Introduction To: Brazilian Music

Mateus talks us through the various Brazilian genres and traditions that have traditionally been popular in the country, from samba to psychedelic rock.

A place thriving with a rich and diverse musical culture, Brazil has been instrumental to the development of contemporary sonar developments, and though it is sometimes overlooked, in this article I aim to highlight its importance and introduce you to some of the most essential musicians and movements that our ‘Tropical Country’ has produced.

One of the most recognisable words when it comes to Brazilian popular culture is samba. The genre has had a foundational role in leading musical developments in Brazil, with artists like Paulinho Da Viola creating melodies which are still performed by samba schools in Carnaval to this day. The ‘father’ of samba was Cartola, who elevated the favela sound to a middle-class audience and had decades of popularity. These artists helped define the style, with its percussive elements being marred by sorrowful aspects, and serving as a definitive national sound.

In the ’50s a new genre emerged, directly influenced by samba, with softer melodies and an emphasis on acoustic guitars rather than percussion. This genre was named bossa nova, and artists like Elizeth Cardoso and João Gilberto are often credited as two of its most important founders. Cardoso and Gilberto have become some of the most respected names in Brazilian music, with Gilberto even collaborating with US jazz master Stan Getz to create crossover records that are now seen as classics.

“Genres weren’t so clear-cut at this time”

Many of Gilberto’s most famous songs were co-written or composed by another monolith in Brazilian musical history, Antônio Carlos Jobim, whose masterful song-writing generated some of the most iconic Brazilian songs of all time. This influence was partnered alongside that of Vinicius De Moraes, a poet who helped write beautiful pieces with several artists, including Jobim.

Genres weren’t so clear-cut at this time, however. For example, frequent Moraes collaborator Baden Powell was influenced by the Brazilian style of choro and American jazz to compose beautifully complex instrumental pieces. Alternatively, Luiz Gonzaga was helping bring light to northeastern Brazilian sounds such as Baião, with their emphasis on accordions.

The ’60s were a fruitful time for Brazilian music. The hugely influential TV show Jovem Guarda emerged, which helped launch the careers of a new breed of Brazilian pop rock superstars, such as Roberto and Erasmo Carlos. These artists were faced criticisms of ‘Americanisation’, and so Erasmo invented the new hybrid genre of samba-rock.

“more Brazilian musical treasures began emerging, often within the genre of Musica Popular Brasileira”

Most importantly during this period was the rise of the Tropicália artistic movement, which mixed Brazilian cultural sounds with psychedelic rock and a display of rebellious liberty, birthing innovative acts such as the folk hippy group Novos Baianos.

Two of the most famous careers birthed from Tropicália are those of Caetano Veloso and of Gilberto Gil. Given the oppressive nature of the Brazilian military regime during this time, both Veloso and Gil were arrested and exiled to Europe in the late ’60s due to spreading controversial and oppositional messages in their songs, and they returned in the ’70s with a wider range of global influences in their stylistic arsenal.

There was also a flourishing of important women in Brazilian music in this period, such as the innovative sounds of Gal Costa and the addictive persona and style propagated by Elis Regina. Participating in Tropicália, these artists would eventually become social icons with their distinctive voices and move onto more politically conscious pieces.

“In the ’70s through to the ’80s more rock bands began dominating Brazil’s mainstream”

Throughout and following this period, more Brazilian musical treasures began emerging, often within the genre of Musica Popular Brasileira (Popular Brazilian Music, or MPB). Some of our most acclaimed musicians also hit their stride in this era, for example you had bossa nova figurehead Chico Buarque and his catchy sad tunes, who eventually was banned by the dictatorship for his subtle protest songs. You also had artists like Tim Maia and Jorge Ben Jor, who employed a mixture of Brazilian elements and American funk to create some of our most treasured and irresistibly fun songs.

In the ’70s through to the ’80s more rock bands began dominating Brazil’s mainstream. Many of these, such as Secos E Molhados, mixed traditional sounds into their commercial new-wave and soft rock appeal. Two of our most famous rock acts from the ’70s and ’80s are Titãs and Cazuza, who employed a signature youthful energy in their songs. Following trends from Europe and the US, Brazil also spawned a number of important metal bands, most notably Sepultura.

“Just as hip-hop has flourished as the most popular genre in the USA, it has also found a welcome home in contemporary Brazil”

Developments continued among the north-eastern Brazilian musical scene. Artists like Geraldo Azevedo incorporated local styles such as baião, frevo and forró into a catchy mixture of soft rock and MPB which became definitive of that arid part of the country, commonly known as the ‘sertão’. Simultaneously, well-respected musician Toquinho was crafting beautiful acoustic songs, often aimed at younger audiences.

Further important MPB musicians appeared in the ’90s, incorporating different styles within their discographies, such as the Afro-Brazilian melodies of Chico César and Seu Jorge. Additionally, the genre flourished with genre-bending super-group Tribalistas and new innovative voices, such as Vanessa Da Mata.

Percussive band Timbalada’s leader Carlinhos Brown, who is hailed as an originator of the samba-reggae genre, along with well-respected pop rock singer Marisa Monte, created the massively popular super-group Tribalistas in the 2000s.

“Brazil has had a thriving and ever-evolving relationship with music”

Just as hip-hop has flourished as the most popular genre in the USA, it has also found a welcome home in contemporary Brazil. Its godfather is undoubtedly Chico Science, who along with his band Nação Zumbi created a wholly original genre and movement known as Mangue Bit in the ’80s, mixing rap and rock with north-eastern Brazilian sounds. The genre has been expanded and developed by lyrical legends such as Sabotage and more recent talents such as Criolo.

“it is impossible to include every artist and song which is of note in this article”

As can be seen, Brazil has had a thriving and ever-evolving relationship with music, spawning some of the most exciting and unique artists in contemporary history. From samba to bossa nova, forró, MPB, rock, and rap… there is a lot of ground to explore.

Mateus de Sá

Featured Image courtesy of Leandro Centomo via Flickr.

Image use licence here.

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