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 2: The 1930s, 40s & 50s


In my previous post I presented an overview of Brazil’s music history and styles. This article will focus on the music of the first half of the twentieth century.

During this period, Brazil’s Teatro de Revista became a very popular genre, inspired by European operetta. It reached its peak in the 30s and revealed talents like Carmen Miranda, Wilza Carla, Dercy Gonçalves and Elvira Pagan, who had immense success.

Also in the late 1930s, the so-called Radio Era began in Brazil. As the process of recording discs was still primitive with poor quality results, the radio became the preferred circulation channel for new productions. This communication medium played an important role on the diffusion of popular music until well into the 1950s, but it quickly lost space when television became popular. Some performers that conquered the national audience were Dolores Duran, Dalva de Oliveira, Cauby Peixoto, Nora Ney, Emilinha Borba, Marlene, Vicente Celestino and Ângela Maria.

During this period the popularity of samba intensifies, and by the end of the 50’s bossa nova starts making its appearance.

These are 10 representative songs of the 30s – 40s – 50s:


1) Francisco Alves – “Aquarela do Brasil” (1939) 

Known in the English-speaking world simply as “Brazil“, it’s one of the most famous Brazilian songs, written by Ary Barroso. With this song, he created the genre known as samba exaltation for speaking of Brazil’s great qualities. “Aquarela do Brasil” became successful after being included in Walt Disney’s animated film Saludos Amigos. Since then, it has been recorded numerous times throughout the years, and was featured prominently in Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil.

After “Garota de Ipanema”, it is the most recorded Brazilian song in the four corners of the planet. This wonderful original version was performed by Francisco Alves; other great covers are those by Elis Regina and João Gilberto.

 

2) Dorival Caymmi – “O Mar” (1940) 

No other composer of Brazilian music portrayed the sea as well as Dorival Caymmi. Among all his songs this one is certainly one of the greatest classics and has been recorded in other languages by interpreters from all over the world. The vastness of the sea of his native Bahia was Caymmi’s greatest inspiration for this song.

 

3) Carmen Miranda – “Tico-Tico No Fubá” (1947)

Although first presented in 1917, it reached the peak of popularity in the 40s. One of its most successful versions is the one by Ademilde Fonseca in 1942. This is one of the songs that contributed to the internationalization of Brazilian music, mostly since it featured in several American films, such as Copacabana (1947), in which it was eternalized by the iconic fruit-basket head-dressed Carmen Miranda.

 

4) Luiz Gonzaga – “Asa Branca” (1947)

Written by Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira, asa branca (“white wing”) refers to a bird of the parched sertão (the semi-arid region in Northeastern Brazil ). The picazuro pigeon symbolizes peace, longing and exile. But the evocative lyrics of the song speak of the difficult conditions of sertanejo’s life. The bird flaps wings to find a better life and the protagonist of the song does the same. But he promises to his love that someday he will return, when the rain falls again. There are more than 300 versions of this song, but no interpretation beats the one by Gonzaga.

 

5) Waldir Azevedo – “Brasileirinho” (1947)

Waldir Azevedo is one of the most famous cavaquinho players of Brazil. This song, representative of the choro genre, would become a reference for all the instrumentalists of Brazil and was a huge success from the moment it was released.

 

6) Noel Rosa – “Conversa de Botequim ” (1950)

Launched in 1935, this samba perpetuates one of the lightest and most relaxed lyrics of that time. It was written, however, in a tense time – marked by the 1930 Revolution in Brazil and by the crack of the New York Stock Exchange. The most acclaimed versions are by Aracy de Almeida, Chico Buarque and by Noel himself, one of its authors.

 

7) João Gilberto – “Chega de Saudade ” (1958)

This song is often considered to be the first recorded bossa nova song. The music was composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and the lyrics were written by Vinícius de MoraesJoão Gilberto‘s version is the most famous, although the original one was recorded one year later.

The title can be translated roughly as “enough longing,” though the Portuguese word saudade carries a far more complex meaning. The word implies an intensity of heartfelt connection that is yearned for passionately. Chega means no moreenough.

 

8) João Gilberto – “Desafinado” (1958)

There are countless recordings of this classic bossa nova song, but this one arguably surpasses all the others. Composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim, it was released in João Gilberto‘s seminal album Chega de Saudade. Its strange melody, its deliberate debauchery and the incomparable guitar sound had never been heard before. Although  Brazil had already exported some songs before this one, nothing compared to the impact that “Desafinado” had when it was recorded in 1962 by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd for the album Jazz Samba. It was the music that definitively put bossa nova in the international scene and took Brazilian music to an era of modernity.

“Desafinado” means “out of tune” and was a response to critics who claimed that bossa nova was a new genre for singers who can’t sing.

 

9) Dolores Duran – “A Noite do Meu Bem” (1959)

This samba-canção is the most famous song of carioca Dolores Duran and the one that best defines her particular style. A successful singer in a country that, at that time, had no tradition of women composers, Dolores gained more popularity after her death at age 29, one month after releasing this song.

 

10) Luiz Bonfá – “Manhã De Carnaval ” (1959)

The most notorious composition of carioca violinist Luis Bonfá was used in the soundtrack of the film Orfeu do Carnaval (Black Orpheus) directed by Marcel Camus. The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1960,  after which this beautiful song conquered the entire world.

 

Coming soon:

  • The 1960s
  • The 1970s
  • The 1980s 
  • The 1990s
  • The 2000s – 2010s