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.
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.
“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’sCarnival.
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”).
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.
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 sertanejoromântico, 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.
“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.
Brazil’s music transition into the 70s was marked by the consolidation of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira, Brazilian Popular Music) which now incorporates into its repertoire different rhythms, not only from Brazil’s different regions (such as the northeastern baião), but also from foreign countries (like Jamaican reggae). Standout artists of the 70s MPB are, among others, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Gal Costa, Simone, Elis Regina, Rita Lee and Maria Bethânia.
The Jovem Guarda had already made its appearance in the 60s and was still very popular in the beginning of the 70s. Nevertheless, Brazil was under military dictatorship at that time, and the cultural elites accused these artists of being “alienated” from the country’s social and political problems; as a result, the movement soon lost its strength.
Without the presence of the nonchalant Jovem Guarda, a different genre of popular romantic music emerged, which would gain the pejorative epithet “cafona“, then replaced by “brega” (both words meaning “tacky”). Once the name got accepted by its fans, brega music became a trend and won a wide audience. Many artists belong to this genre, although its fame was consolidated by Waldick Soriano. Since the end of the Jovem Guarda, Roberto Carlos also approached a more romantic, brega style; nevertheless, he managed to establish his position as the country’s most popular singer.
The decade of the 70s, together with the 60s, gave some of the most beautiful and timeless songs of Brazil’s cultural legacy. I really had a hard time to choose just a few among the many great songs of this period. This is the list I finally put together:
32) Maria Creuza, Toquinho and Vinicius de Moraes – “Eu sei que vou te amar” (1970)
This incredibly beautiful song (English: “I know I will love you“) was composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes. Although initially recorded by Maysa, it would become a classic when performed live in Buenos Aires by Vinícius de Moraes, together with two iconic artists of Brazil’s music stage of the 70s: Vinicius’s favourite vocalist Maria Creuzaand his long-time partner, singer and guitarist Toquinho. He would later include it on his 1970 album En ‘la Fusa’ con Maria Creuza y Toquinho (also known as “Grabado en Buenos Aires con Maria Creuza y Toquinho”). The amazing melody by Tom Jobim, and Vinicius’ impassioned lyrics on the immortality of love would establish “Eu sei que vou te amar” as one of Brazil’s quintessential songs. Indeed, it was voted the best Brazilian song of all times in a survey organized by Revista Bula.
33) Wilson Simonal – “País Tropical” (1970)
“Tropical Country” was composed by Jorge Ben Jor, but it became a hit when singer Wilson Simonal released it on his 1970 Album, Simonal.
Over the years, the song would be increasingly credited to its author, overshadowing the success of the first version by Simonal. It has also been adapted by many composers and singers like Sergio Mendes, Ivete Sangalo, or even Shakira, but also by Jorge Ben Jor himelf, on his album Tropical in 1976.
34) Paulinho da Viola – “Foi um Rio que Passou em Minha Vida” (1970)
“It was a river that passed in my life” is the song that gives the name to the second album of carioca sambista (samba composer) Paulinho da Viola.
35) Vinicius de Moraes and Toquinho – “Tarde em Itapoã ” (1970)
This is another fruit of Toquinho’s long partnership with Vinicius de Moraes, which would last until Vinicius death in 1980. Composer and performer with 50 years of sucessful career, Toquinho has to date 84 records released, over 450 compositions and about 8,500 shows in Brazil and abroad.
This song (“Afternoon in Itapoã”) immortalizes Itapuã as a serene, romantic and exuberant place, located 20 km from the center of Salvador de Bahia. Unfortunately, spending an afternoon in Itapuã is no longer the quiet program Vinícius and Toquinho described: the neighborhood became Salvador’s noisiest and one of the most polluted.
36) Chico Buarque – “Construção” (1971)
Brazil in the early 1970s was a land of paradoxes: under military government, the so-called “Brazilian Miracle” promised record economic growth; as a result, construction was booming. Workers though, would spend endless hours at the constructions and earned very little.
This was also a period when censorship hampered artistic freedom of expression. Fearing persecution, Chico Buarque spent a brief period of exile in Italy; but longing his beloved Brazil, he returned determined to show his disagreement with the situation. And he managed to create a masterpiece.
“Construction” is the chronicle of the life and death of a construction worker. The character of the song leaves the house, kisses his wife and children and goes to work. There he works “as if he were a machine”. Finally, he falls from the scaffolding in the middle of the street “like a package, disrupting the traffic”.
The lyrics are truly brilliant, written in dodecasyllable verses with each sentence ending with a proparoxytone word (that is, stressed on the antepenultimate syllable). The stanzas are repeated three times, with some keywords being changed position; these changes make the understanding of the lyrics ambiguous as it is not clear whether the worker dies as a result of the bad working conditions or he commits suicide, desperate in the face of his scant life prospect.
