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Samba, Bossa Nova and Brazilian Pop & Country Music

One of Brazil’s greatest national treasures is its musical heritage. The uniquely Brazilian forms of Samba and Bossa Nova are recognized the world over. But Brazil has many musical traditions, including country, Afro-Brazilian, and pop. And there’s nothing like a little Brazilian Rap or Hip-Hop to start your day.

Brazilian Country Music

To some, the most genuinely Brazilian music is known as Chorinho. Born in the Brazilian countryside, Chorinho is based principally on the guitar and Mandolin, known as a cavaquinho, but often includes various small bamboo flutes and tambourines, known as pandeiros. It is characterized by an intricate and often high velocity pickin’ and strummin’, not unlike the guitar and banjo playing of American bluegrass music. The most recognized piece of music in this genre is known as Brasileirinho, which would no doubt be recognized almost anywhere in the world. Carmen Miranda’s musical accompaniment was basically Chorinho music. There are usually no vocals involved in Chorinho, but some of the slow serenades do include some heart-felt crooning.

Chorinho, which literally means whining or crying music, is found primarily in the hillsides of the Central West and Southeast Regions. It has a kind of folk character to it. From Chorinho came Brazil’s most popular and ubiquitous country music, known as Sertaneja. Brazil’s Sertaneja music is reminiscent of other Latin American country music. It is dominated by male sopranos, singing sappy lyrics that are 90% likely to include the words paixão (passion), coração (heart), solidão (loneliness), and traição (ya done me wrong). It is associated with Brazil’s cowboy culture, which is prevalent in the lower half of the country, but Sertaneja can be heard everywhere in Brazil. The most traditional ranch hands in the Pantanal and Rio Grande do Sul prefer a guitar-based music, known as Moda de Viola (guitar-style music).

Samba and Bossa Nova

The best place to hear Samba music in Brazil is in the Samba capital of Rio de Janeiro. A mixture of African and Portuguese folk music, Samba most likely grew up in the slave communities in the latter half of the 19th century, but did not emerge as a musical form until the early 1900s in its association with Carnaval and popular festivals. In addition to its music and dance forms, Samba includes a kind of history-telling with a focus on colonial themes and, of course, Carnaval. In Brazil, any time you hear Samba music, you’ll probably see Samba dancing. The sensual shuffle-step is especially designed for women, but includes some simple steps for men as well. Women commonly dance Samba alone, as seen in the Carnaval parades. Men, however, always dance Samba with a female partner.

The mellow, melodic Bossa Nova groove emerged in the 1950s and 1960s as a down-tempo take on samba. It came specifically from the musical and rhythmic interpretations of João Gilberto, a poor and introverted guitar player from Bahia who made his way to Rio de Janeiro to try out his ideas. His association with songwriter Antônio Carlos Jobim and American jazz musician Stan Getz made a permanent mark in the history of music. Bossa Nova is not commonly played in bars and establishments in Brazil these days, although you’ll hear plenty of remakes of Jobim’s compositions. Although Gilberto gained more international recognition, Tom Jobim has always been more popular inside Brazil. Astrud Gilberto is practically unknown in Brazil.

Brazilian Pop Music

While the masses were dancing to Samba, the upper crust was dancing to orchestral music, including the big band music of the United States. Brazil’s orchestral music was extremely popular and influenced the next phase of popular music, called Musica Popular Brasileiro (MPB), which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the more famous names in this genre include Caetano Veloso, Chico Boarque, and Rita Lee. MPB borrows its rhythms from Samba, rock, and big band and so varies widely in its interpretations. Some Brazilian compositions are famous the world over, such as Aquarela do Brasil (Ari Barroso) and O Bêbado e a Equilibrista (João Bosco). Both are sweet melodies that have become unofficial national anthems. On the hard end of MPB are Brazil’s many rock groups. There are also Funk, Hip-Hop, and Techno music cultures in the larger cities.

Brazilian Dance Music

With the exception of Samba, Brazil’s most recognized dance music comes from Bahia and the Northeast and incorporates the special Afro-Brazilian rhythms that originate there. Among the more popular styles are Axé, Afoxé, and Forró. Axé is most commonly heard during Carnaval and in the group dancing events throughout the Northeast. People dance to Axé music individually in a kind of sexy, aerobic line dancing. The music is characterized by strong Afro-Brazilian beats and suggestive (often humorously vulgar) lyrics. Afoxé is a more traditional, folkloric music characterized by slow, almost hypnotic rhythms. It’s commonly heard during Carnaval in Salvador as the marching beat for the parading groups. You can also hear it in the music of Gilberto Gil.

Forró music originated in the 1940s when American soldiers were stationed in the northern states and got together with locals to throw large dance parties. The music was based on a traditional African dance music, known as Maxixe, but introduced new instruments like the guitar and accordion. Maxixe dancing was considered pornographic at the time and was prohibited from being practiced in public. The lighter Forró dance style is a cross between Swing and Lambada.

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