100 ESSENTIAL BRAZILIAN SONGS YOU MUST HEAR Part 5: The 1980s

With the end of Brazil’s dictatorship, a renewed feeling of freedom invaded the youth of the 80s. This generation of artists, free to openly portray their feelings and desires, gives rise to what would be called BRock, or Brazilian rock. Emblematic bands of this decade are Blitz, Paralamas do Sucesso, Titãs, Ultraje a Rigor and Legião Urbana. Irreverent and uncompromised, they would be frequently accused of being superficial, banal and alienated; their songs though demonstrated they were nothing like that: they would often criticize the 80s social reality, particularly consumerism and the influence of television.

The year 1985 is certainly engraved in the memory of rock lovers: the colossal festival Rock in Rio takes place. Rock in Rio counted with the presence of the world’s greatest rock artists such as QueenRod Stewart, AC/DC and Yes; it remains in history as the largest Rock Festival of all time, with an audience of nearly 1.5 million people.

Although rock and pop were the predominant genres in Brazil during the 80s, other musical styles would gain increasing popularity by the end of the decade, such as sertanejo, pagode, afro and axé music.

This is my list of great Brazilian songs of the 1980s:

63) Rita Lee – “Lança Perfume” (1980) 

For the Brazilians, Rita Lee is one of their dearest artists. With an impressive record of 55 million albums sold –Brazil’s highest grossing female artist of all time- the “Queen of Brazilian Rock” is a not only a singer, but also a talented songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, writer and activist.

Former member of the influential group Os Mutantes, Lee has participated in major revolutions in the world of music and society. Her songs, often with an acid or feminist tone, have become ubiquitous in the charts throughout the latest 50 years.

Lança perfume is one of her most popular songs; it makes reference to an aromatic spray often used as a recreational drug, very popular in Brazil.

 

64) Gal Costa – “Festa do Interior” (1981) 

Essential Brazilian artist, one of the most amazing voices, Gal Costa is known for her perfect pitch and incredibly high notes. Timeless and always relevant, Gal is constantly reinventing herself: she went from a Tropicalia icon in the 60s, a hippie muse in the 70s to a more pop repertoire in the 80s and nowadays, in her latest albums, she has been even exploring electronic music.

This song (English “Countryside Party”) from her 1981 double album Fantasia became her biggest ever hit, going multi-platinum by the end of the year.

 

65) Djavan – “Samurai(1982) 

Djavan is a singer, songwriter, producer and guitarist, highly praised not only in Brazil, but internationally: his songs have been recorded by Al Jarreau, Carmen McRae, the Manhattan Transfer, and many other fundamental Brazilian artists.

Djavan combines traditional Brazilian rhythms with popular music drawn from the Americas, Europe and Africa; his songs are known for their “colors”: refined and poetic, but utterly simple at the same time.

In 1982, he recorded the universally acclaimed album Luz, which has been described as a “pop explosion (…) a succession of hits with exquisite use of the technological resources of the time”. From this album comes the song Samurai, in which Stevie Wonder is a guest star.

 

66) Gonzaguinha – “O que é, O que é?” (1982)

A major pop star in Brazil in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Gonzaguinha was the son of the famous baião artist Luiz Gonzaga. Although he decided to follow his father’s footsteps, he was a great singer in his own right, adopting a completely different style. Being born and raised in a poor Rio de Janeiro favela (shanty town) made him quite adept at writing about the social and political conditions of Brazil’s poor; his aggressive and unappealing lyrics in the eyes of the media earned him the nickname “Cantor rancor” (Grudge singer). With the beginning of the political opening in the second half of the 1970s, he began to modify the discourse and composed songs of more pleasant tone; his fame skyrocketed. He was at the peak of this popularity when, in 1991 he died in a car crash.

This is one of his most recognizable songs, it was released in the album Caminhos do Coração.

 

67) Lulu Santos – “Como Uma Onda (Zen Surfismo)” (1983)

Brazilian superstar with high-selling discography, Lulu Santos is one of the most emblematic figures of the 80s, a synonym with Brazilian pop music.

This song (English “Like a wave”) was created by Lulu himself together with journalist and writer Nelson Motta, especially for the soundtrack of the movie Garota Dourada. Its lyrics describe the pleasures of an idealized beach culture, ultimately  becoming a reflection on the contradictions of a youth oscillating between grandiose delusions and bohemian escapism. It was a smash hit. According to Rolling Stone Brazil, this song is the proof … “of Lulu’s indisputable dominance in the art of creating the Perfect pop”.

