The Roots of Brazil
An brief overview of the country's musical styles by Christina Roden

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The popular music of Brazil (known there as MPB - Musica Popular Brasileira) is the essence of passion and pleasure. An insight into the concept of Saudade (pronounced sow-dad-gee) is basic to understanding the Brazilian people and their music. The word is an almost untranslatable amalgam of homesickness and/or love of home and country; plus nostalgia, ardor, and bittersweet, unquenchable longing; an idea that is felt rather than understood. Brazilians have written thousands of songs about love for a particular man or woman, but it is when Brazil is the object of desire that they are goaded to the dizziest heights of romantic eloquence and inspired to compose their most achingly heartfelt melodies.

Brazilian music is a natural but extraordinary result of centuries of intercultural confrontations and matings (the Portuguese arrived without wives). When the Portuguese first landed on this immense tract of land in South America, in around 1500, they found several communities of indigenous peoples already present. The colonists had brought their own lilting tunes with them and the local tribes added on a bit of this and that. But it was the influence of slaves taken out of Africa that softened the stately formality of the Portuguese language, as they liberated an undercurrent of sensuality and fashioned a completely fresh sound from a heady mixture of primal rhythms, elegance, sadness, spirituality, fun, and sex.

Brazil spelled with a "z" is common usage in English-speaking countries, which many Brazilians find irritating. The present writer succumbs to this convention under protest, bowing to the reality of search engines. The proper spelling is Brasil with an "s". The Tropicalia singer-songwriter, Gilberto Gil, wrote a song about this - "Brasil Com "S".


Choro is the most obviously Portuguese-derived style still being played in Brazil is Choro (sobbing or crying). It was created in Rio de Janeiro over a century ago and has much in common with Portuguese Fado, a guttersnipe's lament spawned in dives along the Lisbon waterfront and later formalized almost beyond recognition. Choro and Fado have an air of melancholy about them, but while Fado is sung, Choro is usually instrumental. It employs a chamber-sized ensemble that can consist of a cavaquinho (a small, Portuguese guitar with bell-like tones), guitars (including one type with seven strings), clarinet and flute. Choro consorts sometimes include percussion instruments such as the pandeiro, a kind of tambourine. Despite its wistfulness, Choro occasionally echoes the merrier strains of Dixieland. Pixinguinho was the most influential composer of Choros. Os Ingenuos are masters of the genre, as are Waldir Silva, Jacob do Bandolim, and O Trio, Bahians who add a slight jazz sensibility to their version. Solo guitarists such as Sivuca and Baden-Powell often perform solo arrangements of Choros.


Samba, along with Bossa Nova, is the most easily recognized style of Brazilian music. Its African-derived sway hits the listener in the heart and hips and can be naughty, nice, or both at the same time. It is an urban expression that can incite rowdy public displays, accompany a romantic rendez-vous, and/or obliquely challenge authority. It can be sensual, humorous, tender, satirical, and/or dead serious. Drums are the soul of Samba and are always palpable, even when not physically in the mix. The lyrics frequently soar to sheer poetry.

Samba can be performed by a single guitarist or a mob and there are a variety of sub-styles. Samba Cancao (Song Samba) is, not surprisingly, primarily about melody, but can be performed by one person or everybody within earshot. Samba do Pagode (Pagoda Samba - referring to the many-tiered silhouette of a Chinese pagoda) involves breakneck, competitive verbal improvisation. Samba Breque stutters and explodes to a rhythm related to those of Reggae and Ska. Samba Enredo (Story Samba) is the roistering child of Carnaval and the streets. It swirls through the fenzied yearly debauch, rising from the throats, fingers and feet of damp, ecstatic, hyperventilating crowds of barely, if gorgeously, clad singers, dancers and drummers.

