Brazilian Music | The World of Samba, Bossa Nova & Tropicália

Beautiful beaches, soccer, and Brazilian carnival are some of the first things that come to mind when thinking about the biggest country in South America. 

But Brazil is also home to Samba music, Bossa Nova, and thousands of talented artists. 

Its music doesn’t only thrive nationally (Brazilians are allegedly responsible for 5% of Spotify’s revenues) but has also built an international reputation. 

This blog post will highlight some of the founding fathers and mothers of Brazilian music and a few personal favorites. 

1. João Gilberto

João Gilberto is known as the father of Bossa Nova and was one of the pioneers in this field. 

He was influenced by Duke Ellington and mixed jazz and samba. Some of the most famous Brazilian songs, such as ‘The Girl from Ipanema,’ produced by Antonio Carlos Jobim, only became famous after João Gilberto sang them in his own style. 

Gilberto’s songs sound sweet, use minimum guidance from a guitar, and notes are often sung before or after the tone. 

His most famous album is Getz/Gilberto, in collaboration with American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. The album won them a Grammy and became one of the most influential jazz (and bossa nova) albums worldwide. 

Gilberto’s whispery singing style affected many. It was soothing to the extent that Miles Davis said that Joao Gilberto on guitar could read a newspaper and sound good.

brazilian music

2. Caetano Veloso

Caetano Veloso has been called one of the greatest songwriters of the century by the New York Times but is also a talented producer. 

He has been strongly influenced by João Gilberto and produced a Grammy-winning album for him called “João Voz e Violão” (Caetano won 2 Grammys in total). 

Together with fellow musicians Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, Chico Buarque, and Os Mutantes, Caetano created a new genre called Tropicalismo. 

Tropicalismo is the 2nd most important cultural musical movement in Brazil after Bossa Nova and is a mix of Brazilian pop, avant-garde music, and rock & roll. 

Another fact worth noting is that his sister, Maria Bethania, is also a famous Brazilian singer (she started before Caetano). 

His most popular song on Spotify is Sozihno.

brazilian music

3. Elza Soares

Elza Soares is a powerful, inspiring, and energetic woman. 

To give you an example, her widely acclaimed album A Mulher do Fim do Mundo came out when she was 85 years old. What is even more surprising is that this is not her latest album. She released Deus é Mulher in 2018.

Elza was born around 1930 (she’s not sure of the exact date) in one of Rio’s favelas. Despite the hardships of poverty, she had a happy childhood

At the age of 12, however, things took a turn for the worst. Her father forced her into marriage, and one year later, her first child was born. 

At the age of 21, she had given birth to 7 children, out of which two died young.

In 1953, Soares went on a radio talent show, looking to make money to buy medicine for her son. 

Although the host made fun of her at first, by the time she had finished singing, he already deemed her a star. It did take a few more years (until 1960) before getting her first record deal.

In her music, Elza has spoken out on social issues and stood up for discriminated groups. She recently gave another interview at the age of 90 and remains a woman to be admired.

brazilian music

4. Gilberto Gil

Gilberto Gil started as an accordionist in high school and played classical music. He later settled on the guitar as his primary instrument and began to play Bossa Nova, followed by many different music genres such as samba, reggae, and tropicalía.

At the Federal University of Bahia, Gil met Caetano Veloso. The two became great friends and performed together for many years. 

Gil’s songs focus on social activism and political awareness, which made him a threat to the Brazilian military regime in 1969. The government held Gilberto and Caetano for nine months and later exiled them to London.

After returning to Bahia in 1972, Gil became politically active. He focused greatly on environmentalism and served as Brazil’s Minister of Culture from 2003 to 2008. 

Gilberto Gil won 2 Grammy Awards and continues to be one of Brazil’s most influential musicians.

One of his greatest songs is Aquele Abraço.

5. Seu Jorge

For those of you who’ve seen City of God, Seu Jorge is a familiar face. The actor plays the role of Mané, one of the main characters that get entangled in gang violence. Although Jorge has always eschewed gang violence, there’s considerable overlap with his own life.

Seu Jorge grew up in one of Brazil’s favelas and lost his 16-year-old brother in a battle between gangs and the police. 

Jorge wanted to flee from that life and decided to go into music. His main reason was “to make friends.” His family disapproved of this and Jorge ended up living on the streets.

His sacrifice was not in vain. 

In 1996, he joined his first band, Farofa Carioca, which signed with a major label. 

In 2001, he debuted with his solo album Samba Esporte Fino, with the still popular song Carolina

Jorge has since been a major success both as an actor as well as a singer. He strongly believes in the importance of music to build a culture and doesn’t shy away from controversial topics. The artist has successfully escaped the favelas and currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two boys. 

His way of taking revenge for his rough upbringing is “to make music and send a great message to the people.

If you’re new to Seu Jorge, check out his most famous song Amiga Da Minha Mulher, or this beautiful live performance with Ana Carolina.

brazilian music

6. Natiruts

For those looking for other genres than Samba, Bossa Nova, and Tropicália, it’s worth checking out Natiruts. 

Natiruts is a famous reggae band and proves that Brazilian music is even more diverse than most people think. 

The band started in 1996 in Brasilia and deviated from the local rock scene by singing about spirituality and environmentalism.

Natiruts has shown strong reggae influences since the start, with their first album Nativus

Their popularity increased rapidly after their famous hit Sorri, Sou Rei, on the album Raçaman in 2009. 

In 2013, the group received a nomination for Best Brazilian Contemporary Pop Album at the 2013 Latin Grammy Awards.

7. Novos Baianos

Novos Baianos is a Brazilian rock band from the 60s and 70s from the state of Bahia. They’re seen as one of the most important and revolutionary groups in Brazil’s music history.

The group got its name during a TV performance. The producer yelled, “Chama aí esses novos baianos!” which translates into “Bring up these new Bahians,” referring to the group’s origins.

Although the band initially focused on psychedelic rock, they gradually shifted to Música Popular Brasileira (Popular Brazilian Music), a combination between typical Brazilian music and foreign jazz and rock influences. The primary reason for this switch was music legend João Gilberto, who visited the group frequently.

Their second and most popular album Acabou Chorare (no more crying), is considered the best Brazilian music album by Rolling Stone Magazine, with the popular hit Mistério do Planeta. 

The band broke up in 1978, but several members continued with a solo career. The band still comes together to perform for special events.

Two Bonus Artists: Mariana Froes & Rodrigo Alarcon

It’s easy to find out about Brazil’s most famous artists, but more difficult to find newer, less famous ones. 

I, therefore, decided to add two young and promising artists: Mariana Froes & Rodrigo Alarcon.

Rodrigo is a 28-year-old (at the time of writing) artist from Sao Paolo. He likes to experiment with different Brazilian music styles that he mixes into soothing samba-type songs. 

Mariana is an 18-year-old artist from Goiás who published her first singles in 2019. She quickly drew international attention from Mexico and Colombia and was mentioned by Rolling Stone Brazil as having a sensitive musicality with each new single.

The two artists have music styles that complement each other well. Thus, it is no surprise that they work together on various performances, with their most famous song being 15b.

Need More Brazilian Music?

This blog post highlights a few famous Brazilian artists, but there’s much more to discover. 

If you’re interested in more, have a look at the country page or sign up for the newsletter below.

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