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Samba and the Music of Brazil

Samba, Bossa-Nova, Maracatú, Tropicália, Frevo, Afoxé, Pagode, MPB, ... The musical culture that has spread throughout Brazil is astonishing. He who embarks on a musical journey is bound to be captured in an endless world of rhythm and harmony. Brazil is without doubt the most musical country on the planet. Their music embraces everybody who welcomes music with heart and soul.


If there is a musical style that is associated with feelings of happiness than it is without doubt Samba. It originated in Rio de Janeiro around 1920 and is still together with Samba-pagode and Samba-reggae (the band Olodum from Salvador da Bahía made samba-reggae famous) one of the most popular styles of Brazil. From intimate samba-cancões (samba songs) sung in bars to explosive drum parades performed during carnival, samba always evokes a warm and vibrant mood.

Samba is the most famous of the various forms of music arising from African roots in Brazil. The name samba most probably comes from the Angolan semba (mesemba) - a religious rhythm. Samba developed as a distinctive kind of music at the beginning of the 20th century in Rio de Janeiro (then the capital of Brazil) under the strong influence of immigrant black people from Bahia.

"Pelo Telefone" (1917), by Donga and Mauro Almeida, is generally considered the first samba recording. Its great success carried the new genre outside the black ghettos. Who created the music is uncertain, but it was probably the work of the group around Tia Ciata, among them Pixinguinha and João da Bahiana.

In the 1930s, a group of musicians led by Ismael Silva founded in the neighbourhood of Estácio de Sá the first Samba School, Deixa Falar. They transformed the musical genre to make it fit better the carnival parade. In this decade, the radio spread the genre's popularity all around the country, and with the support of the nationalist dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas, samba became Brazil's "official music".

In the following years, samba has developed in several directions, from the gentle samba-canção to the drum orchestras which make the soundtrack of carnival parade. One of these new styles was the bossa nova, made by middle class white people. It got increasingly popular over time, with the works of João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

In the sixties, Brazil was politically divided, and the leftist musicians of bossa nova started to gather attention to the music made in the favelas. Many popular artists were discovered at this time. Names like Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho, Velha Guarda da Portela, Zé Keti, and Clementina de Jesus recorded their first albums.

In the seventies, the samba got back to radios air waves. Composers and singers like Martinho da Vila, Clara Nunes and Beth Carvalho dominated the hit parade.

In the beginning of the eighties, after having been sent to the underground due to styles like disco and Brazilian rock, Samba reappeared in the media with a musical movement created in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. It was the pagode, a renewed samba, with new instruments, like the banjo and the tantan, and a new language, more popular, filled with slangs. The most popular names were Zeca Pagodinho, Almir Guineto, Grupo Fundo de Quintal, Jorge Aragão, and Jovelina Pérola Negra.

Various samba schools have been founded throughout Brazil. A samba school combines the dancing and party fun of a night club with the gathering place of a social club and the community feeling of a volunteer group. During the spectacular Rio Carnival famous samba schools parade in the Sambódromo. An event that should not be missed.

Notable artists are:

Beth Carvalho
Carmen Miranda
Martinho da Vila
Ary Barroso
Dorival Caymmi


Bossa nova is a style of Brazilian music invented in the late 1950s by a group of middle-class students and musicians living in the Copacabana and Ipanema beachside districts of Rio de Janeiro. The name could be translated as "the new beat" or "the new way". In Brazil, it became well known through the record "Chega de Saudade", performed by João Gilberto and composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. The record was released in 1958.

The music derives from the samba but is more complex harmonically and less percussive. The genre is highly influenced by jazz and became massively popular in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, though its international success was limited to brief periods of popularity such as after the release of the film Black Orpheus and with Stan Getz's releases in the 1960s.

It is not consensus that bossa nova can be called a movement. However, it is recognized for its importance in Brazilian music history. It introduced complex harmonies, close relationship between lyrics and music, and a general concern for arrangement and musical form. It influenced later movements such as Tropicália and MPB. Bossa nova repertoire consists predominantly of songs, while the instrumental music similar to it is generally called samba-jazz.

Perhaps the best known bossa nova song is Antonio Carlos Jobim's The Girl from Ipanema (A Garota de Ipanema), which is widely known in both its original Portuguese and in English translation.