There are literally hundreds of great Sambistas (Samba singers) in Brazil. Many of the greatest are from the favelas (slums) or poorer districts of cities like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Salvador. A selection of Martinho da Vila's albums are must-haves. He is a man of tremendous social conscience, and his stage name is a tribute to his long-time association with the Unidos do Vila Isabel Escola de Samba (Samba School). Look for his anthem, "Canta, Canta, Minha Gente (Sing, Sing, My People)", to experience the soul of Samba. Other great singers include Jovalina Perola Negra, Agepe, Beth Carvalho, Jorge Ben, Clara Nunes, Alcione and Paulinho da Viola (for a quieter sound). However, these are merely some of the better-known specialists. All Brazilian musicians draw sustenance from the Samba, and all Brazilians love them.


The relationship between Samba and Brazil's huge Carnaval festivals is a byword. The word "Carnaval" is derived from the Latin and refers to the penitential renunciation of meat and other robust pleasures during Lent. Catholic and Yoruba-based African rituals co-exist amicably in Brazil, but the ancient Christian tradition of modestly indulging the senses prior to forty days of fasting and penance somehow got just a bit out of hand. At Carnaval time, Christianity bides its time until contrition sets in, and the hung-over masses totter off to make their no doubt astounding confessions before Easter. Then, assured of ultimate salvation and with a cheerful wink at the deity, the population begins their slide into perdition all over again!

At the heart of Carnaval are the Sambas de Enredo (Story Sambas), presented by enormous Escolas de Samba (Samba Schools). These are huge troupes of singers, instrumentalists, drummers and dancers who compete for the top prize at Carnaval every year. They began as informal gatherings of singers. One of the better known convened near a school and the participants were jokingly dubbed "professors", hence "Samba School". Before Carnaval, each Escola chooses a subject for their Samba and hands it in to the powers that be. The members then vie with one another to compose that year's entries.

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Each year's most choice Sambas de Enredo are released on CD prior to Carnaval and their merits are hotly debated, so the favorite song is usually chosen long before the actual festivities roll around and formal voting takes place. These collections are worth seeking out as imports, as are compilations based on previous years' winners. The Rio de Janeiro Carnaval is the world's biggest and rowdiest party and must be experienced to be believed, but has become rampantly commercial over the years. Nonetheless, a head-on encounter with a Desfile (Samba School on parade) is like being engulfed by a conquering army of total strangers who really want to make friends! To get an idea of what the Rio Carnaval was like before its present incarnation, the film "Orfeo Negro (Black Orpheus)" is widely available for home viewing. Another option is to attend Carnaval somewhere other than in Rio. Salvador, the capitol city of the North-Eastern province of Bahia, holds especially wondrous revels, but there are several local bashes around the country well worth checking out.


The simple definition of Batucada would be a percussion jam session, but that doesn't begin to describe the awesome power a tight ensemble is capable of producing. Percussion is the bare bones of Samba, but the larger Bateria (drumming) ensembles within the Samba Schools make breathtakingly complex walls of sound. The throbbing heartbeat of the surdo drum (somewhere between a bass drum and a tom-tom) underpins rattling snares, layers of hand-held percussion such as cowbells and triangles and tambourines, and the panting, surreal shrieks and moans of the cuica, a friction drum. Recordings of the mighty Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel are gems beyond price. Iris Musiques in France has compiled two CDs of Padre Miguel at its hugest, 300-plus strong, and the best tracks are under the direction of the late, great Mestre Andre. Iris Musiques has also put out a collection of footballer Batucada. Soccer and Batucada - now there's a true meeting of Brazilian obsessions!


Capoeira is a form of martial arts peculiar to Brazil, although some related disciplines still survive in Africa. It was created by slaves when they were forbidden to carry weapons and were thus supposedly rendered incapable of self-defense or rebellion. It seemed innocuous enough to those in power, just another African-derived dance style. However, aside from the acrobatic beauty of its movements, Capoeira is an effective method of hand-to-hand combat.

A unique type of music evolved to exhort and encourage the practitioners during their work-outs. The berimbau is the instrument that is most closely associated with Capoeira. It consists of a resonating gourd connected to a flexible, metal stringed bow, which is struck with a bamboo stick. The player pushes an open hole in the gourd against the stomach to make various tones. Meanwhile, the same musician uses a shaker called a caxixi. There are three sizes of berimbau, which roughly correspond to the soprano, tenor, and bass ranges; they are called viola, gunga and berra boi, respectively. Keeping track of so many rhythms, sounds and sensations requires ferocious concentration and can spill over into a state of trance.