“Construction” would not be so overwhelming without the symphonic, imposing arrangement conceived by Rogério Duprat, who uses the orchestra as a sinister component, emulating the chaotic noises of the metropolis, its horns and buildings under construction.
The song is a strong critic of workers’ alienation in a modern, urban capitalist society; it is still a reference song to understand a thorny period of Brazil’s history. Deservedly, “Construção” was selected by Rolling Stone magazine as the greatest Brazilian song of all times.
37) Maria Creuza – “Você Abusou ” (1971)
The BaianosAntônio Carlos and Jocáfi composed and first sung this beautiful song (“You abused”), which was successful with the sultry voice of Maria Creuza -who later married Antônio Carlos.
It became an international hit, particularly in France, where it was later adapted by Michel Fugain with the name “Fais comme l’oiseau”; other famous versions are those by Celia Cruz and Stevie Wonder.
38) Nara Leão – “Insensatez” (1971)
“How foolish” is a bossa nova song composed by Antônio Carlos Jobim, with lyrics by Vinícius de Moraes. The song resembles Chopin’s prelude in E minor.
Latin pop superstar Roberto Carlos is a major figure in Brazil – and worldwide: his popularity as romantic ballad singer is perhaps rivalled only by Julio Iglesias.
During the 60s he initiated a major revolution; in a period when the Beatles were taking over the world, Carlos became their Brazilian counterpart as the leader of the Jovem Guarda. Initially a TV show, this “Young Guard” soon became not only a musical style, but also a behavioral, fashion and language influence to an entire generation. With his light music and simple lyrics, he was a deep contrast to “serious”, “somber” MPB. Managing to pursue a successful career throughout the years, Roberto Carlos is arguably the most successful romantic artist in Brazil, gaining the title of “The King”.
Together with his longtime partner Erasmo Carlos, he composed this timeless ballad whose lyrics are, according to Rolling Stone Brazil: “…among the most beautiful in the history of music, in any of the five continents”.
40) Gal Costa – “Vapor Barato” (1971)
Arguably one of Brazil’s most amazing voices, a representative figure of the Tropicália movement, an indisputable timeless icon. Gal Costa is a star that keeps shining for over 5 decades.
Back in the 70s, things were not easy for Gal. While all her friends had gone away, exiled by the dictatorship, she decided to stay in Brazil, as part of the “resistance”. And she managed to become the muse of Tropicália with the show Gal a Todo Vapor. Directed by Wally Solomon, the show was recorded in her outstanding double album Fa-Tal.
“Vapor Barato”, included in Fa-Tal is about the disenchantment of the post-1968 years, of course expressed in a very poetical, metaphorical way so as to remain under the radar of censorship. Although now considered a timeless song, it had been almost forgotten until filmmaker Walter Salles “rescued” it by including it in the soundtrack of the film Terra Estrangeira (Foreign land).
41) Jorge Ben – “Filho Maravilha” (1972)
Brazilians’ passion for football (soccer) is not a secret; therefore, a song devoted to a football player comes to no surprise. “Filho Maravilha” is a song written by one of the most important Brazilian artists, singer and songwriter Jorge Ben (later renamed Jorge Ben Jor), and refers to Brazilian football player João Batista de Sales, better known as “Fio Maravilha”.
Always innovative and open-minded, Jorge Ben has been a member of most of the important movements of 20th Brazilian popular music. He is the author of two of the most legendary samba songs: “Mas Que Nada” and “País Tropical“.
42) Sérgio Sampaio – “Eu Quero é Botar Meu Bloco na Rua” (1972)
Sérgio Sampaio was not a mainstream artist. His elaborate lyrics, often with literary references (he was an admirer of Franz Kafka) did not enjoy much commercial success. Nevertheless, his enormous talent and his irreverent manners were invariably praised by critics and a selected public.
He did have one big hit, “Eu Quero é Botar Meu Bloco na Rua” (I want to throw my troops on the streets), a song that refers, as many songs of that period, to the military dictatorship and Sampaio’s wish that everybody goes out and express anything they had keep to themselves.
43) Milton Nascimento – “San Vicente” (1972)
Milton Nascimento is one of Brazil’s most talented and influential artists, with a sublime tenor voice “that often slips into an ethereal falsetto, (…) as that of an angel”, the New York Times once wrote.
San Vicente is one of his greatest classics; it has become an anthem, both in Brazil and other Latin America countries. Recorded in 1972 in the double collective album Clube da Esquina, it is, without any doubt, one of the most beautiful songs of the Brazilian popular songbook. Milton has interpreted it with many other artists, of which those with the remarkable Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos and the Argentinian iconic singer Mercedes Sosa are just marvellous.
