Thursday, 29 December 2011

Amazonas - the Music of Brazil

No journey to Brazil would be complete without reference to music.  As part of my research for this blog I bought a copy of The Rough Guide to the Music of Brazil which has been my background listening as I've blogged and researched about Amazonas.  It's a great album, with a thoughtful collection of tracks, including some 'golden oldies', like Chico Buarque to more modern artists, like Vanessa Bumagny.  Brazilian artists have contributed a lot to the world music scene it would be impossible to capture all of this in one blog post, so I'll concentrate on some of the main musical styles that I've been learning about. 


The music of the carnivals, Samba is arguably Brazil's most famous musical style.  In true Brazilian style, Samba is a real mixture of influences - African, European and indigenous - it seems to unite the country each year during the parades in Rio, Bahia, Sao Paolo and elsewhere.  It has a strong rhythmic style with a 2/4 beat that characterises samba dancing, combined with romantic melodies such as Aquarela do Brasil - one of the country's most famous songs.  Samba was popularised by Carmen Miranda in the Hollywood movies of the 1930's and 40's.  This clip from YouTube, shows Carmen Miranda singing Aquarela do Brasil in the 1943 movie, The Gang's All Here

Bossa Nova

Equally synonymous with Brazil is the style of music called Bossa Nova.  An offshoot of Samba that became popular in the 1960's, Bossa Nova is much slower, jazzier and more sophisticated than other Samba styles.  It was popularised by artists from Rio de Janeiro like Chico Buarque and artists from Bahia, like Joao Gilberto. 

Bossa Nova emerged at a time when jazz music was gaining mainstream popularity in the United States and a 1964 album Getz/Gilberto was a collaboration between Joao Gilberto and the American jazz musician, Stan Getz. Amongst its tracks was that most famous of Bossa Nova songs, known in English as The Girl from Ipanema.  This YouTube video is from the original recording by Getz/Gilberto and features Joao Gilberto's wife, Astrud, on the English-language vocals.


Much less well-known to the rest of the world are Brazilian musical styles such as Afoxé, a type of music that accompanies religious ceremonies of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion that is popular amongst the descendants of slaves in Salvador and Recife.  It's also very rhythmic, with strong vocal chanting.  The following YouTube video featuring a group called, Afoxé Oyá Alaxé will give you an idea of what the music sounds like. 


This stands for Música Popular Brasileira and is a mixture of samba, jazz, folk and the Brazilian version of 'pop' music.  The Rough Guide features a track by Chico Cesar, a singer/songwriter from Paraiba, a small state to the north of Pernambuco (Recife).  It's sing-along music, which has a very modern feel to it, as you can hear for yourself in the following YouTube video, a recording of Mama Africa, one of Cesar's most famous songs.   


Arguably even more popular in Brazil than Samba is Sertanajo, which is Brazil's version of Country and Western and is popular in those states at the heart of the Brazilian outback, like Mato Grosso and Parana.  The following YouTube video is by the famous brothers, Chitãozinho & Xororó who have sold more than 30 million albums, since they first started out in the 1970's.  They have gained some international recognition and seem to be quite a big deal in Brazil.


Perhaps the biggest surprise for me on The Rough Guide album, was a song called Coração by the Forro group, O Karaiva. Forro originates in the North East of Brazil and reminds me a lot of cajun music, I guess because of the use of accordions.  This might explain why Forro has become quite popular in countries like France, where accordions are also part of the traditional repertoire.  It also explains why I like it so much (being Irish!).  Unfortunately, I couldn't find a video of Coração on YouTube, so I've had to settle for another song by O Karaiva, called Xote Das Meninas (Ela So Quer).


Perhaps the most traditional Brazilian music style, Choro means 'lament' and immediately made me think of Portuguese fado.  Choro music uses a lot of guitar and, whilst I'm sure the lyrics are about lost love and heart-break, it seems to be a lot more upbeat than fado.  One of the most famous Choro songs is Tico-tico no Fuba, which was composed by Zequinha de Abreu in 1917.  The version from YouTube below, is by the flamboyant MPB singer Ney Matogrosso.

Other influences

The seven styles of music I've highlighted above are just a sample of the musical styles that have come out of Brazil.  Like many other countries, the musicians of Brazil have also embraced modern styles such as reggae, rap and rock.  There is a growing interest in tracing the roots of Brazilian styles back to Africa, especially the Lusophone countries of Africa, like Angola and Mozambique.  Brazilian artists are also well-known for experimental electronica and European Classical music has found its home in places like the famous Amazonas Opera House in Manaus. 

Indigenous music of the Amazon rain forest

It's a shame that indigenous music from the Amazon hasn't been given more exposure on compilations like The Rough Guide.  Although I've heard some indigenous music and chanting on programmes like Bruce Parry's Amazon, there seems to be very little out there, in terms of professional recordings of Brazil's indigenous music.  I have managed to find the following video on YouTube which shows Chief Paiaré, leader of the Akrãtikatêjês tribe, singing a traditional indigenous folk song in the Timbira language.  Enjoy!


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