Contemporary music –in Brazil, France and elsewhere- has been greatly influenced by social media, video sharing and music streaming, all trademarks of the 2000s and beyond. Specifically for Brazilian music, this globalizing phenomena has had positive, as well as deleterious consequences: increased foreign songs topping the charts on one side, but also Brazilian mainstream music massively available to the rest of the world. The proof: songs like Mc Fioti’s “Bum Bum TamTam” with more than 1 billion! views on YouTube, and Michel Teló’s “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” with over 800 million views…
No one can deny that Brazil is a country with a powerful musical history. Going through all its music repertoire while preparing this series of articles, I can’t help but admire even more its distinct and perennial beauty. Are things changing though? Is Brazilian music going through a phase of decadence? This is an ongoing debate in the country nowadays… Many music critics are definite: today’s consumer society –they believe- leads to “consumable music”; moreover, they blame the universal predominance of sertanejo as responsible for the lack of musical diversification nowadays. “We always had good music and bad music in Brazil -says one critic- but there was a balance. At this time, at least 90% of what record companies release is totally disposable”. Some go even further and state that pagoda, sertanejo and electronic forró are “a tsunami of musical trash unprecedented in the history of Brazilian music”. Other critics are more optimistic. Véronique Mortaigne, writing an article in The Guardian, states that: “Brazil is surfing a musical new wave that is now reaching Europe”, making emphasis on the quality of certain musicians’ work “not afraid to mix the old and the new, irritating a few purists along the way”.
The debate could go on forever. What is certain is that there are still many bright examples of fine Brazilian music. Check out my list with some of the most remarkable songs of the 2000-2010s, go ahead and “Brazilify” your playlist!
Of the many re-recordings the song has had, I like this one, by the Belo Horizonte band Pato Fu.
89) Gabriel o Pensador – “Até Quando?” (2001)
Known for his intellectual and controversial lyrics, rapper Gabriel o Pensador(“Gabriel the Thinker”) stepped into the limelight with his provocative composition “Tô Feliz (Matei o Presidente)” [I’m Happy (I killed the President)]. He has had a highly successful career since then, topping often the charts with his gold or platinum-certified albums.
Até Quando? (“Until when?”) was released in the album Seja Você Mesmo (mas não Seja sempre o Mesmo)(“Be Yourself (but not always the same”). Its compelling lyrics address the issue of conformism. It was highly praised by most critics and received an award at Brazil’s MTV Video Music Awards.
90) Cássia Eller & Nando Reis – “Relicário” (2001)
Cássia Eller is one of the most successful pop singers/composers in Brazil. Owner of a distinctive contralto voice, she was rated as the 18th greatest vocalist by Rolling Stone Brasil.
This beautiful song was composed by Nando Reis and was included in the live album Acústico MTV, where she sings it together with Reis; it is Cássia’s final album before her death on December 29, 2001 at 39 years old.
91) Tribalistas – “Velha Infancia ” (2002)
Tribalistas is a Brazilian musical supergroup consisting of Arnaldo Antunes(ex-Titãs), Marisa Monteand Carlinhos Brown (Timbalada). Their debut collaboration resulted in the popular album Tribalistas, which attained considerable popularity in Brazil and Europe. The curious thing with this popular group is that, despite their great success, they have rarely performed together, deciding to go on a world tour just now in 2018.
Among their most popular songs are “Já Sei Namorar” (included on the video game FIFA Football 2004), “Passe em Casa“, “É Você” and “Velha Infância“, played on the Brazilian soap opera Mulheres Apaixonadas.
92) Paulinho da Viola & Marisa Monte – “Carinhoso” (2003)
Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Jr. was not yet Pixinguinha when he began to be called a prodigy, enchanting with his unusual musicality and facility for instruments and improvisations. Considered till nowadays a musical genius, Pixinguinha is regarded as one of the greatest Brazilian composers of popular music, particularly within the genre choro. “Carinhoso“, was recorded in 1928 and has remained as one of the most famous melodies of Brazilian popular music. Incredibly enough, he received heavy negative criticism at that time, with complaints that it was “too Americanized.”
From Marisa Monte to Elizeth Cardoso, from Paulinho da Viola to Francisco Alves, from Elis Regina to Marcelo Camelo, dozens of artists made their impassioned interpretations of “Carinhoso”; one of my favorites is this one, by Marisa Monte and Paulinho da Viola.
93) Zeca Pagodinho – “Deixa A Vida Me Levar” (2004)
Zeca Pagodinhois a singer and songwriter considered a great name of the genre samba and pagode. He has recorded more than 20 albums and has become immensely popular, not only due to his irreverence and jocosity, bur mostly due to his rare talent, praised by critics and consecrated artists.
