The urban music of Brazil

When people think of Brazil, it is usually soccer and carnival that comes to mind. Maybe Samba and Bossa nova, for the connoisseur or 70’s hippie (e.g. my parents). However, Brazil is a country with one of the most elaborate musical traditions in the world and I’m grateful to be able to specialise in Brazilian vocals. In this blogpost I therefore will attempt to provide a brief history and introduction to Brazilian music. Brazil, however, is a huge country with many different styles and genres and I know about more about certain genres than others. Therefore, this blog post will focus on the music of the cities of Brazil, but please know there is way more out there.

Choro: when Africa meets Europe

         One of the first established officially Brazilian genres is Choro. It’s origins lie in the mixture of classical European dances (think of Polka, Mazurka, Maxixe) with African rhythms, created in the 19th and begin 20th centuries. Obviously, the circumstances under which this music came to be are not honourable whatsoever (thanks colonialism), but it provided for a virtuoso new genre of music that is still being celebrated nowadays.

         Choro can be thought of as the Jazz of Brazil, although it also has major classical aspects (look into Heitor Villa-Lobos). A composition typically consists of an A, B and C part and is played in rondo form. The theme is established and afterwards every instrument takes its turn soloing over the parts. Choro is usually played in a so-called Roda, meaning a circle of musicians that come together and “jam” to choro standards. A remarkable feature of Choro music is the presence of counterpoint, which is the (often improvised) accompanying or harmonizing the main theme by other instruments. Notable Choro composers are Jacob de Bandolim and  Pixinguinha, among others.

Samba: when you dance till you fall to the ground

         Samba might be the sound most characteristic of Brazil. It is commonly heard of internationally, that is one of the subgenres of samba: Samba enredo. It is the samba that is danced to indefinitely during the famous carnival. However, Samba has many other subgenres. It came forth from Choro, when singers started participating in the rodas. The lyrics that were written in the beginning often focussed on the struggles of life and the nostalgia of better days. This concept is known as Saudade, a word speakers of Portuguese claim to be untranslatable.

         Many subgenres of samba emerged over the course of the first half of the 20th century, each with their own characteristics. Examples include: Samba enredo, Samba de Morro, Samba canção, Samba chorado, Samba de Gafieira and many more. It is important to note that Samba is a genre that is still very much alive to this day, although some of it modernised of course (Looking at you mister Pagode). Notable samba musicians are: Martinho da Vila, Mart’nália, Teresa Cristina, Clara Nunes, Zeca Pagodinho, Carmem Miranda, etc. etc. etc…

Bossa Nova: when Samba mixes with Jazz

         During the 60’s of the 20th century, crossover took place between the music of Brazil and the music of  the United States. Jazz musicians from New York came to learn in Rio and vice versa. As a result, a new type of Brazilian music came to be: Bossa Nova. Two men in particular were very important for this new wave of samba, them being Antônio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and João Gilberto. Together they paved the way for the genre that became very popular worldwide in the 70’s, and is still very popular, unrightfully so, as elevator music. The major characteristics of the style is that it is less percussive than Samba and the lyrics are about lighter topics, more resembling those of the American Jazz standards in that sense. It remains an intricate style and is still popular for Jazz musicians to have a few bossas in their setlists.

Música Popular Brasileira (MPB): when pop music has sophistication (pls, I’m not a snob)

         MPB is not pop music, despite its deceptive name. MPB is basically what happened when all the before mentioned genres mixed and modernised. It is the music that is made the most and still has Brazilian roots. MPB relies on the rhythms and grooves of Choro, Samba, Bossa and other more folkloric styles such as Baião, Frevo and others, while adding a modern twist. It is an umbrella term and no two MPB artists are the same. Some of it is more poppy, some of it is more Jazzy; really there are no rules. The lyrics are often political, as the genre was established during the military dictatorship that was in place from the 60’s till the 80’s. The first and foremost MPB singer was Elis Regina, but other notable artists are: Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Maria Rita, Mônica Salmaso, Edu Lobo, Maria Bethânia, Tim van Breemen, among others.

Brazilian music: when one specialises in it

These genres are by no means the most listened to in Brazil nowadays, but I believe them to be the most Brazilian. However, I’m not a Brazilian (me machuca, pois é), so please take this blog post with a grain of salt. I do hope however that this post has been inspiring and has offered a brief introduction to some of the marvellous music Brazil has to offer.

To conclude, I would want to emphasise why I think Brazilian music is so interesting and  deserves to be more popular. Brazilian music is both complex and relatable, even if you don’t speak the language. It is a genre of music that sometimes is looked down upon in the professional music industry and is considered a gimmick Jazz musicians also can do. In my opinion it deserves the same status and pay-rate as Jazz, as well as that it is recognised as its own unique musical tradition, because it is. And I think millions of Brazilians would agree with me.

P.S. If you’re interested in playing Choro or other types of Brazilian music, there is music school in Rotterdam that specialises in it (EPM Holanda), so please have a look at their site.