This song was part of his masterful 1973 album “Fingers”, and was composed together with Uruguayan artist Hugo Fattoruso. What Airto probably never imagined was that “Tombo In 7/4” would become a huge mainstream success, until German group Bellini sampled it in 1997 to create the super hit “Samba de Janeiro”.
This song belongs to their third record, Novos Baianos F. C.; it displays the enormous talent of the band, particularly through the voice and violão (acoustic guitar) of Moraes Moreira, and the electric guitar of virtuoso Pepeu Gomes.
46) Raul Seixas – “Metamorfose Ambulante” (1973)
Raul Seixas is without any doubt one of Brazil’s fundamental rock musicians. In spite of his premature death at 44 years old in 1989, “Raulzito” –his nickname- remains a strong influence to popular music and a timeless idol for Brazilian people.
His expressive and existentialist discography was heavily marked by his collaboration with the outstanding novelist Paulo Coelho. From his numerous hits I find this song (“Walking metamorphosis”) is one of the most beautiful; it was released in his acclaimed debut album Krig-ha, Bandolo!
47) Fagner – “Canteiros” (1973)
Raimundo Fagner (or just Fagner) is a singer, composer, musician, actor and music producer. He has managed to remain highly successful from the beginning of his career in the 70s till nowadays, not only in Brazil, but also abroad -particularly in Spanish-speaking countries.
During his long career he has recorded in several countries and collaborated with many international artists, leading to the release of -so far- 35 albums (the last one in 2014). This song belongs to his debut album, Manera Fru Fru, Manera.
48) Nelson Cavaquinho – “A Flor e o Espinho” (1973)
Nelson Cavaquinho is -together with Cartola- the most talented and prolific samba composer: he left 600 compositions that have been recorded by some of the greatest interpreters of Brazilian music.
Cavaquinho composed the tune for this beautiful samba and Guilherme de Brito wrote the lyrics, which are among the most heartbreaking of Brazilian music: “Get your smile out of the way, ‘cause I want to go by with my pain”. Its tone is typical of the pair, usually pessimistic about love and life.
49) Secos & Molhados – “Rosa de Hiroshima” (1973)
Formed in 1971 by Ney Matogrosso, Gerson Conrad and João Ricardo, Secos & Molhados is one of few bands who led Brazil from bossa nova through Tropicália and then to Brazilian rock. Much of the group’s success, apart from their masterful first eponymous album (one of the biggest selling phenomena of the 1970s), was their extravagant stage presence, with heavy use of makeup and dramatic elements, and of course Ney’s signature counter-tenor voice.
“Rosa de Hiroshima” was originally a poem by Vinicius de Moraes. Its very powerful lyrics are a criticism to war; the poetic tone managed to fool censorship and became a huge success during the seventies.
50) Os Originais do Samba – “Saudosa Maloca” (1973)
Appreciated for their particular blend of traditional samba and humor, Os Originais do Samba became a commercial success, achieving three gold records during their long-lasting career. Their fame in Brazil extended abroad: they were the first samba group to perform and record at the Olympia in Paris; they also performed in the USA.
This song (“Nostalgic Shed”) belongs to the great paulista composer Adoniran Barbosa; it has been performed by many artists including Adoniran himself, but this version by Os Originais do Samba is my favourite.
51) Benito De Paula – “Meu Amigo Charlie Brown” (1974)
With his fancy dressing and emotional interpretations, Benito di Paula became the father of a new samba style, which would be known as sambão-jóia, a romantic and commercial genre precursor of contemporary pagode romântico.
52) Elis Regina and Tom Jobim – “Águas de Março” (1974)
“A a stick, a stone, it’s the end of the road”… “Águas de Março” describes the beginning of the rainy season in Brazil, the month of March, which also marks the end of the summer (in the Southern Hemisphere). The element of water is a metaphor for a rebirth, a promise of life. Both the lyrics and music have a constant downward progression much like the water torrent from the rain.
Tom Jobim wrote both the English and Portuguese lyrics. Although there were previous recordings, this is the version that many consider definitive; it was recorded by Elis Regina and Tom in the album Elis & Tom.
“Águas de Março” was named as the all-time best Brazilian song in a poll conducted by the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, and the second greatest Brazilian song by the Brazilian edition of Rolling Stone .
53) Tim Maia – “Imunização Racional (Que Beleza)” (1975)
Musician and songwriter known for his humorous and ironic musical style, Tim Maia is regarded as one of the biggest icons of Brazilian music. Mostly acknowledged for introducing soul into Brazil’s musical scene; he also contributed to a wide variety of musical genres, such as funk, bossa nova, disco, romantic ballads, pop, rock, jazz, baião and MPB.
This song belongs to his fifth album, Tim Maia Racional Vol. 1. Although not well received by the critics at that time, it is now regarded as one of the best albums of all times, ranking 17 in Rolling Stone’s list.