This song gives name to his 2004 album Deixa A Vida Me Levar (“Let life take me”), it was extremely successful, becoming double-platinum certified.
The berimbau is a single-string percussion instrument. Originally from Africa, it was eventually incorporated into the practice of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira. The instrument became worldwide known for being the subject matter of this song, which belongs to Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes.
95) Vanessa Da Mata & Ben Harper – “Boa Sorte/Good Luck ” (2007)
Award-winning, chart-topping singer, composer, and novelist, Vanessa da Mata got her start writing songs for artists such as Maria Bethania and Daniela Mercury. Despite the strength of her voice, it took her several years until she finally decided to record her own material, releasing her self-titled debut in 2002. It was her next album, Essa Boneca Tem Manuel, however, that really pushed her into the limelight, aided by the strength of the single “Ai Ai Ai“. Three years later her third album, Sim, was released. Sim spawned the hit single “Boa Sorte/Good Luck“, a duet with Ben Harper, which peaked at number one in both Brazil and Portugal and was the most played song in Brazilian radio stations in 2008.
96) Criolo – “Subirusdoistiozin” (2011)
Criolo is a rapper and soul singer. With a career starting in 1989, he originally got a reputation as one of São Paulo most important rappers. After the release of his second album, “Nó na Orelha” (Knot in the ear), he saw his popularity grow beyond São Paulo to all Brazil and abroad, leading to a successful worldwide tour. He has been characterized as “ the most interesting and unruly representative of the Brazilian new wave”.
“Nó na Orelha” mixes rap, afrobeat, hip hop, reggae, samba and brega. It received positive reviews and was considered the best national album of 2011 by the magazine Rolling Stone. From this album, “Subirusdoistiozin” (Two-Old-Guys-Died) is the most popular track; it describes the general waywardness of favela street culture.
97) Marisa Monte – “Ainda Bem” (2011)
Multi-awarded singer, composer, instrumentalist, and producer, Marisa Monte is considered one of Brazil’s greatest singers; in fact, Rolling Stone Brasil listed Monte as the second greatest singer of all time after Elis Regina. She also has two records (MM and Verde, Anil, Amarelo, Cor-de-Rosa e Carvão) among the 100 best albums of Brazilian music.
Ainda Bem (“Just as well”) belongs to her highly praised eighth record O Que Você Quer Saber de Verdade (“What do you really want to know”), was considered by Billboard Brasil the best album of 2011. Originally, “Ainda Bem” was composed by Marisa for Italian singer Mina, who included it in her 2011 album Piccolino.
98) Dominguinhos & Arthur Maia – “Lamento Sertanejo ” (2014)
An emblematic representative of the forro music genre, Dominguinhos has had success as a musician, both solo and as a sideman for consecrated artists like Luís Gonzaga, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, and Maria Bethânia. But also as a composer, he has produced hits recorded for some of the most important Brazilian artists; he has also written cinema soundtracks and has won four Prêmio Sharp Awards.
This is one of his biggest hits, composed in 1941. Initially instrumental, it was later re-recorded by Gilberto Gil, who wrote its lyrics. The song has received countless recordings and has been included in the soundtrack of several films and soap operas. The original version is beautiful; this version though, by Dominguinhos himself together with the great Brazilian bassist Arthur Maia, it’s just beguiling.
99) Adriana Calcanhotto – “Felicidade” (2015)
Adriana Calcanhotto is an MPB (Brazil popular music) singer and composer revealed in 1990, who has had great success in Brazil and helped bring MPB back to the hit parade after the 1980s’ Brazilian rock period.
Felicidade (“Happiness”) was written in 1947 by the great samba-canção composer Lupicínio Rodrigues; it was re-presented to Brazil by Caetano Veloso in 1974 who made it widely popular. Calcanhotto included it in her fourth live album Loucura (“Madness”), which is a tribute to Lupicínio Rodrigues.
Tiago Iorc is one of Brazil’s new talents. Singer-songwriter and record producer, with his debut album Let Yourself In, he gained notoriety after several of Tiago’s songs were featured on major Brazilian primetime soap operas, TV ads and films. Let Yourself In was also released in Japan with great success and in South Korea, where the public granted Tiago a Best Foreign Artist Award.
In 2017, he partnered with the incomparable Milton Nascimento (who declared being Tiago’s fan) and recorded some songs for the purpose of a national tour. This exquisite song (“Nothing more beautiful”) is the result of this partnership.
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!
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 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 centuryAntônio 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 Cariocawho 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)
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 Powelland 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 Lee, Arnaldo 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 Vandréand 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)
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.
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.