Brazilian music is the result of a mixture of people and traditions. Our music has origins in indigenous rituals, African dances and European traditions. This great intercultural mixture created music that is full of history and reflects the creativity and joy of the Brazilian people.
It’s impossible to talk about Brazilian music without touching on our history. We begin with old folk songs, African sounds, military marches, religious hymns, erudite European songs and tribal rhythms that throughout the 16th and 17th century influenced our musical style.
Two rhythms particularly stand out in the growing cities of the 18th and 19th century: Lundu and Modinha. Lundu, of African origin, had a strong dancing rhythm and sensual appeal. Modinha, of Portuguese origins, was more melancholic and talked about love in a calm and erudite beat. The mixture of lundu, modinha and European ballroom dance resulted in a rhythm called choro (cry), or chorinho, in the second half of the 19th century. It’s an upbeat and cheerful rhythm, characterized by the improvisation of the performers. Choro is considered to be Brazil’s first typical popular urban music style. In 1899, singer Chiquinha Gonzaga composed the song Abre Alas, one of the best known carnival marches of all times.
At the beginning of the 20th century we saw the precursors of what would become samba. A mixture of African percussion beats, capoeira music and candomblé rhythms began to emerge from the hillside slums and rooming houses in Rio de Janeiro. Previously an elitist celebration, carnival began to include the participation of former slaves and people of mixed background.
The first samba was composed by Ernesto dos Santos in 1917 and recorded by Pixinguinha.
The growing popularity of radio in the 1920s and 1930s played an important role in promoting Brazilian music. This was the era of Ary Barroso, Dorival Caymmi, Lupicínio Rodrigues and Noel Rosa. Popular singers included Carmen Miranda, whose sensual songs encompassed a comedic element and social and political critiques.
In the 1940s Luiz Gonzaga made a name for himself. Known as the “King of Baião”, he talked about the drought in the northeast of Brazil in songs like as Asa Branca. By the end of the 1950s, Bossa Nova was born, a sophisticated and smooth style that extolled the beauty of Brazil abroad and immortalized the famous “Girl from Ipanema“. Many successful singers and composers followed. Tom Jobim and João Gilberto acquired international fame.
In the 1960s, television began to exude an important influence on music. It was during that period that Brazilian station TV Record organized the televised Festival of Popular Brazilian Music, which launched important movements such as Tropicalismo and the Jovem Guarda.
The Jovem Guarda was influenced by American rock music with a romantic touch. Its most successful representatives were Roberto Carlos, Erasmo Carlos and Wanderléa. The Tropicalista movement combined traditional elements of Brazilian culture with more radical innovations.
Tropicalismo proposed a universal sound, far removed from folklore, with cosmopolitan tendencies. Its followers were socially and politically motivated, involved in protests against the dictatorship. Important names of this movement, such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, were persecuted and exiled. The movement was mainly active in music and included important representatives such as Tom Zé and Rita Lee. The height of the Tropicalista movement was the 1967 Festival of Popular Brazilian Music, when Caetano Veloso performed Alegria, Alegria and Gilberto Gil, together with the group Mutantes, played Domingo no Parque. The Tropicália album is an important historic record of this movement.
The transition to the 1970s was marked by the emergence of Popular Brazilian Music, also known as MPB (Brazilian Popular Music). Influenced by other rhythms such as rock and samba, MPB became very popular, launching a variety of successful artists, including Chico Buarque and Elis Regina. In the 1970s, Brazilian music had already acquired international fame. Nara Leão recorded songs by Cartola and Nelson do Cavaquinho. Northeastern artists Gal Costa, Maria Bethânia and Elba Ramalho captured many fans.
In the 1980s and 1990s, new music styles emerged that were strongly influenced by foreign music. This was the case with rock and punk that left their mark at the Rock in Rio Festival. These styles had a strong urban theme and talked about social issues, youth issues and love. Big names from this period include Paralamas do Sucesso, Cazuza, Cássia Eller and Raul Seixas.
In the 1990s we also see a growing popularity of Sertanejo music, or Brazilian country. This music style with very romantic overtones is made popular by artists such as Chitãozinho e Xororó, Zezé di Camargo e Luciano, Leandro e Leonardo. At the same time, rap music is making a name for itself with artists such as Gabriel, o Pensador and O Rappa.
The 21st century kicked off with several successful rock groups that are popular among teenagers. Examples include Charlie Brown Jr. and Skank.
The predominant role of female artists is also noteworthy. From the early days of radio until today, the majority of artists have been women. In 2006, there were more than 100 albums by female artists. In that same period, there were only 34 albums by male artists.
Brazil’s growing access to global culture also resulted in a greater appreciation of our own historic roots. Over and over again, our music proves its originality and diversity, even when it incorporates well known rhythms and music.
The creative fusion of different influences and the wealth of musical styles give us the freedom to recreate and recycle. Samba, sertanejo, forró, funk, hip hop, Bahian music and electronic tunes are all part of the rhythms created in Brazil today.
Brazilian music is growing, evolving and transforming, reaching the world with its joy and diversity that is representative of our people.
Watch some Brazilian music videos:
Domingo no Parque – Gilberto Gil and Mutantes
Aquarela do Brasil – Ary Barroso by Gal Costa