the magic force – the axé – necessary in every ritual. Perhaps this is the reason why “Canto de Ossanha” is the opening track of Os Afro-Sambas, the third album emerged from the partnership between the music of Baden Powell and the lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes.

This syncretism of Brazil with Africa via Bahia, now so natural, was not taken for granted in the 60s. “Canto de Ossanha” helped the sound of Afro-Brazilian religions, systematically persecuted until two decades before, become an inextricable part of Brazil’s music and culture.

A great cover of this song was released in 2006 by Jurassic 5.

 

22) Caetano Veloso – “Alegria, Alegria” (1967)

“Happiness, Happiness” is a song written and performed by Caetano Veloso. Often referred to as “the Brazilian anthem of 1967”, it later appeared on his influential eponymous 1968 album.

This was the song that introduced the Tropicália movement to Brazil. The ideal exposed by the song lyrics was first presented at a memorable live performance in 1967, reinforced by the Argentine group Beat Boys, who added visual aesthetics. It was a hit at the time, and was often sung during public manifestations in favor of impeachment.

 

23) Wilson Simonal – “Nem Vem Que Não Tem” (1967)

An emblematic figure of Brazil’s popular music, Wilson Simonal was a singer with great success in the 1960s and 1970s, although he was relatively unknown outside of South America.

This is his biggest international hit (the title would be translated as “Don’t even think about it!”); it was adapted and recorded by French singer Zanini, who made a hit with the song “Tu veux ou tu veux pas”.

 

24) Edú Lobo and Marília Medalha – “Ponteio” (1967)

A singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer, Edú Lobo is one of the driving forces behind the MPB movement. He has worked with the most important Brazilian artists and his songs were covered by big names of international music such as Sarah Vaughan and Earth, Wind & Fire.

This is one of his most famous songs, performed here with Marília Medalha; with this song they were the winners of the  III Festival de Música Popular Brasileira/FMPB in 1967.

 

25) Chico Buarque and Mpb4- “Roda Viva” (1967)

Arguably one of Brazil’s most renowned songwriters and singers, Chico Buarque is an iconoclastic figure in post-bossa nova Brazilian music.  With his distinctive voice, elegant phrasing, and considerable skill at lyric writing, Buarque  became extremely popular in the 1960s –particularly among women, as he was very handsome. However, Buarque resented the role of pop star and chose to be seen as a serious artist.

Roda Viva (“The wheel of life”) is a song that Buarque wrote for the eponymous play; it was a criticism to the obsessive fan culture. During the play, the pop star protagonist was literally torn apart and his flesh consumed by his fans; the performers would also offer the audience pieces of the dead pop star’s flesh to eat (it was chicken meat). Needless to say, the military dictatorship in charge those years did not like the idea of the play and soldiers were sent out to disrupt the performances, destroy sets and assault performers; Chico Buarque himself was briefly jailed.

 

26) Os Mutantes – “Panis Et Circenses” (1968)

Os Mutantes (“The Mutants”) are one of the most talented and influential Brazilian psychedelic rock bands that were linked with the Tropicália movement. Their unique blend of psychedelic rock, bossa nova, tropicália and samba has inspired many contemporary American and European artists, who cite Os Mutantes as a major influence. With many changes from the original line-up featuring Rita LeeArnaldo Baptista and Sérgio Dias, the band has been active since then, with their last album being released in 2013.

The title  of this song means “Bread and Circuses”, and it is an allusion to the classical poet Juvenal, who scorned ancient Romans for their easy and predictable manipulation through bread and circus.  The song, in turn, is a satire of bourgeois conventions. In the lyrics, a first-person poetic voice tries desperately to alarm the family, to snap them out of their mental and physical stagnation; the attempt is futile.  During these early years of military rule in Brazil, when economic liberalization brought quick financial boons to the complaisant and complicit upper middle class, expressions of rejection of these mores were frequent in Brazilian music.

 

27) Caetano Veloso – “Tropicália” (1968)

The opening track of the first tropicalista album by Caetano Veloso, “Alegria, Alegria. It was very popular upon its release in Brazil, and the Brazilian press used the song title “Tropicália” to christen the larger artistic movement it represented “Tropicalismo”, to the disdain of Caetano himself. Later it was re-recorded by Gal Costa and inspired a homonymous song, released by the American Beck, declared lover of the movement.