54) Clara Nunes – “Juízio Final” (1975)
“Queen of Samba” Clara Nunes is considered one of the greatest of her generation. She was the first female singer in Brazil to sell over 100,000 copies of a record, and at the peak of her career she would sell more than a million copies of each album she released. Nunes was researcher of the rhythms and folklore of Brazil and the roots of black music, she even converted to Umbanda in her later life. She died in 1983 at the age of 40 years old; nevertheless, she remains one of the most popular singers in Brazil.
This song (the title means “Last Judgment”) was written by Nelson Cavaquinho, and belongs to her album Claridade.
55) Cartola – “Preciso me Encontrar” (1976)
Cartola is one of the most wronged cases of Brazilian music: he became known only at advanced age, although his songs had been often recorded by other singers. Nevertheless, he is considered one of Brazil’s quintessential artists.
This particular song, sophisticated and delicate as most of his songs, was released in his masterful second disc Cartola II. It was included in the soundtrack of the highly acclaimed film Cidade de Deus (City of God), and lately in the TV series 3%.
56) Milton Nascimento and Chico Buarque – “O que Será (A Flor da Pele)” (1976)
57) Elis Regina and Milton Nascimento– “Caxangá” (1977)
Elis Regina is certainly one of the most talented singers to emerge from Brazil, often deemed the greatest Brazilian singer of all times. With her explosive personality and her sublime voice, she gained the respect not only of the Brazilian people, but also of the nation’s leading songwriters, who would line up to have one of their songs recorded by her. Elis’ death at the age of 36 shocked the whole country; nevertheless, she remains as popular after death as she was in life.
This beautiful song is interpreted together with Milton Nascimento, and belongs to her album Elis.
58) Maria Bethânia and Gal Costa– “Sonho Meu” (1978)
Maria Bethânia is one of Brazil’s biggest voices, with a long and successful career: she is among the 10 best-selling music artists in Brazil, having sold more than 26 million records. Talent seems to run in her family’s veins: Bethânia is the sister of the singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso and of writer-songwriter Mabel Velloso, as well as being aunt of the singers Belô Velloso and Jota Velloso.
From her album Alibi comes Sonho meu (“My dream”), where her unique voice blends with another, incredible one: Gal Costa’s.
59) Caetano Veloso – “Sampa” (1978)
It is curious that in a city with great musical representatives like Os Mutantes and Demônios da Garoa, no one could decipher São Paulo better than the baianoCaetano Veloso. “Sampa” (short for São Paulo) is Caetano’s tribute to the city of São Paulo, known for its characteristic drizzle and the large number of migrants, especially from the Northeast region of the country (pejoratively called “baianos”).
Pollution, the reception to migrants, the multiple cultures and the dreams of their inhabitants are pictured in the elegant lyrics, so intense to make the song an all-time classic and transform the intersection of Ipiranga and São João Avenues in one of the most famous spots of the city. In the song, from the album Muito (1978), Caetano is accompanied by the group Outra Banda da Terra.
60) João Bosco – “O Bêbado e a Equilibrista” (1979)
A civil engineer-turned-singer/songwriter, João Bosco would become one of Brazil’s most formidable songwriters, with songs recorded by the country’s greatest artists. During his early career, he supplied Elis Regina with some of her best material; since Elis’ death he started to perform his own songs, becoming an emblematic figure in Brazil’s musical scene.
This is his most personal protest song (English “The Drunkard and the Tightrope Walker”), which was selected as the theme song of Amnesty International. I love this version, sung by Bosco himself, although “O Bêbado” was made famous mostly by Elis Regina. Written during the last years of a military dictatorship, it is a deeply metaphoric, poetic song, not easy to understand on a first read. The drunk represents the artists, poets and musicians who dared to raise their voices against the dictatorship, the Equilibrist is the hope for democracy, which at every “event” that disturbed the military (marches, etc), saw its existence threatened.
61) Gilberto Gil– “Toda Menina Baiana” (1979)
Already a star from the 60’s, Gilberto Gil is known not only for his innovative musical style, but also for political and environmental activism.
Beth Carvalho’s name is synonymous with samba, particularly the MangueiraScola do Samba. Singer, guitarist, cavaquinist and composer, she began recording in the mid ‘60s; her interpretation of “Andança” earned her the third place at the III Festival Internacional da Canção and became a classic of MPB, re-recorded by many great singers like Maria Bethânia, Elis Regina, and Nana Caymmi.
Her 1979 album No Pagode is considered a masterpiece, and featured this song, her biggest hit of all time. In the late ‘90s, the song was even sent to outer space in the space probe Pathfinder!
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 sambaand 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 andLuis 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:
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.
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 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.