Other percussion instruments are employed in Capoeira, many of which also turn up in Samba, including the atabaque (conga), pandeiro, agogo (cow bell), and triangle. But the berimbau's twangy, gutteral timbre is the most important fuel for the exhilaration craved by capoeira adepts. Any recording by Papete is worth the money, but Lyrichord's "Capoeira", by Guilherme Franco, has better sound quality than most of these and a modern twist as well.


These are the most profound musical exhalations of the black people of Bahia. Bloco Afros and Afoxes hail and venerate the Yoruba deities of Candomble amid hypnotic waves of percussion, chanting and/or accompanied singing, and they can be large or small. Filhos de Gandhi (Sons Of Gandhi) is one of the oldest and best-known of the Afoxes. The fiesty young Bloco Afro, Olodum, became world-famous after they played on Paul Simon's "Rhythms Of The Saints", but their combination of music and social work within their community made them beloved in Brazil long before that. A good general overview of these styles is "Afros E Afoxes Da Bahia (Mango), but there are several fine imported compilations available. Many Bahian artists routinely include Afoxe tracks on their albums.


Bossa Nova (New Way) was the whisper heard around the world. It was created during the sixties by a small group of Rio-based intellectuals, mostly poets and songwriters, and took the country, and later the world, by storm. Although it was and remains a much-loved style, it never displaced the Samba at home. But to many foreigners, the cool yet sultry strains of the Bossa Nova still mean "Brazil".

The major ringleaders of the movement were Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, Luiz Bonfa, Vinicius de Moraes, Oscar Castro-Neves , and Ary Barroso. They needed a more reflective yet subtly swinging sound to mesh with their highly allusive poetry and Carioca (born in Rio, although not all of them were) sensibilities. They were intrigued by French existentialism, and some of them, notably Jobim, were conservatory trained. Soon every nightclub in Ipanema featured solitary singer-guitarists or small ensembles clad in neat dark suits, playing their restrained and sophisticated melodies for enthralled audiences, among whom were visiting American jazz musicians.

The Bossa Nova reached American ears after it was lionized by the jazz community. Astrud Gilberto, the young wife of the well-known Bahia-born Bossa Nova singer-guitarist Joao Gilberto, frequently sang to her children in the nursery. Prevailed upon by her husband to sing (or some would say, murmur) in public, she recorded her demure English version of "Garota de Ipanema" ("The Girl From Ipanema") with Stan Getz, and the rest is history. Would-be swingers throughout the world baited their lairs with Bossa Nova and wines of dubious vintage, and entertainment conglomerates took notice. Bossa Nova, along with insinuating, pointless saxophone solos, became a metaphor for seduction in popular culture.

Fragile but powerful, sexy yet austere, the Bossa Nova is highly accessible to the listener but can be murder to perform, with its off-center rhythms and tricky tunings. Aside from the seminal figures already mentioned above, whose output is crucial to appreciating Bossa Nova, recordings by Elizeth Cardozo, Sylvia Telles, Miucha, Maysa, Quarteto Em Cy (a vocal ensemble), and Leny Andrade are worth searching for. Elis Regina also had an instinctive command of this style, and her album dedicated to Tom Jobim's music, "Elis And Tom", is magnificent. Many younger artists, even those who initially rebelled against the chilled-out Bossa Nova esthetic, are now exploring this aspect of Brazil's musical heritage. Leila Pinheiro is an especially intuitive interpreter. Tropicalia diva Gal Costa 's "Aquarela Do Brasil", her tribute to the songs of Ary Barroso, is not to be missed. Latter-day covers and collaborations with non-Brazilians should be viewed with a degree of caution, as they can be awash in layers of gooey sentiment.


