Sunday, January 6, 2013


Brazilian music has long been one of my favorite genres of music, and I’m geeking out a little bit about this post.  Music is such an important and integrated part of Brazilian society. In fact, I watched a documentary with my husband called Favela Rising about the AfroReggae movement and the incredible work of Anderson Sá in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. He basically started teaching percussion and music to the kids and young people in the favelas for free in exchange that they not do drugs or drink and not join the drug armies. It took a long time for them to become established as a part of the community, and it certainly had its ups and downs, but they’ve gained international notoriety by using the arts as a means of giving people an out to violence. It just goes to show the power of music education and education in general. Too bad American lawmakers and certain educational leaders don’t understand that.

The earliest music came out of Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais, the cultural capital of Brazil during the colonial days. The native peoples in the northern rainforest areas used a variety of whistle, flutes, drums and rattles in their music, and the Jesuits who were there introduced the bow (for string instruments) and the clavichord (an early keyboard instrument). Probably one of the most famous Brazilian classical composers was Heitor Villa-Lobos, who was active from about the late 1920s to the late 1950s. He wrote many pieces for the guitar. 

With roots in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, samba is most associated with Carnival.  Traditionally, samba used only string instruments and percussion, but after WWII, it incorporated the brass and woodwind instruments that we are now more familiar with. Samba has its roots from African slaves who were from the Bahia area. As they traveled to other cities in search for work and such, they came in contact with other musical styles, and it became integrated into samba as well. As different regions developed variations based on cultural influences and merging it with other styles, different types of samba emerged. By the late 1930s, a style known as samba-exaltação was what caught the international eye, with Brazilian actress Carmen Miranda bringing samba’s prevalence to Hollywood. Other musicians associated with samba and its variations include Beth Carvalho, Cartola, Fernanda Porto, Pixinguinha, Seu Jorge, Marcelo D2 (who often mixes samba and hip-hop – I just downloaded the album Meu Samba É Assim which is such a great album), Banda Black Rio (samba-funk), Olodum (samba-reggae), among others.

Bossa nova is actually a mix of samba and jazz that became really popular in the 1960s. It’s still considered part of the canon of jazz repertoire. In contrast to samba’s roots, bossa nova grew from Rio de Janeiro’s upscale beach neighborhoods. One of the most identifying features is the bossa nova rhythm in 4/4 time: [enter graphic ] The song that brought bossa nova to an international recognition was Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s “The Girl from Ipanema” in 1964 (most notably known with Astrud Gilberto on vocals).  Some of the more famous bossa nova musicians include Chico Buarque, Bebel Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Sérgio Mendes, Elis Regina, Caetano Veloso, Charlie Byrd, and Gal Costa. Because of its similarities, there are many musicians who perform both samba and bossa nova.

There are certain instruments that are key to Brazilian music. The most identifiable sound would be the cuíca. The cuíca is a type of friction drum, where the drummer changes the pitch by changing the tension of the drum head to produce a type of squeaky sound. It’s named after a type of small opossum that makes a similar sound and used a lot in samba music. Other percussion instruments from bass drums to tambourines to homemade percussion instruments are used; many of which have ties to African instruments. Flutes, guitars, the piano, and other modern instruments are also widely used.

MPB stands for Música Popular do Brasil. It is more or less an urban style of music that relied on mostly non-electric types of music, but incorporated a lot of folk, folk-rock, rock, bossa nova, pop, and jazz.  Many of the themes include some kind of criticism towards social justice and governmental issues. Chico Buarque and Elis Regina are among the key leaders in the MPB style. Other musicians include Milton Nascimento and Djavan (I tried to get my husband to name our son Djavan, but he wouldn’t go for it.)

Brazilian rock really got started in the 1960s and 1970s with a group called Os Mutantes and others, and by the 1980s and 1990s became commercially mainstream and branched out into other styles of rock such as metal and punk. Most Brazilian rock has a very mainstream Western sound to it as several American and European rock bands became international sensations. However, there is also a fusion between rock music and samba or bossa nova, giving it a distinctive “Brazilian” feel to it. These days, many MPB musicians cross over into the rock category as well as styles merge. Some of the popular ones throughout the years – and I have many of them in my own collection – are Barão Vermelho, Kid Abelha, Jota Quest, Skank (the first CD I actually paid full price for in Brazil, pronounced like “skunk”), Chico Science & Nação Zumbi, Sepultura, CSS, Tequila Baby, Ultramen, O Rappa, Charlie Brown Jr (one of my absolute favorites!), Planet Hemp, Raimundos, Adriana Calcanhoto, Tribalistas (comprised of Marisa Monte [whom I named my daughter after], Carlinhos Brown, and Arnaldo Antunes), CéU, and Nando Reis.

Dance in Brazil varies with region and is certainly based on the cultural background of that region as well. The northern areas have dances that can be tied back to traditional African dances. The southern gaucho dances have more European influences to their dances. One of the most popular types of dance that is associated with Brazil is capoeira. It’s like a mix of martial arts and dance developed from African slaves and Brazilian natives. Capoeira is characterized by choreographed punching, wide leg sweeps, flips, and take downs. It was developed as a way for the slaves to practice extreme fighting styles, but was never performed without music, masquerading it as a dance rather than martial arts. Traditionally, the capoeira “band” (called the bateria) instruments include three berimbaus (a single-string percussion instrument with a bow), two pandeiros (a type of hand frame drum with metal jingles, similarly made to a tambourine), one atabaque (tall, wooden hand drum), one agogô (like a double cowbell), and one ganzá (a shaker or a rattle). In the US, capoeira is becoming popular among martial art schools and college campuses.

Up next: the food

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