 

68) Lobão e os Ronaldos  – “Me Chama” (1984)

Multi-talented Lobão (“Big Wolf“, in reference to the Disney’s Big Bad Wolf character), is a singer-songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, writer, publisher, television host and media personality. Aside from his talent as musician, he has a reputation for having little inhibition in expressing his opinions and for publicly criticising fellow musicians, which led to a notable number of controversies and enmities.

With the album Ronaldo Foi pra Guerra, the only album he released accompanied by the band Os Ronaldos, Lobão had the biggest success of his career, the super hit “Me Chama” (“Call Me”).

 

69) Ultraje a Rigor – “Inútil” (1985)

Ultraje a Rigor is one of the most important Brazilian rock bands. With their simple and danceable melodies, and the irreverent tone Roger Moreira’s voice gave to the ironic lyrics, the band had all the ingredients to reach the Brazilian youth of the 80s.

Their first LP, Nós Vamos Invadir sua Praia (We’re going to invade his beach) was a massive success: it was the first Brazilian rock LP to receive gold and platinum status. From this album comes Inútil (“Useless”), one of the most important protest songs of Brazilian rock, a compendium of the frustrations common to all Brazilian at the time.

 

70) Paralamas do Sucesso – “Alagados” (1986)

Paralamas do Sucesso is the most successful Brazilian rock band, with a long-lasting career since 1977, always with the same line-up: Herbert Vianna, Bi Ribeiro and João Barone.  Their success has surpassed the Brazilian borders, making then a recognizable band in Latin America and Europe; furthermore, they have been many times awarded at the Latin Grammy, MTV Brasil and Multishow awards.

Alagados (“Flooded”) gives an account of the harsh life in Brazilian favelas during the period of intense socioeconomic crisis that hit the country in the 1980s. The song make particularly reference to Rio de Janeiro: “…the city with open arms in the postcards, but closed fists in real life”

 

71) Titãs – “Comida” (1987)

Another emblematic Brazilian rock band that blossomed in the ’80s, Titãs (“The Titans”) became known for their intelligent lyrics, with poetic references and social criticism. The group eventually became mainstream, adopting a more pop approach and enjoying massive recognition.

Jesus não Tem Dentes no País dos Banguelas (“Jesus has no teeth in the land of the toothless”) is Titãs’ most important album; it was a huge commercial success (double platinum certified), but also highly acclaimed by the critics. One of the best tracks of this album is Comida (“Food”). Its lyrics affirm that people’s needs go beyond their own material existence -represented by food- requiring cultural and existential necessities, such as fun and art. Comida frequently served as the motto for student protests, which increased even more the band’s reputation.

72) Legião Urbana – “Que país é esse? ” (1987)

Legião Urbana was formed during Brazil’s economic crisis of the ’80s, when corruption became deeply rooted in the country’s politics. This was Renato Russo’s motivation to create his band “Urban Legion”. Russo’s incandescent lyrics, portraying the frustrations of an entire generation, gave voice to a multitude of desperate people and became a phenomenon of popularity throughout Brazil.

The band’s success was cemented in 1987, with Que País É Este (“What Country Is This”). They developed a devoted following, and the band came to carry the nickname “Religião Urbana” (meaning “Urban Religion”).

While they disbanded officially in 1996 after Russo’s death due to AIDS complications, Legião Urbana is still one of Brazil’s most famous rock bands.

 

73) Cazuza – “Ideologia” (1988)

Vocalist of the first Brazilian rock band Barão Vermelho and highly popular as a solo artist, Cazuza left his personal mark on Brazilian music through his songs, which continue to be constantly recorded by other artists, in spite of his early death in 1992 due to AIDS complications, at 32 years old.

Ideologia (“Ideology”) is the title track of Cazuza’s third album, which was composed in partnership with Roberto Frejat. It is one of the singer’s most successful songs; its beautiful, compelling lyrics were written by Cazuza after discovering he was HIV positive: “…My pleasure now is life-threatening, my sex and drugs have not rock ’n’ roll…”

 

Coming soon:

  • The 1990s
  • The 2000s – 2010s

 

100 ESSENTIAL BRAZILIAN SONGS YOU MUST HEAR Part 2: The 1930s, 40s & 50s


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

2) Dorival Caymmi – “O Mar” (1940) 

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

 

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

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

 

4) Luiz Gonzaga – “Asa Branca” (1947)

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

 

5) Waldir Azevedo – “Brasileirinho” (1947)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

8) João Gilberto – “Desafinado” (1958)

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Coming soon:

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

 

100 ESSENTIAL BRAZILIAN SONGS YOU MUST HEAR Part 1: Overview


Music is one of the most powerful cultural expressions of a nation, a sort of thermometer which reflects the history and mood of the people at a certain time, whether they feel happy, troubled, or oppressed.