Any action is bound to create a reaction. During the late sixties, after more than a decade of passive-aggressive Bossa Nova, a rebellious and uninhibited band of young musicians came roaring South from Bahia, the ancient crucible of African-Brazilian pride. They were dubbed the Tropicalia Movement, and if Bossa Nova was Samba plus Jazz, Tropicalia was Samba plus Rock n' Roll. They were fierce and funny, wore their Africa-kissed skin, hair and heritage proudly, and lived in tie-die and jeans. They wielded their electric guitars like weapons against conformity. They loathed all forms of racism and political oppression and wrote songs about the changes they wanted made. Their raucous presentation, openly expressed sexuality and taste for absurdist satire in no way obscured their enormous gifts as singers and songwriters. Their songs often alluded to the unmentionable, from politics to sexual orientation. However, there was a military dictatorship in power, and their outspoken tendencies often attracted considerable official disfavor.

The two song-writing giants of Tropicalia were Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Both were, and are, singers of the first rank, but while Caetano is a brilliant poet with a cooler sound, Gil is more of an extroverted rocker with a well-honed political edge. They spent a couple of years in London as political exiles during the early seventies; a well-chosen punishment, as nothing is more painful to a Brazilian than not being able to go home. While they were gone, their friends at home carried on under duress. Caeteno's whisky-voiced sister, Maria Bethania, and Gal Costa, with her Vegas showgirl legs and clarinet-toned pipes, continued to fearlessly champion their songs. After a bumpy start, both with the public and the government, Caetano and Gil came home and the Tropicalia musicians became an overwhelming popular success. Tropicalia as a movement only lasted for a few years, but the participants are still among the leaders of today's MPB. Their rebellion against the strictures of the Bossa Nova ended long ago, and they now perform and compose in any style that piques their interest. Ironically, the ringleaders, especially Caetano Veloso, have been co-opted by the international neo-lounge scene, whose self-consciously hip denizens effect a stance which imitates that which spawned Bossa-Nova in the first place!

Gal Costa's discography ranges from her wild-haired, rocker phase, through a period of show-biz extravaganzas, to her mature persona as a diva-deluxe, without missing a beat. "Gal Fa-Tal" provides a glimpse of the rocked-out early Gal. "Gal Tropical", "Gal Canta (Dorival) Caymmi", her album of songs by the masterly Bahian songwriter, and "Fantasia" are all very special, but each of her records has a lot to offer. Maria Bethania is a devoutly Bahian chanteuse with a wicked knack for torch songs. "Alibi" is a masterpiece, and "Drama Luz Da Noite", "Mel", "Alteza", and "Passaro Proibido" are also touched with magic. Gilberto Gil's recent output is impressive, especially the live recordings, but his classics still make compelling listening. "Gil E Jorge (Ben)" was a brilliant meeting of energies, and "Um Banda Um', "Realce" and "Extra" were all gems. Caetano Veloso has achieved true stardom and is more comfortable singing in English than the others, although his love affair with the Portuguese language continues unabated. He has stated that "Cinema Transendental" is one of his own favorites among his early albums, but "Bicho", "Outros Palavras", "Uns", and the delightful "Cores Nomes" are also classic Caetano. His modern material is uniformly arresting, with his light, suave tenor vocals and sly wit still very much in evidence. For example, his version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean", coupled with "Get Out Of Town", is charming and dryly funny. All four of the Tropicalia founders can be heard together on "Doces Barbaros". For an overview of each artist's genesis, the "Personalidade" compilation series is a good choice.


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Milton Nascimento's voice is instantly recognizable; a flexible, woodwind-like instrument with an enormous range and a persistent underlying elegiac tinge. He has struck a universal chord and is easily the most popular Brazilian artist on the world stage since the heyday of Bossa Nova.

Milton was born in Rio, but was raised by adoptive parents in the landlocked province of Minas Geraes (General Mines), where generations of slaves sang as their bleeding fingers wrested ore from the stones. The area is devoutly Catholic, and the church-like harmonies that inform much of Milton's music began here. In the provincial capitol of Belo Horizonte, Milton and a group of boyhood friends forged what became a modern, but recognizably Mineiro sound. Agostinho dos Santos (who sang on the soundtrack to "Black Orpheus") submitted three of Milton's songs to the TV Excelsior competition in 1967. Milton was named "Best Performer" and his first album, "Travessia" ("Bridges", which is still in print), was released by RCA that same year. Later, he played his work for the great (some say the greatest) Brazilian chanteuse, Elis Regina. When he ran out of material, she simply asked, "Is that all there is?" and so began a very special partnership. In Brazil, when a song gets airplay, the names of the composer and lyricist are listed along with that of the performer, so Elis' championship of his songs raised Milton's visibility and created a stronger demand for his own recordings.