Bossa nova is most commonly performed on the nylon-string classical guitar, played fingerstyle (without a pick). Its purest form could be considered unaccompanied guitar with vocals, as exemplified by João Gilberto. Even in larger jazz-like arrangements for groups, there is almost always a guitar that plays the underlying beat.

Though not as prominent as the guitar, the piano is another important instrument of bossa nova; Jobim wrote for the piano and performed on it for most of his own recordings. The piano has also served as a stylistic bridge between bossa nova and jazz, enabling a great deal of cross-pollination between the two.

Drums and percussion are not considered essential bossa nova instruments (and in fact the creators sought to eliminate percussion), yet there is a distinctive bossa nova drumming style, characterized by continuous eighths on the high-hat (mimicking the samba tambourine) and tapping of the rim.

Lush orchestral accompaniment is often associated with bossa nova's North American image as "elevator" or "lounge" music. While it is present, perhaps excessively, in much of Jobim's own recordings, it is rarely heard elsewhere.

In terms of harmonic structure, bossa nova has a great deal in common with jazz, in its sophisticated use of seventh and extended chords. The first bossa nova song, "Chega de Saudade", borrowed some structural elements from choro, however, later compositions rarely followed this form. Jobim often used challenging, almost dissonant melody lines, the best-known being "Desafinado" or "Off-Key".

Origin of the term "bossa nova"

Bossa Nova of course means "New Bossa", but according to Ruy Castro, author of Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World, the word "bossa" itself was "far from new" at the time of "Chega De Saudade," and had "been used by musicians since the days of yore to define someone who played or sang differently....In 1932, Noel Rosa used the word in a samba...which went O samba, a prontidão e outras bossas/São nossa coisas, são coisa nossas (Samba, empty pockets and other bossas/Are our specialities." Castro writes that an editor in Brazil, Moysés Fuks, in 1958 wrote a program for a show featuring Roberto Menescal and other performers, and billed it as a "bossa nova evening." Castro writes, "The origin of the expression has never been completely clarified."

Notable artists are:

Tom Jobim
João Gilberto
Vinicius de Moraes
Elis Regina

Caetano Veloso

"From Tropicália to MPB"

The musical and political influence of Caetano Veloso (born August 7, 1942) is embedded deeply in Brazilian history. Caetano developed tropicalismo, which transformed Brazilian popular music more international and socially aware. Caetano's politically active stance, unapologetically leftist, earned him the enmity of Brazil's military dictatorship which ruled until 1985; his songs were frequently censored, and some were banned.

Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil spent several months in jail for "anti-government activity" in 1968 and eventually exiled themselves to London. Caetano's work upon his return in 1972 was often characterized by frequent appropriations not only of international styles, but of half-forgotten Brazilian folkloric styles and rhythms as well. In particular, his celebration of the afro-Brazilian culture of Bahia can be seen as the precursor of such afro-centric groups as Timbalada.

Caetano Veloso continued to release music with strong political statements and divine songs of love. By 2004, he was one of the most respected and prolific international pop stars, with more than fifty recordings available, including songs in soundtracks of movies such as Pedro Almodovar's Hable con Ella (Talk to Her), and Frida. In 2002 Veloso published an account of his early years and the Tropicalia movement, Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil.

His first all-English CD was A Foreign Sound (2004), which covers Nirvana's "Come as You Are" and compositions from the Great American Songbook. Five of the six songs on his third eponymous album, released in 1971, were also in English.

Note: I've been a fan of Caetano Veloso for many years. Listening to his music encouraged me to start learning Portuguese to grasp at least something of those amazing lyrics. I'm still trying...


Tropicalismo evolved in Brazilian Popular Music or MPB. Música Popular Brasileira combines sophisticated song harmonies with intelectual lyrics. This amazing musical style has produced thousands of songs that are miniatures of majestic art.

Notable artists are:

Caetano Veloso
Gilberto Gil
Milton Nascimento
João Bosco
Chico Buarque
Marisa Monte
Carlinhos Brown
Gal Costa
Daniela Mercury
Os Mutantes
Tom Zé

Must See Brazil Travel Places

Rio de Janeiro Salvador da Bahia Brasilia
Rio de Janeiro Salvador da Bahia Brasilia

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from the Wikipedia articles "Samba", "Bossa-Nova" and "Caetano Veloso"