And this is certainly true for Brazil: throughout the years music has been drawing the face of the country, mirroring Brazilians’ joy, uncertainties and longings…

Whoever has been in Brazil has most likely realized that music is deeply rooted into Brazilians’ DNA. Music is everywhere, accompanying every single mundane activity: Brazilians have fun with music, travel with music, prepare feijoada with music. And they dance… When I first visited Brazil I was amazed to see that just by hearing samba in the street, everybody -kids and grown-ups alike- would start dancing, as something natural, without inhibitions of any kind…

I love Brazil, its beautiful nature, its people, culture and music… Thus, I decided to pay a tribute to Brazil’s music by choosing 100 among the most representative songs of all times… I believe that after listening to all these songs you will realize -like I did- how timeless Brazil’s music is…

This introductory post will help you understand Brazilian music history and styles. More posts will follow presenting 100 iconic Brazilian songs in chronological order.

I hope you enjoy it!

Música do Brasil – Overview

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

Until the 19th century, Portugal (and Europe for that matter) is the main gateway to most rhythms that would built Brazilian music, both erudite and popular. With the passage of time, African melodic and rhythmic elements begin to exert increasing influence on popular music, which would thus acquire the characteristic Brazilian sound that consolidates in the twentieth century, mainly through the diffusion of the genres lundu, frevo, choro and samba (see below). The indigenous practically left no trace in mainstream music, except in some regional folkloric genres.

In the twentieth century there is an extraordinary flowering of Brazil’s music. It is the period when national music gains autonomy and identity, although it never ceases – rather increases – the blend with new foreign rhythms. The fundamental work of Heitor Villa Lobos is the first great landmark of erudite Brazilian music, later developed by many other composers. During the same period, popular music gains the respect of elites and consolidates genres that would become trademarks of Brazil, such as samba and bossa nova. Regional folk genres such as musica sertaneja, baião and forró also gain popularity and are heard throughout the entire country.

Brazilian music styles


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

The First Music Styles

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

  • Lundu: brought by African slaves, it is one of the genres that would later compose samba.
  • Frevo: included on UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage, it is the traditional music of Pernambuco’s Carnival. Its trademark is the colorful umbrellas, which would “hide” the forbidden at that time capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial art and dancing).
  • Choro: (means “cry”) a music gender originated in Rio de Janeiro. It is considered the first characteristic rhythm of Brazilian popular music, and is still very popular nowadays. In spite of its name, it usually has a fast, happy rhythm. Representative artists: Waldir Acevedo, Dominguinhos, Joaquim Callado, Pixinguinha and Luis Gonzaga (the later represents a regional form of choro called baiāo).
  • Maxixe: it is a mix of lundu with Argentinian tango, Cuban habanera and polca. It was considered so scandalous that caught international attention and travelled to Europe, together with tango. Maxixe contributed, together with lundu, to the origins of samba.

Contemporary Brazilian Music

These musical styles are Brazil’s trademark and are all listened nowadays.

Sertanejo

A music style that originated in Brazil’s countryside in the 1920s. It is the most popular music genre in Brazil, particularly throughout the southern/ southeastern and center/ western countryside. Sertanejo has seen a revival in the 90’s, regularly topping Brazilian music charts and earning a specific category at the Latin Grammy Awards. Representative artists: Sergio Reis, Chitãozinho & Xororó and Michel Teló.

Forró

When in 1945 the northeast musician Luiz Gonzaga recorded Dança Mariquinha, the genre  forró was launched – a rhythm and type of dance typical of the Northeast of Brazil. Given the vagueness of the term, there is no consensus on the definition of forró as a musical style, the name being usually used as a generalization of various musical rhythms of Northeast region.  Famous artists include Luiz Gonzaga, Wesley Safadão, and Solange Almeida.