It was his albums for EMI (since remastered at Abbey Road Studios in London) that brought him to the attention of audiences outside Brazil and established his legend. The two volumes of "Clube de Esquinha ("Corner Club") recall how he and his friends hung out on the streets, playing their music and comparing licks. Among them were the keyboardist Wagner Tiso, drummer Robertinho Silva, guitarist Toninho Horta, composer Tavinho Moura, lyricist Fernando Brant, and the angelic singer, Flavio Venturini. "Minas" and "Geraes" delve into hometown recollections via jazz-flavored and folkloric stylings, respectively. Milagre dos Peixes ("Miracle Of The Fishes")" has wordless vocals as a protest about the censorship enforced by the incumbent military regime. Members of his youthful posse appear on these and subsequent recordings, providing an unbroken link between Milton's past and present. He enjoys working with female singers whose timbres match his bottom tenor-to-baritone range - hardly anybody can match his stratospheric falsetto. His dulcet duets with the Argentinean folk singer, Mercedes Sosa, date from this period.

The American jazz icon, Wayne Shorter, invited Milton to record with him in the USA around this time. While the two resulting albums had many lovely moments, it was obvious that Milton's own band of collaborators were better suited to his style, and that he was far more comfortable phrasing his vocals in the sideways swim of his native Portuguese than in straight up-and-down English.

During the early eighties, Milton signed with Ariola and his potent synthesis of childhood memories, folk music, jazz, and rock matured. His vision was given its technical due on "Sentinela", "Anima (which includes his soul-searching lament for the untimely passing of Elis Regina)", and the ambitious "Missa dos Quilombos", a mass saluting the courage and tragedy of escaped slaves, centuries back. He was still working with many of his cohorts from the journeyman EMI recordings, but also introduced the silky, jazz-influenced guitar of Riccardo Silveira and the whiz-bang acoustic wizardry of Grupo Uakti, whose invented instruments make unexpected sounds recalling the work of the American composer-inventor, Harry Partch. Mercedes Sosa continued to sit in, along with such other deep-toned women singers as Nana Caymmi and Simone. Ariola's top-notch production values refracted Milton's colors and flung them from earth to sky like an Aurora from the South, garnering ecstatic press and legions of new fans.

His subsequent recordings for PolyGram and CBS included such splendid efforts as "Encontros E Despedidas" and "Txai", a tribute to the Indians of the rain forest. However there were also regrettable, LA-influenced soft jazz excursions, featuring American musicians who were not always equipped to deal with Milton's highly individual sound. Now signed to Warner Brothers, his 1997 release "Nascimento" fortunately cancels out the excesses, employing a humbler, highly percussive palette, and allows for the gentle ways that time has touched his voice. Being careful of his vocal cords in no way detracts from Milton's ability to move the heart and engage the intellect.


There is a vibrant tradition of singer-composers in Brazil. They hail from throughout country, often expressing pride in their provincial identities and suffering no loss of identity through collaboration.

Chico Buarque came up during the sixties as a Sambista, singing alone with his guitar. However, it became apparent that he had a rare gift for melody and verse, and he became a favorite with audiences and other singers. He initially harbored a Carioca's disdain for the theatrics of the Tropicalia crowd, who also mistrusted him. After he spent a year in political exile due his frisky lyric content, they came to an understanding and have occasionally worked together ever since. Chico's score for the film "Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands" included the popular Samba, "O Que Sera", which was sung as a duet by Chico and Milton Nascimento, and also given the torch treatment by Simone. The album "Meus Caros Amigos" features this tune, and is one of his best, but "Vida" "Sinal Fechado", "Juntos (with Caetano Veloso - a true meeting of giants)", and any compilation featuring his political anthems, "Apesar De Voce" and "Vai Passar", makes great listening.

