RealWorld Guide to Music in Brazil
Music is woven into the fabric of daily life in Brazil and any visitor is able to find a wealth of different musical forms that vary considerably between different regions. It's not just the size of the country which has led to there being such a variety of different styles of music, but the fact that over the years Brazil has served as a melting pot for various different cultures, all of which brought their own traditions and instruments and added them to the mix...
The History of Music in Brazil
The Portuguese introduced flutes, guitars, pianos and many other European instruments when they colonised Brazil in the 16th Century. However, it is probably African slaves that have had the biggest, and certainly the most lasting influence on Brazilian music. When they were taken to the country they bought with them their traditional percussive instruments such as the atabaques, surdo and the tamborim but more importantly also bought their playing style, in particularly their traditional rhythms, which with religious significance had been a part of their musical tradition for hundreds of years. The influence of these traditional African rhythms can still be heard today in Brazilian music styles.
The Birth of Samba
These foreign influences mixed with the musical traditions of the native Amerindians, and created all the recognisable styles of Brazilian music today. The most famous style of Brazilian music around the world is probably Samba. This is in no doubt partly due to the fact it features heavily in the annual Rio Carnival celebrations which have unsurprisingly become extremely popular with tourists who seek to join in with this flamboyantly hedonistic party.
Although the roots of samba lie in Africa its modern form arose in the early 20th Century and utilises the traditional batucada rhythm with the samba being played by strings and on percussive instruments such as the tamborin. Influences from the US in the post-war period added the use of trombones, trumpets and clarinets to produce what has become the contemporary samba sound.
Today, samba is more than just a musical style: it's an entire culture encompassing food, dance and art. Every year artists, choreographers, musicians, designers, sculptors and stylists work together to produce the floats, costumes and sounds that go together to create the breath-taking Rio Carnival experience which is enjoyed around the world.
Capoeira: Music Meets Martial Arts
The martial art meets dance phenomenom of Capoeira is a massive part of Brazilian culture and music is certainly the beating heart of this centuries-old dance form. Like much of Brazilian music culture, capoeira owes much to the traditions bought to Brazil by the African slaves. Capoeira was formed, in what is now the state of Pernambuco, when African slaves mixed their traditional fighting styles together to create a new one. The art of capoeira involves standing to form a circle known as a roda. People involved then take turns sparring with each other in the middle of this circle while others play musical instruments and sing and chant.
No-one is certain as to the exact reasons why capoeira was developed, but a popular interpretation is that the marriage of martial arts and dance meant that African slaves were able to practice fighting, something that would not have been allowed by their owners, behind a veil of performance and display. It is also widely accepted that it was used as a means to vent the anger the slaves would have felt at their captivity and transportation.
Bossa Nova Beats
The Bossa Nova style was created by Joao Gilberto and has its roots in samba but takes in a lot of the jazz influences which were popular at the time. This created a less percussive, softer and melodic sound. The name bossa nova literally means ‘new trend’ and it certainly was just that. While the samba sound pulsed from the favelas perched on the hills overlooking Rio de Janeiro, the bossa nova sound could be heard could be heard playing in the trendy bars and restaurants lining the beaches of Rio.
Although the bossa nova sound had its hey-day in the 1960s, with international superstars such as Frank Sinatra producing bossa nova inspired tunes, and classic tracks like the "Girl from Ipanema", the sound has also found favour with contemporary artists. Most notably in 2006 the Black Eyed Peas released a cover of "Mas Que Nada", the classic bossa nova piece written by Jorge Ben and made famous by Sergio Mendes.