Although Caetano has expressed displeasure with the album, it often shows up on lists of greatest Brazilian albums, and was inducted into the Latin Grammy Award Hall of Fame in 2001.

 

28) Geraldo Vandré – “Pra não dizer que não falei das flores” (1968)

Also known as “Caminhando” (“Walking”; or “Not to say that I haven’t spoken about the flowers”), it was composed by Geraldo Vandré and was presented at the III International Festival of Song of TV Globo in 1968 where it ranked second (the winner was “Sabiá”). It caused a great controversy at that time because the public, mostly students thirsting for protest songs, booed the jury’s decision and made the explosive “Pra Não Dizer…” a sort of anthem of a generation.

The song was considered by the dictatorship a mockery of the armed forces; public playing of the song was forbidden, all the registers of Vandré’s presentation at the festival were deleted, and Vandré became one of the most hunted persons in the country, forced eventually to flee the country. The song was finally released 11 years later, with the end of dictatorship.

Walking is still used to remember the situation the country was going through at the time and to keep alive the memories of those who were victims of the hard times of dictatorship. It has been re-recorded many times, of which one of the most iconic is the one by Simone; the latter was lately sampled by Reboot and Federico Scavo.

 

29) Gilberto Gil – “Domingo No Parque” (1968)

With this song (“Sunday at the park”) Gilberto Gil got the second place at the 1967 III Festival of Popular Music, accompanied by Os Mutantes; it was later released in the album Gilberto Gil (1968). Gil, together with Caetano Veloso, became the leader of Brazil’s Tropicalia movement. His musical style provided a more universal sound to the music played at that time, mixing electric guitar with traditional Bahian elements, such as the sound of the berimbau. He is undoubtedly one of Brazil’s, and the world’s most celebrated singer/songwriters, with a musical career that has successfully spanned six decades and hits in each one.

 

30) Noriel Vilela – “Dezesseis Toneladas” (1969)

With his signature deep bass voice, Noriel Vilela made a career first as a member of the samba vocal group Cantores de Ebano. His 1969 solo album “Eis o Ôme” is a succession of sambalanço songs with strong afro influence. This was Vilela’s greatest hits, which is a Portuguese version of the American classic “Sixteen Tons” by Ernie Ford and Merle Travis.

The latest years Vilela enjoys a cult revival among fans of sambalanço. In 2014 “Dezesseis Toneladas” was used for a famous beer commercial, and since then it has been re-recorded several times.

 

31) Erasmo Carlos – “Sentado à Beira do Caminho” (1969)

“Sitting at the Edge of the Road” was composed by the legendary duo Roberto Carlos & Erasmo Carlos and released by Erasmo Carlos.

The song describes the despair and hopelessness of a lover waiting for his beloved; it became an instant hit and was adapted in many languages, the most famous version being the Italian by Ornella Vanoni with title “L’appuntamento”. Vanoni’s version was included in the musical score of the film Ocean’s Twelve.

 

YouTube playlist here

 

Coming soon:

  • The 1970s
  • The 1980s 
  • The 1990s
  • The 2000s – 2010s

 

100 ESSENTIAL BRAZILIAN SONGS YOU MUST HEAR Part 1: Overview


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

Brazilian music originated from the fusion of indigenous, European and African elements, the latter brought mainly by Portuguese colonizers and the African slaves.

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


We all know samba and bossa nova, but Brazilian music is extremely rich and diverse. This is a brief summary of Brazil’s most important music genres:

The First Music Styles

These were some of the first styles that appeared in Brazil:

  • 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.

Sertanejo

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.

Forró

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.

Samba 

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

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).

Tropicália

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.

Funk Carioca

Originated in the 80s in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the lyrics ususally describe favela life. In the 2000’s this genre would invade nightclubs, becoming a fashionable style across the country.

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 Music

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.

 

References

https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Música_do_Brasil (in Portuguese)

https://web.archive.org/web/20091101115615/http://www.brazilcarnival.com.br/samba_schools/begining-of-samba-brazil-music-origins-of

http://thebrazilbusiness.com/article/brazilian-music-styles

https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/brazil/articles/10-traditional-brazilian-music-genres-you-need-to-know-about/

http://www.greatbrazilianlmusic.com/genres.htm

See also:

Coming soon:

  • The 1960s
  • The 1970s
  • The 1980s 
  • The 1990s
  • The 2000’s
  • 2010-2016