Ivan Lins is Brazil's Tin Pan Alley. He and his regular lyricist, Vitor Martins, have been churning out hit after hit since they first met in 1974. Born in Rio, Ivan has a pop star's charisma and a wonderfully tuneful, flexible voice. After Elis Regina released her charming version of "Madalena", other singers were anxious to record his songs. His works have since found favor with such American and US-based Brazilian musicians as Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Tania Maria, Carl Tjader, George Benson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sergio Mendes, and Quincy Jones, who won a Grammy with his version of "Velas". Ivan's own albums are very special, notably "Dinorah, Dinorah", a compilation of his early hits on EMI, plus "Depois De Temporais", and "Juntos", a retrospective featuring an army of guest artists; both are on PolyGram.

Djavan is a superstar, a beautiful, dreadlocked man with a sexy baritone and a sophisticated musical vocabulary. He is often compared to Stevie Wonder (who has recorded with him) due to his versatility and his highly accessible yet personal synthesis of a wide variety of styles. He was born in the North-Eastern province of Alagoas, which is one of the closest points in Brazil to Africa. The rich culture brought to area by the slave trade is part of everyday life, but there is also racism and poverty. Djavan often addresses social and economic injustices, but he has also written dozens of tender, well-crafted love songs. His early output for EMI is elegant and rootsy. Good choices would include "Seduzir", and "Faltando Um Pedaco". His recordings for CBS are more produced-sounding, but no less deep and masterly. "Luz", and "Lilas" are masterpieces of lush pop.

Other singer-composers worth checking out are Vinicius Cantuaria, who was once in Caetano Veloso's band and now lives and works in New York City, Joao Bosco, and Toquinho, a singing guitar virtuoso who also recorded an important series of records with Vinicius de Moraes.


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Elis (pronounced eh-lees) was arguably the finest female singer to ever raise her voice in Brazil. She was a songwriter's dream, an intelligent interpreter whose soul poured out with every note. Her appealing mezzo could be a whispery catch in her throat or an instrument powerful enough to uproot trees and knock down masonry. She sang Bossa Nova, Samba, pop, and the rarified works of Milton Nascimento with equal aplomb. She could giggle, roar, sob and rage. There was nothing she couldn't do, except keep her demons in check and survive to sing another day. When she died of an overdose in 1982, Brazil shut down in shock and grief. Elis never made a bad record during her short life, but a prime selection would include "10 Anos Blue", "Elis And Toots (Thielemanns)", "Falso Brilhante", "Transversal Do Tempo", and "The Music Of Joao Bosco E Aldir Blanc (these were among her favorite songwriters)" for PolyGram. Her recordings for WEA were on a larger scale, but no collection should be without "Essa Mulher" and "Saudade Do Brasil". One of her last live performances was preserved by RCA on "Trem Azul". It makes painful listening, as the lady is audibly strung out. But the magic triumphs regardless, and Elis remains the alpha and omega.

Brazil has fostered many gifted women singers, among whom are Simone, Fafa de Belem, Zizi Possi, and Maria Creuza. Recent discoveries include Daniela Mercury, Marisa Monte, and Margareth Menezes (now being produced by the American singer-composer David Byrne). The gloriously dark, creamy voice of Virginia Rodrigues is a world unto itself, and she is rapidly gaining adherents among fans of the Cape-Verdean Morna singer, Cesaria Evora.


The term Musica Nordestinho (North-Eastern Music) actually encompasses a wide range of traditions, but they are, for the most part, easily recognized as being from this part of Brazil. The rhythms are intense; but more stately, and the emphasis is differently placed. The local accent is rougher than in the South; so the singing has an earthy charm. The area around Recife has a special Carnaval beat, called Frevo, and a variety of other styles have sprung up; including Baiao, a dance music played by small ensembles, and the Maracatu.