Samba 

The year 1916 is considered the official birth of samba, a mix of maxixe with Bahia folklore rhythms. Samba rapidly spread throughout Brazil dominating not only its iconic carnival, but also the whole world. Samba is the most famous Brazilian musical style, and has many other sub genres:

  • Samba-canção: Appears in the 1920s, with slow rhythms and sentimental lyrics. Example: Ai Ioiô by Luís Peixoto.
  • Carnival Samba: composed by samba marches – known as marchinhas – and made to be danced and sung in carnival events. Examples: Abre alas, Cabeleira do Zezé, among others.
  • Samba-exaltação: With patriotic lyrics highlighting the wonders of Brazil, with orchestral accompaniment. Example: Aquarela do Brasil (see here).
  • Samba de breque: (literally brake samba) This style has moments of quick stops, where the singer includes comments, usually with critical or humorous tone. One of the masters of this style is Moreira da Silva.
  • Samba de gafieira: It was created in 1940 and has orchestral accompaniment. Fast and strong in the instrumental part, it is widely used in ballroom dancing. K-Ximbinho is a famous artist of this genre.
  • Sambalanço: Emerging in the 50s in nightclubs in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, it received a strong influence from jazz. One of the most significant representatives of Sambalanço is Jorge Ben Jor, which mixes elements of other genres too. This style would set the grounds for bossa nova.
  • Pagode: Born in Rio de Janeiro in the 70s, it has a repetitive rhythm and uses percussion instruments and electronic sounds. It spread rapidly throughout Brazil and conquered radios and dance floors in the next decade thanks to its simple and romantic lyrics. Representative artists are Fundo de Quintal, Negritude Jr., Só para contrariar, Raça Negra and Zeca Pagodinho.

Bossa Nova

Bossa nova is a Brazilian popular music movement of the late 50s initiated by João Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and other young singers and/or songwriters from Rio de Janeiro. The style was derived from samba, with a strong jazz influence. Initially, the term bossa nova (“new wave”) was used only to describe a new way of singing and playing samba.

The ground zero of bossa nova is the song Chega de Saudade (see here). Bossa nova gave a more sophisticated touch to the samba genre; over the years, it would become one of the most influential movements in the history of Brazilian music, and the song Girl from Ipanema would be its anthem.

This style went through many transformations that resulted in a new generation of composers; new artists appeared in the music scenario who were collectively named Sons of bossa nova. Artists such as Geraldo Vandré and Chico Buarque are among the Sons of bossa nova, although their style has little or nothing to do with bossa nova (see MPB).

Tropicália

Originated by the end of the 60s after bossa nova, Tropicália was the next musical movement and came at a time when Brazil was undergoing political upheaval due to a strict military dictatorship. The rebellious lyrics of Tropicalia songs bothered the government, who decided to exile the most influential Tropicália artists, such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.

Música Popular Brasileira (MPB)

Appreciated mainly by Brazil’s urban middle classes, Brazilian popular music – known as MPB – emerged in the 1960s with the Sons of Bossa Nova. MPB was the merge of two previously divergent musical movements: bossa nova (representing musical sophistication) and folk music (which defended Brazil’s music roots). As a result of the 1964 dictatorship, the two movements became a broad cultural front against the military regime; this new genre presented at first a distinct nationalistic profile, but with time it comprised more diverse trends of Brazilian music.

MPB also includes other mixtures of rhythms such as samba and rock – giving rise to a new style known as samba-rock – or pop and samba, with famous artists like Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque. By the end of the 1990s the mixture of Latin music together with reggae and samba gave space to a new genre known as samba-reggae.

Even though extensive, MPB should not be confused as comprising all music of Brazil; it is rather a specific music style.

Funk Carioca

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

Although extremely successful, this genre is the target of strong criticism as performers use obscene and vulgar language, many times inciting to violence and drug consumption. See here for some of the most known funk artists.

Axé Music

Axé emerged in Bahia in the 80s during the Carnival of Salvador. It mixes frevo rhythms, reggae, merengue, forró, maracatu and other african-latino rhythms. The song Fricote by Luiz Caldas, is usually regarded as the starting point of this style.

The word “axé” is a religious greeting which means positive energy, used in Candomblé and Umbanda – religions with African origins which are commonly practiced in Bahia. It quickly spread throughout the country and still enjoyes great commercial success; its biggest names are Daniela Mercury, Ivete Sangalo, Claudia Leitte, Timbalada, among others.

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

Coming soon:

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