But the most prominent form is called Forro, and is often played at so frantic a tempo that winded tourists are quickly driven into spectator mode. The accordion is a fixture in traditional Forro trios, evoking comparisons with North-American Zydeco. The associated dance is performed by agile and uninhibited couples, energetically working up a sweat from their exertions and expectations. The late Luiz Gonzaga was a pioneer of Forro and he created a sensation throughout Brazil with his gift for melody and pungent lyrics, and his assertive pride in his background. His most popular song, "Asa Branco", has been covered by dozens of MPB stars. His son, known as Gonzaguinho (little Gonzaga), was also much-loved, but tragically, he only survived his father by a couple of years.

Other famous latter-day exponents of Nordestinho music are Moraes Moreira, Fagner, Domiguinhos, and Geraldo Azevedo. Alceu Valenca also has his fans, and big-voiced, devoutly socially conscious queen of Nordestinho, Elba Ramalho, continues to hold sway.


The city of Belem in Amazonia, like the rest of Brazil, has always had its own regional music and dances, which were cross-pollinated by radio transmissions from the nearby Guianas. By the mid-seventies, a dominant style known as the Lambada had emerged. A more weightless and refined version was the rage of Bahia by the middle of the next decade, and it was here that vacationing bottom-feeders from the French music industry got their mitts on it.

The French promoters hastily flung some accommodating locals into the studio and greased up the hype machine. They were less interested in the music than in the accompanying mildly naughty dance, which they sold to the ignorant, panting multitudes back home as "safe sex" and the "forbidden dance", performed by humping couples and women wearing no underwear. The trend became an international phenomenon. It was, to the eternal credit of American music lovers, quickly laughed out of the USA; but not before it made some inroads among mall-rats and was spun off into a couple of numbingly lousy movies.

The Lambada still exists in Brazil; but then, it always did. The Euro-impostor has, fortunately, long since been deader than a door-nail. However, it made a lot of money for some people, who are probably proud of their bank balances, if nothing else.


As previously noted, Bossa Nova was and remains heavily aligned with Jazz. However, the highly original albums of Hermeto Pascoal and Egberto Gismonti have long fascinated American players and still provide some valuable insights.


Most Brazilian rock is so heavily influenced by outside sources that it is of less interest to listeners from outside the country, unless their Portuguese is fluent enough to appreciate the local slant on feelings and events. However, the light-hearted albums of Rita Lee, who began as a member of the Tropicalia Movement, are a delightful exception. The neo-Glam antics and underlying social message of Ney Matogrosso is also a very local expression. Os Mutantes are the latest standard-bearers.

Omni-present economic difficulties in the sprawling cities of Rio and most notably, Sao Paulo, have spawned a burgeoning Rap scene. Iris Musiques has put out a well-picked compilation of these artists, and comparisons with American Hip-Hoppers are both fun and instructive. As with other Rap styles, harsh social realities are being addressed and hence the lyrics can be vulgar, but even this is easier on the ears in Portuguese!


Paul Simon worked with a cadre of Brazilian musicians of his "Rhythm Of The Saints". He got blown off his own record by gamely sharing a track with Milton Nascimento, but was, as usual, extremely astute in his choice of collaborators. American art-rockers Arto Lindsay (who lived in Brazil for many years) and David Byrne are famously supportive of Brazil's classic acts and always on the lookout for newer talent. The experimentally-minded former Tropicalia cohort Tom Ze and Chico Science were among the acts that Byrne has sponsored. Kip Hanrahan of American Clave has laid down some gorgeous tracks with Tom Jobim, and various fusions are continually going on in all directions.

The present scene encompasses everything that went before, in varying degrees. The dominance of North American Rock and other styles from outside the culture worries some observers, but the Samba is never far from the heart and soul of most Brazilians. Sophisticated Carioca society women still put their feet in water promptly at midnight on New Years' Eve in tribute to Yemanja, the Candomble goddess of motherhood and the ocean. Succeeding generations of musicians may rebel, because this is what young people tend to do; but most will ultimately re-claim their birthright because there is so much to come home to.
(see also an interview with
Carlinhos Brown)

Article by Christina Roden
Please note that this article was written in 1998 and in no way is intended to represent all the music of Brasil. Further exploration of the music, and reviews of the latest recordings are always available on RootsWorld.

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